If you live somewhere else, or if you’re already here and currently renting, surely you’ve had the notion: wouldn’t it be great to buy a house in New Mexico? Then a nagging voice clears its throat. Your inner smart shopper—or your pragmatic partner—has a few questions and wants a little more information in order to make a wise decision. You can start to quell those qualms with this list of 10 things you should know about buying a home in New Mexico.
1. IT’S AFFORDABLE
“Affordable” might be a relative term, but even though several locales offer multimillion-dollar mansions, you can find homes from the mid-$100,000s to the mid-$400,000s statewide. The 2013 national median was $197,100. Prices in Angel Fire, a mountain resort east of Taos, and Santa Fe soar above the national median; Albuquerque, Las Cruces and south-central New Mexico, Silver City, and the Truth or Consequences area come in well below it. While sales volumes inched up last year, the fitful housing recovery leaves plenty of opportunity for finding a smart bargain.
2. RETIREMENT=A REBOOT
New Mexico always scores high on listings of the best places to retire. Tallying up home prices, cost of living, taxes, quality of life, and weather, Money magazine tapped Las Cruces as one of its “best places to retire.” AARP The Magazine named it a “retirement dream town.” From Silver City to Las Vegas to Farmington, colleges add an intellectual dimension to many of the state’s midsize cities, meaning you can light out for the territory without abandoning culture. Ron Cobb, managing partner of Avalon Jubilee, says people from “every corner” of the country retire to the active-adult community Jubilee Los Lunas. A quick 20 minutes from central Albuquerque, it offers a small-town living without sacrificing the amenities of the nearby metro area, from shopping to health care to jobs and the arts.
3. THE LINGO OF ADOBE CHARM
Over thousands of years, New Mexicans have developed an architectural style expressing an evolutionary depth you can’t find anywhere else in America. The still-beating heart of this ancient tradition pumps a slurry of mud, straw, and clay—adobe, that is. Whether you crave an authentic adobe hacienda of a certain age or prefer a modern frame-and-stucco house, learn the lingo, the features, and the foibles of what we lovingly (and sometimes ironically) call “adobe charm.” Historic properties and newly built homes in the Pueblo Revival and Territorial Revival styles share the same classic features. Bone up on terms like vigas, latillas, corbels, parapets, coping, kiva fireplaces, and Talavera tile. Investigate cement and synthetic stuccos, mud plaster (it lets adobe breathe, but ¡híjole! the maintenance!), dirt-insulated attics, how to hang pictures on a mud wall, directing roof runoff through canales, and fixing evaporative coolers.
To learn more, read the classic Santa Fe Style (Rizzoli), which provides a thorough and beautiful survey of New Mexico homes and design.
4. SURPRISING ARCHITECTURE
Not every house is a wavy-walled, crooked-door adobe down a dirt road with hens pecking piñon nuts along the bar ditch. Contemporary, modern, and even postmodern glass-and-steel homes dot the landscape. Large-scale subdivisions skew toward Southwestern and, more recently, so-called Tuscan styles. Elsewhere, older in-town neighborhoods in Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Silver City sport vintage Victorians and Craftsman bungalows on elm-shaded streets.
5. TAKE IT SLOW
House hunting isn’t speed dating. “The people I see the most comfortable after moving here have come at different seasons, spent a good bit of time looking around, and really know what they’re buying,” says Frank O’Mahony, of Evolve Santa Fe Real Estate. Attorney Suzanne Gaulin, a native of Ontario, Canada, says she courted small towns all over New Mexico but “kept coming back to Las Vegas because there was something about the geography and the little town and the people, something real.”
If you’re interested in the Albuquerque area, take advantage of the Spring 2014 Homes of Enchantment Parade. On this tour of 35 homes, you can explore a wide range of styles and price ranges across the metro area on April 25–27 and May 2–4. For more information and a map, visit homesofenchantmentparade.com.
6. IT TAKES ALL KINDS
In New Mexico, you can find homes large and small, new and old, along a single road. O’Mahony says some folks appreciate the variety while others “rebel against our eclectic neighborhoods” and “can’t believe what they have to drive through” to view a high-end property. In older communities—small villages or historic neighborhoods in town—sprawling designer showplaces sometimes rub shoulders with mobile homes and rustic structures in need of attention. Newer subdivisions at any price point specialize in sleek uniformity. Let a real estate agent guide you to your comfort zone.
7. RENT IT WHILE YOU’RE GONE
Many second-home owners defray the costs of a second home by renting it out. In well-established vacation-rental markets like Santa Fe, Angel Fire, Red River, Elephant Butte, Chama, and Ruidoso, you can hire agents to manage your home. Marilyn Proctor, owner of Proctor Property Management, in Santa Fe, educates prospective rental-home buyers about the expenses. “The greatest outlay after buying can be furnishing it,” Proctor says. Clients often expect site-specific high-end luxury, interspersed with rustic New Mexico–style pieces picked up for a song. She’ll help develop a revenue-generating plan that satisfies the capital city’s Byzantine rental-home permitting rules. They allow 17 rental engagements a year, each from one to 29 days. You can have only one rental engagement a week. Given those rules, you’ll want to strategically plan your rental days to maximize income. Other communities are less restrictive. Even if you don’t rent, get someone to keep an eye on it while you’re gone.
8. WEATHER MAY VARY
Yes, it’s sunny here. New Mexico bags 320 to 340 days of sunshine a year. That number varies around the state, with generally more sol in the south and a bit less around the northern mountains. All regions of the state experience four distinct seasons. Make sure your dream home can handle the weather. On midcentury Pueblo-style houses, check the roof drainage—a sagging flat roof with poor drainage can trap the water and leak. Homes built more recently have a slightly pitched roof to correct that problem. In the mountains, think about where the roof will deposit snow. For any home, view the place critically, ask questions, insist on disclosures, and consider hiring an engineer to inspect the home and address issues like drainage and structure.
9. FRIENDS AND FAMILY WILL FOLLOW
Pennsylvania native Barbara Humphries, who moved here from England with her husband, Tony, found Albuquerque socially open: “Everybody was so friendly. People talk to you when you’re standing in line.” And I can’t count how many people I know who moved here only to be followed by their parents, brothers, or sisters. Usually that’s a good thing. Be prepared.
10. THE LOVE NEVER FADES
“Tony absolutely loves it in America, but he knows New Mexico is not what the rest of America is like,” Barbara Humphries says of her British husband. Take it from the old-timers: The seductive sense of marvelous mystery that attracted you here never diminishes. ✜