Above is a video of my present place. The button is dead-center. . Due to copyright restrictions on YouTube (which hosts this site's videos), we can't put the music with the video like it should be. But if you'd like a little music while you watch it, click below for one of my faves.)
So a friend moves to your town. She immediately finds a boyfriend, moves into his neighborhood and buys a house. She seems to have convinced herself in two months and at every level that she was set for the long haul. When the boyfriend didn't work out, she realized she didn't like the neighborhood that much, then she sold the house and moved. Now she's starting all over.
The same thing happens when moving to Mexico. It’s so exotic and exciting that it’s easy to fall in love too soon. For example, every year, I think that I have found the best possible living situation, only to find an even better one the next.
In Mexico, you should play the field.
Let’s take my current place. Being willing and eager to brave the low season heat (I love the thunderstorms more than I dislike the heat) has given me a wide range of opportunities since I rent several months off-season.
Houses and apartments fare better in hot, humid climates when lived in. In Mazatlán, hundreds of beautiful beachfront or marina-front condos stand empty a good bit of the year. I am sure it’s the same in every coastal town with a high and low season. Even cities like San Miguel de Allende, with a more temperate climate have a season when people do their traveling.
As you come to know your particular Mexican zip code in paradise, your options improve every year. Here’s why.
You will have local references. Local references help you in the same way here as they do at home. While they may not ask for them, if you have a year or two as a verified reliable renter, it helps establish you for the next year.
You know the drill when it comes to the peculiarities of Mexico. Property owners and potential landlords know you are comfortable with Mexico’s idiosyncrasies. You are used to turning the air conditioner on and off as enter and leave rooms. You won’t immediately react if weird smells start emanating from the bathroom or a bug the size of a small bird flies out of your dresser drawer.
With a few years or tours here, you should have at least working Spanish. You shouldn’t be helpless when it comes to getting something repaired. You can call an exterminator. If something breaks, you know how to find someone to repair it - a Mexican - not someone who speaks English and will likely charge you three-times what you should pay. These things make you a better tenant.
But you are still American or Canadian. I won’t go into all the cultural and legal reasons why house and condo owners sometimes prefer American and Canadian tenants. Part of it is that Mexican law is on the side of renters if leases are under two years. Owners, Mexican home owners included, often feel more comfortable renting to Americans or Canadians.
You will make Mexican friends who will know of special opportunities. You will begin to make Mexican friends, especially if you learn Spanish. Don’t underestimate how vast their networks are. They usually were raised in the same city they live in, with friends dating back to grade school as well as having extensive family networks.
More than once a Mexican friend has turned me onto astonishing deals (like a three-bedroom, furnished rental with a pool for $545 a month).
Don't put any money down unless you are working through a trusted source, whether a property manager, a realtor or a local that you trust explicitly. Such requests are often legitimate; land lords can have a variety of terms but again, you should have spent enough time in an area to determine whom you can trust.
You will have a better sense of what things should cost. There really aren’t any short-cuts. You have to spend time in a city to get a full feel for the neighborhoods. After three years in Mazatlán, I know that El Centro (the historical district of Mazatlan) floods and is hotter in the summer than the Marina area. I know that the Marina area is vacant in the summer. Knowing these things from personal experience registers differently than hearing about it.
View from one of my past places
In apartments as in people, don’t fall for a place just because of its looks. Sometimes it's what’s inside that counts.
This year I had to decide between two fabulous places in Mazatlán. One was a very upscale, four bedroom condominium facing the ocean across the street. The other, still oceanfront but with a more modest facade, looked like an old Mexican high-rise hotel.
The first, the more elegant one, was actually less expensive. Both were comfortably furnished and under $900 a month.
Which to choose? The resort was the better choice for me. While more casual, I enter through the building’s shady side, into open breezeways from which you can see the water. The shade and breeze make a difference coming in and out in the summer. Full-time staff on call for things like internet service make a big difference if you’re working. Its small restaurant has come in handy too.
What makes the place I chose really unique, even to this city, is that although the building looks like a hotel, the places are two-level. The elevator numbers are 2,4,6,8 and so on. I live on 11 and 12.
The added energy of both Mexican and American clientele coming and going through the building, as opposed to the summer quiet of many expat neighborhoods off-season, gives the place a nice energy. Having more people around has made this the best tour ever, and I've had some great ones.
Regardless of the city you choose in Mexico, I strongly urge you not to put any money down anywhere without spending a few months there and making local contacts, even it that means working out an arrangement with a hotel.
It’s crucial to have some local knowledge of the market. Don’t trust a realtor just because they’re American or speak English.
If you find a place you like, see if you can rent it for a few months before making any longer-term commitment. If you are considering buying, you should try to rent in at least the same area first. Noises, smells, number of neighbors, greenery, need to be absorbed on a daily basis. There are always surprises.
Because my rent is always so reasonable, I can do a few things to spruce them up, even if I'm only staying for a six-month period of time. At different times I've had rugs shampooed, bought candles, comfortable pillows or a few items of cookware. None of my seasonal purchases have never added up to more than $100.
When I leave, if I’ve purchased something I can only use here, I can pay a friend to hold on to a few things for me until my return if I really want to keep it.
Coastal areas are awash with lovely places available for rent, especially if you don’t insist on coming and going at the exact time all the snowbirds and Mexican tourists come and go. The best deals and nicest places are by word of mouth and are not advertised, even by realtors.
The longer time you spend in a area and become a known entity, the more likely attractive, well-appointed places will be whispered in your ear. Each will offer its unique perspective and strengths. By playing the field, you can enjoy the adventure of several of them before perhaps settling down with your one true love.
Knowing about how electric bills work in Mexico is essential and can factor into how attractive you are as a potential renter.
Coming up: Another one of those ways you save money in Mexico that you'd never thing of.
Most Recent: I've talked to several people who agree off-season is a time to get things done in Mexico. You can write a screen play, brainstorm a business or write that book you've always wanted to write.
About the author, Kerry Baker
Hi, I am the author of this blog and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online." Don't get stuck in the quagmire in your search for free online tools. Get the guide that takes you, via interactive links, to the best websites and features on the web [with lesson plans].
Don't rent blind. My book, "If Only I Had a Place" includes a listing of rental concierges who can make sure the place you're renting from a distance exists as described.