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An Expat Entrepreneur in Mexico

John and Florence Youden in Puerto Vallarta
John and Florence Youden

Life has been good to John Youden. After years of business success as an expat entrepreneur in Mexico, the 56-year-old Canadian recently sold his publishing business and bought homes in Nice, France and Lisbon, Portugal to live the life of a globe-hopping expat entrepreneur.

Youden moved to Puerto Vallarta in the late 1980s from Prince Rupert, British Columbia and decided to stay when he got involved in the development of the first real estate Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for that resort city on Mexico’s Pacific Riviera.

“I was getting tired of what I was doing in Canada and was looking for a change,” Youden told us. “I had been to Puerto Vallarta on vacation and loved it, so my girl and I moved there to see if we could find something to do.”

By chance, he met someone who had just purchased a computer, printer and scanner to set-up a local MLS, which at that pre-Internet time was a printed catalog that was delivered to all of the local real estate offices.

“I had just been involved with doing the same thing with our real estate board in Canada, so I knew how to do it,” Youden said. “He gave me half of the company for setting up the database and helping him. I bought the rest of the company a short time later when he very unfortunately had a nervous breakdown.”

The MLS service Youden created in Puerto Vallarta was the first of its kind in Mexico and is now the longest in existence, although it shares the local market with another MLS owned by the local real estate association.

Youden used the success of his MLS business to build a local publishing empire, which by the first decade of this century included the magazines Vallarta Lifestyles, Costa Vallarta, Vallarta Real Estate Guide, Yachts and Villas and Vallarta Nautica. His company also developed a number of successful websites, including Mexico Boutique Hotels.

After several decades of calling Mexico his home, he sold his publishing properties last year, but held on to his core MLS business for income. He used the proceeds of the sale to purchase homes in France and Portugal.

“We purchased a three-bedroom place in Nice, which we renovated and turned into a two-bedroom with a large master bedroom,” he explained. “The location is right in the city center, which is very convenient. We also love that Nice is so centrally located and has great air connections, second only to Paris in France. We also love that it is a city built between the mountains and the sea, very similar to Puerto Vallarta.”

What Youden does not like about living in France, though, are taxes.

Expat entrepreneur in Mexico John Youden with wife Florence in Nice, France
Image credit: John Youden

“If you live in France for six months or more you pay French taxes. They even have an assets tax there, which means if I fell into their tax realm, I would have to pay on my global assets, even the things that I own in Canada and Mexico.”

Although they love Nice as a base for sailing, skiing and exploring Europe, Portugal’s low cost of living and favorable tax structure beckoned.

“In Portugal, the income from my MLS business in Mexico is not taxed, which is a huge plus,” Youden said. “I just pay Mexican taxes.”

Youden and his wife, Florence, bought a small flat in Lisbon’s city center in 2015 and recently received residency from the government.

“Portugal is going through an interesting time right now,” he said. “It is a bit like when I first went to Mexico. It has a lot of potential. The way it is going with technology, I think it is going to become like a Silicon Valley for Europe.”

Although jetting back and forth between three glamorous cities, Youden has not taken his eye off his business back home in Puerto Vallarta.

“I hired an information technology company called Play Us Design to ensure that the database and website are running smoothly and updated on a regular basis,” he said. “They are based in Puerto Vallarta and doing an excellent job, so I can really live anywhere in the world and operate the business. I also employ a person who handles on-the-ground liaison for all MLS members.”

Youden and his wife spend four months out of the year at their penthouse condominium on a golf course in the Marina Vallarta area of Puerto Vallarta, right across the street from his former publishing office.

John Youden in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Image credit: John Youden

“We bought and sold several homes in Punta Mita, about 40 minutes from Puerto Vallarta,” he said, “but we kept our place in the marina where we raised our children. The places in Punta MIta were a nice getaway but I love to play golf and the marina condo is right on a golf course.”

The Vallarta MLS Youden continues to operate is still a profitable business. Unlike many MLS services, his includes not only real estate firms but also real estate developers.

“There are currently 65 real estate offices in our system, of which about 10 have been with us since the beginning in the late 1980s,” he said. “We also have 35 real estate developments listed with us. The number of developers is low right now because the market still has not fully returned to Puerto Vallarta. Each MLS member pays a monthly fee of about US$80 – $100 for our services.”

Services also include a differentiating feature for developments. The database allows users to review each development listed, its amenities, its inventory and individual units. Youden said most MLS databases are not set up to allow for this level of detailed information. The system also provides a comparative market analysis feature that allows members to review sales records as far back as 20 years. An email system also allows real estate agencies and developers to communicate directly with each other.

Might Youden consider replicating his MLS success in Lisbon?

“We have considered it,” he said, “but I am not sure it would work as well as it does in Puerto Vallarta. Although Lisbon is two or three times the size of Vallarta, there are actually only a few very large real estate offices that control the market, making the need for for a MLS not quite as necessary.”

Not to worry, though. With homes in Puerto Vallarta, Nice and Lisbon and a flourishing business in Mexico, this successful expat entrepreneur is in no hurry to start a new business.