Thousands of Americans who have investments in Mexican houses, vacation retreats or other real estate face huge losses from the Mexican government's recent devaluation of the peso and currency control decrees, according to the Guadalajara Law Center.
The law center this month started publishing a newsletter called Mexcrisis, aimed specifically at helping Americans protect and recover their investments in Mexican real estate, stocks, bonds and banks.
In an effort to shore up its faltering national economy, the Mexican government last month devalued the peso and froze all dollar accounts in Mexican banks. All withdrawals must be made in pesos at a rate of exchange substantially lower than what the free market would dictate. In addition, limits were placed on how many pesos or dollars can be taken out of the country.
Richard L. Hecht, a California lawyer and Mexican investment specialist who is putting together Mexcrisis, said many investors "are terrified" and are willing to cut the price of their Mexican real estate by as much as one-third from its August value in an effort to sell out fast.
But another large group of investors is taking a wait-and-see attitude in the hope that the new government of Miguel de la Madrid, to take office in December, may rescind some of the currency regulations.
This attitude is "unrealistic," Hecht said, predicting that the regulations will continue for years and might become more restrictive. He predicted more owners will slash prices on their Mexican property next year as this begins to sink in.
If a U.S. owner of Mexican real estate can find a buyer in the United States, the transaction can be structured in the United States and dollars, for it can be exchanged here, he said. But if a Mexican buyer is involved, the sale may have to be structured in Mexico and the seller would not be able to repatriate the funds, he said.
Because of the resale and currency repatriation problems, U.S. buyers may be hard to find. And many of those who might have been interested have money in "frozen" Mexican accounts, the first issue of Mexcrisis pointed out.
One strategy Hecht said investors wanting to sell may consider is getting a U.S. importer of Mexican goods to act as a third-party intermediary in a sale. The importer might be willing to trade dollars here for cashier checks on a Mexican account, which the importer can use to buy Mexican goods -- if the seller gives the importer a large enough discount.
In the meantime, Americans interested in Mexican real estate can find some good bargains, as long as they are not concerned about resale or repatriation possibilities, Hecht said, adding that some speculators have started seeing this as a good time to get into the Mexican market.
Neither U.S. banks nor Mexican banks are interested in financing these real estate sales, however, Hecht added, so a buyer generally must have cash.
Those who used a U.S. or other foreign corporation to buy Mexican real estate apparently will be able to get around the currency restrictions, according to Mexcrisis. These owners can simply sell the stock of those corporations in the United States for dollars, it said.
Hecht estimates there are about 25,000 Americans and other foreigners who have invested in Mexican real estate and face the large losses. About half of the U.S. investors are from the Southwest, while most of the others live in the North Central "Frost Belt" states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, he said.