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Where Beachfront Living Is a Bargain

Northern Baja's "Gold Coast," from Rosarito to Ensenada, is enjoying a real estate boom as American buyers search for oceanfront homes at prices they haven't seen in Southern California in more than ten years. Though home prices have leveled off in San Diego, they continue to climb in coastal Baja, where developers are hurrying to erect high-rise condominiums to meet the demand.

There are good deals to be had, says Cyndi Farfan, a 41-year-old American-born real estate agent who has lived in Rosarito for 17 years. Sitting in the lobby of the 81-year-old Rosarito Beach Hotel, the tall, energetic redhead explains, "Two or three years ago, there were plenty of oceanfront condos for under $200,000. Those are hard to find now, if not impossible. But for $300,000 to $350,000, you can still get a condo that you couldn't touch in Southern California for less than a million dollars."

Between 85 and 90 percent of the buyers in the Northern Baja coastal condominium market hail from the United States. Despite that, many Americans are nervous about buying in Mexico. Farfan wants to quell their worries. "According to Mexican law, because you're a foreigner, you're not able to hold the title in your possession. In other words, you're not able to keep the title in your filing cabinet. So you form a trust, and the title is held in the bank's filing cabinet. The bank is a Mexican entity, so it's perfectly legal. And other than that extra step of forming a trust, buying here is basically the same as buying in the U.S. There are no restrictions. The title is in your name, you're able to resell it, you're able to paint it, you're able to live in it, you're able to rent it, you're able to do anything that the owner of a home in the U.S. would be able to do."

The growing use of American finance, escrow, and title companies has further simplified the process of buying in Baja. And though the Mexican federal government charges buyers a transfer fee of 2 percent of the selling price, Farfan says that is more than made up in property tax savings. "Once you own your home," she says, "then your property taxes are a fraction of what you would see in San Diego. The average property tax here in Rosarito is about $150 a year. It's nothing. I pay $50 a year at my house. A superhot penthouse pays about $250."

Farfan gave me a tour of new condominium sites -- some fully built, others half built, and some dirt lots -- between Rosarito and Puerto Nuevo.

1. Rosarito Beach Hotel Condominiums

Seventeen-floor tower with 271 units, on grounds of Rosarito Beach Hotel

Bedrooms/square footage: One-bedroom, 640 square feet; two-bedroom, 920 square feet; three-bedroom penthouse, 1700 square feet

Price: One-bedroom starting at $175,000; two-bedroom starting at $262,000; three-bedroom penthouse, $540,000

Ocean frontage: Sandy beach

Comments: A condo-hotel project in which owners and their tenants will have access to hotel amenities, including housekeeping, room service, spa, and pool. Eight weeks are reserved for the owner's use. The hotel rents the unit out the other 44 weeks of the year. The rent is split 50-50 between the owner and the hotel. Owner pays no utility bills or maintenance fees. Building is set to begin in September, and completion expected in spring of 2008. At center of town.

2. La Jolla de Rosarito

Two 15-floor towers, four units per floor

Bedrooms/square footage: Two-bedrooms, 1200 square feet

Price: $235,000 to $290,000

Ocean frontage: Sandy beach

Comments: Completed two years ago, in town and close to all shops and restaurants. Condos are available on a resale basis only.

3. Riviera de Rosarito

Fourteen-floor tower with 52 units

Bedrooms/square footage: Two or three bedrooms, 1500 square feet

Price: $324,000 to $365,000

Ocean frontage: Sandy beach

Comments: In town, with a pool, Jacuzzi, and gym. Contemporary interiors. Developers have been working in Rosarito 30 years. First American Title available to buyers.

4. The Residences

Twelve-floor tower with 240 units

Bedrooms/square footage: Two or three bedrooms, 952 to 2600 square feet

Price: $400,000 and up, 40 units left

Ocean frontage: Wide sandy beach

Comments: Only the large units are left. Condos on site of a hotel north of Rosarito; management plans to coordinate activities and entertainment for the residents. Pools and putting green. Builder is from Las Vegas.

5. La Jolla Del Mar and La Jolla Real

Five towers, 406 condominiums; 23 three-bedroom oceanfront villas

Bedrooms/square footage (condominiums): Two or three bedrooms, average square feet is 1300

Presale price: $250,000 on the first floor to $322,000 on the ninth. Very few units left from the developer

Ocean frontage: Combination of sandy beach and short, rocky cliffs

Distance from the Rosarito Beach Hotel: 1.5 miles south

Comments: Modern, luxury condos with custom cabinetry, granite or Mexican tile countertops. Towers one and two nearing completion, the rest to be built within the next year and a half. Many resales starting at $260,000 available in towers one and two. A short taxi or bike ride from the center of town, yet far enough away from nightlife to be peaceful. Developers have been working in Rosarito for 20 years.

6. La Palmas

Seventeen-floor tower with 91 units

Bedrooms/square footage: Most units have two bedrooms, penthouses have three bedrooms; 1100 to 1600 square feet

Price: $270,000 to $525,000, with discount incentives for cash purchases

Ocean frontage: Small sandy beach and short cliffs

Distance from the Rosarito Beach Hotel: 2.2 miles south

Comments: Built to be handicap-friendly. The wrap-around balconies offer views of the Pacific to the west and the coastline and Fox studios to the south. Granite countertops and travertine floors throughout. Project is in pre-sale phase. Second tower in the planning phase.

7. Las Olas Grand

Twenty-one-floor tower with 200 units

Bedrooms/square footage: Two or three bedrooms, average 1300 square feet

Price: $500,000 to over a million

Ocean frontage: Short cliffs and reefs. Sits next to a rocky cove known by surfers as Mushrooms. A sandy beach will be built next to the cove

Distance from the Rosarito Beach Hotel: 4.5 miles south

Comments: Developer is hoping to build the most luxurious condominiums in Baja. Granite countertops. Custom cabinetry. Mosaic tile inlay in the walls and travertine floors. Wood trim around doors. Multiple pools and tennis courts on the property. The development is in the pre-sale phase.

8. Club Marena

Four existing towers, two more towers being built, 250 total units

Bedrooms/square footage: Two or three bedrooms, 1400 to 2994 square feet

Price: $340,000 to $940,000

Ocean frontage: Fifty-foot cliffs, rocky shore, and a small, pebbly beach accessible by staircase. The project surrounds the surf spot known as K38

Distance from the Rosarito Beach Hotel: 6.7 miles south

Comments: Known as the Beverly Hills of the Gold Coast, Club Marena is a well-landscaped, intelligently laid-out project sitting on a small point jutting into the Pacific. Easy access to a great point break for surfers who own or rent condos. Property features a cliffside pool and clubhouse. First of seven phases was built in the late '80s. Hollywood celebrities working at Fox Studios often rent here. Condos feature high ceilings, granite countertops, and tiled bathrooms. Each elevator stop serves only two condominiums. Units are being pre-sold in phases six and seven. Limited resale is available in the existing towers.

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Northern Baja's "Gold Coast," from Rosarito to Ensenada, is enjoying a real estate boom as American buyers search for oceanfront homes at prices they haven't seen in Southern California in more than ten years. Though home prices have leveled off in San Diego, they continue to climb in coastal Baja, where developers are hurrying to erect high-rise condominiums to meet the demand.

There are good deals to be had, says Cyndi Farfan, a 41-year-old American-born real estate agent who has lived in Rosarito for 17 years. Sitting in the lobby of the 81-year-old Rosarito Beach Hotel, the tall, energetic redhead explains, "Two or three years ago, there were plenty of oceanfront condos for under $200,000. Those are hard to find now, if not impossible. But for $300,000 to $350,000, you can still get a condo that you couldn't touch in Southern California for less than a million dollars."

Between 85 and 90 percent of the buyers in the Northern Baja coastal condominium market hail from the United States. Despite that, many Americans are nervous about buying in Mexico. Farfan wants to quell their worries. "According to Mexican law, because you're a foreigner, you're not able to hold the title in your possession. In other words, you're not able to keep the title in your filing cabinet. So you form a trust, and the title is held in the bank's filing cabinet. The bank is a Mexican entity, so it's perfectly legal. And other than that extra step of forming a trust, buying here is basically the same as buying in the U.S. There are no restrictions. The title is in your name, you're able to resell it, you're able to paint it, you're able to live in it, you're able to rent it, you're able to do anything that the owner of a home in the U.S. would be able to do."

The growing use of American finance, escrow, and title companies has further simplified the process of buying in Baja. And though the Mexican federal government charges buyers a transfer fee of 2 percent of the selling price, Farfan says that is more than made up in property tax savings. "Once you own your home," she says, "then your property taxes are a fraction of what you would see in San Diego. The average property tax here in Rosarito is about $150 a year. It's nothing. I pay $50 a year at my house. A superhot penthouse pays about $250."

Farfan gave me a tour of new condominium sites -- some fully built, others half built, and some dirt lots -- between Rosarito and Puerto Nuevo.

1. Rosarito Beach Hotel Condominiums

Seventeen-floor tower with 271 units, on grounds of Rosarito Beach Hotel

Bedrooms/square footage: One-bedroom, 640 square feet; two-bedroom, 920 square feet; three-bedroom penthouse, 1700 square feet

Price: One-bedroom starting at $175,000; two-bedroom starting at $262,000; three-bedroom penthouse, $540,000

Ocean frontage: Sandy beach

Comments: A condo-hotel project in which owners and their tenants will have access to hotel amenities, including housekeeping, room service, spa, and pool. Eight weeks are reserved for the owner's use. The hotel rents the unit out the other 44 weeks of the year. The rent is split 50-50 between the owner and the hotel. Owner pays no utility bills or maintenance fees. Building is set to begin in September, and completion expected in spring of 2008. At center of town.

2. La Jolla de Rosarito

Two 15-floor towers, four units per floor

Bedrooms/square footage: Two-bedrooms, 1200 square feet

Price: $235,000 to $290,000

Ocean frontage: Sandy beach

Comments: Completed two years ago, in town and close to all shops and restaurants. Condos are available on a resale basis only.

3. Riviera de Rosarito

Fourteen-floor tower with 52 units

Bedrooms/square footage: Two or three bedrooms, 1500 square feet

Price: $324,000 to $365,000

Ocean frontage: Sandy beach

Comments: In town, with a pool, Jacuzzi, and gym. Contemporary interiors. Developers have been working in Rosarito 30 years. First American Title available to buyers.

4. The Residences

Twelve-floor tower with 240 units

Bedrooms/square footage: Two or three bedrooms, 952 to 2600 square feet

Price: $400,000 and up, 40 units left

Ocean frontage: Wide sandy beach

Comments: Only the large units are left. Condos on site of a hotel north of Rosarito; management plans to coordinate activities and entertainment for the residents. Pools and putting green. Builder is from Las Vegas.

5. La Jolla Del Mar and La Jolla Real

Five towers, 406 condominiums; 23 three-bedroom oceanfront villas

Bedrooms/square footage (condominiums): Two or three bedrooms, average square feet is 1300

Presale price: $250,000 on the first floor to $322,000 on the ninth. Very few units left from the developer

Ocean frontage: Combination of sandy beach and short, rocky cliffs

Distance from the Rosarito Beach Hotel: 1.5 miles south

Comments: Modern, luxury condos with custom cabinetry, granite or Mexican tile countertops. Towers one and two nearing completion, the rest to be built within the next year and a half. Many resales starting at $260,000 available in towers one and two. A short taxi or bike ride from the center of town, yet far enough away from nightlife to be peaceful. Developers have been working in Rosarito for 20 years.

6. La Palmas

Seventeen-floor tower with 91 units

Bedrooms/square footage: Most units have two bedrooms, penthouses have three bedrooms; 1100 to 1600 square feet

Price: $270,000 to $525,000, with discount incentives for cash purchases

Ocean frontage: Small sandy beach and short cliffs

Distance from the Rosarito Beach Hotel: 2.2 miles south

Comments: Built to be handicap-friendly. The wrap-around balconies offer views of the Pacific to the west and the coastline and Fox studios to the south. Granite countertops and travertine floors throughout. Project is in pre-sale phase. Second tower in the planning phase.

7. Las Olas Grand

Twenty-one-floor tower with 200 units

Bedrooms/square footage: Two or three bedrooms, average 1300 square feet

Price: $500,000 to over a million

Ocean frontage: Short cliffs and reefs. Sits next to a rocky cove known by surfers as Mushrooms. A sandy beach will be built next to the cove

Distance from the Rosarito Beach Hotel: 4.5 miles south

Comments: Developer is hoping to build the most luxurious condominiums in Baja. Granite countertops. Custom cabinetry. Mosaic tile inlay in the walls and travertine floors. Wood trim around doors. Multiple pools and tennis courts on the property. The development is in the pre-sale phase.

8. Club Marena

Four existing towers, two more towers being built, 250 total units

Bedrooms/square footage: Two or three bedrooms, 1400 to 2994 square feet

Price: $340,000 to $940,000

Ocean frontage: Fifty-foot cliffs, rocky shore, and a small, pebbly beach accessible by staircase. The project surrounds the surf spot known as K38

Distance from the Rosarito Beach Hotel: 6.7 miles south

Comments: Known as the Beverly Hills of the Gold Coast, Club Marena is a well-landscaped, intelligently laid-out project sitting on a small point jutting into the Pacific. Easy access to a great point break for surfers who own or rent condos. Property features a cliffside pool and clubhouse. First of seven phases was built in the late '80s. Hollywood celebrities working at Fox Studios often rent here. Condos feature high ceilings, granite countertops, and tiled bathrooms. Each elevator stop serves only two condominiums. Units are being pre-sold in phases six and seven. Limited resale is available in the existing towers.

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