Realtors Jim and Ann Dolan fell in love with San Miguel de Allende—as everyone does—when they first visited the color-splashed colonial town in Mexico’s central state of Guanajuato. They moved to the city, now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the mid-1990s and became builder-developers before opening their brokerage, CDR San Miguel, in 2004. CDR is an acronym for a trio of values described as their motto: Connected, Discerning and Reputation.
CDR has since captured nearly half of all luxury sales topping $800,000 in the area. As San Miguel market leaders, the Dolans possess deep roots in the region’s culture and history. They also have a global reach, servicing the needs of high-net-worth individuals seeking properties in a town that regularly tops Condé Nast Traveler’s “Best Small City in the World” list.
CDR’s listings and sales range from a $2.65-million villa, with an easement to a vineyard and equestrian center, to a $7-million hacienda, with 300 years of history. A singular $6.25-million listing, a period hacienda and casita with exquisite tile work, is adjacent to El Jardin, San Miguel’s central plaza.
We reached Jim Dolan, a retired lieutenant colonel who regularly saddles up at his ranch, at CDR’s headquarters in the heart of San Miguel.
You possess a rare overview of San Miguel, having first visited in the early 1990s. What’s your perspective on how it’s evolved?
It’s changed dramatically. When we first started coming here, there were fewer than 10 restaurants and they weren’t that good. You couldn’t even buy ice at a convenience store. You couldn’t get a phone for your home because there was a finite number of landlines to be had. Now, we have five-star hotels. We have 700 restaurants, bars and food outlets, all walkable. It’s very luxurious to live here, but very reasonable financially to live here. My business partner Nancy Howze and I have been at this for quite a long time. And my wife, Ann, is one of the highest- producing luxury real estate agents here in San Miguel, of all brands.
In terms of San Miguel being financially reasonable, can you provide a comparison with other markets?
I’ll give you an example. About a year-and-a-half ago, we sold a seven-bedroom home, about 16,000 square feet, for around $3 million. It had a staff of seven. And the carry cost to include all the staff salaries, their insurance, all the utilities, was about $75,000 a year. For a [comparable] home in Malibu or Beverly Hills, that wouldn’t be enough to cover property taxes.
What’s the most desirable area to live in San Miguel?
Centro is always the first sought-after area. You really cannot obtain a luxury property in downtown San Miguel for less than $2 million. That part of town was built about 350 years ago. You still see handlers with their burros walking down the cobblestone streets. Aldama Street in Centro is one of the most photographed in the world (the street is on Architectural Digest’s “Most Beautiful Streets in the World” list). San Miguel offers really refined living. The sense of security and enjoyment is higher than in any place I’ve experienced. It’s a festive atmosphere. You can walk back to your home at 11 p.m. and not think about it. People are nice—whether it’s the garbage collector, a maid, a resident or a shop owner. And the weather’s beautiful.
You’ve managed and sold listings for the Artesana Rosewood Residences, a gated group of 29 homes adjacent to San Miguel’s luxury Rosewood Hotel, with access to all its services. Will more residences be added?
Another phase that will include about 20 more residences is in the planning stages. It probably won’t come to fruition until 2025, in terms of construction. We took the original 29 residences to market in 2002. They sold from $1.6 to $2.5 million, and there’s actually one five-bedroom home left for $2.5 million––six fireplaces, a rooftop terrace and a beautiful garden. The Rosewood Residences are in high demand as rental properties as well. You’re right in the middle of town. You can walk out your door and be at any restaurant in less than a 10-minute stroll. The vibe is elegant and very relaxing.
We understand that vineyard properties just outside of San Miguel are becoming popular. But are you actually buying an entire vineyard?
The properties have a residential component, meaning you have, for example, a 500-acre tract of land with a 2.5-acre home site, and so 90% of your acreage is in perpetual easement to the vineyard. You can only build on 10% of the total land. We have about 50-plus vineyard properties around San Miguel. There are polo fields, lavender fields and olive orchards in these developments. The feeling is very Ralph Lauren-esque. It’s the same type of luxurious living in a stately home downtown, but instead it’s in the countryside for probably half the price.
We know San Miguel de Allende has international appeal. Break down the buyer demographic for us.
In the last 10 years it’s been about 67% foreign buyers predominantly from the United States. Second would be Canada. And 33% are national buyers. But we have 60 different nationalities that live here—many from countries in Europe and also China, Korea, New Zealand…. Most foreign buyers buy downtown first, and most Mexican buyers usually purchase vineyard properties first and then buy downtown. The vineyards are owned by probably 85% high-net-worth Mexican citizens. First-time American buyers don’t usually buy in the vineyards, but I’m starting to see that change.
Why is that?
San Miguel’s historic center is finite; there’s only so much land left there. Vineyard properties—some are 20-25 minutes outside of San Miguel—only came into vogue about 12 years ago, and now they’ve come up with a vengeance and have a high level of desirability. It’s really been the saving market for San Miguel because you have the same luxurious, exclusive environment but it’s outside of town. So it spreads the market opportunity around.
Do you have to become a farmer to own one of these vineyards?
They’re working farms that you’re living on, but you don’t have to do the work. While you’re having your coffee, people are picking the grapes and driving the tractors. We have listings for 12 to 15 of those properties. Some developments have small boutique hotels and a restaurant—that’s in addition to your home.
Can you name a few of those listings?
One is Casona de la Canal and another is Casa Merlot (both with four bedrooms, ranches, vineyards and equestrian facilities). Both are in the $2-million to $2.5- million range. These have been developed in the last 10 years. They’re not spec homes, but are people’s personal homes that they’re selling. They’re built of Cantera stone and granite. The look and feel is of a 300-year home, but with all the conveniences of modern living. These are pretty good deals. You couldn’t touch this in L.A. And again, the cost of carry—what it costs to maintain the property and pay taxes—is low. It’s a lot more bang for your buck.