Born and raised in the Vancouver, British Columbia-area, Debbie Baker spent years in law enforcement before heading to Mexico to become Puerto Vallarta’s Property Girl.
“I was on holiday in Puerto Vallarta for about three weeks and loved it so much I came back for three months, lived in a couple of different areas to get the feel of it and then made up my mind that this was an amazing place,” Baker said.” So, I went home, gave my notice at the police department, packed everything up and drove to Puerto Vallarta.”
Baker, who is 55, was born in New Westminster, British Columbia and raised in nearby Port Coquitlam, both suburbs of Vancouver. After high school, she enrolled at Vancouver Community College to study accounting for one year and then moved to the University of British Columbia to take real estate courses, while beginning a nine-year career as a 911 operator and police dispatcher with both New Westminster and Port Moody police departments.
But after nearly a decade working in law enforcement, Baker began to try her hand at selling real estate part-time and discovered she liked it. She worked for three years in the Vancouver-area and coined the name The Property Girl, a name that would later set her apart from competitors in the competitive Puerto Vallarta property market.
In 2010, after returning from a long stay in Puerto Vallarta, she packed her car and hit the road for the 5,000 km (a little over 3,100 miles) drive to Vallarta, a place she has called home for over a decade.
She was able to quickly get a rental agent job with Real Estate Vallarta and Beyond and prospered before deciding to start her own business in 2013, The Property Girl, specializing in home rentals, property management and sales.
“My main goal when I moved to Puerto Vallarta was to buy a home within five years, so having my own business was key to meeting that goal,” Baker said.
Before purchasing her own home, she rented in several different areas of the city to see which suited her needs the best.
“I lived in El Centro, the Marina, Cinco de Diciembre and Fluvial before deciding on Las Gaviotas, known for its family atmosphere, which was important because I was expecting my son at that time. I wanted a place that was not gated, but was safe and quiet, had wide streets and friendly neighbors.”
Although the Las Gaviotas Colonia is known for its large homes with spacious backyards, Baker chose a more modest two-bedroom, two-bath home with no pool situated on a corner lot. Although pools are everywhere in Vallarta, she did not want to worry about her son, Justice, who is now 9-years-old.
When she purchased her house about 10 years ago, she paid around US$225,000 for the property, but Puerto Vallarta, like many desirable locations in Mexico, has seen a major jump in home prices.
Another key reason Baker chose Las Gaviotas is the Colonia’s proximity to the nearby British American School.
“I interviewed a few different schools, but chose the British American School because it’s bi-lingual Spanish and English, has an excellent academic record and has an after-school program for athletics,” Baker said. “And when he graduates, he will have the credentials to attend any university.”
Baker pays about US$400 month for her son’s tuition, books and all materials and supplies at the school.
Another benefit of living in Colonia Las Gaviotas is its proximity to her business office, which is located in nearby Plaza Caracol.
“I have an office in my home, also,” she said, “because I literally work all of the time. I manage eight employees and it is a 24-7 job. I decided to focus my business from the start on the fast-growing rental market in Vallarta because many of the well-known real estate firms here – although they have rental divisions – focus mainly on property sales. We primarily find rentals for people, although we also handle a growing number of real estate sales.”
A wise choice, particularly given the uptick in the number of so-called digital nomads who are increasingly popping up around Mexico.
“I think COVID-19 changed the way people work and we see it reflected in the number of new people coming to Vallarta because they can work anywhere, and living in paradise at half the cost of the U.S. or Canada is very appealing,” Baker explained.
She told us that the modus operandi for many newbies to Vallarta is to first come on vacation and then go home, look online and then rent or buy. But she always advises her clients to first get the feel of living in Vallarta – or other areas within the Bay of Banderas – by renting and trying a few different areas before committing.
“We are seeing a lot of demand for condos, primarily because we have more of them,” she said. “They are popping up everywhere.”
If you are looking for a fully-furnished rental home, Baker said, expect to pay between US$1,500 and $2,000, depending if you have a pool and what is included. A furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo should be in the US$1,200 to $1,600 range. If you have your own furniture, the price will generally be less, but it depends upon negotiations with the owner to remove all or some of the furniture.
Baker works a lot but still reserves time to spend with her son. She likes to take him to the beach at Tehuamixtle, which is about 55 miles south of Puerto Vallarta via a dirt road through El Tuito. One of the Pacific Ocean-facing beaches of the Cabo Corrientes-area, it is quiet and pristine.
“We love the little fishing villages in that area and it is so quiet,” she said, “but you need to have a serious Jeep, like I have, to handle the road. It takes about two hours to get there, but it’s worth it.”
The rental and real estate sales markets are booming in Puerto Vallarta as the most severe stage of the pandemic begins to slip away. With so many new arrivals, Baker offered this piece of advice to anyone headed to the Bay of Banderas:
“Move down. The border is not going to close behind you. I had to talk myself into going when I made my big move, but I knew I could go home anytime. You can go home anytime, also, but you probably won’t.”
Debbie is featured in my book, Expats in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta.