Updated: Sep 2, 2021
I see a lot of people asking about how to find accommodation in Mexico. Is it better to just use Airbnbs for months at a time or would it work out cheaper to sign a lease on a property? When we arrived back in Mexico after a year and a half in Vietnam, we were in the same situation as many expats. We didn't know how long we wanted to stay in one place, we didn't have any furniture or appliances but we needed somewhere to live. Let me share our experience with you and I hope that it helps you to make your decision if you are thinking about coming to Mexico.
Disclaimer: Mexico is a huge country and as with anywhere, norms differ from place to place. I have heard that in other parts of the country, particularly where the market is geared more towards expats, the expectations might be different. I am sharing my experience in Queretaro but if you have found that things are different elsewhere, please comment below to help others to get a better idea about how things can differ around the country.
The case for Airbnbs
The biggest advantage of using Airbnb is that it's easy. You know that it's going to be furnished with everything you need. You can see reviews from other users to get an idea about what it's like living there before you get there, and you have the backup of an established disputes procedure should anything go wrong.
The biggest disadvantage about staying in Airbnbs, particularly long-term, is that the prices are typically going to be higher than in a private rental. Of course the platform needs to take its cut and the owner will typically want to be compensated for the additional hassle of dealing with a higher turnover of tenants. The good thing is that the price typically comes down dramatically when renting over longer periods. This is particularly true in Mexico, where a tax is applied to stays shorter than a month but not for longer periods.
In our case, we spent our first 3 months in Queretaro in Airbnbs. This was around November 2020 until January 2021 and we were able to find gorgeous accommodation in whole houses and apartments in excellent locations for between US$500-650 a month. Everywhere we stayed I could highly recommend, and I did! Check out the video I made showing off the beautiful and modern house that we stayed in in El Pueblito:
I think that we got a special deal here due to the pandemic because I can see that the current price for this house is over US$800/month on Airbnb.
After bouncing between properties for a few months, we wanted to see if we could find a better deal by getting a long-term property.
Long term rentals in Queretaro
We decided that we were not willing to pay more than US$500/month in rent. We wanted to be as close to the center as possible - because it's absolutely beautiful and we don't have a car. We also wanted a furnished property because we planned to travel once the lease was up and we didn't want all of the expense associated with buying furniture and then all of the stress of selling or storing it once the year was up.
Watch the video below or keep reading to find out our house hunting story.
Furnished apartments in Mexico
Compared to other parts of the world, the standard of rented accommodation may seem a little sparse. Unfurnished really does mean unfurnished. It's not common for a property to come with a washing machine, stove, cooker, or fridge - let alone dishwashers, tumble dryers, and air conditioning. These aren't common in Mexico anyway!
As a result, finding a furnished house or apartment in Mexico can be more difficult than expected. That being said, it's far from impossible.
How to find a house or apartment in Mexico
When we googled houses and apartments, we were taken to the typical real estate websites of lamudi.mx, propiedades.mx etc. Looking at the listing on these sites made us think that the search was going to be pretty tough. It seemed that there was nothing nice in our price range at all!
To get the best deals, we had to turn to Facebook. In Queretaro there are a number of groups dedicated to rental accommodation. Bear in mind that these cater to locals primarily so everything will be in Spanish but it's worth getting Google Translate out to get the best deals. We put a simple post saying this:
Busco casa o depa amueblado lo más centrico posible. Presupuesto max. $10mil
This says, "I'm looking for a furnished house or apartment, as central as possible. Max budget MX$10,000 a month".
Soon we received a stream of offers and images of suitable options. Not all of them were ideal but it wasn't difficult at all to pick a shortlist of 3 that we liked and arrange visits. It's so much easier to do things this way compared to trawling through the sites yourself. Let the properties come to you!
If you want to see what these properties looked like, take a look at the video above.
What do you need to rent a house?
Living in Mexico means that you often have to deal with bureaucracy and unfortunately, renting accommodation is no different.
We thought we had found the house of our dreams so we started to go through the procedure of arranging the contract.
First thing first, we had to pay our deposit - in CASH. You'll notice that it's very common for landlords and estate agents to insist on cash payments for everything. I don't want to accuse anyone of tax avoidance but I can't see many other benefits to receiving hundreds of dollars in cash as opposed to a direct deposit. It's also particularly frustrating to have to wait at the ATM and have to travel around with large sums of money in your pocket - in ANY country!
Next, we were given a list of documents that we needed to provide. It's important to remember that in Mexico, it can be difficult to evict overdue tenants and it is understandable that landlords want to be cautious. You be the judge of whether this is overboard.
We were asked to provide:
Proof of income (needs to be at least 3x the cost of the rent each month)
Passports & visas
6x personal references each (of which 3 must be family)
Aval + property deeds + proof of no outstanding debt on property
What is an aval and a póliza jurídica?
An aval is someone who can cosign your lease so that if you don't pay the rent or if you smash the place up, the owner has somebody else to turn to for payment. In Queretaro at least, it is stipulated that this person own a property in the state of Queretaro.
I own a property but it is in the state of Hidalgo so in this case, we were asked to provide a póliza jurídica. This is a legal document which a lawyer or insurance firm grants and takes on responsibility for payment if the rent is not paid. This typically costs an additional 4% of the annual rent of the property and is usually accepted in lieu of an aval.
What went wrong?
We had paid US$100 upfront to the lawyers to start the process for the póliza jurídica and this was in process when we were sent the contract to review.
When renting a property in Mexico, it's normal to sign a pagaré for each month of the rent. This is a mini contract which states that you will pay a set amount on a given date. It is normal to sign 12 of these and when each month's rent is paid, the corresponding pagaré is destroyed. If it isn't the pagaré can be used to legally oblige the debtor to pay up.
In our case, we were given 12 pagarés for MX$9,900 each. One for each month of the contract - so far so normal. However, we also found a 13th pagaré for a whopping MX$111,080 (nearly US$6k!). On the pagaré it said "We owe and we will pay unconditionally to [owner's name] on the date of 7th December 2021 the sum of $111,080".
Of course, we weren't going to let this slip by unchallenged. We said that this was totally unacceptable and we were reassured by the estate agent that this was for the value of the furniture and that we would only be charged anything if we damaged something, and in that case, we would only be charged the value of the repairs. As you can see, this is quite different from the wording of the document!
We checked with our lawyer and he advised us to steer well clear of this property. Essentially, he said, we were putting all of our trust in the landlord and estate agent and there was nothing to stop them from claiming the full amount, even if we left the property in pristine condition!
This led to a lot of phone calls and emails. The estate agents definitely did not want to return the deposit without a fight. In the end, they relinquished. Our US$100 for the póliza jurídica was gone for good, though...
A happy ending?
We had almost given up hope and resigned ourselves to staying in Airbnbs indefinitely when someone contacted us based on the original Facebook publication. The house was furnished, within our budget, and right in Queretaro's historic center.
We loved the property and prepared to go through the whole bureaucratic ordeal once more. Thankfully this was much easier.
They asked for all of the same documents as before but they didn't bother to call our references. They accepted me as the guarantor and my husband as the tenant. We're still living here now.
As you can see, even in our limited experience, the process can differ from one landlord to the next. If you have had a similar experience or a completely different one, please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Check out my youtube channel to get more information about life in Mexico and other interesting things. You can see our beautiful new house there!
Take a look at a US$5,500/month mansion AND a beautiful house in the historic center on the market for US$800/month.