This is a guest post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007.
What to expect when renting a house in Ecuador:
It’s moving day (week)….again. Since moving to Cuenca in 2007 we have lived in 5 different houses. It is not that we like to move, just that there have always seemed to arise some compelling reasons to move. For example, we have moved twice due to noisy neighbors who kept us from sleeping. Keep in mind that many houses in Cuenca are similar to town homes and they share walls with other dwellings. Therefore, you can often hear sounds from next door and that can be a little irritating if you are used to more privacy. We moved from a house in the country on 10 acres in Georgia, so living in close proximity with other people took a little getting used to. On another occasion we moved because the house we were renting became infested with black mold. Our most recent move was motivated by a desire to live in a neighborhood that is more convenient to public transportation and shopping.
So, how’s our new house?
We were fortunate to find a very spacious 4 bedroom with two and a half baths that is very convenient to public transportation and shopping. Something we really appreciate about this house is the nice sized front and back yard with plenty of room for two kids, a cat and a dog. All of the other houses we have rented have only had a cement parking space and a small patio out back, so to have a large yard with grass is a luxury for us. Another plus to this house is the price. We are paying $260.00 a month, which is very reasonable considering its size and location. And, this house has something that no other house has had that we have rented….a sink with a double basin. My wife is very happy about that.
Things you only thought were necessary in a house:
When we first rented a house in Ecuador, we were surprised to find that rental houses, and new houses for that matter, do not come with some amenities that one may consider standard. For example, we have yet to rent a house here equipped with a stove and refrigerator. And you can forget about finding a house with a built in dishwasher. We had to purchase our own appliances and have moved them with us every time. A water heater is also an option that not all houses or apartments have. The majority of stoves and water heaters in use here run on propane so be prepared to buy your own gas cylinders. Gas tanks also are not standard issue in houses or apartments. Some luxury apartment buildings have central gas, but if you choose to rent a house you will have to get used changing out gas tanks every couple of weeks or so. A full gas cylinder is quite heavy, so be prepared for a little work out when you have to change out tanks.
When we first walked into this house we noticed that there were no curtain rods, only a few hooks that the previous occupants had left up. The lack of curtain rods and other hardware normally used for hanging curtains is also something that is common in rental houses here. We decided that we wanted to properly hang our curtains, so we splurged and spent over $100.00 on curtain rods and hardware. When we leave this house we will give the owner the option of reimbursing us for our purchase or simply take the rods with us to use in our next rental.
Optional kitchen and bathroom accessories:
Four of the five houses we have rented featured bathrooms that were lacking the normal accessories one would expect to find installed such as mirrors, toilet paper holders, towel hooks, and tooth brush holders. These are details that are often overlooked by many landlords. If you like to take a nice warm bath in a tub you may be disappointed because only two out of the 5 houses we have rented here have been equipped with a tub. Most houses only have showers. The lack of a tub is not the end of the world, but sometimes it is nice to soak aching muscles in a warm bath, especially if you have just endured a 5 day move into a new house.
Another feature that is sometimes missing in houses here is a range hood. Two houses we have rented mysteriously were missing vent hoods that would normally be standard equipment in a house in the States. It was not a deal breaker for us, but it was unhandy not to have a light over the stove. Also, we have found that upper kitchen cabinets are sometimes viewed as optional and we have even seen some houses and apartments that did not have any kitchen cabinets at all; just an open space under the counter to place pots and pans. That was a deal breaker for us and we turned down those houses.
Do you really need paint on the walls?
We once considered renting a huge 6 bedroom, three story house with a nice yard. I really liked the house and it was being offered for a very reasonable price. The deal breaker was the new paint that the owner had just applied: dark blue and red throughout the entire house. The landlord was finishing up the painting when we arrived to look at the house and proudly pointed out the new paint as a selling point. I did not have the heart to tell him that his dazzling taste in colors was making me dizzy and depressed. We passed on that rental.
When shopping for rentals we have often found some interior decorating that did not exactly match our style or tastes, but when you are renting you can often overlook such issues. This current house we are renting has been painted light yellow throughout and is not too bad as colors go. But since the wall in the stair well is rather tall and the painters apparently did not have a ladder on hand, a large part of that wall was left unpainted. Our new landlord dropped by with some yellow paint the other day and has left the rest of the painting up to us. In 4 of the 5 houses we have rented we have had to do some painting. That seems to be the norm here, at least in our experience.
Dangling light bulbs, missing keys and windows that don’t seal too well:
Practically every house we have entered here in Ecuador has one thing in common: there are no light fixtures, only bare light bulbs dangling from the ceiling. The lack of light fixtures seems somewhat paradoxical to us since in many houses you will find intricate tile work and decorative ceiling tiles. We have grown accustomed to the hanging bulbs and don’t give them a second thought, but at first it did strike us as odd.
Also be prepared to visit the local locksmith when you move in to a rental here. Some landlords apparently don’t keep a duplicate set of keys, especially to the keyed bedroom doors. I have had to replace or have re-keyed a number of locks due to the missing key issue or broken doorknobs.
As a general rule, houses in Ecuador are not what you would call air tight. We often feel wind enter through the windows and eves of the house and there is a space under the exterior doors of a half inch or more which also allows cool air to enter. Despite the cool mountain climate, houses here do not have any sort of built in heating system, so if you decide to live in Cuenca or in another part of the sierra, a small electric or gas heater comes in handy at times because it does get quite chilly at night.
I’m not complaining, just explaining….
Please keep in mind that I am not at all complaining about landlords or trying to imply that housing in Ecuador is substandard as compared with the U.S. or other so called “developed” countries. I’m merely pointing out a few of the differences that we have noted in the houses and apartments we have rented. It is good to be aware of those differences before moving to Ecuador so as not to be disappointed.
We love living in Ecuador and are quite comfortable with our current house and really appreciate the landlord and his willingness to negotiate with us. Every Ecuadorian landlord we have had has treated us fairly and has made us feel very welcome. Our first landlord took us furniture shopping and helped us to get over the first few months of transition to our new life in Ecuador.
The above mentioned issues such as missing bathroom accessories and paint issues are things that many landlords will fix if you ask them to. Whenever we have encountered problems with plumbing or leaky roofs the landlords have always taken care of those matters. I personally enjoy getting my hands dirty and don’t mind doing a little manual labor to replace a door knob, paint a wall or fix a broken latch when necessary. Being willing to take care of such minor issues creates good will with the landlord and will certainly make it easier to renegotiate a more favorable rental contract down the road.
When shopping for rentals it is good to keep an open mind and not judge everything by standards in other countries. I recently accompanied a newly arrived Canadian expat couple on a house hunting expedition and they found an almost new house for rent that they liked. However, the tile in the kitchen was, to be honest, a little on the hideous side. Other than that, the house had everything else they wanted. It had plenty of space, a large yard, was in a good neighborhood and was being offered for $280.00 per month, which is a great price considering the size of the house. I pointed out to them that when renting you have to weigh the pros and cons and realize that there is no perfect house. The big issues such as size, security and convenience always trump minor interior decorating quirks when deciding whether or not to rent a particular house or apartment.
The bottom line is that there are some very nice houses and apartments here for rent and with a little effort you can find a comfortable place for a reasonable price. We have always rented nice houses and have never paid over $300.00 per month. With a little help you can deal directly with the owners and negotiate a price within your budget. You don’t have to fall into the trap of inflated rental prices just because you are a foreigner. Not every expat can afford a $700.00 luxury apartment. So, if you are contemplating renting in Ecuador, don’t forget to pack your tool bag and be sure to bring along a positive attitude and an open mind. It will make renting here much more enjoyable.