By Laura Latham | NYTimes.com
PUNTA DE MITA, Mexico — Interest in this small corner of Mexico by one of the world’s richest men has helped attract an influx of wealthy investors.
In 2014, Cascade Investment, the private investment firm of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, bought 19.5 hectares, or 48 acres, of undeveloped beachfront land and the Four Seasons hotel site in Punta Mita, a gated residential resort on the Riviera Nayarit, 40 minutes north of the town of Puerto Vallarta. The cost was reported to be $200 million.
“Bill Gates buying land in the area has had a real impact,” said Aaron Fisher, the sales director at Punta Sayulita, another residential development on the Riviera Nayarit. “We needed high-end clients and now they’re coming.”
The purchase was seen as an endorsement of the region’s potential, and the ripple effect has begun to reach surrounding communities. These include Sayulita, a charming, bustling town with a stretch of beach, ideal surf conditions and warren of small streets.
The town has been a draw for watersport enthusiasts and those wanting a more bohemian lifestyle for several decades. But a new wave of cosmopolitan, higher-spending residents has begun to roll in.
“Buyers are primarily American, or from Mexico and Canada,” Mr. Fisher said. “In particular the Pacific Northwest. There’s a big tech contingent but also financiers and media people.”
Properties in this region of Mexico are usually priced in United States dollars. Building lots around town are available from $80,000. Small one- or two-bedroom homes start at $130,000, and upmarket two-bedroom apartments in purpose-built blocks start at about $250,000. Hillside villas on large plots with the best views are priced from about $800,000.
Punta Sayulita is a small-scale, luxury project five minutes by golf cart from the town center and commands some of the highest prices in the area. Villas, which are open-plan and designed in Hawaiian style, range from 279 square meters, or 3,000 square feet, to 743 square meters, and start at $1.45 million.
There is access to a residents’ beach club, bar and spa, but Mr. Fisher said that a big appeal to many buyers is the proximity to the town of Sayulita. “Residents can work from here, send their kids to the local international school and walk to town for the restaurants, bars and shopping,” he said. “You can even paddleboard across the bay.”
Such is the appeal of the area to watersport enthusiasts that Fernando Stalla, a two-time stand-up paddleboard world champion, is on the development’s sales team and is its brand ambassador.
Mr. Stalla grew up in Sayulita. “The town has not changed much in size in the past 20 years, but there has been real improvement in the quality of shops and restaurants,” he said. “There is much more money here now.”
Though foreigners cannot directly own property within 30 miles of Mexico’s coast, they can buy via a “fideicomiso,” in which a property title is held in trust by a bank. Individuals named as beneficiaries of the trust have full ownership rights.
The rise in popularity of the Riviera Nayarit is also driven by the growth of the much larger Pacific coast resort town of Puerto Vallarta as a vacation destination and the expansion of the local airport to allow more international traffic.
Chris and Ashely Ostrowski moved from Park City, Utah, to Sayulita with their two children in 2010. “We were already familiar with the area and wanted to give our children a different view of the world, to be bilingual and meet different people,” said Mr. Ostrowski, who is an avid surfer.
“One reason for choosing Sayulita was that Puerto Vallarta airport is an hour away,” he said. “Ashley needed to be able to commute to the States for work, so having an airport close was a requirement.” The Ostrowskis have rented homes while in Sayulita, though they own plots in the town and plan to build their own house. “Sayulita is home now,” Mr. Ostrowski said.
The area’s high-level watersports are a definite driver of the property market according to Brendan Wood, the sales and marketing director of Punta Mita Properties, which operates within the Punta Mita resort. “Ten years ago golf was driving resort development; now it’s oceangoing sports,” he said.
Punta Mita was established 15 years ago, when the Mexican developer Dine bought 607 hectares to develop a luxury resort with hotels, beach clubs and restaurants, several hundred residences and two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses.
Sales at the development slowed during the 2008 downturn, as they did across most of the region, but are now showing signs of renewed health. A number of the resort’s subdivisions have sold out or have only a few remaining properties, and demand has meant that lot sales and construction of new residences for purchase are now underway.
The resort has about 350 private homes and capacity for as many as 1,000. Residences range from two-bedroom apartments starting at $345,000 to expansive private villas with pools and waterfront views costing in excess of $10 million.
Mr. Wood said values in the resort have risen 5 percent, on average, in the past 18 months, though residences coming under the Four Season brand have risen 12 percent. “Punta Mita commands a 30 to 60 percent higher price point than similar properties in other local areas,” Mr. Wood said. Even so, values have still not reached levels seen in 2007.
Buyers mostly come from the United States, Canada and Mexico, but the age is dropping from the over-50s to those in their 30s and 40s. Mr. Wood said they are predominantly members of a “tech elite” who have young families and like to surf, sail and paddleboard. In addition to Mr. Gates, executives from companies like Apple and Yahoo have bought there.
What Mr. Gates intends to do with his land in Punta Mita is not yet known.