It makes me think of the scores of homes our poor real estate agents dragged us to for the better part of 2011. We’d tour some really, really uninspiring properties for our “ruin” budget of $100,000. Houses with yucky tiles, weird half-walls, hideous cement patios. Lots that were long and increasingly narrow toward the rear, or up against a cantina, or under the gaze of hotel windows. I tried to squint at it and figure out what a builder could do to fix it. I should have been thinking about a wrecking ball instead. All that mattered, in the end, was the location and price.
We half-way realized this when buying the future Casa Nana. The house was nice, but I’d seen more interesting architecture. What helped is that it wasn’t renovated badly when modernism was in favor. (What were Meridanos in the Centro thinking between the 1950s and 1970s?) It is a plain house, probably from the 1920s, with probably the ugliest facade in Santa Ana — which, of course, the historical committee wants us to maintain, or at least interpret. The facade was probably our friend because the property languished, looking pretty darned unimpressive online. No one was exactly triggering a price war when we bid on the house. The location is what sold us — a nice quiet street and walkable to the Hotel El Español de Montejo, for a buffet breakfast with Mom and Dad; the Wal-Mart for household goods and a sandwichon if I should ever crave one; and the Robert Abuda Salon, where I’ve been enjoying a haircut and conversation every visit.
It all goes back to what I’ve said before about having an eye for property potential in the Centro Historico. Most people don’t have it, which is what the house flippers count on. When I look at the video of the best homes of El Centro, I realize that these aren’t spruced-up historic homes. Whatever was in their place earlier was demolished and replaced. No one ever lived like this in the Centro, ever, until the Gringo Gulch was formed and when today’s interpretation of modernism took hold.
My advice to anyone buying what’s left in the Centro is to look beyond the home’s awkward layout or flawed finishes. If the house is on a quiet street, consider buying it. If it’s on a busy street, but deeper than 40 meters, consider buying it. If it’s wider than 9 meters, it’s a rare gem, and you should consider buying it. Then reconfigure it completely, if needed, and you probably will. You might need to build up a flight, or convert those windowless rooms into a central courtyard. Look at lots of photos of finished houses, decide whether you want modern or traditional, and let your imagination go wild.