Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Puntamita

Real estate moguls like to impress people with inane demonstrations and descriptors. They'll gush about the state-of-the-art kitchens (aren't they all at this price point?) and request that you peer appreciatively at a scale model (when you've seen one plastic broccoli-floret-sized tree, you've seen them all). But it takes a very special developer to woo with chocolate chip Mickey Mouse pancakes with maraschino cherries for eyes and a pineapple spear for a smile.

I hope you're not diabetic, says Basri Emini, CEO of Emini Equities, shaking icing powder over Mickey.

Brawny, with thick dark hair, Basri Emini is standing over a hot grill at Ayia, his stylish condominium development in Punta Mita, Mexico, just north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast. His kitchen helper, a Dutchman, hands me a mimosa, while faint Arabic music tinkles in the background.

Basri Emini, who is from Chicago and sounds like another Chicagoan, John Cusack; I'm hay-pea here, says Basri Emini in a fit of glee after moving here in 2006 after being drawn by its beauty. I love Puerto Vallarta because it's a real city. It has Spanish architecture and cobblestone streets. It's lively and the people are just amazing.

Indeed, there is a lot to see on the 40-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta International Airport. From the inside of a moving taxicab, the view is akin to the looping backdrop of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Peppered with seemingly endless palm trees under a hot sun the average temperature is 80 F there are the quintessentially Mexican food stands, and good people-watching. Hello, guy wielding tangle of birdcages with budgies! But it gets very still when we reach the gated community of Punta Mita, a stunning peninsula with azure water and colourful vegetation.

That's precisely its charm, says Mr. Emini of the 1,500-acre low-density resort community surrounded on three sides by dramatic coves thanks to Banderas Bay (Mexico's largest natural bay and second largest in the world), the Pacific Ocean and Litigu Bay. It is isolated and quiet but that's the beauty. A lot of the people here already live hectic lives. These are their second and third homes. I always tell them to go to Vallarta or Sayulita [a swinging surf town eight miles away] if they want the scene.

Once a remote fishing village, Punta Mita was developed in 1999 by Dine (pronounced dee-nay), one of Mexico's largest real estate players. So far, Dine has invested more than US0-million in its infrastructure, and at full build-out Punta Mita is expected to have a real estate value of some US-billion.

And what's a resort without luxury hotels? There are two, the Four Seasons and the St. Regis, and home buyers are permitted to traipse over to them, should they fancy a seaweed wrap in the spa, say, or a meal at one of the restaurants with beautiful vantage points and ambiance cue foamy waves, salt-licked air and orange-creamsicle sunsets.

The land mass and the security is what's great here, says Gary Pepin, the vice-president of sales at Punta Mita. Secondly, every person that owns property in Punta Mita belongs to the club. He then launches into the club's extensive amenities the two Jack Nicklaus golf courses, 11 tennis courts (cradled in palm groves) and a newfangled fitness complex. Eventually, there will also be equestrian facilities.

The club has a ,000 membership fee, which is totally refundable upon resale. In the world of golf, to belong to a club with so many amenities, one that is totally refundable without a transfer fee, ,000 is ridiculously low, says Mr. Pepin.

As for digs, there's a variety of lavish sites to choose from, whether you prefer a condo, villa or a private home. Basri Emini's Ayia condos, for instance, which have all been built, are priced from US0,000 to US.19-million (though there's one on the market now for US0,000) with large terraces, an infinity pool and a furnishing package.

I'm also told that average prices for Punta Mita's oceanfront homes are 30% to 35% less than similar luxury homes in high-end master-planned communities in Hawaii, Los Cabos, The Bahamas and Costa Rica.

You can go for the traditional Mexican-style villas with terracotta tile roofs and palapas (an open structure with a thatched roof), like those at the El Encanto site (see sidebar). Or choose a slick condo that emulates what you'd find in Toronto.

The difference, of course, is that no matter how appealing Toronto's condos are in terms of architecture or interior finishes, they cannot offer a cerulean blue ocean at your doorstep, year-round sunshine, nor majestic palm trees (with apologies to our squirrel-stuffed oaks and maples).

Punta Mita also has nine-and-a-half miles of sandy white beaches and offers chance encounters with exotic wildlife (a bird straight out of National Geographic popped in for a visit while I bobbed in an infinity pool). Punta Mita also shares the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands. That means wearing short shorts year-round is an option.

For snowbirds just heading into winter, that's one hot selling feature.

Iris Benaroia was a guest of Punta Mita.

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