A quick post today on how to rent an apartment in Latin America.
...Because it's not as easy as you might think!
If, like me, you want to stay in a Latin American country for a month or longer, you're NOT going to want to get stuck paying high Airbnb prices.
However, you also don't want to get stuck with a dishonest landlord without the security that Airbnb provides.
Not only that, but some owners in Latin America will require that you provide a co-signer, or, aval, i.e. someone who owns property in the city and agrees to cover the rent in the event you don't pay.
If you've just arrived to a new city, such a person is difficult to know.
But, not to fear!
Follow these steps, and I can assure you that you'll find a great deal.
Option 1. Airbnb
If you’re staying longterm in Latin America, you can negotiate the price on an Airbnb listing. Airbnb charges about 11-15% (8-12% to you; 3% to host). So, in theory, you can knock that off the listing price. You’ll be giving full-occupancy, too, so reasonable to knock another 5% off for 3+ months or 10% for 6+ months. Keep in mind that owners often already offer discounted prices for month-long rentals, so if you're only staying one month, your negotiating power may be limited.
If you plan to stay longer than a month, however, my advice is to contact the Airbnb host in advance, before booking, to see if he/she would is to a longterm rental. If they are, suggest doing things outside of Airbnb. Of course, be prepared to have references and/or financial statements on hand to prove you're a trustworthy tenant, and be sure to read previous reviews on Airbnb to make sure they are a trustworthy landlord!
In my experience, as long as you can prove that you are responsible and trustworthy, and assuming the place is available, most hosts will agree to a cheaper longterm rental outside of Airbnb.
Option 2. Internet listings/Newspaper listings
Use local online equivalents to Craigslist. They’ll generally be cheaper than Airbnb. Filter by neighbourhood/price, write down phone numbers & call them. It's important that you call instead of email - emails generally go unanswered.
I'd suggest finding about half a dozen listings you like, and trying to arrange viewings throughout the week.
Newspapers also work for this in Latin America, although things are moving more and more online.
Option 3. Street Listings
Personally, this is my favourite way to secure a longterm rental in Latin America. You’ll see apartment rental signs on tons of buildings in LATAM. Walk a neighbourhood you like, and if you see a rental sign on an apartment building, call the number! (even if there’s no sign, talk to the doorman of any given building - there may be unadvertised rentals available).
When you call the number, maybe someone will answer about 50% of the time. That's OK! Again, see if there is a doorman in the building. More than likely, they will know the details of the listing and may even be responsible for showing you the suite.
This is my preferred way to find an apartment in Latin America because listings advertised on buildings are often cheaper than what you'd find online, and the process for renting is more direct - if the owner happens to be home when you call, you can see the place and sign a contract the same day. Also, you'll know exactly what the building is like and where it's located before scheduling a listing - online, this can be difficult to sort out.
Option 4. Facebook Groups
Facebook is another excellent resource for finding longterm apartment rentals. Join all of the expat groups in your new city, as well as the apartment rental groups. Scan the listings for something you like.
I also recommend posting in the expats groups. Something like: "Hi! I'm new to the city and am looking to rent an apartment! Would anyone be willing to explain the process or let me know if they hear of any available apartments. Thanks!"
Foreigners are generally very helpful since they've been through the process before and know that it can be complicated. Not only that, many will have rental properties themselves!
How to Not Get Ripped Off
Say you call the owner, and he/she quotes you a price. But you're new in town and don’t know the local rental market.
Maybe he/she heard your gringo accent and jacked up the price…or maybe they're simply a dishonest individual.
(Also, sometimes owners won’t quote you a price over the phone, they’ll want to talk it over in-person. I’ve had this happen on a few occasions. Perhaps it's because rental prices are often negotiable here in Latin America. Not sure how common this is or if my experience was just odd)...
Anyway, what should you do?
Your next step is to type the address of the apartment building into Google and Facebook. If it’s a decent sized building, several listings will pop up for current/past rentals, or people looking for a roommate. Now you’ll have an idea of what it should cost to rent in the building.
So now you’re meeting with the owner, and you know if what he/she’s charging is fair.
But you’re not done yet!
Some unsavoury characters will try to rent out apartments they don’t own. In a month, you may have the owner show up and ask what you’re doing in their house.
Ask to see proof the person owns the apartment/is the person responsible for renting it out. An electricity/water bill will do, or go down together and have a chat with the doorman.
This is a reasonable thing to ask.
…and never, ever pay rent or a deposit before you have the keys in your hand and/or before you’re moved in.
A common scam is to ask for a deposit to “reserve” the place for you until the day you move in. Then they block your # and make off like a bandit.
Also, landlords in Latin America have a habit of not returning your damage deposit. In fact, this practice is so common that locals will advise you to not pay your last month's rent.
If you have open and trusting communication with your landlord, you will probably be able to sort this out.
However, if you have your doubts, don't pay the last month's rent!
What If They Require a Co-signer?
Ah, the dreaded co-signer. As I mentioned before, some landlords will require this to legally ensure the rent gets paid.
Fortunately, it's only really a thing in some major cities down here...and there are ways around it.
If a landlord is asking for a co-signer and you don't know anyone in town, don't let that scare you off!
Ask if he/she will accept proof of finances instead, or, if you're comfortable and able, upfront payment.
Basically, they just want to know that you'll be able to pay the rent for the amount of time you intend to rent the apartment.
That's the point of a co-signer.
As long as you can prove that you are fully-capable of paying the rent, you shouldn't have any issues.
Breaking It Down
Here's the approach I use when looking for a longterm rental in Latin America.
- I book an Airbnb for a week or two. This gives me a temporary place to stay while I look for something longterm. As mentioned before, if I like the look of the Airbnb and think I can get a good price, I will negotiate with the owner upon arrival.
- I get a local SIM card. You'll need one to call the listings!
- I take a look on local websites. For every place that interests me, I call the number and try to arrange a viewing. I'll also throw up a post on local Facebook groups to see if I get any bites.
- I walk around the neighbourhood I want to live and call listings on buildings, as well as talk to doormen in decent-looking buildings. Again, I try to arrange bookings (always same-day, if possible or, if not, as close to one another as possible).
- I take a look at all my options and do the cross-referencing I mentioned above, just to make sure the price is fair and accurate for the neighbourhood/building.
- I go to my viewings, or the remainder of my viewings if I've done some. I make sure to have references prepared (even if they are just Airbnb references) as well as bank account screenshots to show that I have savings...just in case they ask. I also ask the landlord a ton of question to get an idea if he/she is trustworthy and knows what they're talking about...don't forget to ask for proof that they own the place!
- I decide on an apartment!
Note: A lot of leads will fall through due to people simply not answering your calls. Unless you have a lot of free time to search, you'll probably end up going to about 4 viewings over a week or two weeks, so all this is not as daunting as it sounds!
Also, if I see a place I like, the price is right and the owner seems trustworthy, I'll take it on the spot. I won't wait around for my other viewings. Things move fast, and you can't expect landlords to reserve a place on the basis that you might take it.
I used the street listing/talk-to-doormen strategy here in Mexico City and was able to get a one-bedroom apartment all to myself $400 dollars/month including all utilities paid (internet, gas, water, electricity). Open month-month contract, in a good area.
On Airbnb, listings in the same building are 30-40% higher (and that's with a monthly discount!) .
If I didn't consider other options, I could have been paying much more than I needed.
(Keep in mind we’re talking long-term stays here. If you’re just in a city for a month, don’t stress yourself out. Just book an Airbnb. Prices aren’t that bad).
Also, don’t twist yourself up if you don’t think you’re getting as good a longterm deal as you could/as a local is getting. Important thing is that you like the place and it’s the right price for YOU. It's not a competition.
One of the great things about living in Latin America is that it's cheap.
But that doesn't mean you want to get stuck overpaying for an apartment.
If you follow the guidelines above, you can ensure that you won't be getting ripped off!
Thanks for listening.
Until next time,
P.S. If you're planning on staying short-term, also check out Booking.com. Sometimes listings are cheaper than Airbnb ;).