Home Expat Blogs How to Be a Grown-Up in Mexico Part Two: Finding a Place...

How to Be a Grown-Up in Mexico Part Two: Finding a Place to Live in Mexico

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Puerto Vallarta balcony view
Credit: Harriet Murray

Hola, amigos! Today we’re going to talk about getting a house or apartment set up, as well as getting everything for it. Shall we begin?

Need to find a place to live? You can look online, but you’ll likely need to be “on the ground” to find a place. A hotel or an Air BnB can serve as a nice temporary base while you explore.

Many cities don’t have just one central classified section for houses and apartments to rent, so you may need to sift through several. I would recommend Vivanuncios.com as a place to get started, and good old-fashioned local newspapers for print. Also, Craigslist.com is available for 16 cities in Mexico.

Another option is to Google “bienes raíces” (real estate) + the city you’re interested in, which should get you to some local sites with listings for rent or purchase. The sites aren’t always fantastic – think late 1990s website aesthetic – but they mostly get the job done.

Another way to find a place to live is simply by walking around neighborhoods you like looking for signs that say “se renta” (for rent) and calling the numbers listed.

Asking around can get you places, too, one of those old-fashioned ways of doing things I find so charming. I actually found my current house by asking a friend if he knew of any nice places for rent.

Also, many cities like Puerto Vallarta and other expat magnets have rental agents that handle a wide variety of properties for rent. Most speak English.

Houses and apartments are rented in the same way. Keep in mind that unlike many places north of the border, apartments are usually individually-owned, so the kind of apartment complex management staff you’re likely used to usually doesn’t exist in most places outside of the international resort cities, like Cabo, Cancún, etc.

To rent a house or an apartment, you’ll likely need to pay a deposit (the cost of the monthly rent), as well as the first month’s rent. Many owners also ask for an “aval,” which means a co-signer (probably local, and they will have to own land). They do this in part because the laws in Mexico lean heavily toward whoever is occupying a home, making it very difficult to force people out for failing to pay rent. With an aval, they can legally go after someone else for the rent money. That said, many waive this for foreigners, as they trust that we’re typically financially secure.

When it comes to services, water, electricity, phone/internet and gas will typically already be hooked up. The name and address on the bill will be that of the owner, so there’s no need to change it.

Most of the bills can be paid online these days, but many people still go out to pay them in cash. Gas will be paid when it’s delivered (you can usually pay with a card), and if you change to a new internet service, you’ll use your own information. Make sure to verify that all bills have been paid before you move in!

Now, let’s talk about the condition of the places for rent in Mexico.

Unless you are renting something considered high-end, the house or apartment will likely be given to you in whatever condition you originally saw it. There is not typically a process for going in and sprucing-up before the beginning of a contract the way you might expect in the rest of North America. If you’re lucky, it will be at least clean-ish.

Most houses for rent in Mexico also do not include refrigerators, and many don’t include stoves, so consider those as common as beds and sofas when it comes to thinking about the items you’ll need to buy and move around with you if you decide to go somewhere else.

Kitchens will likely be bare-bones, which is always surprising to me considering the amount of home cooking most Mexicans do. I’ve been shown apartments with literally a sink and no counters or cabinets by people with a completely straight face. Most kitchens (unless the place is super cheap) will at least have an area that can serve as a counter, but cabinets aren’t considered a building necessity.

You might also need to buy some furniture for the bathroom if you want a place to put your things. In general, just remember that storage space hasn’t typically been a big priority in the construction of Mexican homes, and many structural things you might consider essential will simply not be present. In one home I lived in, I installed a total of 11 shelves.

Blinds on the windows should not be expected, and unless the previous tenant left curtains, there might not be curtain rods either.

One caveat for this information on things you will need to buy for your rental: major expat centers, and especially the international resort cities, have pretty well-equipped properties because of the local demand.

I love to decorate, and have asked for permission to paint pretty much every place I’ve lived in. The answer overwhelmingly has been “knock yourself out.” Owners rarely pay for any needed repairs in the places they rent, especially if the contract has already started (the contract usually says you’re responsible for any repairs that come up anyway). They are more than happy to have renters make repairs and spruce up the place for them for free. Some have paid lip service to the idea of discounting the rent in exchange, but I’ve heard of very few actual incidences of this happening. It’s better in expat centers, especially if you are renting from a fellow expat who is used to landlords paying for repairs.

The good news is that if you’re like me and love to make a place your own with paint, shelving and other adjustments – you can! Just don’t forget to take what you can with you when you move.

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