This is a guest post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007.
From time to time I run across articles on certain web sites that advertise Cuenca, Ecuador as a:
“Top 10 retirement destination where a couple can live on as little as $600.00 per month.”
However, some expats suffer sticker shock when they arrive and realize that rentals in Cuenca are often much higher than they were expecting. What can expats reasonably expect to pay for a quality rental in Cuenca?
My wife and I recently went on an apartment hunting trip with a newly arrived expat couple who were looking for a 2 or 3 bedroom apt. in a safe, convenient neighborhood. This couple was very concerned about safety and wanted to be in an area where they could walk to shopping and have easy access to green space near a river. They also wanted a pet friendly place with an elevator and 24 hour guard.
We found a number of potential rentals that fit their criteria, some furnished and some unfurnished. We found two fully furnished apartments on Avenida Ordoñez Lasso in the Edificio Palermo which were being offered for rent in the $600 to $700.00 range. For those who don’t know, Edificio Palermo is a luxury high rise building with amenities such a gym, spa, and cinema. It has a very elegant lobby and it is located in an area of Cuenca that some call “gringolandia” due to the large number of expats who live there. Down the street from Edificio Palermo we looked at an unfurnished 3 bedroom apt. in a nice but less elegant building renting for $475.00 (plus building maintenance fee of $75.00). We also took the couple to view a large, centrally located apartment on Avenida Remegio Crespo. This property was being offered unfurnished for $450.00 (including the building maintenance fee or alícuota). We located other apartments in the $250 to $350 range that we could have shown to this couple, but they passed on them since they were located in areas which they deemed less desirable for expats.
Ecuador Cost of Living Wake-up Call
At first glance one may think that the above mentioned rental prices were all increased because they owners were targeting “rich gringos”, but all of these rental properties were advertised in the local classifieds in Spanish, not English which leads one to believe that the owners were not necessarily looking to rent to expats but rather offering their property to the general Ecuadorian public. The point is that to find an rental that fits the normal expat criteria (modern building with a balcony, 24 hour guard, elevator, green space, convenient to SuperMaxi, walking distance to the center, close to a river, etc) one is generally going to have to pay more than what some may expect when they first arrive. After reviewing a sampling of nicer rentals in Cuenca, the idea of a couple living on a $600.00 per month budget seems rather farfetched.
How To Avoid Paying Too Much For Your Rental
Even though the nicer rentals in Cuenca may be a bit higher than one expects, it is a good idea to shop around and negotiate with the owners before signing a rental contract. A GringosAbroad reader (we will call him Dave for this article) recently asked my wife and me to help him negotiate a better price for a rental. Dave is currently paying $350.00 for a large unfurnished apartment, but he found a new apt. that better suits his needs and tastes. The only problem is that this new apartment is being offered for $600.00 per month, almost twice what Dave currently pays.
Dave had the feeling that the owner was asking too much, that perhaps this was a case of “gringo price gouging”. I told Dave that while the price did seem high that he should not expect the owner to lower the price very much. We made an appointment to meet Dave and the owner to tour the apartment and chat about pricing and contract details. After talking and negotiating for the better part of an hour the owner agreed to make some additions to the apartment to suit Dave´s needs and she even lowered her price to $550.00 in order to seal the deal. The owner realized that she had quality renters on her hands and did not want to lose the opportunity to rent to them. Although a $50.00 price reduction may not sound like much, over the course of the contract Dave will save $1,200 on this rental, so his negotiating efforts did pay off.
The apartment that Dave and his wife will be renting is one of the nicest we have seen in Cuenca and it has all of the standard features that most expats want:
- a large balcony
- a spacious open floor plan with a lot of natural light
- an elevator
- 24 hour guard
- secure parking
- green space
- beautiful views of the river just across the street and
- convenient to shopping and transportation.
Also, Dave was able to negotiate a two year contract, so he can live in comfort knowing that his rent will be stable and he will not have to move for the next two years. I think that it is worth noting that Dave and his wife have lived in Ecuador for two years. They are not starry eyed new arrivals who are willing to pay just any price for a rental. They have rented other less expensive apartments in Cuenca and have come to realize that to get what they really want in a rental they will have to pay more. However, Dave wisely did not accept the first price he was quoted, but worked to negotiate a fair contract that was within his economic means. Even though Dave will be paying $200 per month more for this new place, he admitted that his other apartment is in an area where the noise is, to quote Dave, “unbearable”. He also pointed out that his current landlord is uncooperative and hard to deal with. So while Dave will be paying more rent for this new apartment, he is apparently getting much more for his money. As we all know we get what we pay for and it is important to compare apples to apples when determining whether a certain rental is a good or bad deal. Of course there are many expats (like us, we pay $250.00) who are paying much less for rentals than Dave, but where are these cheaper rentals located, what is the age of the property, are there hidden problems with the rental, is the landlord easy to deal with, is there excessive noise in the neighborhood and is the neighborhood secure?
These are all factors that determine the amount of rent one can expect to pay in Cuenca.
In the end, Dave and his wife are happy with their new rental and the landlord is also content to have found quality renters who will take good care of her investment. Dave thanked us profusely for our negotiating help and was happy to have saved $1,200 on the two rental contract.
So, the question is: Are expats paying too much for rentals? Some probably are, but others like Dave are willing to negotiate and take their time to find the place they really want. I think that if we all do our homework and shop around we can find rentals that are priced according to market value and avoid paying special “gringo” pricing.