What is a Notario?

You’ve probably heard it said before that in Mexico there’s God, and then there’s the notario publico, or notary public. It’s true, notaries in Mexico do a lot more than just witness signed documents. And while they aren’t all-powerful, they fill some massive roles as government representatives. Here’s a rundown of what notarios do and how they play a key role in the Mexican real estate process.

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What is a Notario Publico in Mexico?

Becoming a notario involves much more than just an exam and a background check required of their US counterparts. Notaries in Mexico are Mexican citizens between the ages of 25 and 60 who are trained attorneys. Once they’ve practiced law and worked in a Notary Public office for at least 3 years, they must pass a rigorous exam to gain the full title of notario publico.

Once they’ve gained the credentials, these lawyers still might not have access to the title of notary public. There’s roughly 1 notario for every 30,000 Mexican citizens. They’re appointed by the Governor of each state, and new ones are usually minted only after another one retires.

Basically, it’s an incredibly small and exclusive club whose members superintend some of the state’s most important transactions and legal processes.

What does the Notario Publico Do in Mexico?

Just like in the US, Notary publics in Mexico are able to bear witness to signatures on important documents, but that’s only a small part of their functions. Depending on the state, notarios will, among other things:

  • Serve as a mediator
  • Issue judicial opinions
  • Serve as an arbitrator
  • Take testimonies and affidavits
  • Administer oaths
  • Provide security for records and documents
  • Register important documents
  • Handle legal disputes
  • Draft and administer wills
  • Administer real estate transactions

As you can probably tell, we could go on for pages about the nuances and minutiae of a notary’s role in legal administration. But we know you’re probably here for the real estate insight. So, without further ado…

Notarios and Real Estate in Mexico

It’s common for people to suggest that you need to connect with a lawyer before starting the process of purchasing real estate in Mexico, but they are NOT talking about a Notario. Notarios are attorneys, but they represent the government, not you. They serve as a neutral party to make sure a real estate transaction is legitimate and documented. If you want legal counsel, you’ll still need to employ a lawyer to work on your behalf.

That being said, notarios do play a large role in the overall transaction, basically serving as both title company and closing attorney. They’re the ones who oversee the transfer of title to ensure that it’s a legitimate deal. The first thing they’ll do is perform a title search to chart the chain of ownership. In Mexico, where the history of ownership for certain properties can be a little hazy, this is an essential service that protects both buyer and seller.

Notarios also determine whether your prospective property is actually on ejido land–meaning it’s community-owned and therefore not available for outright ownership by an individual. This type of property is complicated and expensive to possess, and also not subject to conventional ownership laws that foreign buyers tend to be most comfortable with.

Along with collecting this information, they’ll also find:

  • Liens on the property (a mortgage, for instance)
  • Improper or erroneous historical documentation of title transfer
  • Other outstanding debts against property
  • Easements related to the property (situations where others have limited rights to use the property)
  • Restrictive covenants (i.e. homeowners association rules)
  • Encumbrances (i.e. unpaid property taxes, debts related to home improvements–any outstanding debts that could become the buyer’s responsibility upon transfer of title.)

These kinds of issues could invalidate or complicate the process of buying or selling property in Mexico. A notario works to ensure that the transaction is able to move forward uninhibited by these factors. They’ll also prepare the slough of government documents–the architectural plans, the proof of down payment, etc.–associated with closing on the property. Ultimately they’re the key facilitator of this critical relationship between the buyer, seller, and the Mexican government.

Hiring a Notary Public in Mexico (and what it’ll cost)

It may be a prestigious position, but that doesn’t mean notarios are hard to find and employ. Usually if you work with a local real estate agent (and we highly suggest that you do), your agent will have contacts with notaries who can help manage your real estate transaction.

If you’d like to go a different route, check the Collegiate Directory of Notary Publics for an extensive list of notarios broken down by state. It even includes the address and contact information for each one.

Considering the extent of their essential functions, it’s no surprise that notaries tend to command a fairly steep price for their services. You can expect to pay the notary around 1%-2% of the sales price of the property. Their fee will include the IVA–a 16% sales tax for services related to the transaction.

This could feel a little steep to the average foreign buyer whose eyes may widen at the accumulating closing costs. However, a notary’s fee pales in comparison to the financial risk of having an illegitimate transaction. And remember, homes in Mexico usually cost 25%-40% less than similar properties in the US, so the good value remains despite the associated fees.

Once the transaction is complete, the notary will close the deal by registering your property within the Public Registry of Properties. At that point your transfer of title will be officially recorded. Just make sure that, once the sale has been finalized, you follow up with your notary to gain the original title deed to the property.

So if I Have a Notary, Do I Need a Mexican Lawyer to Help With My Real Estate Transaction?

The notario provides the assurance that your real estate transaction is legitimate. This is no small thing in Mexico, where property laws and conventions can be, well, foreign to prospective buyers. However, your notario is no advocate for you as a purchaser. Notarios are there to recognize issues with real estate transactions and to process those transactions on behalf of the state.

They are paid to find complications related to the deal, not to solve them. That’s where a lawyer comes in.

A good, local Mexican lawyer–along with your real estate agent–will provide insight into a property before you ever make an offer. Those things that a notario does after the property is under contract–like title searches and identifying ejido land–a lawyer will begin earlier. In this way a lawyer helps you anticipate the roadblocks to snagging your Mexican dream home, and works proactively to help you overcome them. This removes much of the anxiety from the transaction process and provides you with a local professional to guide you around many potential pitfalls.

To talk to someone about your particular road to purchasing property in Mexico, or if you have any more questions about a notary’s role in this journey, contact Far Homes. We’re here whenever you want a conversation about finding your own Mexican home.

Learn about Buying in Mexico

Or call us at 1-888-808-0274 

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