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Fishing for property deals in new Baja seaside resort

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With a view of the pristine waters of the Sea of Cortez and near a bustling, vibrant Mexican town, developers for the San Felipe Marina Golf Resort and Spa seek to offer homeowners affordable, beachfront properties, as opposed to the exorbitant prices of similar land parcels found in California and around the United States.

An aerial view of the San Felipe Marina Golf Resort and Spa, a master-planned community still under development that will feature a hotel, condominiums, homes, a marina, golf course and other amenities.

A villa in the 444-acre resort, located on the Bay of San Felipe just five minutes from the main downtown area and 10 minutes from the San Felipe International Airport.

"Nothing has really been built in the area that offers the type of vacation and home living that we can offer," said Armando Ramos, resort vice president and architect. "What is amazing for me is Baja really is untouched."

Situated on 444 acres in the northern Baja Peninsula, the property features a master-planned community complete with hotel, condominiums, homes, a marina, golf course and other amenities available to both visitors and residents.

"We think we are going to be the new center of San Felipe," said Kyle Crawford, director of sales.

The developers, comprised of the San Felipe Marina Golf Resort and Spa in partnership with Grupon Construction, Stewart Title and Mexican Realty, recently invited investors, brokers and prospective homebuyers to informative forums held in Point Loma and in Los Angeles, as well as to the property itself.

Tony Rice, of J Rice and Associates of San Diego and Trademark Luxury, attended the Point Loma seminar with fellow investors to hear about the property. "This is like an incubator stage -- it is wide open for investors. It is still in an early stage of what is going to be a Mecca," Rice predicted.

Although California may be going through a "softening real estate market right now," Rice said, people who have money are still looking for real estate investments. "And the wave is shifting toward Mexico and Baja."

San Felipe was founded in the 1700s by missionaries venturing south from California. It is located in the upper west corner of the Sea of Cortez, making shrimping and fishing the primary industries.

The quaint fishing village attracted the attention of Ramos' father, Ramos Sr., a few decades ago while flying to San Diego from Mexico City. The elder Ramos would look at the view from his window seat and marvel at the beauty of the Sea of Cortez, recalled his son.

Ramos Sr. worked in construction as a contractor for the Mexico government, building roads, bridges and other major infrastructure improvements. The 1980s tourism explosion of Rocky Point, or Puerto Penasco as it is also known, a similar village across the Sea of Cortez near the Arizona border, prompted Ramos Sr. to develop the nearly untouched land for those looking for a Mexican getaway.

When his father told him about the proposal, Ramos thought he was crazy.

"It was beautiful, but nothing but dunes and beach," Ramos recalled.

The elder Ramos was certain that at the time of the resort's completion, "the baby boomers would be ready to retire" or have a second home in the type of place of his vision, Ramos said.

The trip to San Felipe is only a few hours by car from the San Diego border on a highway running through Mexicali. The resort is located on the Bay of San Felipe, only five minutes north of the main downtown area and 10 minutes south of the San Felipe International Airport.

"We're adding value to the Baja region," Ramos said. The first phase of the community was completed in 1993, offering 65 hotel suits, eight waterfront villas, 45 single-family homes and two six-story apartment towers (with 40 condominiums). There is also a clubhouse, restaurant, bar pool, gym, tennis courts, boutiques and full-service spa. The second phase is expected to be completed next year, adding more condos and single-family homes, as well as the anticipated Jack Nicklaus-designed, 18-hole golf course. Single-family homes run from about $255,000 to $515,000.

Construction on the third phase will begin immediately following the opening of the second. It will include hundreds of ships at the marina and a theater, shops, restaurants and nightclubs in the resort's own Sea Port Village.

"We want to make this both a family and spring break destination," Ramos said.

According to the developers, there are 28,000 people currently living in San Felipe -- approximately a third of residents are from the United States.

"There is a true mixture of cultures. The Americans and Mexicans live together. They are really interested in each other and interact with each other all the time," said Ramos.

To make it possible for U.S. residents to invest or "own" property on the resort, the developers have partnered with Stewart Title to ensure the landowners as beneficiaries of long-term trusts. They will have the right to buy, sell or lease their condo or home.

The developers have also partnered with General Electric Money Capital. GE is the first major U.S. lending and mortgage company helping owners finance their homes. Homeowners will be given the same opportunities of purchasing as they would in the United States, offering several lending plans including a 30 percent down or 30-year mortgages. Other U.S. banks are opening their doors in Mexico as well.

Another advantage of buying homes in Mexico is the minimal property tax. On a $300,000 home, the annual property tax is approximately $300 a year.

"We're making people feel secure about investing in Mexico, giving them a real peace of mind," said San Felipe Marina Golf Resort and Spa sales representative Derek Hadge.

For more information visit www.sanfelipemarina.net or call (866) 341-0167.

Kurland is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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