In January 2022, Stephanie and I visited Mexico City for two-and-a-half weeks with one primary goal in mind: find the colonia, or neighborhood, in the city that we would use as a base for future trips. We were pretty sure that Mexico City was the place, so to speak. But we had come up empty on our previous trips—-in June and August 2021, respectively—in part because we had stayed in Centro, the historic center of Mexico City. And so this trip would be different: we had found a terrific Airbnb that was located in one of the more desirable and expat-friendly colonias, Roma Norte.
We told very few people what we were doing. And I’m honestly surprised that only one person asked what the heck we were doing when we started posting photos from the trip to Instagram and Facebook. Sure, there were occasional visits to tourist destinations, and the requisite street food and restaurant meal photos. But our trip must have been puzzling to our friends and family, as most of the pictures were of neighborhood walks from all over the city. Clearly, we were doing research.
It didn’t take us long to realize that Roma Norte was it, but we didn’t voice this to each other until it was time to book a second side-trip outside of Mexico City. We had spent a long weekend in Puebla earlier in the trip and had rough plans to visit Queretaro in a similar manner. But when Stephanie brought this up, I dug in my heels. “I kind of just want to stay here,” I said, noting that we had already found several great restaurants and enjoyed walking the safe streets of Roma Norte at night. Why even leave?
Steph agreed, and that was that. Roma Norte would be our home away from home when we visited Mexico City in the future, and we’d use that as a base to explore the rest of the city, and country. Had that been all we accomplished on that trip, I would have considered it a win, given our past inability to find the right neighborhood. But then it happened.
On our last day in Mexico City on that trip, we had headed over to the airport in the morning to get the COVID tests we’d need to return to the United States. (On previous trips, we’d gotten tested at a hotel, but the airport was less expensive. And we discovered on subsequent trips that there are local places in Roma Norte that are even less expensive.)
After that was done and we had returned to the Airbnb, we weren’t feeling particularly energic, so I offered up an idea: let’s walk down the street and visit the one real estate agency we’d seen in the entire city—they seem to be rare in Mexico City—and find out what we needed to do first should we want to rent or buy an apartment. At that time, this was something that was going to happen down the road, maybe years down the road. But it wouldn’t hurt to get started down that path.
She thought this was a fine idea, so we exited the Airbnb, walked the half-block down to the road where we’d seen the real estate office, and turned the corner. And that’s when our life changed.
The new apartment building on the corner was having an open house. We had walked by this apartment building dozens of times in the past few weeks, but we hadn’t even realized that it wasn’t fully occupied. In fact, the only thing I had remembered about it was that the front stairs seemed kind of steep. But the older gentlemen we met outside—he spoke almost no English, and we spoke only a little Spanish—indicated that we could come inside and take a look. And so we did.
The building consists of 11 apartments, with two towers of 6 stories each, and it had only recently been completed, we learned. In the ground floor office, which would eventually be rented as an apartment, we viewed a model of the building, and the gentlemen, Mauricio, handed me a price sheet listing the available departamentos (apartments). All of them seemed affordable to us, in the $235,000 to $280,000 range, save the penthouse, which occupies the top two floors of one of the towers and has its own rooftop terrace and costs about $485,000. We were never going to buy the penthouse, but he took us there first.
It blew us away. Of course it did. Its rooftop terrace, in particular, is amazing and it offers a panoramic view of the Reforma skyline. It also looks down on the building in which our Airbnb was, and so we took a few pictures of both the skyline and the Airbnb from this unusual vantage point.
I turned to Mauricio and explained, haltingly, that the penthouse was too expensive. Scanning the price sheet he had handed me, I pointed at #601, the only apartment on the sixth floor of the other tower. That one was listed at $280,000, which was a bit more than we wanted to spend, and we weren’t ready to buy anyway. But it would be interesting to see an apartment—a new apartment—in Mexico City that was at least in our price range. Could we see that one?
Of course we could. Mauricio took us over to #601 and let us into the unit. Like the penthouse, it was completely empty, but this one is on one floor, and is smaller, at about 750 square feet. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one off the main bedroom), a large living space with a kitchen area in the corner, a washroom with room for laundry, and a large balcony. We stepped out onto the balcony, which faces south and offers views of buildings and mountains to the southwest. Gorgeous.
Then we walked back down to the temporary office, and my mind was racing. We were absolutely not ready, and I figured we’d plan future trips where we would visit more areas, stay in more Airbnbs, and get a better feel for the neighborhood. Longer term, I thought we would rent first and maybe buy only after were absolutely sure what we wanted to do. But this apartment had thrown a wrench into my brain. Surely my wife would explain, logically, that it was too soon. That we needed to see other places. That we needed more time.
And then we thanked Mauricio, exchanged WhatsApp numbers, and stepped down those really steep front stairs and into the Mexico sunshine. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. And so I asked Stephanie, the voice of wisdom and rationality, what we were going to do next.
“I really want to buy this place,” she said, surprising me. I think she had wanted me to talk her out of it. But I didn’t.
“I do too,” I answered.
And then we did.