This is a guest post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007.
How can you find property to rent or buy in Cuenca?
Before we moved to Ecuador, one dilemma we faced had to do with housing. How do you go about finding a house or apartment if you don’t know anyone here or speak the language? The first thing that comes to mind is to use a realtor. There are a number of realtors who target expats with nice web sites and testimonials from “satisfied customers”. That is one way to find housing, but there are alternatives to using a realtor that one would do well to consider.
There are some things to keep in mind when house hunting in Ecuador or any other country for that matter. According to what we have been told and experienced ourselves, not all “professional” realtors have your best interest at heart. And don’t think that just because a realtor is a fellow expat who speaks your language that he or she won’t take advantage of you. They may try to steer you to a certain area or price range, thus limiting your options and forcing you to pay more than you have to. I recently received an email from a person interested in moving to Ecuador who related a story detailing the underhanded tactics of one realtor who was artificially elevating the prices he charged to unsuspecting expats in the north of Ecuador. He was skimming thousands of dollars and inventing fees that are not legal. Fortunately the buyer contacted a reliable Ecuadorian real estate attorney who blew the whistle on the realtor. The idea that some locals and fellow expats have is that all retirees are rich and therefore can afford to pay more. No one wants to be a victim of unscrupulous realtors or pay more than they have to. The majority of retired expats are not rich. They have to watch what they spend and cannot afford to be ripped off.
Learn more about Ecuador real estate.
Another issue I have noticed with the realtors here is that they just don’t seem to have very many listings to offer. If you are looking to rent or buy, most realtor web sites seem to have only a handful of listings and many of those are offered for prices that are somewhat higher than what we have paid for rentals. For example, we know some expats who rent very nice centrally located apartments with garages and guards for $350.00 a month, but we have seen the same type of “luxury” apartments on some realtor web sites that are offered for $500-$600 a month. What is the difference? I have been in those more expensive apartments and I can see no real difference between the more expensive apartments and the ones offered for less.
When you surf the different realty web sites you may come away with the impression that there are not that many rentals available here and that you have to pay $500.00 or more to rent a decent place. However, we have found that the reality is somewhat different. When I check the local classified ads here in Cuenca and take a tour of different areas, I find that there are many rentals and for sale by owner properties available here. It seems that most people who have properties for rent or for sale prefer to market them on their own and bypass the realtors. They simply stick a sign in the window or put a small ad in the paper.
Some realtors will have you believe that the locals will rip you off and that you have to have the “expert” care of a fellow expat realtor to avoid being taken advantage of, but our experience has been the opposite. The majority of property owners want foreigners as renters because of our reputation as trustworthy and responsible folks who will take care of their property and not destroy it. If you are a foreigner looking to rent, you have an automatic advantage over natives who are looking to rent the same property. However, you have to be willing to negotiate and not pay the asking price. If the owner won’t negotiate, just walk away. We had one owner try to gouge us for $550 on a house that would normally rent for $300 and we just said “thanks but no thanks” and walked away after realizing that they were not going to negotiate a reasonable price.
So, how can you find housing without being taken to the cleaners? First of all, I personally would avoid the realtors who specifically target foreigners, or at least proceed with caution when dealing with them. You can be certain that there has been some inflating of prices since they are marketing to foreigners. I’m not trying to trash all realtors and I’m sure that there are some good guys out there, but in a market where there is little or no regulation you have to be careful.
Here is what we have done to find rentals: When we rented for the first time here, we used an Ecuadorian friend, whom we had met on our initial visit to Ecuador, to help us scout out potential rentals. We called him a couple of weeks before our move from the U.S. to Cuenca and he got to work to work looking for houses for rent in the area. On our arrival in Cuenca, he picked us up at the airport in and immediately took us to check out rental houses that he had found. We dealt directly with the owners and rented a brand new 4 bedroom 2 ½ bath house the very first day for $260.00 a month. We did not use a realtor and knew that the price we were paying was fair and in line with what the locals would pay for the same house. Our friend did not skim off money or inflate the price of the house, in fact he helped us to negotiate a lower price than what was being asked and he did an inspection of the house and pointed out a couple of things that the owners needed to do before we moved in.
Since that initial experience, we have successfully rented on our own 4 other houses and helped a number of other expats find and rent apartments and houses and we did it without using a realtor. We have dealt directly with the owners on every rental and almost always have been able to negotiate a better price than advertised.
When someone contacts us and asks us for help finding a house or apartment, we check the classifieds and cruise through neighborhoods that look promising. Sometimes we ask neighbors or store keepers if there are any rentals in the area. The last house we rented was vacant, but did not have a for rent sign posted. We asked a neighbor if the house was for rent and she said that she believed it was. We left a note in the door with our phone number explaining that we are foreigners looking to rent and the owner called us a few days later. We rented the house and were able to negotiate a better price using the fact that we are foreigners as a bargaining tool. The owner dropped the price by about 15% off the original decent asking price of $300.00. Why pay more if you don’t have to?
What if you are looking to buy a house? First, I would strongly advise anyone to rent first. That way you can make contacts and know whom to trust and you can get a better idea of where you want to live. You can find a property to purchase using the same process we use to find rentals and negotiate directly with the owner and then hire a lawyer to do the rest. Why pay a realtor thousands of dollars if you don’t have to? The lawyer is the one who does the real work and has the expertise to guide you through the buying process and assure that you are not being ripped off or purchasing a property with problems.
Renting or buying a house in a foreign country can seem daunting or scary, but by using some common sense and doing your home work, and with a little help from trustworthy locals, you can work through the process without suffering the pain of paying too much or being taken advantage of, at least that has been our experience. Happy house hunting!