I’ll start this one off with a TMI moment. I have an anxiety issue. It’s definitely a family thing as many members of my immediate family have it. I can’t decide if it’s learned or genetic, but that’s not the point. It’s something I haven’t found a solution to in my half century on this earth so, unfortunately, I just have to deal with it. It’s not a small issue as when it really flares up it can have a very negative effect on my life. It has put me in the hospital a few times. Beyond the obvious health issues, It also expresses itself in some very odd ways. One of which is that I simply can’t watch scripted drama anymore no matter if it’s TV or the movies. For whatever reason any uncomfortable drama filled moment incites that fight or flight response in me. This even includes kids movies. You would think that would make it impossible for me to watch Television as most of it’s scripted. This is true to a point. For whatever reason I’m ok with reality television. That’s why my wife got me a subscription to Discovery Plus for Christmas. I’ve been happily watching reality shows all year, well I have been as long as my internet connection cooperates. There is one type of show I’ve been binging for the majority of the year. They are the house hunter lifestyle shows which show home buying in International resort locations. Although I intend to finish the series, I’m wondering if the show’s existence, at least as they are currently structured, is a good idea.
There are several shows that make up this micro-genre. They mostly all end in the word “Life”. I can only assume it’s because, at their core, they are house shopping shows in areas that are assumed to have a higher quality of life. The two I’m most familiar with, i.e. the two I’m binging first, are Bahamas’s life and Mexico Life, although there are many others. The shows are genius in that the cost to produce them must be next to nothing. There isn’t even a regular host and it seems there are several production companies who produce the shows. The companies just follow a template. The basic premise of the show is that there is usually a couple who is looking to relocate to some far off land that the general population thinks of as aspirational. A local realtor does the introduction about the area and the couples are shown three or four properties, where, from a show perspective, they are responsible for describing the properties as they walk through them. The show ends after they choose which one of them to buy. This is “real reality” insomuch as I’ve occasionally looked up the people who are in the show and they are real people. They do have regular jobs and are from where they say they are from. Thank you Linkedin! I have to admit that I would love to talk to one of them about their experience of being on the show. It makes sense that this would be real people as the sheer volume of these types of shows could never support a cast of actors. Across all of the shows there are dozens of seasons and several hundred episodes. In some respects the seasons are very well structured. By featuring buyers at different economic levels, over time, the show will cover all the different price points in a particular area. Those area’s aren’t ‘flyover country’. It’s always the aspirational, the beach, or some very quaint township. In addition to the segments with the homes, there is always a segment in the center of the show where the couples get to explore an attraction in the area and talk about how wonderful everything is in their newly chosen home town.
The “fun day” outings that the home buyers are on is part of the problem and why I question the benefits of their existence. The problem isn’t what they show, it’s what they don’t show. Take for example, transportation. The vast majority of the Bahama’s Life episodes highlight properties on the outer islands, or the family islands as they are known. This means transportation is going to be a huge issue for anyone who would like to purchase a home in the Bahamas outside of Nassau. I’m very familiar with this issue as we used to sell Caribbean All-Inclusive resort stays when we owned a travel agency. The biggest issue was never the cost of the resort, it was getting to the resorts. It could easily cost in excess of a thousand dollars per person for the flights. That’s why we didn’t sell many of them.
Transportation is not the only issue. The show never shows the mechanics of living and owning property in the area. For example, there are some odd financial and tax rules in Mexico that require a regular payment to a bank no matter if you own the property or not. Issues relating to Cost of living and construction are rarely discussed. You can see where the costs are exorbitant if you look between the lines. For example the houses in Bahamas life tend to remind me of the overpriced cottages on keuka lake in NY and Oak Island, NC. Infrastructure, Security issues and other cultural eccentricities are never discussed. Many of the shows highlight families who are moving and educational options are never addressed. Legal Issues relating to being an expatriate, as well as citizenship requirements in the new country aren’t addressed either.
Often in the show the home owners talk wistfully about the slower pace of life in their new town. I’ve noticed that they don’t quite explain what that means. If I’m on Eleuthera in the Bahamas and my fridge ice maker breaks, does that mean I’ll call the repair guy and not know if they will show up in a few hours or days? Or maybe the ‘slower pace of life’ in the world of refrigerator repair means it’ll take two to three weeks to get the replacement parts. Do shops open whenever they want? The idea of building a home in an area with a “slower pace of life” is not a comforting thought, at least not if I want a roof over my head in under a year.
There are other places you can go to get this information with less of a filter. As an example, there is the two expats blog and youtube channel. It includes lots of information about living in Mexico. The blog addresses the good and bad. It talks about things like gas station scams, weird bank rules, issues relating to working in the country, healthcare options, etc. I haven’t found the Bahamas equivalent to the two expats website, but I’m sure it’s out there.
Out of everything I’ve read, healthcare is most interesting. I’ve started looking into Medicare and I was a bit shocked to learn that America’s retirement healthcare system mostly doesn’t cover you if you are outside of the United States. That makes retiring in one of these aspirational destinations highlighted in these shows much harder. Yes, healthcare is available but you are, in effect, paying double for it. That can be a big hit to anyone’s budget.
Now, in going over all of this commentary so far, the immediate response would typically be “it’s just entertainment!” I get that, but this entertainment is specifically saying “Come, live here, it’s great!” It would not take much at all for some of these issues to be addressed so that your not just entertaining people, you are informing them. Then the messaging of the show would be “Come, live here, it’s great! And here are some of the things you should keep in mind when you decide to pull the trigger.”
In the end, the question remains, is it feasible? Is moving to a new country and enjoying the pristine crystal clear aqua waters and chic local cuisine every day of the rest of your life a possibility? Technically, maybe. If you have kids, need to work remotely, or of modest means, maybe not-so-much. So if that’s the reality, is it responsible entertainment? That’s the whole point. I know that I’m very unique in that I’ll go and further explore the topic to understand it better. I liked the idea of living remotely so it was actually that exploration of the feasibility of moving to the Bahamas or Mexico that inspired this article. For me the answer wasn’t an absolute NO, but it was definitely a strong ‘not at this point in my life’.
So what about relocating to somewhere similar that’s part of the USA. The biggest attraction in the shows I’m watching is the water and related activities like fishing, diving, etc. Ideally I’d get that perfect blue water driven lifestyle somewhere in or around the USA. Unfortunately the closest we can get is The Florida Keys and being honest I know that few can afford that unless they are worth millions. There is Puerto Rico, as it’s an American protectorate. I’ve been there, and it’s not ideal, at least not San Juan although there is much more to explore on that island.
So the net net of the shows is that they are entertainment, but they are entertainment that can lead to false dreams. I think the shows could be tweaked to include some of the relocation topics I touched on earlier. If the formats of the existing show don’t change then I personally would love a “rest of the story” show, where we get a much more in depth follow up which is significantly more than six weeks later. I’m sure there is a ton of content that could be created based on new homeowner experiences like longer term issues, shorter term issues, surprises, both good and bad, and lessons learned. There has to be an audience for that content beyond just me. There are too many people watching these shows, and they, like me, are also dreaming of a world without stress and with a lot more beach time.
All this being said, I’m not going to stop watching the shows. Yes, I know it’s entertainment which is on the verge of propaganda for international realtors. I also know the shows are only telling half the story. I know that if I were to consider moving to one of these international relocation destinations I’ll have a ton of work to do, and probably spend a lot more money than I think I need to so as to really prepare for what’s involved. All that being said, spending my wind down time at night watching international home buyers contemplate moving to a destination where grocery shopping requires a mask and snorkel isn’t the worst way to end my day. I just need to remember that the issues involved aren’t nearly as clear as that beautiful Caribbean water.