I receive many comments and questions from people who find my blog and are planning to visit and "explore" Cuenca. One of the big questions and concerns is about finding a place to rent during their stay. This is a recent comment and question that was left for me on one of the ex-pat information sights:
"Hello. We just found your blog and love hearing about your new life in Ecuador. We recently retired and are planning to visit Cuenca this winter. We are concerned about how best to find an apartment to rent site unseen. Our concern is that the listings on the Internet may not be legitimate or the listing info may not be an accurate description of the property. Thank you in advance for any assistance or advice you can give us....."
Since the beginning of blogging about our Cuenca journey, I have been very careful not to answer any questions with "I think" but to share only what Bo and I have personally experienced from the day we arrived here and began our ex-pat adventure. Because regular readers know that in less than 6 months we have moved FIVE TIMES (really!), I know I can answer this question for this couple and other readers who might be wondering the same thing. So here goes.....
The key words in this question that jumped out at me were "SITE UNSEEN." I would not recommend that ANYONE come here and rent a place without viewing it, unless they aren't particular about what they'll end up with. Did we do this? YES! ( Do as I say, not as I do....) Our first rental was negotiated over the phone. I'm sure many already thought we were making a risky move by never having visited Ecuador or Cuenca, but that's how Bo and I roll (we love the ride!!). Then, on top of the "never having been here before" move, I went and trusted what someone told me over the phone and rented her brand new condo (How did I find it? I asked for a van ride referral from Guayaquil to Cuenca on GringoTree and she answered me and added that she had a place available in El Centro).
Well, The condo turned out to be as lovely as the owner described it (I did have her send me photos via internet to confirm this). It was brand new and she hadn't even lived in it yet (she was back in the states). The key here for me was the location. She was honest and trustworthy in all the information she gave me (I had to discern this or I could have been royally ripped off!!). She also encouraged us to rent a place (if not hers) that was right in El Centro so we could enjoy walking and exploring and getting to know the Historic area and layout of Cuenca before looking for and moving to our longer-term rental. She was sincerely wanting to inform us and help us, and she was right! Because of her advise and the availability of her apartment, in our short time there we ended up falling in love with living right in the heart of this beautiful historic city and walking everywhere. That was the best part of having this condo. However, it was a bit more than we wanted to pay and not a rental we wanted for the six weeks it was available, before the owner was to arrived.
Renting a place to live , whether short or long-term is a very personal thing. Until you live in a place here, you cannot know everything about it except what you originally SEE and are TOLD by the renter! Had we actually seen this condo we probably would have still rented it short-term because it was new, fairly comfortably furnished, and the LOCATION was perfect - and we had no clue about renting or rental prices here to begin with (except what we had researched and read). Yet, because it was new construction, during our time there, things began to malfunction (for one, the washer flooded the apartment), and there were many other personal things that made us decide to move on - like the cost ($165 a week)! We already knew we could find a monthly furnished place for less than what we were paying there. So we left. We might have been better off financially renting a comfortable room in a hostel in El Centro on a daily basis, and then we could begin looking for our longer-term place after getting a lay of the land. Yet, how would we know this? We had never been here before!!
We rented Apartment #2 (which we found on Craigslist where you won't get your best deal), having seen it, but being "green" in the Cuenca rental world, we blew it big time! Again, we SAW it, but we didn't know what we were not seeing. It looked okay, but okay just doesn't cut it. It has to have the WOW factor. This we learned by the time we were in Apartment #4 - but that's another story. What sold us on #2 was the price ($400 a month all inclusive) and the location (still in the heart of El Centro). We thought we had scored big time! After the first day there, I had the biggest meltdown in history! I knew I couldn't stay in a place where you could here everything - like the couple next door fornicating for hours (really!) and furniture continually being moved above us to where it sounded like a bowling alley overhead. Then there was the landlord who was constantly calling his son, "Steeeee-Vin. Steeeeeeeee-VIN....." yelling on and on - until I wanted to fling the door open and yell, " Callarse, Por Favor." That would not have been good...... The furniture was so miniature and uncomfortable, that we ended up moving one of the beds out to the "sala" so we could stretch out and relax (I'm 5' and it was too small for me - imagine my 6'2" Bo squeezed in the tiny Ecuadorian-sized chair, sitting upright like a Praying Mantis). We stayed there one long torturous month (too long), but it took that long for Apartment #3 to be available, and that was only temporary (for another month - that's how desperate we were to get out of #2) until Apartment #4 was vacant (which we heard about from ex-pat friends who lived there the year prior). Again, neither had the WOW factor, but anything was better than #2, and the price was right for both of them ($500 all-inclusive month-to-month), or so we thought after the #2 dive. Apartments #3 and #4 were in the same "edificio," clean and fairly comfortable, and the location was one-half block from Parque Calderon. However, over time we came to realize that our landlady was not honest or reliable, and she also would enter our apartment without notice whenever she pleased and thought that was perfectly okay. Again, it was time to leave (for so many other reasons, too many to enumerate here).
So, here we are in Apartment #5 (we're going into our 4th month here and we haven't moved yet - yea!!!). When we saw it, we knew exactly what to look for and what we were willing and not willing to compromise (Ya think we learned something by now??). We were not wanting to have to furnish a place, but this was not a furnished rental - yet, it had the WOW factor! Remember, what you see and are told are all you can go by. We SAW everything we needed to see after going back for a second visit that evening (checking out the noise factor), and the landlords told us everything we needed to know, after asking many many questions. We negotiated the price down to $280 a month, and our landlord, a man of his word and trustworthy (who always respectfully calls us for permission to enter our place if needed), sealed the deal verbally. He gave us one week extra before our rent was to begin on the first of each month, we pay month-to-month, and he never asked us for a cleaning deposit. That's how we ended up in Apartment #5. We thought we would have to move from there after having inconsistent hot water issues. To make a long story short (if you want the long version, read the blog postings on all our apartment moves) I have learned to adjust to this hot water issue. I'm actually getting long hot showers daily because I time it right - yea!! We are still WOWed by where we are comfortably living - and still right in the heart of El Centro.
What we learned from renting so many apartments was what to carefully begin to look for and really SEE and what would absolutely not work for us long-term. Our quest to look for the truly LONG-TERM place began after finally realizing we didn't want to settle and be okay with a place but we wanted to be WOWed by it so we wouldn't be moving for a long time (moving is exhausting! I know....). This has been our personal journey in renting so many apartments in such a short time here. We finally knew what we had to have to make a rental place our home here. I can look back now and know it was all a great learning experience that we now can share with others so they will know what to look for and hope for.
All this to say what? I wanted to answer this couple's question with much thought and concern. So, I'm going to enumerate the things that I would recommend to anyone coming here, whether for an exploratory visit or a "never having been here before" move (I'm sure there are other crazy and adventurous souls who do this).
1 - BE CAREFUL! My reader wrote, "....Our concern is that the listings on the Internet may not be legitimate or the listing info may not be an accurate description of the property....." If you find yourself negotiating a rental long distance, DO NOT PAY ANY MONEY IN ADVANCE!! I personally heard two testimonies where fine trusting people did this and got ripped off! Though the ad looked legitimate and the person sounded trustworthy, they paid in advance, came, and there was no such apartment. Sadly, there are clever cons out there, so BE CAREFUL. As for the listing info, pictures can be very deceiving! Also, the only accurate description of the property is seeing it to believe it. Bo and I have looked at many many properties that were advertised on Craigslist with fabulous details and photos. When we would arrive there, the photos were nothing like the real thing, the descriptions were exaggerated, and the locations and surroundings were unacceptable. It was a real eye-opener to not believe everything we were seeing, reading, or being told! There is an Arab proverb that says, "Trust in God but tie your camels." it’s all very well to trust in divine providence and have faith that everything will work out. However, it does not let us off the hook from using wisdom and doing whatever we can at the same time to ensure a favorable outcome. Long distance apartment renting is risky business. I'm not saying that it can't turn out to be a fabulous outcome (I personally know friends who did it and it worked to their absolute satisfaction), but chances are it could be risky and not what you expected.
2 - Know the area before committing to a longer-term rental. Cuenca is a big "little" city. There are some "extranjeros" that do not want to live in the heart of the city, and there are a few who absolutely do. Without a lay of the land and knowing what specific area you would enjoy living, a short-term hostal or condo/apartment rental is the best suggestion I have. Unless you know someone personally whom you can trust, who knows your specific needs, and who is familiar with the area and can help you find the right place, you would be wise to take it one step at a time. A temporary place is exactly that, temporary! So, if the location isn't right, if the noise level is an issue (and you're not sleeping), if the landlord/lady isn't trustworthy and on your team, if the water isn't hot, if blah, blah, blah, you can rest in the fact you'll moving SOON! It's just temporary!
3- Know what to look for (SEE) and have a list of questions (ASK). Every place will have its pros and cons. Decide what you can live with and what you cannot live with. Be looking - up, down, left, right. Touch and try everything. Open and close drawers and doors, turn on faucets and feel for the hot water (though that doesn't mean it will be consistent and last - ask the landlord to honestly tell you if there is an issue there...), look for water leaks, mold, or obvious issues that would be a definite NO. Check out the electrical outlets to make sure there are three-prong plugs. If not, negotiate having them changed before moving in. Is the apartment going to be warm or cold (Ours is cozy warm)? Is it too noisy for sleeping at night (big issue here!!! Sleep is IMPORTANT. Our bedroom is like a cave - dark, warm and sound proof. Unbelievable since we live on a bus route and a very busy market street. WE SLEEP at night. No barking dogs or city roosters - brag, brag). Are there open wires hanging, or exposed wires coming up from the floor, etc.? (We were considering a house that had lots of exposed wires which the landlords promised to address, and the way they addressed them was laughable and a deal killer!) Know that what you see is what you will get, unless you negotiate to have things fixed before moving in. If not, don't hold your breath waiting for things to be done soon or ever once you pay and move in. We moved into our current apartment without a bedroom floor being finished, and it took a month before it was addressed. The sanding and dust caused us $140 in doctor bills for my sensitive allergies. Not Fun!!! Remember, this is Ecuador, and things move slowly and may eventually get done. So whatever you SEE and negotiate will be what it is. There are many more questions to ask and things that will be personal in your final decision to rent a place, so be very very thorough in your viewing and negotiations before you pay and commit.
4. Visit the place you are considering in the morning, afternoon, and evening hours. Really! At different times of day, the noise levels, temperature inside the rental (no air or heat here), lighting, and other factors will pop. If there are dogs in the area, it will take a few visits to know if they will be a continual problem. Of course, you cannot know what the sleep hours will reveal, but at least you will know if the sleeping bedroom is quiet and away from the street noise. Again, it's going to be a time of deciding the pros and cons of a place, but seeing it more than once will reveal A LOT! Don't be anxious that if you don't take the place the first viewing it will be gone. Let your potential landlord know that you are very interested, but that you need to see it again that day. They will surely work with you if they are honorable. However, if they put the pressure on you, beware! That right there will reveal their character and trustworthiness. Be willing to walk away from any place or you won't have any leverage to negotiate. If the owner/renter/negotiator likes you, they will work with you. There is no need to vocalize the "Ugly American" criticisms and demands to the landlord either. (I showed an apartment to an ex-pat who did this and it was so embarrassing). One can look and evaluate in silence, ask the necessary questions, and then make their decision with class. Always seek favor and you will find it.
5. NEGOTIATE!!! Yes, you can do this. If you don't do it for you, do it for every other "extranjero" who is coming into the area to rent. The prices are higher because of an unwillingness on people's part to seek a better price. Just because it's a better deal than you can get from wherever you are leaving, doesn't make it a fair price here. Some short-term places, may be firm on their prices because renters are continually coming and going, and also because they know they can get that price (notice I said "SOME). I helped a friend find a fabulous room at a lovely hostel in El Centro and negotiated the price, and it was accepted. Long-term landlords may already have the price a bit higher knowing it will be under negotiation - so don't pay $50 to $100 more if you can make a reasonable offer and get it. That extra savings could be paying for your internet, utilities, or even your furnishings. Again, if it's a long-term place you are hoping for, when the price is right it makes the place even more wonderful to be in!! When I was negotiating with our current landlord, he immediately said, "No. I can't come down on the price." Bo and I just stood there. We never said a word. Tick Tock, Tick Tock.... In the uncomfortable silence of a few seconds and the eye contact we made with him and his wife, she finally nudged his arm in front of us and said in Spanish, "Juan, give them something!" And he did! Silence and waiting brings powerful results. Too many people blah, blah, blah and talk themselves right out of a great deal. Choose your words, let them be few, stand firm in what you'll pay, and put out the message that YOU are not desperate and it will be their lose if they don't meet your price.
6. BE OPEN TO STEP OUT OF YOUR BOX OF RULES and WANTS! By this, I mean don't enter your rental hunting with such a fixed set of rules and wants that you're not willing to break. For example, Bo and I (again, this is our experience and journey) did NOT want to rent an UNFURNISHED place. Especially Bo. No way! Too soon! We were going to keep our baggage light (a good thing since we moved four other times and had to roll our suitcases down the streets of El Centro). However, when we saw this current apartment, when we saw it had more pros than cons, and when we realized after our first walk-away that afternoon - knowing we would come back that evening - that it had no furniture but we might get it for a very good price, we changed our "furnished all-inclusive" rule. We put a pencil to the pros and cons of buying furniture and paying utilities and realized it still going to be a better rental deal long-term. for us, our little easy-to-care-for-in-a-great-location-with-super-landlords-Ecuadorian-city-flat is an El Centro score!! So, if we had been so set on only renting furnished all-inclusive, we would have walked away and missed it!
7. BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY! Desperation can lead to Disappointment. This Bo and I know. Look at what happened when we left Apartment #1 and ended up in the "Apartment #2 from hell". Sometimes you may not know what to walk away from, but if you are carefully seeing and asking, you should know if it's a place to "walk-away" from. Even if the price is right - RUN! Remember, this is a long-term rental, so get the deal that meets your budget and a place you want to make your "home." The place you end up renting here will be a key factor in how your transition into a new country will go. Leaving the comforts of your present home and lifestyle and country will require a lot of adjustment and unexpected challenges as it is, and finding a place here that is comfortable and affordable will be a big part of your new adjustment and transitional success. There truly is no place like home - and this will be your new home, so choose your rental carefully and wisely. There are many many rentals to choose from when you arrive here, but only one will be right for you. Only one will WOW you!
CONCLUSION - A Rental Story: One of our "blog" friends came back 6 months later, after her December exploratory trip. She had her list of "wants" and rules, and I offered to help her find an apartment and be her translator and negotiator. Well, one thing I LOVE about Sandy is she is FLEXIBLE and OPEN. She flew in on a Tuesday, and by Friday she had found her permanent long-term El Centro rental. it was not what she was looking for, but she is one happy lady. How did she end up finding the perfect place? Again, she was flexible and open.
She knew the lay of the land from her December visit, and already Sandy decided she wanted to live in the heart of El Centro (Yea! I love when people I love live close by.)
She knew what to look for and had her list of questions (Sandy is a list lady).
Together we looked up and down - looking for signs in higher level apartment or lower level store windows. We also looked at ads on Craigslist and GringoTree/Post (although I encouraged her to find a place like Bo and I did, just from a sign, because it would be so much less money). During her first 3 days here, Sandy looked at a few apartments and almost decided on a $500 a month furnished all-inclusive rental in the heart of El Centro. Because the landlady would not accept her $400 offer, I persuaded my friend to WAIT. She had already told Bo and me her affordable budget, and I reminded her that $500 was not it. Afterall, it was only day 3 of her arrival - Patience my friend. She agreed (reluctantly)!
That morning after she willingly walked away from that rental, we began walking around El Centro. We were going to a specific place, took a wrong turn off Simon Bolivar and ended up circling around onto Gran Columbia. Lo and Behold, there was a "Se Arrienda Departamento" sign on the lower level window of a jewelry store. Sandy looked at me, I looked at her, and I quickly entered and inquired in that store. the nicest woman approached us with the biggest smile and took us next door through an iron gate up beautiful marble stairs to a fabulous two- bedroom apartment with huge windows and a spectacular view and a large balcony with thriving colorful plants. It was unfurnished! Sandy previously said the apartment had to be furnished with utilities included since she had just arrived and didn't want to deal with the dreaded chore of setting up and paying utilities, finding and buying appliances and furniture, and everything else she needed (even though I assured her it was not that difficult a task, having done it already). Now, she had to decide. Of course, she loved the place so much and knew I would stand by her for the dreaded "set up utilities/buy appliances and furniture" chore, so it became a no brainer - make an offer!
To make a long story short (impossible at this point!!) Sandy is now the happy and proud renter of her Cuenca-New-Beginnings home in the heart of El Centro. Her landlady knew Sandy would take immaculate care of her rental, would stay for a long time, would pay on time, and was a single woman on a fixed budget (after I pleaded her case in Spanish, of course). Sandy was assured by her landlady that she would take care of her and that she would never enter her apartment without Sandy's permission - Amazing!! We were able to negotiate her rental price down $50 (I tried for $100) and her refundable cleaning deposit down $100. Both she and her landlady were agreeable and mutually happy (lots more hugs). Sandy is now below her budget for her Cuenca living expenses (more money for saving, playing, and traveling!!!)
Her landlady is classy and AMAZING! She fixes things and pays for it!! She smiles, and hugs, and laughs, and listens. She is priceless! So is her family. They have embraced Sandy and now call her family (Bo and me too!). It really was a God-send for Sandy. Because she was open and willing to take an unfurnished place (after I assured her I wouldn't leave her and I'd help her and she finally believed me), she got a fabulous rental with a fabulous landlady, with a fabulous location, with a fabulous view. What more could she ask for? Sandy is so thankful she didn't take the $500 a month all-inclusive rental because she is now saving herself at least $150 a month. For someone on a tight budget, THAT'S A LOT!
Within her first week of arrival to live in Cuenca, our friend moved out of her hostel three days later and into her apartment, and then a shoppin' we would go (I love spending other people's money!!!). of course this was made too easy by her landlady because her son closed a hotel in Guayaquil and sold Sandy a brand new Chaide Chaide mattress and bed frame for a give-away deal. They also are lending her a dining table and chairs. We found Sandy's perfect appliances, and then she began to shop and load her cart with practical household essentials. My friend discovered that this was a FUN process, and that it was the better way to go being she was going to be here long-term. She now has the comforts and NEEDS (not wants - yet) to live inexpensively in a rental that is personally perfect for her and in the exact location she desired. Her rent is below her cost-of-living budget, and all because she was open and flexible. Everything in her place is her taste and hers!
All the enumerated suggestions above were applied by Sandy and me in looking for her place (Yes, before paying her rent, she did go back in the evening to see the apartment - such beautiful lighting and a spectacular night city view, plus no traffic noise or barking dogs!!!!). So, I personally know these suggestions, if applied, WORK. They worked for Bo and me (for Apartment #5), and they now have worked for our friend. If you have any other "rental" suggestions from your own personal experiences for our readers of this blog, leave them in the comment area (or questions). I'm sure I, as well as my readers will glean from what you share. I hope this has been helpful and informative in helping you find your WOW rental so you won't have to move 5 times in less than 5 months - like us!! Who does this???
I would have moved ten more times to find this city apartment with a view!
EARLY MORNING SUNRISE - A VIEW FROM OUR WINDOW(S)
Early morning view from our terrace - the streets are desolate and quiet and the skies seem surreal.
The sun is beginning to peak through the buildings.....
.....it glows through our window.
|It's getting brighter as daylight breaks forth, and the majestic skies and cloud puffs grace the surrounding mountains.|
Ahhhh, the bright morning daylight is here. The skies are magical, the mountains lush, and not a soul on the streets below - yet! So, I wait!
Finally, below a mother and child appear. They stop to rest before they make there way in the early hours - somewhere- and I always wonder, "Who are they and where are they going so early this day?" Then I ask God to bless them and provide for them.