The New York Minute

Interview Series: Fascinating Engel & Völkers Colleagues from Around the World

Vanessa Fukunaga

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Vanessa Fukunaga from Engel & Völkers Los Cabos, Mexico.
Golf is a mental game about slowing down, focusing, and not trying too hard. And it’s different every stroke, every hole, every game. It’s social. It teaches you amazing life lessons—honesty, ethics, and manners! Perseverance! Mental strength! A sense of self-accomplishment! I would love to see more women in the sport.

Born and raised in the southwestern United States, Vanessa Fukunaga traveled the world for years before settling in Los Cabos. She acquired Snell Real Estate as the owner, president, and CEO in 2012, and shortly afterward it was incorporated into the brand as the first Engel & Völkers shop in Mexico. Vanessa is one of the area’s top advisors for the ultra-luxury market, as well as the owner of the global luxury networking platform Ocean Blue World, which showcases the latest luxury trends with a focus on Los Cabos.

As a passionate ambassador for Mexico, Vanessa is also the creator of the #MakeItHappen philanthropic endeavor. Her podcast, Mod Pod With Fukunaga, invites luxury-market movers and shakers around the world to share how they’re using their talents to promote positive change. Outside of work, Vanessa is an avid poker player and has recently welcomed an Italian greyhound puppy named Ava into her family.


Paul & Vince: So, Vanessa…How did you end up in your current real estate career?

Vanessa: When I was 19, I moved to New York to study management and information systems in school, and then I started out in the corporate business travel world. I worked at a super-regional company in the Connecticut area, and then we were acquired by Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

So, for companies like Accenture, Nike, Boeing, and Citibank—my teams would collect all of the business travel information and present it to the clients so they could use it to negotiate with the airlines, the hotels, and the car vendors. I managed the technology teams and parts of mergers and acquisitions and traveled around the world to sell. It taught me so much, and it was an interesting time. I got to grow into it, and I did it for sixteen years.

Then—well, I was traveling a lot. While living in Denver, I met my now-ex, and we came here on vacation and didn’t want to travel anymore. So we looked into it to see what made sense regarding business, and we found out Snell Real Estate was the number-one luxury brokerage. So we talked the namesake, Chris Snell, into selling it to us.

Paul & Vince: Whoa, whoa—so you weren’t in real estate prior to this? You just jumped in and bought an agency?

Vanessa: [Laughs.] Yes!

Paul & Vince: Okay, wow! So, what happened? You just fell in love with Cabo?

Vanessa: Oh my gosh, yeah. I knew. We decided this was where we wanted to live before looking at business. This is what I want for people! To say, “Come here—it’s more than just the houses. It’s a way of life. And once you fall in love with it, the house will come.”


Paul & Vince: Well, that brings us to our next question: what’s great about living and working in Cabo?

Vanessa: Oh, my gosh. It is paradise. It is right at the tip of the Baja California Sur, at the peninsula they call Land’s End. On one side, you have the Sea of Cortez, and on the other side, the Pacific Ocean.

Vanessa: You have desert, mountain, beach—so you have this amazing, unique microclimate, where it’s never too hot, it’s never too humid—it is paradise.

We call the whole thing Cabo, but it’s really Los Cabos. It has two sides, separated by one main freeway. There’s San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. And in the center is what we call The Corridor.

I might say one is quieter, and that’s the San Jose del Cabo area. That’s where you’d find Palmilla, Querencia—a very upscale community and neighborhood. As you go down the Corridor, you will continue to find everything very high-end. Los Ventanas al Paraíso, El Chileno, Maravilla.

Then you’re gonna go down to Cabo San Lucas and find the high-end area over there called Pedregal. It also has a lot more nightlife. So if you go down there, you’ve got bars and lounges full of vacationers. Spring breakers, for sure, but some great restaurants too.

Logistically it’s easy to get to, and you have a level of culture, from art to food to music—it is beyond. The people are so, so amazing.

And we’re a golf destination, which is huge for me!

Paul & Vince: So you’re a golfer?

Vanessa: Oh, I love the game. I started playing about eight years ago. It teaches you amazing life lessons—honesty, ethics, and manners! Perseverance! Mental strength! A sense of self-accomplishment!

And golf is a mental game about slowing it down, focusing, and not trying too hard.

And it’s different every stroke, every hole, every game. It’s social. You can have a great game socializing with your friends that is also for charity, so it’s a win-win-win. I—I love the game of golf. I wish I had learned it as a kid. I would love for more kids to learn it. I would love to see more women in the sport. It’s just been amazing for me.

Paul & Vince: Wow—you should be an ambassador for the golf industry because that was a great sales job! We’re not golfers, but we might have to start!

Vanessa: Well, when can you come down to Cabo? [Laughs.]

Cabo is also very outdoorsy. We’ve got 350, 360 days of sunshine a year, so it’s a very indoor-outdoor-living type of place. There are outdoor living rooms, TV areas… Here your outdoor space is as relevant as—if not more relevant than—your indoor space.


Paul & Vince: Speaking of outdoor space, can you tell us about how the pandemic has impacted the market in Cabo?

Vanessa: Okay—so I don’t even get to say how scared I was?

Paul & Vince: Oh no, please! Tell us everything!

Vanessa: [Laughs.] Okay, well, there I was, owning a real estate brokerage in a second-home resort area, thinking, “Oh my God, what’s gonna happen?!”

So I had that brief moment of fear—and then I was all in. I’m all in personally and from a business standpoint. I believe in the area and knew we could market and do things differently.

I thought, “Life has to go on; it will go on. It’s just a matter of when.”

I immediately assigned a team to all the Covid protocols; I closed the office, and every meeting was remote. And we were already marketing remotely, so it was just a matter of amping it up.

But then we had to ask, “How do we stay connected as human beings?” “How do I keep my homeowners?” “How do I not look tone-deaf to what’s happening—and still market? Because people will vacation again eventually—and I know this is where they will come.”

Paul & Vince: How did Covid affect the already there population?

Vanessa: Well, many people got “stuck,” and a lot were able to get back to their home countries—but many of them decided to stay. Everything shut down, but the government—at the federal level, the state level, and the local level—did such a fabulous job. Just the immediacy of handling Covid tests, the immediacy of instituting protocols.

Also, we’re a full-cash market. It doesn’t matter if you have a $250,000 condo or a $40,000,000 house—you own it.

So there’s a lot, a lot of wealth here. You’re sitting here with assets you fully own, and yes, the world has stopped for a moment, or we’ve had a hiccup—but these aren’t people whose lives are being turned upside down.

The people who did struggle the most were in the general workforce. So I tried to find every possible way to keep anybody who could safely go.

Now, many people were flying here privately, so we didn’t have to wait for all of the commercial flights. But we were already promoting remotely—and then we started getting people buying sight unseen!

We’re seeing so many people invest right now, too. Rentals are one of the hottest things around. And inventory is lower—I won’t say low, but lower—because we’ve sold so much. We’re very, very fortunate.

Even with the uncomfortable protocols when people were starting to be able to travel, the first thing they wanted to do was get to an outdoorsy space. Social distancing is easy here, and you’re indoor/outdoor, which made it easier for people to feel comfortable coming back. And if people had an issue, they knew that the healthcare system here is top-end. I’ve got my doctor on speed dial. If I want a Covid test, I say, “Hey, can you come to the house in half an hour?”

The community is so supported, and people are realizing, “Logistically, it’s easy to get to; I do have money—why not be somewhere that is amazing? If I need to, I can still work. If I need to, I can still travel.”

I think people have made a mind shift to prioritizing their quality of life. On average, people used to be here probably nine weeks of the year, although some would come for the season—and we call “the season” is November through March. But people are staying longer and longer because they’re finding that they can work here remotely. And, honestly, where better to work remotely than Cabo? I can sit here on my iPad, computer, cell phone on the beach, watching the whales jump…and work.

Paul and Vince: So in terms of selling a lot—did that mean many people were leaving Cabo, too?

Vanessa: Oh, no! Most homeowners aren’t selling to get out of Cabo. It’s to buy something else. It’s to upgrade, to move closer to the beach, further from the beach to a different community. They need a bigger house. They need to downsize the house.

People who leave Cabo are few and far between—and I always ask them, “Why are you selling?! [Laughs.] “Where are you going?”

Paul and Vince: “What could be better than this?”

Vanessa: Exactly!


Paul & Vince: Who are the major players right now in terms of buyers and sellers?

Vanessa: Well, our population here are captains of their industries. It’s a high-level second, third, fourth, and fifth-home resort area. You have probably 70% Americans, 15% Canadians, or something like that. 10% Mexican nationals and 5% internationals.

Paul & Vince: Are European buyers a significant part of the population?

Vanessa: Not yet. The flights aren’t as easy as they are from Cancun, where you’ve got a bunch of nonstops from Frankfurt and everywhere else. But here, you’re gonna have to take just one stop. So that’s what I’m trying to tell everybody. Just one stop! And then you can be here! There are tons of nonstops from Europe to all around the US, and then from the US, it’s very easy to go nonstop here.

Paul & Vince: Is there a large retirement community?

Vanessa: There is—it’s just not the “retired” that you’d think. It’s a very wealthy population, so when people are retired, they’re early retired. You’ve got people who were captains of their industries, you’ve got Little Hollywood, you’ve got Silicon Valley—all kinds of different people. So it’s not “retired” because they hit 65, necessarily. It’s “retired” because they have enough money.

Paul & Vince: Now, on the seller side, you work with many new developments, correct?

Vanessa: Yes! Right now, our top development is Las Ventanas al Paraíso. We also have one called The Break, one in the marina in Cabo San Lucas called the Paraíso Residences. We’ve been awarded a Waldorf Astoria—a new resort with some residential components.

And let’s see…we were just awarded a new development called Oceana, and that one will be all about wellness real estate. From a sustainability standpoint, everything is very green and biodegradable—but they’re not just adding solar panels at the end. It’s the entire concept, creating a complete wellness experience for anybody who buys. They have some traditional resort components, but they’re taking cues from all the senses. Even the air vents are designed with hypoallergenic extra-cleaning components. The materials, the structure, and all the amenities will all be focused on wellness.

…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: If you could take a year to try out any job you’ve never worked before in your life, what would you choose? Do you think you’d be good at it?

Vanessa: Can it be golf?

Paul & Vince: No!

Vanessa: Oh, no! Oh gosh, that’s a hard one!

[Everyone laughs.]

Vanessa: Oh, I know! I would be a gameshow host!

Paul & Vince: Really? Do you watch a lot of game shows?

Vanessa: Oh my gosh, yes, I love all of them! I love Jeopardy; I love Mastermind, People Puzzler…Family Feud is my favorite.

Anyone who knows me knows I love giving away prizes. I do a raffle at almost every sales meeting. And we always have games during what we call a Posada, our annual holiday party—but last year we couldn’t gather because of Covid.

So I said, “Guess what—we’re gonna have a remote Christmas Posada.”

I had my driver send boxes of gifts to everybody’s house—and I’m talking 75 houses, agents, and admin—before the Posada, all marked “Do not open until the day of.” And we played the Marshmallow Game—

Paul & Vince: Wait, what’s the Marshmallow Game?

Vanessa: Oh my gosh, it’s so fun! I got it from this new game show from Kevin Hart called “Celebrity Game Face.” They started it early in the pandemic, and it’s all done with celebrities over video calls instead of on a set. He invents all of these games and challenges for them, and they have to run around at home trying to win them.

It’s in two teams, so we randomly drew two names and sent marshmallows to everybody’s house. One person on each team has to put five giant marshmallows in their mouth and leave them there. And then, I give them a category, and they have to name examples. So I’d say, “Properties in Cabo.”

And somebody would try to say “Paradiso Perduto,” but with their mouth filled with marshmallows—and the other team member has to try to guess what they’re saying! And they’re like, “Forget it—pass, pass, pass! Try the next one!”

Marshmallows are spewing out of their mouths, while the other person’s like, “Say it, say it!” It is hilarious.

Paul & Vince: That sounds great! And perfect for a big group Zoom call.

Vanessa: Yeah! And another hilarious one that I’ve done is a riddle. So I give everyone a clue, like, “I am tall when I’m young and short when I’m old. What am I?”

Then boom—everybody runs. You have to find the object in the house, bring it back—and in this case, you had to type it in the chat so that people weren’t showing it simultaneously.

Paul & Vince: Wait, so what was the answer?

Vanessa: It’s a candle! [Laughs.] People would come back with different things, or you’d see people typing as fast as they could simultaneously—it was an absolute riot. And the prizes—oh my gosh, I gave away everything. I gave away nights at Nobu Hotel, spa days, dinners at Nicksan…

Paul & Vince: Wow, these are serious gifts!

Vanessa: Yeah! I’m telling you, game shows create such great team spirit because you’re silly with each other—so when you make yourself a little bit vulnerable, it makes you more welcoming to others.

Paul & Vince: Do you have an idea for a game show that doesn’t exist yet?

Vanessa: I think Family Feud is the best. The team spirit, the giveaways—how it’s set up is fun and interesting. And I love Celebrity Game Face. So maybe if I twisted those two together a bit…

Paul & Vince: …It could be something great! It seems like you’re a natural at hosting anything. But we think you’ll get your own show someday, somehow—maybe even on an E&V group channel?

Vanessa: Yes! Of course, for the prizes on my show, I’d be like, “You’re all going to Cabo!” [Laughs.]

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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