Canadian world traveler Dina Pettenon had lived her entire life in Vancouver, but began exploring the possibility of living in a different country when she turned 40. She never thought she could live in one of the world’s largest cities, but now has become the expat rental maven of Mexico City.
“Mexico City was not where I originally assumed that I was going to be ending up,” Pettenon said. “I started exploring possibilities of living and working in a different country, so I went to Belize first and also got to know other Latin American countries. My cousin and her family, though, had moved to Mexico City and I went to visit them in the fall of 2016. I thought to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing in Mexico City? Why would I go to a city of 22 million? I want to be by the ocean!’ But you go there and you realize, wow, this is something a little bit different. And it was.”
The 44-year-old Canadian moved to Mexico City in September of 2017, the day a major earthquake struck.
“I was there for the second earthquake, also,” she said. “What an introduction to a new city! Most people in Vancouver wondered why I was picking up and moving at my age, but it worked out mostly because of the connections I made there and the serendipity of meeting the person I would eventually work with in Mexico City’s real estate business.”
After graduating from high school in 1993, Pettenon took a three-year break before starting college. She completed a one-year legal secretarial program and got a job working for a sole practitioner lawyer for about a year-and-a-half before heading to Australia for a year of travel. Returning home, she went to work for a large law firm and simultaneously enrolled at Simon Fraser University. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminology in 2001.
Following graduation, Pettenon worked for the British Columbia division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in intelligence and investigation for four years before moving on to the newspaper business.
“I applied for a position as a research assistant at the Vancouver Sun and Province,” she said, “and was hired by the editor-in-chief. I spent nearly nine years of my career working for them in editorial and a variety of marketing jobs.”
Pettenon left the newspaper business and traveled for six months before returning to Vancouver to get her master’s degree in applied legal studies at the University of British Columbia. She received her real estate license immediately and jumped head first into the local real estate market and, although, she was very successful, Mexico was on her mind.
In January of 2017 she decided to move to Mexico City and share an apartment with her cousin. Her plan was to go back and forth to Vancouver, but she found she just could not do it. The attraction of Mexico City was too strong.
“I love the soul of the city, the people, the kindness you find here, the food, the weather and the mañana time mentality,” she said. “There is also a level of tranquility. People spend Sundays with their family. They choose to relax and they know how to balance their lives. It’s a different world from the rat race of big city life in Canada and the U.S.”
Pettenon had done quite a bit of research on working in Mexico before she arrived, but she made an important connection that helped get her started in the local real estate industry.
“Someone told me to contact this person and have a chat with her,” she said. “It turned out to be a serendipitous moment for me. I met Sandra Sanchez and her partner Gabriela Navarette who had a real estate brokerage called 2Aguas. They were two amazing ladies who have become like family. We work well together. I bring in a lot of business from expats.”
But the part of her business she likes best is what she calls tenant placement, or helping expats find a place to rent in the Mexico City area.
“I’ve gotten great reviews from the expats I’ve worked with,” she said, “because I not only help find the best rental property for them, but I also help with their banking needs, where to buy food and a myriad of other day-to-day things you need to know about living here.”
Pettenon also has a lively and popular Facebook page for people looking for a Mexico City rental. She told us that although she helps people buy properties and has listings, her main business is rental properties.
“The rental rates in Mexico City have increased significantly over the past few years, especially since the earthquake,” she said. “The biggest challenge I’ve had is trying to educate people on the reality of rental prices in the most popular areas of the city.”
Pettenon said the three most favored areas by expats are Condesa, Polanco and Roma Norte. The average rent for an unfurnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Condesa is about US$1,600 a month. She also has one-bedroom, fully-furnished apartments that rent for about US$1,300 per month.
“I would say that about 95 percent of rental properties that go on the market are rented,” she said. “In addition to your base rent, you have to pay for water, gas, electricity, Internet and phone.”
Food costs in the capital city are also much lower than her hometown of Vancouver. Pettenon shops weekly and pays about US$40 for a variety of food items in local markets. Dining out is equally inexpensive unless, of course, you want to dine frequently at the top dining spots in the city, which are world-class.
Making the 3,000-mile trek from British Columbia to the heart of Mexico was the easy part for Pettenon. Like most expats, adjusting culturally to the rhythm of life in a new country is always the most difficult challenge. It took her six months to adapt and begin feeling OK about living in Mexico City.
“I had a lot of stomach problems at first and was always feeling a bit off,” she said. “I feel wonderful now, but be prepared to make adjustments.”
For someone who thought she could never live in one of the world’s largest cities, she has adapted well. The energy vibe of Mexico City, the year-round spring-like climate and the central location in Mexico that provides easy access to beaches and mountains have helped make her a true chilango. Something she thought she would never be.