After visiting Puerto Vallarta nearly two decades ago on a recommendation from friends, this Los Angeleno found a new life by the Bay of Banderas and now spends his life promoting the Vallarta lifestyle.
“My first trip to Vallarta was November 2001,” Taniel Chemsian recalled. “I wanted to know what the weather was like in different times of the year, what the vibe was like, and very importantly, I decided to interview a lot of expats who had relocated to Vallarta to see what their lives were like. I also wanted to know what the process was like to open a business in Vallarta.”
His early instincts to interview expats about living in Puerto Vallarta came in handy a decade later. Chemsian is the host of HGTV’s House Hunters International television series on Puerto Vallarta and other Bay of Banderas communities. He’s been doing it since 2012.
“I got involved with House Hunters International in 2011 when they contacted my employer – the Timothy Real Estate Group – via Twitter,” he said. “They had not been to Puerto Vallarta and wanted to film a show here. Back then I didn’t realize how popular it was. Our first episode was filmed in January of 2012 and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Chemsian’s interest in television and film started in the late 1980s when he attended Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He studied telecommunications, which led to a career in doing mainly post-production work for television and film companies. A life-long native of Los Angeles, he worked for film studios as well as small independent companies. But the arc of his life changed dramatically in 2003,
“I had left the film business and was working at my family’s convenience store around the time of a big milestone birthday,” he said.” So, I asked my close friends at that time where I could go on vacation that was special and different. They suggested Puerto Vallarta, so I went for nine days. I loved it and from that very first trip I told my friends and my family that I was moving to PV. I came down five times to check it out before I finally moved to Puerto Vallarta in October 2003.”
By the beginning of 2003 he knew he was moving to Vallarta and began downsizing, paying off credit cards and getting ready for his big move in the fall of that year.
“I got rid of everything, all the material stuff that you can replace down the road,” he said. “I was moving to PV full-time, but if it somehow didn’t work out I wouldn’t have to pack up all that stuff and move it somewhere else. I sold mostly everything I had and came down with just my clothes, CDs and DVDs and that was about it. It took two flights down to bring it all.”
When he arrived, he stayed with local friends in one of their apartments for a few weeks before all of them decided to move together into a four-bedroom apartment in El Centro near the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “Each of us was paying about US$200 a month for rent, which was a good deal, but I have to tell you it was hard to sleep with the bells from the church!”
Soon after arriving, he waited tables at a local restaurant before opening his own business in 2005. “My clothing store was about a half-block from the Los Muertos Pier, right off Olas Altas,” he explained. “I called my store Bye Curious, which meant goodbye to curiosity in the sense that it doesn’t matter if the clothing was made for a man or a woman. I had the clothing store for two-and-a-half-years before I made the transition to my current profession, real estate.”
He had seen Carl Timothy, the owner of Timothy Real Estate Group, at social events and walking by his store, which was located just four doors down from Timothy’s. “I saw him walking one day in 2006 and asked him if he had a few minutes to chat,” Chemsian said. “I told him I wanted to go into real estate, didn’t know much about it, but wanted a chance to show him what I could do. He said okay, you can start on such and such a day and I said yes.”
After 16 years of selling real estate in the Bay of Banderas market, Chemsian is a real estate pro who has seen many changes in property buyer behavior over the years.
“Nowadays, it’s not really buying sight unseen because of FaceTime, WhatsApp, virtual video tours and other means of viewing properties online,” he said. “That’s really helped prospective buyers feel comfortable. Most people visit Vallarta to look at properties at least once and decide whether to rent for a while or buy, but we are seeing more buyers who have never been here before just pack up and move down.”
Chemsian said the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 had a profound impact on the local real estate market. Many people began examining what they wanted their lives to be like in the future, especially when remote working became more the norm, rather than the exception.
“Since the end of 2020 the real estate business has been booming in Vallarta and the rest of Mexico,” he said. “People are moving down here in droves. Many have realized that they can work from home and their home can be anywhere. They are questioning why they need to put up with the congestion, stress and cost of living in large cities in the U.S. and Canada when they can live anywhere in the world.”
Chemsian said condominiums are by far the number one seller in the Bay of Banderas market, purchased often by busy people who are working more and don’t want the work involved with owning a house.
He has lived in condominiums since he moved to Vallarta 19 years ago. His first place was in Conchas Chinas, an established upscale hillside neighborhood with beautiful bay views that was established decades ago just south of Old Town. Conchas Chinas is a very desirable area but expensive. Recently, he purchased a 1,000 sq. ft. condo in Alta Vista, another hillside location just around the corner from rapidly-growing Amapas, which sprawls on the hill right above Zona Romantica.
“I was living in a 2,700 sq. ft. place but I decided to downsize,” he said. “This smaller place I found in Alta Vista is just perfect for me now. It was just an empty shell when I bought it, so I had a chance to build it out the way I wanted it.”
In Mexico, about 60 percent of the expats who live here purchase a home and the rest rent. For renters in Puerto Vallarta, or anywhere in the Bay of Banderas area, a long-term lease is the best option, usually for a year at a time.
“If you want a long-term lease, especially if it is going to be in town or very close to town, start looking early,” he said. “You will need to find a good rental agent and start looking at least six months in advance.”
As Vallarta continues to grow, some who knew the city when it was much smaller and slower-paced remember a very different Puerto Vallarta, a town, not a city, and worry about its future. But Chemsian believes that growth is good.
“With the growth, we now have a major international airport that has many direct flights to just about anywhere, many retail shopping choices, improved highways and many other infrastructure improvements that come with a growing population,” he said. “I know that some people are not happy with it, but I always say I’d rather be in a city of the future than in a ghost town with tumbleweeds across the highway.”
Life in Puerto Vallarta is good for him. Business is booming, his side job with House Hunters International helps bring him new business and allows him to stay in touch with television and film production, his first love. And, most importantly, he has found his forever place: Puerto Vallarta.
“You just feel relaxed when you’re here,” he said. “I think you know when you first step off the airplane and take your first breath and decompress, that finding the right place is really the key to life. I think most of the time decisions we make about our lives are about finding a better path to get to a better place, a happier place, whether it’s a relationship, relocating geographically or moving for a better job. It’s all about the hope of being happier.”
Taniel is featured in my book, Expats in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta.