By Adassa Ramirez
It has been a dream of mine to live in Puerto Rico. There has always been this connection that made me feel like it was my home away from home. Years ago, my family helped bring me around properties that had “Se Vende” signs. Nothing ever materialized, and even with the couple of times that I had secured an appointment, it turned out to be a no show. It was discouraging to say the least. Especially when I had all my ducks in a row with a pre-approved mortgage letter and down payment to show that I was a serious buyer. At that time, I was a single in my 20s with a good job, who wanted to have a vacation property to stay at with the intention of one day rematriating.
Fast forward many years later as a mom with two sons. It was very important for me to immerse my boys in our culture starting early. For each of their birthdays starting at one, it became a custom to celebrate in Puerto Rico. I began teaching them early about our roots, centered on our African and Taino lineage. Being a mom had awakened the idea of wanting to buy a vacation home in Puerto Rico. Now more than ever, it made even more sense because it would be an investment with purpose that I could hand down to my boys.
Remembering all too well the crickets, or shall I say coquis, heard trying to bring this dream to fruition, times were different now with the worldwide web’s social media. So, I used recommendations on social media as a tool to find responsive realtors. I took the initial steps beforehand, first figuring out how much house not only that I could afford but that would fit my budget. Once I figured out how much I felt comfortable paying monthly, I applied for a mortgage. With a pre-approval letter in hand, down payment, and list of real estate companies I set off yet again to try to purchase my very first property.
Living in NYC helped make the flights affordable to go to Puerto Rico often. I scheduled appointments for the time that I would be on the island to look at properties. Once I found something, I put in an offer. Within 3 months, yes three months to the day, I was a homeowner! It was an amazing feeling and sense of accomplishment. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories surrounding the whole purchasing process, but my personal experience was different, fortunately.
Initially, I was using it as our vacation spot and my children loved having a place to call home. They became so attached to Puerto Rico that they would get upset every time it was time to go back to New York. Several months later, I decided to leave the Bronx behind and make our lives on the island. Having an e-commerce small business, MicMas ReMiX and working remotely helped make the transition smooth with not having to look for work in Puerto Rico. It was a decision that I’ve never looked back on. Do I miss the hustle and bustle of New York City? Absolutely, but I love my life much more here in Puerto Rico and feel free.
In the short time of living here, I have been witnessing gentrification. At the time, I thought what I was seeing were tourists but learned after that this was not the case. Gentrification via Act 60 (formerly Act 20 & Act 22) is the big monkey wrench in many things involving Puerto Rico. One of them being real estate. Ex-governor Ricky Rossello had signed Act 60 into law right before his forced resignation due to the horrific content discussed in the leaked chats. In one of those discussions there was a conversation about their “Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans” agenda. Act 60 created a Puerto Rico tax haven specifically for people outside of Puerto Rico and does not allow the same opportunities for all.
Why is this problematic? It’s problematic for many reasons, one of them being that these tax incentives are not tied to specific economic development goals, like employment opportunities, as promised. It has not been beneficial in stimulating Puerto Rico’s economy which has been in recession since 2006. In short, there hasn’t been enough job creation by those taking advantage of Act 60. Also, the benefits are one-sided, clearly in favor of the individual getting the tax breaks and of course our corrupt government’s quid pro quo relationship with them. On the real estate side, it has created aggressive land-grabbing by those taking advantage of disaster capitalism through these tax breaks.
Properties are being bought up by many Act 60 people, forcing Puerto Ricans to be evicted from their rental homes. There is also gentrification happening in certain towns making it difficult to find an affordable place to rent or real estate prices have been driven up, making it difficult to afford to buy. With VRBO and AirBnB becoming popular, properties are being turned into vacation rentals adding to the low inventory of places to rent. Then for Puerto Ricans like me who have roots on the island, dreams of buying on our ancestral land may seem further out of reach when it’s incredibly difficult to compete against so many of them who have more financial buying power.
All of this mind you, with Act 60’s property tax break reduced to 75% and a municipal tax incentive reduced to 50% that local Puerto Ricans aren’t allowed to take advantage of. Puerto Ricans pay the highest sales tax in all the U.S. while wealthy Act 60 people coming in are offered tax breaks that aren’t available to most locals. It creates this apartheid, in addition to, frustration for local Puerto Ricans not being able to have an affordable place to live. This is why I encourage [Boricuas in the Diaspora] who can afford to, to invest with purpose and buy property in Puerto Rico. Even if you have no intention of moving there, having a place to use as your vacation home when you visit is just as impactful. Also, making sure that your property is taken care of in your absence is important. In my case, I used a reputable property management business that offers landscaping and cleaning services at an affordable price to keep up on my home.
For those who wonder how to get started, here’s my advice. Make sure your credit score is good so that you can ensure a decent interest rate for mortgage approval. Now figure out how much house you can afford to buy. There are tons of useful mortgage calculators to help with this. Save up at least 5% as your down payment of the purchase price of a property price you feel comfortable with. Get pre-approved! This helps show the realtor that you are a serious buyer with a bank confirming mortgage lending. Next, research realtors before contacting them. This can be done by reading their reviews or social media. Find a reputable lawyer to handle the closing. It’s usually a standard cost of $500 and again research the lawyer by checking reviews before deciding on one.
Make sure the realtor and lawyer check CRIM, which states whether property taxes are owed or not. In Puerto Rico, if you buy a house without checking this and there are property taxes owed, you will be responsible for paying them. It’s important to make sure the lawyer holds the seller responsible for paying the property taxes, before closing. Property taxes must be paid if you do not reside in the house but if you choose to move into your home, you will no longer have to pay it if it’s your first property/ primary residence in Puerto Rico. If the property has additional units, you will have to pay taxes on those.
Normally, the bank sends their own appraiser and will notify you once this is done. It is up to you whether you’d like to have a home inspection done or not. I personally did, seeing I know nothing about structural or cosmetic damage having grown up in rental apartments my whole life. Closing dates are usually decided at the last moment and in my case as a mom of two young children, I was unable to attend the closing on such short notice, but my lawyer handled everything in my absence at no extra cost.
Now more than ever I feel there needs to be a reclaiming of our ancestral land. Our island is being sold off for profit at the expense of too many local Puerto Ricans’ livelihood. In the states we’ve seen this play out in Brown and Black communities with the displacement it causes. For me, Brooklyn and Harlem are the poster child of gentrification in NYC. People are getting tired of seeing their communities pushed out and there is a resurgence of pushing back against gentrification with successful #buybacktheblock initiatives in the United States. I encourage everyone who can afford to, to invest with purpose in their ancestral land to help keep Puerto Rican land in Puerto Rican hands.
Adassa Ramirez, founder and creator of MicMas ReMiX, turned her Cosmetology education and experience with using natural ingredients into a passion that she loves, by providing natural hair care products with the message of todo polo es pelo bueno. In addition, a percentage of sales proceeds are used towards different community initiatives in Puerto Rico. Poetry has always been at the center of Adassa’s being, and she recently had her poems published in a poetry collaboration titled “The Black & Latinx Poetry Project”. Since rematriating to Puerto Rico from the Bronx, she has gotten involved with activism and uses her small business platform to help raise awareness of issues in Puerto Rico.