The Secrets of Subletting Your Place While in Mexico
Living in Mexico or a cheaper country either full or part-time as a single person can cut your yearly budget to half, especially if your U.S. address is in a more costly urban area. Housing is cheaper, food is less expensive, the list goes on and on.
The key to part-time expat life as a financial plan is subletting or renting your apartment or house while you are gone. Paying two rents or mortgages negates any savings and no one wants to pay double for housing.
If you are planning on embarking on the part-time expat life in the next year or two, now is the time to start preparing not only for your Mexico destination, but the U.S. home base that can be rented while you're gone.
If you rent, you will want to find an apartment that lets you sublet. If you own a home, you will want to take steps to make your home attractive to the best prospective renters or even buy or lease a new place more attractive for renting.
I will deal here mostly with subletting although most of it applies to owning as well.
Location, Location, Location - Even if you have to pay a little more, I highly recommend your U.S base be located in an area attractive to potential temporary renters.
If you are living much more economically six months a year, it may enable you to bump up your standard of living. Small luxury apartments or condos in hip downtown areas attract young, affluent professionals who are the perfect candidates. University areas attract graduate students and professors.
The smaller the place, the easier it is to rent which is good since the neighborhood rental rates are higher in the best areas. My one bedroom sublets far more easily than my neighbor's two-bedroom in the same building.
Know your lease agreement. While I would never suggest doing anything illegal, a certain grey area exists when you consider the term “sublet.” Big, anonymous luxury apartments cannot prohibit your asking a friend to watch over your place during a long-term absence. For that reason, put the word out to your Facebook friends and social networks.
Apartments understandably may ask for information on anyone who will be staying in your apartment for extended periods, maybe more than two weeks. For one thing, they want to want to run them through sexual predator data-bases. Sometimes they will classify the person as a "room-mate" if rules prohibit subletting which case they simply add them to your lease.
Your guest/lessee may need to fill out an application just like you did when you signed your lease. You might have to pay a modest processing fee, which you will ask your sub-lessee to cover.
By informing the apartment manager of your tenant/guest’s presence, the tenant will be able to work with the property management office should they get locked out or have a maintenance issue.
Have the application ready. Having an application on file, whether it’s your property management company or a template you have downloaded yourself from a legal form website is necessary. Application forms standardize the background information and make it easy to check credit, work history and references.
Completed forms make it easier to document why someone is turned down, which is especially helpful if you need to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws You will need social security numbers and all contact information.
The best prospects as renters are professional athletes, students doing thesis, young professionals completing internships or law school and people new to the area who want to get to know a city before purchasing a house.
Almost all mine have been new college graduates in their first real career jobs. They are making very good salaries and want to experience downtown before thinking about buying a house.
Pre-screen on the phone. Have a half-dozen questions ready, the most important being why they want to sublease, their income (their monthly income should be at least twice their rent amount) and “a little about themselves.”
Be thorough in your background checks. Even if your property management company checks their personal and professional references and credit history, you do it too. You actually have more at stake than they do. Your name is on the lease and your place is likely furnished.
Check all past residences and employment, not just the most recent. Look for unexplained gaps in residence. Ask past landlords if they’d rent to them again, if they got their deposit back and how much their rent was.
Get a personal feel. The more you like someone, the more you need to check references. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but really hitting it off, or thinking you’re hitting it off, with a prospect can cloud your thinking. People can charm you when a desirable place to live is on the line. People lie.
If you’re considering a younger person, nothing beats developing a relationship with parents so accept them as personal references.
While I have never had to go to parents regarding rent on my more upscale apartment, I own a place at a ski resort in West Virginia where it is much more difficult to find stable tenants. Knowing tenants parents saved the day on more than one occasion.
Think about your neighbors. What kind of personalities do your neighbors have? Are they intrusive? How are they going to treat your guest/tenant or feel about your sublet? If necessary, plant the necessary seeds that they will have nothing to worry about.
Don’t ignore professions. As much as we want to avoid stereotyping, certain professions do attract certain personality types and lifestyles. Don’t think you can tell someone how to behave in your place. Find tenants for whom acceptable behavior comes naturally.
If you are subletting and do an even more thorough job than a typical property manager, your property manager will continually approve the arrangement. Look at it from their point of view: you find perfect guest/tenants without the cost of turning the apartment over.
As you are the owner of the lease, they will still hold you accountable for anything that goes wrong. They have a tenant as good (or even better!) than yourself. You have your freedom, save some money and have an exciting double life in another country. Everybody wins.
Don’t offer up more information than necessary regarding your lifestyle. You are embarking on a life most people only dream about. Property managers and neighbors are human. You don’t want to encourage jealousy or power plays by gloating or telling them about your exciting life and how you’ve finessed it. Be friendly but private.
Don’t rush. Make your flight arrangements for Mexico or wherever your expat destination is after you find the perfect guest/tenant so you can build your schedule around their time frame. Caliber of tenant is more important than a month more or less in your second home.
Setup automatic rent payments from your checking account, not your guest/tenant's. Your tenant should automatically transfer money into your checking account on the first. You set up an automatic withdrawal for your rent from your account for the rent for the second or third. Always have enough in the bank to cover two months. It's a money transfer not a bill payment - don't let the bank terminology on their website confuse you.
Keep a tastefully furnished, non-gender specific executive style apartment or home with some creature comforts. Stage the place as you would for a sale. Remove sentimental items and photos. If something would make the place more attractive and can’t be broken easily, invest in it. Quality furnishings, accent walls, nice comforters, and well-framed art will make your place stand out. Plus, you want to feel like you’re home when you are there.
Price it just below what you could. Remember, you are competing for the best tenants. Isn’t your peace of mind worth the extra $50-$75 a month? As tempting as it is, do not try to make money on it. I know it's tempting. Just don't. By keeping it slightly under market, you can choose among the best.
Be discreet. If your ability to sublet is a discretionary issue with your property manager, you want to be low-key. Try not to sublet more than twice a year. Don’t brag and share the arrangement details with neighbors. Neither your property manager nor your neighbors want to feel like they are operating or living next to a hotel operation or an AirB&B
Be a perfect tenant when you are in your U.S base. Live the quiet life. Be there around the months when the lease renews. Maintain a low-key presence.
Show appreciation for your leasing personnel.
Require the maximum deposit. I ask for the amount it would cost to fly home with little notice. Do not negotiate. If they are not solvent enough to meet your requirement, you don’t want them as a tenant. Don’t apologize. Don’t feel pressured or guilty. It’s your stuff, your lease and your responsibility to keep the place perfect and maintain the arrangement with your landlord.
Ask for a non-refundable deposit to hold the place and apply that to the security deposit when they move in. Make sure they don't post-date security or any deposit check to the moving date. The bank will not accept a post-dated check and they can cancel it anytime so it's worthless as a commitment. Keep the deposit in a separate account. I use the membership account of my credit union.
Keep a personal presence by recruiting a friend to be your representative in your absence, even if you pay them. I have contracted a very charming, beautiful friend who can “drop by” or make a call to “make sure everything’s okay” if the rent is a day late. I try to introduce them casually when I hand over the keys.
Your guest/tenant knows you’re out of the country. Introducing them to your friends in the neighborhood when you meet them or turn over the keys gives the transaction a personal touch. It conveys that you still live there and have friends - friends they might run into at the grocery store or the local bar some day.
Take pictures in the walk through. Be clear on the electric bill. They will receive your last bill after they move in. You will receive their bill after they leave so it might be a wash. Make sure you check for any outstanding bills they agreed to pay before returning the deposit. Don’t forget to leave them the parking passes, internet network pass codes, mailbox keys and entry fobs. Let them know the rules for the common areas and parking for guests.
Turn the apartment over to them spotless with everything in good repair. Leave a bottle of wine or fresh flowers, paper towels and other things for the first week. Small things help build a relationship.
Remind them that you will provide references for them when you return.
Let them know you expect the place as clean on your return as you left it for them. Your return day will probably be a long one and you will want to come home to a clean apartment or house.
They won’t be perfect in this regard but by setting up your expectations, they will probably do their best, after all, you are practically a friend of theirs by now.
Allow for normal wear and tear. Expect a really dirty carpet, scuff marks and some dinnerware chipped. Give back the entire deposit unless the damage is significant. Look behind the couch -they almost always leave something.
After you’ve left for Mexico, leave them alone. No communications. No check-ins to make sure everything's okay. They want to feel they live there, that it’s their place. As long as the rent is being transferred and you don’t hear from your property manager, let them enjoy the digs.
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Hi - I'm a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering expat life in Mexico.
I also authored the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web. Have a unique Spanish learning experience every day and be ready for expat life in Mexico.
Released in July 2017, "If Only I Had a Place," a guide to renting luxuriously in Mexico for less, including a listing rental concierges.