The stress of running a successful business in Calgary at the tender age of 28 led expat entrepreneur Brent May to begin thinking about building a business in laid-back Huatulco, a place he had fallen in love with during his many trips to Mexico’s west coast.
May and his wife Erin, both 42, began visiting Mexico after they graduated from North Battleford High School in Canada’s Saskatchewan Province in 1994.
“We traveled to Mazatlán first and liked it,” he said, “so we traveled to a different beach town every year for 15 years. And then it just happened after I took a year off from running the business I started in Calgary. We came down to Huatulco with some developer guys. I walked around Huatulco and thought it was just different. I liked the slower pace of life and how clean it was. We had already invested in one vacation property in British Columbia, so we decided to try one in Huatulco.”
May was born and raised in Landis, Saskatchewan, about two hours west of Saskatoon and an hour and a half south of Battleford, where he graduated from high school. He tried the engineering program at the University of Saskatoon, but quickly lost interest and decided to begin working.
“I’m proud to say I am a university dropout,” May said. “I just realized engineering was not for me and I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day. I started working in the construction industry as an apprentice in Saskatoon and then started my own plumbing and heating business in Calgary when I was 28. I think I became an entrepreneur because I kept getting fired every time I worked for someone!”
His company quickly grew to 25 employees who provided services to mainly custom home builders and buyers. But the stress of managing his own business began affecting his health, so he sold the business and took a year off to decide what to do with his life.
“I really had become a slave to my own life with a bigger house, faster cars, another boat and just more and more,” he said. “My business was like a child and I didn’t want to give it up, but it was affecting my health.”
Eight years ago, the couple moved to Huatulco, a city of 50,000 people wedged between the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains and the Pacific Ocean, just a bit over 300 miles south of Acapulco in the state of Oaxaca.
“Huatulco was developed by Fonatur, which is Mexico’s national trust for the promotion of tourism,” May told us. “They also developed Cancún and several other major tourist areas in Mexico. The first thing you notice about Huatulco is how clean it is. Everything looks very manicured. I also liked that it won several environmental awards, including the Blue Flag award for clean beaches and high environmental quality. And I am a heat lover, so being just 15 degrees north of the equator with hot and sunny weather year-round really appeals to me. Also, this area is considered a low-risk hurricane zone.”
May started his business with a website, Own Mexico, that promotes the Huatulco area to foreigners considering buying investment property or retiring in Mexico. Always the entrepreneur, he then founded Bayside Real Estate Huatulco.
“We have private listings, vacation rentals and also provide property management services,” he said. “We do vacation rentals to get our investors to try out a development and show them they can get some returns on their investment.”
May said that setting up his business in Mexico was not difficult or expensive.
“We found it very straightforward to set up our business with our lawyer’s recommendations,” he explained. “She took care of our visas and all of the necessary paperwork for us. Her rates are great so there was little expense in starting our business.”
Bayside Real Estate Huatulco has 21 employees, including May and five real estate agents. Although they have some local business, their typical customer is around 55-years-old and looking for an investment five or ten years out from their retirement. Many are from his home country of Canada, but also the U.S. and other countries.
“We are really strong with Canadians, especially from Alberta,” he said. “Huatulco is one of those unique places in the world where we actually outnumber the Americans. Our expat community, although still small, has not only Americans and Canadians, but also a sprinkling of Germans, Brits and Italians.”
May and his wife are currently renting a place while they wait for the completion of a new two-bedroom, two-bathroom 1,800 sq. ft. condo on Arrocito Beach, one of the best in Huatulco.
“We have an almost 200 ft. long pool with a waterfall, a high-end restaurant just 20 steps away and I can drop my paddleboard into the bay in another 20 steps,” he said.” “All this for just US$350,000. I’m definitely a condo-living kind of guy. I don’t want to cut grass.”
Expats in Huatulco have access to a variety of supermarkets and nearby big-box stores, but May said it’s much less expensive to shop in local markets.
“If you want to buy brand name products from the U.S. and Canada, you’re going to pay the same amount as back home,” he said. “But if you shop at the local produce markets and butcher shops, you can get excellent quality at low prices. Of course, the seafood here is really great. If you’re eating out, you can get a big plate of oysters for about US$6 a plate.”
Although Huatulco is a resort beach town, the overall cost of living is still low. May manages his stress level through acupuncture and massage weekly. Acupuncture with cupping is US$17 for an hour and a 90-minute massage with tip is US$45.
The city’s infrastructure is excellent and getting better, May said. For example, Oaxaca’s governor announced the construction of a new hospital in Huatulco, adding to the two existing facilities. At present, expats requiring major surgery are airlifted to Mexico City for treatment.
The international airport also expanded its capabilities, adding runways that now accept larger aircraft so visitors from Europe can fly directly to the area. May said the airport handles about 26 direct flights weekly from Canada and six from the U.S. Traveling to Huatulco from Oaxaca City by automobile – about 150 miles – also will soon be easier. A new highway, expected to be completed sometime next year, should cut driving time from over six hours to under three hours.
A big Huatulco promoter, May thinks the area is hard to beat in Mexico.
“Compared to some areas, some people think Huatulco is expensive,” May said, “but when you combine its world-class infrastructure, a major environmental commitment, the security we have here, the laid-back vibe and the climate, I don’t think you can beat the prices here.”
Life is good for May and his wife in Huatulco: Little stress, he has his own business and the weather he relishes. What could be better? He offers this advice to aspiring expats thinking about a move to Mexico:
“Get out of hotels and do a vacation rental so you can see what it really is like to live here. Go to the grocery store and you will see the difference. Chicken is a different color here. They’re yellow, which I am told is because they are fed marigolds! And the food here is absolutely amazing. You go into these little restaurants with six or seven tables and the owner is the head chef. It may sound a bit cheesy, but these plates come out made with love. You just can’t beat that.”