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Friday, July 27, 2012

Rentals in Cuenca

Before I begin, I want to answer many of you who wrote in after my last column.  The garlic chicken was juicy and AWESOME!!!   It's another perk of being single...I don't have to give a rip what my breath is like!!!

A few weeks ago, I sold my house.   A few more days and the deal will be closed.  Obviously, I need a new place to live.  This time, I've decided to rent.   Many of the challenges I mentioned in my last article apply as well to the rental market here.   There is no one central 'go to' spot to find all the available rentals on the market which is no different than the country I came from.  It's a matter of scouring neighborhoods for signs in windows, scanning newspaper ads, perusing a multitude of websites, as well as networking by word of mouth in social settings and social media (ie; Facebook, online forums, etc).

One of the beefs I had in the real estate sales arena is the same as in the rental world...so many websites do not keep their listings current.   They show rentals as if they're available when, in fact, they're not.  Or, they're so out of date they still have a banner across the ad stating 'available March, 2012'.   Last I checked the calendar, we're almost to August now!

Prices are all over the board.  There are a lot of opportunists out there who crank up the rent because, from a foreigners perspective, the price seems low compared to what they are used to back in the country from whence they came.  They think they're getting a good deal, but in Ecuador terms...they're paying too much.   If foreigners don't do their homework, they end up being a part of driving prices up.  This is true in both real estate sales as well as the rental market.

A couple of examples:
    • I looked at a 3 year old, 2-level, 950 sqft, furnished, 1 bedroom/1.5 bath loft apartment in a very desirable, popular area.   Price?  $80K.  It works out to be approximately $784 a square meter which is pretty standard here.  Oh, it also has underground parking.  Comparatively, I looked at a 1-level, 645 sqft, UNfurnished, 1 bedroom/1.5 bath apartment in an old building next to a well-known noisy plaza, but located in the old town which is also very popular.  This unit had been remodeled with average-to-nice finishings and does NOT have parking.  Price?  $75K.  It works out to almost $1,250 a square meter!!!  Why the difference?  The latter apartment is being marketed by people who's target is foreigners moving here with retirement money, who'll think $75K is a drop in the bucket.  
    • A single man moved to Cuenca to retire and made a few Ecuadorian friends very quickly.  They helped him search for an apartment.  He landed in a modern 2BR/2BA unfurnished condo on the 11th floor, near the river, with great views.  Price?  $280
    • I've  been looking at houses similar in size to mine that I just sold.  Two levels, 3BR, 2BA, maybe an extra office space, a small yard and off street parking.  The rental prices I found ranged between $350 - $500 per month being the norm....with some in the $600 - $700 range.   Of course, there's variations in finishes, age, location, etc that influence the price.  I posted an annoucement in an online forum stating what I was looking for.  One of the respondees told me they were renting out their 4BR/3BA furnished house because she and her husband had downsized to an apartment.   Price?  $1,300!!!  That's 3 times the average salary of a teacher here!!!
    • I have 2 Ecuadorian friends, cousins, who live in a nice 2BR apartment at the top of a 4-floor building.  Granted, they have to walk up stairs to get to their unit, but that's VERY common here.  Price?  $200 (total)
    • I was also considering living out of town, maybe down in Yunguilla (YOON-GEE-YUH) valley where it's a bit warmer.   I spotted a house that looked perfect, so I drove over an hour to go see it.   It was located on a hillside with drop dead views into the valley below, situated on an acre of perfectly landscaped lawn, palm trees, several fruit trees, and PRIVATE!!  The house looked like it was lifted out of Palm Springs....all white, tile, two levels, 3BR/2BA, rooftop deck and the icing on the cake....A POOL!!!   Price?  $600
One of the reasons for the fairly low rent here, aside from incomes being low, is that the vast majority of properties don't have mortgages.  Mortgages are VERY expensive here with interest rates in the double digits.  Since many property owners own their property outright, they don't have to worry about collecting a rent to cover their mortgage.

I've mentioned furnished/unfurnished a few times.  The definitions are different here.
  • Furnished can mean:
    • Furniture (bed, sofa, dining table, etc), appliances, AND fully stocked kitchen (pots/pans/utensils, etc)....or....
    • Furniture (bed, sofa, dining table, etc), appliances...or...
    • Just appliances
  • Unfurnished can mean:
    • No appliances...you bring your own as well as your furniture...or...
    • No furniture...but appliances are provided
Like real estate sales, anyone and everyone can get in the game of makinng $$$ matching renters with landlord/property owners.   Usually (but not always) the property owner pays a commission to the person who brings them a successful renter.   Some tricksters, however, have their hand greased by the renter as well...quite frequently unbeknownst by the other paying party.  Many agencies who advertise available rentals also act as property managers, charging a percentage (15% I believe) of the rent for their monthly service.  Again, like my issue with real estate sales commissions, paying by percentage doesn't make sense.  Why should an agency get paid $150 a month based on a $1,000 rental when they perform the exact same functions for a $500 rental for $75???  The $500 rental could be an old property and the $1,000 rental brand new...but they're likely to do more work on the older property.    IDOHNGITIT

Speaking of...ahem....cough...cough...#s*h+y@s&t$e"r^s...I fell for one the other day.   She responded to my post stating she had a nice house in a country location I really like.  I drove out to it and immediately loved the location.  The access was right out of a hallmark card as I had to drive across an old wooden, covered bridge and up a lane passing a horse and pony to the house backdropped by a large forest-covered hill.  The house had large open rooms, the bedrooms were gigantic, and it had a REAL working fireplace!  It was being rented furnished for $550 which seemed reasonable.  She reduced the rent to $500 because I have my own furniture.  We chatted for awhile with her telling me about 'her' house and the wonderful things about living there. 

Here comes the good part....she said the utilities would cost an additional $200 a month!!  GET OUT!!!   I only pay about $75 for my existing house (which is larger)!!   What I haven't told you yet is....there are 3 dwellings on this property that all share ONE electric meter, ONE water, ONE internet, ONE cable TV.    Therefore, one would think each ONE bill would be divided 3 ways, right?   If I had to pay $200 a month and I were to presume the others did as well, they would be collecting some big bucks over what is really owed and making a barrow-o-money on the side!

Like an idiot, I agreed to it.   I may have my head on straight MOST of the time, but I'm just as fallible as the next person and doing the house sale and rental searching and searching and....well....I just didn't have my wits about me.   After paying her $800 in cash (the way things are done here) as a deposit, I went home and started thinking about it...over and over....getting hotter and hotter under my collar.  I started talking about this to others.   Others told me what they paid, which mirrored what I currently pay.  Then, I started running into others who knew, or knew of, Macrina Serrano and started telling me their horror stories.   I Googled her name.   UH OH.  

I wrote her a nasty email (big surprise) informing her I was canceling our verbal agreement (there was no contract yet) to rent the house because of what I believed to be 'gringo gouging'.  I challenged her with a set of facts, including the most costly internet and TV cable packages from various companies with which it would still be impossible to substantiate charging $200 a month...times 3.  I demanded my money back.

Of course, I heard back from her screaming (in large font) PROVE IT!!!  PROVE IT!!!  She said it was NOT HER HOUSE!!!   She went on and on about how wonderful the house was, the view, the stars at night, the trees, the river, blah blah blah...that the rent was very fair.  I never had an issue with the RENT...it was the UTILITY GOUGING!!   She didn't address the utility issue (big surprise).  The next day I got another rant email from her...this time she wrote to me entirely in Spanish "BECAUSE IS MY MOTHER TONGE" (even though she spoke English fluently).  I had a friend translate it for me.   In it, she claimed the property cost $4 million dollars.  BWWWWAAAHAAAHAAAHAAA!!!   That cinched it for me, ella es muy loco.   Maybe it cost $40,000 when it was built years ago.   Again, she went on and on about the beauty of the location and not one word in defense of her utility charges.

She told me to not come to the house for my refund.  She said 'an employee' would come to my house to give me the cash.  NO WAY JOSE!!   I didn't want anyone affiliated with her knowing where I lived.  When they called me to arrange a location, I suggested the front entrance to a restaurant I like to frequent, where I also knew an armed security guard would be standing nearby.   At the stated time, I sat at a table front row and center so, in case anything happened, there'd be plenty of witnesses!!  As I sat there doodling on a tablet, I wondered if a car might pull up, gun me down, and speed away.   Ok...so I watch too many of those TV shows.   Or, maybe it's because there's so much gun violence, drive-by shootings, etc in the USA that it's close to the forefront of our minds.  I digress.  

Right on time, a big burly over-six-foot guy wearing articles of black leather and a pouch on his hip (likely with mace in it), walked up to my table, sat down, and handed me a fat envelope held together with rubber bands.   I counted out $800 in 20's and 10's right there at the front entrance to the restaurant with people pouring in at the height of lunch hour.  I wondered if the money was counterfeit and she would get her revenge when I'd be arrested the next day when I tried to buy something with it.   Again....too many cops and robbers TV shows.

Whew...that saga is over.

I still needed a house to rent, though.   I responded to another ad and met the man representing the landlord at the house.   I wasn't thrilled with it, but he had a few others he wanted to show me the next day.  In the morning, I met him on a corner near me and hopped in his truck.   As he drove down the street, he slowed and pointed down a narrow street and said 'See that yellow house?  That's my uncles!'  I said, 'no it's not...it's MINE!!'.    Well, his UNCLE is the guy I bought the house from a year and a half ago!!!  We chatted about his uncle and his wife and their farm where they make cheese, etc etc.   SMALL WORLD.

Anyway, he took me to a brand new never-lived-in house, 2 stories, 3BR, 2.5BA, plus office, across the street from the river, in a quiet non-commercial neighborhood....for $500 a month.   There are two houses, the owners' and mine, behind a remote controlled driveway gate as well as a concrete volleyball/tennis/basketball court.   The owners, who live next door, have dogs and cats which my Gracie should have fun playing with.  I rented it.   No application, no credit check, no references required, no proof of income.   Just....'I like it', 'You want it?', 'You got it'.

I guess all is well in Cuenca.

Hey, guess what?   I even have photos that relate to the subject matter!  WHO KNEW??


The $600 a month Yunguilla house...if it weren't so far away and mosquitos like me too much!

View from the house.

Nice big yard and great landscaping!!  (and my infamous Grand Vitara)

The $80K bi-level 950 sqft loft apartment building

Up to the loft.

Living room of the $80K loft apartment.

Remodeled $75K, 645 sqft apartment in old building

Both bathrooms in the remodeled unit require step up/down.  They built a false, raised floor so new plumbing could pass underneath.   WATCH YOUR STEP!!!


  1. Great post! Glad you found a place you like to rent.

  2. You are the Dave Barry of Cuenca! Serious topic, real estate, that affects us all.
    And you made it all sound hilarious! Or do I just have an equally warped view of the real estate marketnot to mention a questionable sense of humor. Anne

  3. Hi Dano,
    Have you seen the Frugal Family's video of their sit-down with Macrina Serrano and her son? I think it is a 5 part series. I think their blog is www.discovercuencaecuador.com


  4. Fantastic!!! I'm glad Gracie will have friends to play with.

  5. Dano, you did it again --- made me laugh! any chance of getting the contact information for the POOL house? we arrive on Nov 1 and have rented a beach house for the first month or two, hoping to find a "permanent" residence during that time. we wanted to be outside of Cuenca, we have 2 dogs, and don't mind having to make shopping trips of more than 30 mins. you mentioned "an hour" is this house an hour from Cuenca? in any event, if possibly, we'd like to "reserve" this particular house -- you deserve a finders fee! hope to hear from you!
    ps --- congratulations on finding a new home!

    tihso10 at hotmail dot com

  6. I enjoyed it. Love to hear these type of stories.


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About Me

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Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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