As the supply of available property grows ever tighter in the United States, the next frontier for ambitious American builders beckons: Mexico. The Department of Commerce recently awarded a grant of $397,899 to the NAHB to fund a three-year project, "Access Mexico," a program of trade missions and conferences aimed at helping American builders interested in the Mexican market, including an introductory conference held in mid-October. "There is a world of opportunity for partnering with Mexican companies," said F. Gary Garcyznski, NAHB's past president and its current ambassador of housing.

Rita Feinberg, executive director of International NAHB, notes that new housing is a particular priority of the new Mexican government, which continues to face a huge deficit in housing supply. "President Vicente Fox has planned for 25 to 30 million new households by 2030," says Feinberg. Near term, the government's goal is for 750,000 new homes to be built annually by 2006, not including the self-built segment.

In a sense, U.S.-Mexican building partnerships already exist in that many homes in the United States are built by Mexicans. Garcyznski made that point at a recent housing conference in Mexico. "The biggest applause I got was when I said that the U.S. housing industry rides on the backs of Mexican labor," he said. Ironically, many Mexicans come to the United States to earn money to send back home to build a house, he said.

"If you think you're going to go anywhere to make a quick buck, you're probably not going to succeed," he said. Home prices, for one, typically average $25,000 for two-bedroom, concrete-constructed homes. Another challenge: limited credit and underdeveloped home-financing systems for buyers. "But if you're interested in long-term growth opportunities, Mexico is a great place," said Garcyznski.