I have never in my life owned a home, nor have I ever wanted to. While lots of people see home ownership as a way of establishing roots and/or having something to leave behind for their children, I’ve always seen it as an immovable anchor to keep you trapped somewhere.
Friends would patiently try to explain to me that I could be creating something called “equity” if I had been spending my money on mortgage payments rather than rent payments. But I viewed my rent money as paying somebody else to worry about problems wherever I lived. And, I guess, subconsciously, as part of the price of freedom.
For the past 16 months, however, I’ve kind of gotten to know what home ownership is like without really being a homeowner. Because of other commitments NOB, my fabulous Canadian landlords, David and Nonie, haven’t been able to come down to spend a few months each winter in their lovely little house here at Lake Chapala. Which means that at least once a year, I get to play homeowner, in the sense that I get to pay the annual water bill and the taxes on their house.
Here are a couple of pictures of “our” house, taken some time before I moved in in September of 2010:
It’s great, isn’t it? We have a nice garden:
And a nice living space indoors.
But, as all homeowners have to do, eventually we have to pay the piper. And as I stated above, that means paying the annual taxes on the house and the annual water bill. Which is what I did yesterday.
I did it last year, too, and got in and out pretty quickly. Last year, as I walked into the municipal tax and water paying place [I’m sure there’s an eloquent name for same, but I don’t know what it is], I was given a number tag. It was so cute! The numbers had obviously been drawn on pieces of paper and then someone had colored them in with Crayons. I’d like to think it was some local schoolkids who got to color and also to learn about taxes at the same time.
Then we all settled in on chairs provided and waited for our numbers to be called. It was great! Ran like clockwork because the guy calling the numbers was walking around with a big machine gun kind of thing. No cutting in line here!
We went to one window to pay our taxes and another to pay for our water bill. And, while waiting, we got to relax in plastic chairs. It was a model of efficiency!
This year, not quite so much. Although it still wasn’t bad and didn’t come anywhere near the inefficiency of DMV offices I’ve dealt with in the US.
No carefully colored in numbers this year. Instead, we all just had to get in line. After maybe 10 minutes of waiting in line, a fellow appeared and tapped two of us on the shoulder and motioned that we should come with him. For a moment, I totally panicked and thought that I was being singled out as the only gringa in line. But then I realized that the other person being “tapped” was a well dressed Mexican woman. And I calmed down.
Senor Tapper led the senora and I back to a little office close to the entrance and indicated that she and I should go inside. We did so, and sat down in front of a large desk occupied by a rather intimidating woman whose demeanor just screamed “bureaucrat.”
But while she was, in fact, a bureaucrat, she was extremely accommodating and rapidly waded through all the documentation that the woman in “front” of me presented from her manila folder. [Next life I’m gonna try to get the manila folder concession in Mexico! No self respecting Mexican going to deal with a government office would be caught dead without one!]
The woman being served before me had to keep pulling paperwork out of her folder and was being asked to sign and complete a form. I was panicking again, because I couldn’t understand what the bureaucratic woman was saying. I had visions of signing something that would totally relinquish David and Nonie’s house to the Jocotepec government. [Those of you interested in moving to Mexico? Here’s a helpful hint: LEARN SPANISH!!]
But finally the lady with the manila folder was finished and it was my turn. I offered the copy of last year’s payment receipt to the bureaucratic lady and within seconds, she had pulled up this year’s bill on the computer and printed it out.
She turned to me and, in excellent English, said “778 pesos, please.” WHEW! I wondered then if any United States tax authority had bilingual speakers, particularly in a town the size of Jocotepec. I sure hope so! Just because I, as a foreigner, live in Jocotepec and have extraordinarily poor Spanish language skills, I was able to do what is right without being ridiculed about my status. Be nice if that same sort of thing was happening NOB…..particularly in Arizona! [Not that I’m bitter.]
So having paid the property taxes to the tune of 777 pesos [less than $60US], I got into another line to pay the annual water bill.
A local lady and I were standing side by side, waiting to present our previous bills and find out how much we owed. I, at least, had heard that the bills would likely be going up, so I was a bit trepidatious about whether I had enough pesos in my wallet to cover the water bill.
So when the woman next to me and I heard the clerk say that the woman at her window needed “tres mil…..”, she and I got huge bug eyes and almost passed out. Tres mil? That’s three thousand pesos at a minimum! I didn’t have it, and it was obvious that my friend in line didn’t have it either.
“Ai yi yi!”, we said to one another. “Tres mil??? Mucho, mucho dinero!” Three thousand pesos or more???? But we both hung tough and awaited our turn at the window. I got to the window first and presented last year’s bill to the fellow inside the cashier’s cage. I was expecting him to start his sentence, too, with “tres mil” and then I would have to slink out of line and make a trip to an ATM so I would have enough pesos to pay, and then come back to do it all over again.
The cashier took last year’s receipt for 848 pesos and started typing on his computer. And, lo and behold, he came up with another bill for 848 pesos!!! Apparently the woman with the 3,000 pesos plus bill owned a LOT of property! I looked back at my friend from the line, swept my forehead in the international symbol of “whew,” paid the bill and was off again to the world free of homeownership for another year!