The Mexican city New Yorkers are making their second home

Merida, Yucatan

Grand haciendas in Mérida, Mexico, are luring American second home buyers, including many from the tristate area. The city appears on HGTV’s “House Hunters International” Thursday.

Tim and Marsha Weaver already have a name picked out for their vacation home in Mérida, Mexico. Last October, the Montclair, NJ, couple purchased a historic house with plans to transform it into a B&B named after a famous former occupant — Yucatán governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto.

“He was a socialist who favored land reform, women’s suffrage and rights for indigenous Mayan people,” Tim says. “He had a romance with a United States journalist, Alma Reed, and had a very well-known song written for her, ‘Peregrina.’ ” They call their new venture, which will include an on-site residence for themselves, La Casa Carillo Puerto.

Beyond its dramatic backstory, the couple — Marsha, 53, a Coldwell Banker realtor, and Tim, 54, a health care company VP — were drawn to the 5,400-square-foot abode for its architectural details. There are beautiful patterned tiles, grand doorways and high ceilings. Also appealing was the home’s prime location, just a few minutes’ stroll from main square and Mérida’s buzzing Santa Lucía restaurant zone. Then there was the affordable price: $385,000.

The Weavers’ home-buying journey, aided by real estate agent Keith Heitke, is colorfully depicted in Thursday’s episode of HGTV’s addictive “House Hunters International,” airing at 10:30 p.m.

With this permanent relocation, the Weavers — who also considered buying in Guadalajara and Mexico City — are joining Mérida’s community of about 5,000 expats. They’re seduced by the city’s Mayan culture, laid-back attitude, colonial buildings, diverse culinary scene and affordable opportunities to live out both new-business and retirement dreams.

“It’s a popular destination for so many reasons,” says Carrie Regan, executive producer of “House Hunters International.” “There aren’t direct flights from New York, so that keeps it from being overrun. You can still get to the beaches and Mayan ruins, but be based in a city that’s so charming.” (Mérida is about a three-hour drive from Cancún.)

In fact, this is the seventh Mérida-set episode of “House Hunters International,” and the third featuring broker Heitke, 56, of Mexico International Real Estate. Formerly an interior designer in New York, Heitke and partner David Sterling used to live four blocks from the World Trade Center. Rattled by Sept. 11, they absconded to Mérida for a break, bought a crumbling casona, or mansion, for $38,000. They restored it and ended up staying.

Merida HGTV

Tim and Marsha Weaver, of Montclair, NJ, worked with Keith Heitke (right) to buy a hacienda. Their search will appear on “House Hunters International.”

Sterling went on to found a popular Yucatecan cooking school, Los Dos, and renovate homes through the couple’s Worldstudio International Design Services — including the Weavers’ in-progress B&B. (Sadly, Sterling passed away last November.)

While Heitke concedes that, over the past decade, word about Mérida has gotten out and real estate costs have risen, he says that “you can find a nice completed house starting at about $175,000, or a nice fixer-upper between $80,000 and $150,000.”

Property taxes are low, he adds, while citing myriad modern conveniences — from auto dealerships to movie cinemas — available to residents. “For groceries, you can go to the historic main market, which has been there since the 1500s, or a full-sized Costco,” Heitke says. “The people are so pleasant to be around and, for six months, between October and March, it’s perfect weather.” Other New Yorkers have taken the bait.

Merida couple

West Villagers Adam McCulloch and Emma Sloley remodeled three Mérida homes, which they rent on Airbnb. The couple enjoys the city’s shopping, dining out and vibrant expat social scene.

A West Village-based travel writer-photographer couple, Adam McCulloch, 46, and Emma Sloley, 47, both fell for Mérida during an assignment there in 2006. They later bought and remodeled three homes that they now rent through Airbnb (while keeping one free for themselves, of course). The latest, acquired in 2014, is called The Tub House, after a clawfoot tub they installed.

McCulloch admits that winter there gives way to punishingly hot, tropical, rainy summers between April and September (Mérida has about the same climate as New Orleans). However, he holds that its pros easily outweigh the cons. Local favorites include antique shop Antiguedades by Julio near San Sebastian park, the rooftop of chic boutique hotel Rosas y Xocolate for cocktails, and BYOB garden-to-table dinner parties from Cook It Raw founder Alessandro Porcelli.

The city is a blend of old and new: Once the domain of wealthy sisal and henequen plantation owners who produced most of the world’s rope with the plants’ fiber, now there’s a hipster food hall, Mercado 60, which opened last year.

“Mérida reveals its secrets gradually,” McCulloch says. “One day, you’ll discover maquech [live beetle] jewelry at the markets, and the next watch a firefly display on the lawns of a great hacienda or, as happened a couple of years ago, attend a New Year’s Eve party with David Byrne from Talking Heads.”

Parties, as it happens, are key elements of Mérida’s social swirl — and can often be spontaneous and surprising. One night, Solange Knowles made an appearance during a shindig at the home of Richard Frazier, 67, and Laura Kirar, who is in her mid-40s.

Local tradition includes supernatural beliefs, even among younger, Snapchat-savvy Yucatecans. “Apparently there are a lot of witches in our town, or brujas,” Richard says. “They also have curanderos, healers who mix Mayan beliefs and Catholicism and modern medicine with folklore cures.”

Prospective property buyers should indeed expect a whole other vibe and not an “America-lite,” according to Dan Prescher, 62, senior editor of overseas retirement publication International Living, who lived in Mérida from 2007 to 2010. An in-person visit or trial run before purchase is key.

“You can do all the research you want,” Prescher says, “but unless you get boots on the ground, you’ll never know.”

Months after the “House Hunters International” episode airs, when the Weavers’ $100,000 renovation is complete in early 2018, La Casa Carrillo Puerto will boast four bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, patios, two courtyards, a pool, a bar, a dining room, a kitchen, a living room and a new two-floor casita for the Weavers themselves.

“Our youngest son is a student at the University of Rhode Island,” Marsha says, “and he’s looking forward to summers in Mérida soaking up the sun.”

Map of Merida



If you are looking for property on the beach just outside Merida you have come to the right place! You will have questions about purchasing property in Mexico and we would be glad to talk to you about it. We are a Canadian developer living & building beautiful properties for you to enjoy in tropical paradise. Give Mike or Parrish a call today to learn more and how you could get into ocean front ownership in the Yucatan Riviera from only $135K! For 3 bedroom, 2 bath over 1600 sq ft of open living space. To learn more about Caban Condos – San Crisanto also our Facebook page for photos & more info

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