Carl: When you pass through Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun or any other large, fun-in-the-sun Mexican beach town, you dont have to be an average gringo tourist to experience the dubious delights of Mondo Condo....
Hola, amigos! Would you like to rent a nice Jeep for just five dollars?
Good morning, can I offer you folks a special free breakfast?
Hey, guys! Do you need any information? Would you like to know how to make the scene here in Mexico?
This is but a brief sample of the friendly come-ons Lorena and I were offered by smooth-talking street touts in a recent stroll through a Mexican resort. These skilled and highly persistent salespeople will do virtually anything to tempt you into attending a sales pitch on the joys of buying a condominium or timeshare room.
Quick-thinking and often quite attractive young men and women compete fiercely to sign up tourists for their company's brief presentation on investment opportunities in Mexican real estate. Known in the trade as Outside Personal Contacts, OPC's intercept tourists in airports, hotel lobbies, travel agencies and restaurants. They can even be found in street-corner information booths, gulling tourists with bright smiles, street maps, half-price coupons, free day-cruises, discount car rentals and travel information. Ask them for directions to a museum, church or good nightspot, however, and the answer will somehow involve buying a condo.
Although OPC's can be a real nuisance to tourists and local businesspeople, their success rate is very high and profits are huge. Real estate companies even place skilled OPC's in popular restaurants, where they play the role of hosts and hostesses. Tourists who fit the profile of likely buyers (usually couples) are cleverly courted with extra-attentive service, flattering comments, helpful advice and outside favors. "I'll baby-sit their kids or help them shop," one undercover young OPC confided to me. "On occasion I have even done a tourists laundry.
The pay-off comes when the OPC offers their new amigos a hot tip about buying into a timeshare or condo project. Again, there are no strings attached; all you have to do is attend the brief presentation and collect your free prizes and discount coupons.
Are these tactics legal? Yes. So many tourists buy the sales pitch, in fact, that OPC offers are rarely bait & switch. That is, youll almost always be given whatever youre promised for attending a presentation. The Jeep you rent for $5 may have bald tires and the free lunch may be a soggy cheese sandwich, but the drinks will be strong, generous and plentiful. In fact, free booze plays an important role in loosening your grip on your wallet.
Tourists with nothing better to do often attend a presentation out of curiosity or to collect a free meal. Be warned, however, that a typical brief presentation is actually an intense and highly polished sales pitch up to three or four hours long. Some tourists go mad with boredom but others find the pitch amazingly tempting.
To get the insider scoop on timeshare tactics, Lorena and I recently attended a presentation by one of Mexicos largest companies. To impersonate real tourists, I brushed the worst knots out of my beard and wore black nylon socks with my sandals. We completed our disguises with matching straw sombreros and brand-new Life Is A Beach t-shirts. As freelance investigative reporters we were determined to `get the dirt on this lucrative industry.
After listening to a long, hypnotic sales pitch that would make an Edsel dealer weep with envy, my cynicism was gradually replaced by a warm glow in the vicinity of my credit card. In spite of a tasteless fruit punch and an equally bland sandwich, the dynamic sales team had magically filled me with an uncontrollable desire to demonstrate my love for Mexico by investing a small fortune in a yet-to-be-completed concrete beehive overlooking a shallow mangrove swamp. Lorena mutilated my Visa card on the spot.
I'll leave the question of whether or not to invest in Mexican real estate up to you and your bank balance. At the very least, don't jump into anything, especially at the presentation itself. Give yourself a cooling off period of at least a few days or weeks before taking such a substantial plunge. There is no shortage of condos, timeshares or real estate in Mexico. When in doubt, be conservative. In fact, Carl Malden's advice about credit cards also applies to common-sense: "Don't leave home without it!"