CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — Location, location, location is the phrase that drives the real estate industry.
It takes on a whole new meaning in Los Cabos, the booming vacation destination at the tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Not only are buyers shopping with price, location, community amenities and home size and style in mind, golfers must include the toughest decision of them all: What course are they going to play the rest of their lives?
Many of Cabo's major resort and real estate developments follow a similar model. The carrot dangling in front of buyers comes in the form of a beautiful course where only property owners or limited resort guests get access.
The first of these semiprivate golf communities was Diamante in 2009, followed by Chileno Bay and Quivira in 2014, Twin Dolphin (2018), Costa Palmas (2019) and Rancho San Lucas (2020), in addition to The Cove Club at Cabo del Sol, which is transitioning into a private residence club after operating as a public/resort facility for 25 years.
Querencia, a private club community with a Tom Fazio design, is slightly different since it offers no resort component. It is only for residents. The 27-hole Puerto Los Cabos, a public course within a 2,000-acre resort community, is intertwined with real estate and JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton resorts as well. The growth since I first visited Cabo in 2009 is simply amazing.
Querencia CEO Jorge Carrera said Cabo's real estate market is "steady and getting hotter."
"Golf continues to be a really big buying decision for our buyers," he said.
Why golfers should buy real estate in Cabo
Affluent buyers with discretionary income have lots of choices where to plant roots with a second/vacation home. Hawaii has been a popular choice, but the islands are tough to reach for much of the U.S. mainland. Cabo has won the hearts of visitors for its spectacular winter weather, dry climate, beautiful topography (where mountains and desert meet the sea) and it is generally considered safer than the rest of Mexico and the Caribbean. Buyers are coming from all over although mainly California, Texas and winter-weary residents farther north.
Buying in Mexico isn't complicated, Carrera emphasized.
“One of the biggest advantages of buying in Mexico," he said, "[is] the cost of it. You could buy a lot more comparable for a lot less than what you buy in the states. The service and cost of ownership, they are definitely a big benefit. We are friendly people. We like to serve. We like to make people feel welcome. We have a little different charm in day-to-day living."
All of Cabo's development the past 15 years skews towards luxury, so there's an endless array of restaurants and resort amenities. The mountains and sea offer adventures of boating, deep-sea fishing, whale-watching, hiking and mountain biking. The Sea of Cortez is considered the "aquarium of the world" for its variety of sea life, meaning snorkeling and scuba diving are popular along the East Cape of the Baja Peninsula.
Although the golf course inventory has nearly doubled the last decade, the original publicly accessible resort-style courses still anchor the local scene. Jack Nicklaus designed Palmilla (now 27 holes) as Cabo's first course in 1992. Cabo Real, built in 1996 by Robert Trent Jones Jr., and two Jack Nicklaus designs - Puerto Los Cabos (also including a Norman nine) and Club Campestre San Jose (2007) - are all run by Questro Golf and open for public play. Cabo San Lucas Country Club and the nine-hole Vidanta Los Cabos offer the most affordable public golf available.
Cabo's two main towns, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, couldn't be more opposite. Cabo, anchored by the bars and clubs along Squid Row, heats up after dark into a legendary party scene. The Arch at Land's End, marina and Lover's Beach are the daytime attractions. San Jose del Cabo portrays a more laid-back, family atmosphere as a traditional Mexican fishing village home to boutique shops, fine dining and art galleries. A popular downtown art walk entertains every Thursday night during high season.
More golf real estate developments and clubs in Cabo
Every golf and resort community has its selling point.
Querencia touts exclusivity and investment. Carrera said Querencia has added $60 million in enhancements the past two years. Renovations to the Fazio course and clubhouse have improved both. More tweaks to the golf course are coming, including an additional comfort station where golfers can enjoy free food and drink, a signature of Cabo golf.
Querencia has added pickelball courts. Its beach club is one of only two locations where surfers can safely ride a wave in Cabo. Bike and hiking trails have been carved from the surrounding hillsides.
Carrera estimates that 40 percent of the almost 2,000-acre property has been developed. He said 225 home lots have been sold with 125 of them finished products and include homes, villas and townhouses. Fifteen homes are under construction, and forecasts are to sell another 20-30 homes this year, he added, with the average home ranging from $2.5 million to $3.2 million. Club membership is separate from real estate.
"One of the differentiators, we are less of a weekend retreat and more like a long-stay community," Carrera said. "We have a community sense instead of a resort sense. That is complemented with all the social programs we do. We build a lot around that. We have a speaker series, where well recognized people in the U.S. come talk about different topics. It could be photography or medicine. We have an artist in residence. We try to build more around the (influential) people that spend time around here."
Rancho San Lucas is the newest player on the block. The entire 843-acre development on the Pacific Ocean includes the Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas - one of seven resorts under the Solmar Hotels & Resorts umbrella in Cabo - and numerous real estate offerings.
The scenic Greg Norman course at Rancho San Lucas that held a grand opening in February is truly special. Most holes overlook the water with three visiting the beach, where whales might breach in your backswing. A trio of sand dune holes from 14-16 and the island green 17th add up to a stunning finish.
Director of Real Estate Sales and Marketing Kathy Reisdorf said buyers love that every home in the Villas at Rancho San Lucas comes standard with a two-car garage and outdoor pool. A design center - one-of-a-kind in Cabo - stocked with unique tiles and flooring makes customization easier.
The Norman Estates is a gated "community within a community" of 32 estate homes offering a private beach club and including a golf membership. Construction will soon begin on 40 luxury beachfront condominiums, which are contained in four five-story buildings in Norman Estates. Prices for these 4,500-square-foot, three-bedroom units start at $1.9 million.
In roughly 13 months, Rancho San Lucas has sold four Norman Estate homes, ranging from $3.5 million to $7+ million; plus 70 percent of the villas from phase I and 10 units from phase 2, averaging roughly $900,000 apiece in price, according to Reisdorf.
Neighbor Quivira Los Cabos - where its Nicklaus course ranks among the most scenic in the world - has sold more than 500 properties in three projects - Copala (216 condos in seven six-story towers), Coronado Residences (where 50 percent of the 68 exclusive home lots have been sold) and Mavila (where more than 50 percent of the inventory has been sold in three years). The latest product - $2-million-plus homesites at the Old Lighthouse Club - launched two months ago.
Guy Famiglietti, the senior director of marketing, believes its amenities - two Pueblo Bonito hotels, 20 restaurants, miles of nature trails and unspoiled beaches and the El Faro Viejo lighthouse built in 1905 - elevates Quivira above other communities in Cabo.
"(There is) still so much untapped opportunity in terms of amazing land and even better opportunities for lifestyle enjoyment," he added,
On the opposite coast, Costa Palmas is a 1,000-acre master-planned community 15 years in the making in La Ribera, about an hour from the Cabo airport on the East Cape. Irongate, the third developer, has things humming with the completion of the beach club (2017) and the 2019 debuts of the Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos and the RTJ II golf course. Total real estate sales have already surpassed $600 million.
Construction on a marina, marina village and the "6-star" Amanvari Resort are ongoing. Both the Four Seasons (118 rooms/23 suites) and Amanvari will offer residences. The Four Season's private villas will start at $4 million.
The course is unique to Cabo in that it's flatter and more walkable. Sandscapes lining every fairway make the golf challenging and interesting. There's also three six-hole loops, a driving range that doubles as a short course and a massive putting green, all variations of the game that cater to different audiences and skill sets.
With so many choices and competition fierce, the power of shopping for a home remains in the hands (and wallets) of buyers.
"As competition has gotten better, so has the market," Carrera said.