On Friday, Trump declared a national emergency, which he believes will give him access to border wall funding that Congress denied him. Agents are worried.
Nancy Velazquez works as a real estate agent in Hidalgo County, Texas, a place with big skies and big properties, some hugging the border with Mexico. And thanks to President Trump, those properties may soon hug a towering barrier as well.
“I know close to Rio Grande City there are some properties where you are literally standing in your kitchen and you can see the river,” she said, referring to the Rio Grande, which divides the U.S. and Mexico. “So now, you are going to see the wall.”
And for Velazquez and her clients, that wall could become a serious problem.
“Is it going to have an affect? Of course,” she told Inman. “I don’t think those properties are going to go up in value.”
The prospect of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border became a national issue after Trump made it first a major part of his campaign platform, and then a pillar of his domestic policy. And though he originally promised that Mexico would foot the bill, Trump has since been trying to wrangle funding from the U.S. Congress — an effort that recently escalated into the longest government shutdown in the country’s history.
However, that process escalated even further Friday when Trump declared a national emergency, which he believes will unilaterally give him access to the border funding that Congress denied him. The declaration faces a highly uncertain legal future, but already the heightened prospect of a wall is reverberating through border communities.
“I believe people are afraid now more so than ever,” Linda Saldivar, an agent with the Three Americas Group, said. “What happens is we have a lot of people from Mexico who purchase over here. So does it affect us? Definitely.”
Saldivar works in McAllen, Texas. The city of nearly 150,000 people sits in the Rio Grande Valley just across the border from the Mexican city of Reynosa, home to more than 600,000. The entire area is a priority for the U.S. Border Patrol and is slated to get 55 miles of new barriers that Congress approved this week.
But in a conversation with Inman, Saldivar argued that there is a significant flow of capital between communities like hers that straddle the line between countries. People from Mexico come to the U.S. to shop and buy things, she said, and at times that includes real estate. The purchases are often made in cash and represent a significant source of volume for some agents in the area.
Policies like building a wall that discourage immigration could greatly reduce those types of deals.
“It would be a negative,” she added. “It would be negative because of the relationship we have with Mexico.”
Velazquez — the owner of Velazquez Realty Firm — raised a similar issue, though in her case the debate itself has already driven away clients.
“My Mexican national clientele literally dropped right after the new president took over,” she told Inman. “It went down 25 percent.”
Velazquez also described representing a Mexican woman — a doctor who specializes in treating skin cancers — who last year realized her visa might unexpectedly not be renewed. The woman opted to sell her U.S. property quickly.
“Sure enough we sold it and she called me two months later,” Velazquez said. “She didn’t get her visa.”
Velazquez described a similar situation playing out earlier this year with another client, and she expects foreclosures to tick up as Mexican nationals who borrowed money to get U.S. property have a more difficult time actually crossing the border — particularly if Trump does manage to build his wall.
“One thing that people may not be aware of is that not all Mexican nationals buy their houses with all cash,” she added. “A lot get loans with large down payments.”
Several other agents also said that money flows from Mexico into the U.S. real estate market, not just the other way around, but declined to be quoted saying they didn’t want to run the risk of alienating clients in a contentious political climate. And that contention, too, has become an issue amid the ongoing wall debate.
“There’s so many things that you might want to say, but you hold back because you don’t want to offend your client,” Sabita Mahtani, an agent with the HSRGV Group in McAllen, said. “You don’t know which way they’re leaning.”
Like everyone who spoke with Inman, Mahtani said the wall is an ever-present topic of conversation in the communities where she works, and passions run strong.
“It’s very torn down here,” she added of local sentiment about the wall.
Mahtani said that many of her clients also work for the U.S. Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Opinion among those clients is “mixed” on whether a border wall would be effective, she said, though the recent shutdown — which, again, was due to a political fight over wall funding — actually nearly sank deals because those clients weren’t getting paid.
“We almost had deals fall apart recently because of the furlough,” she said. “I had two under contract and one of them was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.'”
Mahtani added that the political leadership in Washington, D.C., has “no clue” what is going on at the border.
“All the rhetoric,” she said, “the rhetoric’s going to hurt.”
And of course there are concerns about property values.
Velazquez said that some of the areas where she practices have fencing along the border. But other parts are merely marked by a river and the people who own that riverfront property aren’t excited to suddenly be living beside what Velazquez described as a “physical reminder” of the border. Would-be buyers may also be repelled when they see the wall, mistakenly taking it as evidence that the area is dangerous.
“It’s an eyesore,” she said. “And it’s going to immediately affect those homeowners for resale purposes. I wouldn’t want to buy a property as a consumer where the wall is right there.”
Both Velazquez and another Hidalgo County agent, who asked not to be named, also pointed to eminent domain — which has been used in the past to construct a border fence — as a concern among property owners who fear their land could be seized so the wall can cross over it. The other agent noted that “land owners are outraged over” the prospect of losing property.
It remains to be seen if Trump, via his emergency declaration, will actually manage to get some or all of his wall built. In the meantime, though, Velazquez — who said she is not an especially political person — questioned whether a new barrier is actually going to do much.
“The hardest working people I know are usually the ones who are undocumented,” she said. “So these hombres and bad people that [Trump] talks about, I don’t see it.”