Monday, July 26, 2010

Review of Casa Sophia, San Pancho (aka: San Francisco), Nayarit

The jist of it is this: the owners of this house don't visit their house often enough, they don't hire good management, they don't want to spend money to get their house up to snuff, they engage in misleading advertising on their VRBO page, and they treat guests as if the guests are trying to get something for nothing. Really, we just wanted to get what we paid for. And we wanted to get our deposit back. If you need to know more than that, please read on.
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We've been home for a while. I finally got most of my deposit back (not without a struggle and not as much as we should have received). It's time for the review. Scott has already posted on VRBO, but two of the owner's friends seem to have posted their own reviews shortly after. A bit ingenuous, but hey...we live in a free country and thank God for that. Let me tell you about OUR experience during our ten and a half months at Casa Sophia.

First of all, I need to say that Casa Sophia felt like a lucky find when we finally signed a lease for it. Close to the kids' school, had a pool, had internet set up, had a place for Scott to work. This was the sum total of our requirements. Actually, all we needed was internet and a place for Scott to work, but we really wanted to be within walking distance of the school and we were hoping for a pool.

We originally signed a lease for a house that was much farther away (very close to the beach, though). It seemed to be the only house that would take us with our menagerie of children, cats, and the dog. The owner of that house decided at the last minute that he didn't want to rent to us and so he pulled the house out from under us. He said he'd find us another house. He found us Casa Sophia and it seems that part of the deal between this man (we'll call him Rico) and the property owner was that Rico would be able to manage the house.

Whatever. If Rico were a genuine, honest, easy-to-work with kind of guy, that would be fine. But it turns out he's not any of those things. Problem #1. Bad property manager.

We arrived at the house in August and it was hotter than all get out. We had been told that the weather would be like that, so we were prepared. Except we weren't prepared for the smell of other people's B.O. that lived in our bed all day and came out every night as we laid down to sleep and heated up the mattress. Nasty.

We also thought that, in addition to the ceiling fans, there would be a normal fan...like, a fan on a stand. Or a box fan. Or something. Anything. But, nope. There was a tiny desk fan and it didn't work. So my dad bought us a fan from Home Depot. He couldn't stand to eat out on the patio without some air movement. And he's an old man who likes heat and is well-acclimated to the weather in Mexico. But at some point you've got to do something to stop the sweat from dripping down your back and legs, right? So he bought us a fan. We left it at the house when we moved out. The house needed a fan. I try to treat people how I would like to be treated, so I left the fan there along with other necessary (but missing) items. I thought the owner would appreciate it. Nope. Problem #2. No inventory was done when we moved in (see Problem #1) and so we were charged for all the things that were "missing" but not credited for anything the house needed which we purchased and left behind.

At some point during the first few months of our stay, we asked around to see what other people in town were paying for rent. Let me just say...we were getting screwed. Totally and completely screwed. The going rate for houses a bit smaller than ours and without a pool seems to be between $450-$600 per month. Ours was a bit bigger, had a pool (without working circulation), but was farther away from the beach and in a much louder location than most of the people we talked to. We were paying $1150 per month. Our rent should have been $800. $900 max, especially since we were also paying the electric, gas, internet, and phone. Oh, and we were paying the housekeeper who we were required to have. And because of the pool situation (remember, no circulation in the pool) the pump ran a lot and very inefficiently. There is also a terrible pump -- inefficient and extraordinarily loud -- used to get water up to the cistern on the roof. Nobody else around us had a pump like that. Not the gringos, not the Mexicans. That pump burned energy. We paid for the energy. That was not in the contract. So, Problem #3. We paid too much. For everything.

One thing that sounded great about Casa Sophia when we read the VRBO page was how peaceful and tranquil it was made out to be. Here is a quote from that page: a high masonry wall for quiet and complete privacy. A deep-blue tiled swimming pool and water fountain completes the garden oasis experience. What they failed to say is that this house is about five feet from a very busy, very dusty, very loud road (Calle Nueva Galicia). Some would say that the noise is part of the Mexican experience, but I can assure you that if you stay at a house in El Izote, it won't be part of your experience at all. If you'd like to hear some of the local noise, check out this video. It was filmed from inside Casa Sophia while Scott was trying to work, constantly muting and unmuting the phone during conference calls in order to sheild listeners from the shrimp truck, the gas truck, the water truck, the mattress truck, the tamal truck, the veggie truck, the watermelon truck, the household goods truck...need I continue?

To keep with the theme of misinformation, here is a bit more from the VRBO page: downstairs are the office/media room, a fully equipped kitchen with festive linens and dishware, quality kitchenware and cutlery, and all appliances. The "office/media room" supposedly had a TV and DVD player. Well, the TV was really a computer monitor. A small one, at that. Luckily we found that out ahead of time and brought our own TV and our own DVD player so that our kids could watch movies occasionally...without fighting over who got to be in front of the screen. The "fully equipped kitchen" came without a working can opener, without a working vegetable peeler, with dull knives, with a very leaky coffee maker, with no baking sheets and no casserole dishes, with one tiny cutting board...hardly equipped for a family. Perfect for someone who is eating out every night. Not so much for a family who cooks.

There was, in fact, some "quality kitchenware" there. Stainless steel Cuisinart pots and pans...but not a full set. Interestingly, there was an extra lid to a pan that seemed to have walked away, and a steamer for a stock pot that also found a new home. In addition, there were loads of crappy old pots and pans that we ended up storing in the garage because we just couldn't get anything organized in the kitchen with all the extra junk in there. One of the more humorous kitchen pieces was the pair of kitchen shears. The scissors were rusty, dull, and would not open and close. I threw them out as soon as I tried them -- why would anyone keep garbage around, I thought? I should have known better. The scissors were at the top of the owner's inventory when it was time for us to move out and she was adamant about their quality. Seriously. It's Mexico. It's humid. Things rust. Things get destroyed by just sitting around and not being used.

So, there you go. Problem #4. False advertising. If you say it's quiet and there is complete privacy, it better be quiet. And there better be some privacy. In Mexio, privacy barely exists. And in Casa Sophia's neighborhood, there is no such thing as quiet.

What should I tackle next? The mosquito net that had piles of black dust stuck to the top of it? The swarms of mosquitoes visiting us downstairs? The mosquitoes who gave us four cases of Dengue Fever? And when I asked the owner if she would deduct the cost of a $100 custom mosquito screen from our rent she said no? Here is her response to Rico, Mr. Property Manager: "I’ve never had a problem with mosquitoes nor has any guests [sic], short-term or long-term. If Hillary wants to buy and install fine, but I will not pay for it." What made me most annoyed about this response was her insistence that there is not a mosquito problem in the house. Really? When was the last time she was in San Pancho in September? October? My guess would be never, because only foolish gringos go during mosquito season. And this was a year when the powers-that-be watered down the mosquito spray formula and the town had record numbers of people hospitalized with Dengue. I was one of them, thank you very much. So don't tell me that there is no mosquito problem. I am not a liar. So, there you go. Problem #5. An owner who is out of touch with reality.

To be fair, we were not easy on the house. Our kids used the pool frequently. The neighborhood kids hopped in the pool fully clothed. I'm sure it took more chemicals than usual to maintain the pool. Our kids busted through the window screens on the first day in the house. But we fixed them. Our kids knocked a sculpture off of a table and it shattered. But we replaced it (although the cost of the original was still deducted from our deposit). We fostered a few dogs in the house, but they left no trace. Our kids, on the other hand, were kids. We paid $1150 a month for an $800 house. We put down a fat non-refundable pet deposit for upholstery cleaning. There is barely any upholstery in the house and our animals were rarely on it, not to mention the state of the upholstery when we arrived. I had to unzip all the cushion covers and wash them before I felt comfortable sitting on the sofa. Even then, I covered it in a towel. Apparently the pet deposit ended up going to a lawn "restoration," which is hard to believe since the lawn was as green and healthy as ever.

I could write more. A lot more. But at this point, if you are still considering staying at Casa Sophia...well..best wishes.

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