Renting a House in the Yucatan
Editor's Note: The following article was sent to us by a reader who wanted to share hers and her husband's experiences of renting houses in the Yucatan. As you can see, they had a lot of experience in this, as they rented multiple times, in various areas around the city, looking for just the right place to settle down. They used our website, especially our article about the neighborhoods of Merida, to learn about and explore where they might want to finally live and build their own house.
We wanted to share this with our readers because we feel there is valuable information here... not only for people looking to rent a home in Yucatan, but also for those of us already living here who might have forgotten how people unfamiliar with the Yucatan experience it when they first arrive. All of us arrive with our north-of-the-border expectations firmly intact. We expect a certain minimum level of service in service providers, like we had back home. We are not prepared for a situation where lack of competition, clashes of cultures and the vagaries of history have created something subtly but completely different. We expect the same sort of amenities that we had back home, and are surprised to find such a huge range of offerings, from cutting edge technologies to centuries-old (sometimes literally!) solutions. We expect that the people we deal with, especially if they share our language, will think the same way we do about things and are surprised when something we think is unacceptable is perfectly fine with them. There are experiences in this story below that we can all identify with, no matter how long or how little a time we have spent in the Yucatan.
What we have seen here in the Yucatan is that gradually the realities of life in this climate and this culture wear away our rough edges and give us a sort of been-there-done-that patina that is the human equivalent of what we see in the houses, structures and establishments around us. We learn the ways of this world. We begin (just begin...) to understand that things are often not what they seem. We gain a perspective, not just on this unknown, puzzling culture, but we also see how much of our own culture we have taken for granted, assuming that cultures are all that way. It is one thing to visit another culture and be charmed by the differences we see. It is another thing altogether to live in another culture and be tripped up, confounded, stymied and puzzled by the differences we often cannot see.
Rent Before You Buy
"They" say it is always best to rent instead of buy when you first move to a new location, especially in another country. Renting allows you time to settle in, find out where things are located and explore the various neighborhoods you might be interested in living in when you finally decide to commit and buy (or build).
Each year more people come to the Yucatan on vacation, or to live for three to six months. Some of them even come as we did... to live here for a year and then decide what to do next. We did our research and made many trips to the area prior to our move here. However, when it came to renting a home in the Yucatan, we have had more adventures than we ever anticipated. We have learned a lot about realtors, property managers, owners and rental agencies. They are all different, with different strengths and weaknesses. In the end, they are people and some served our needs better than others. Here, like anywhere, there is a range of services and service providers.
Let's Start in the Centro
As with many first time visitors to Merida, we initially wanted to live in the centro historico and experience the much-heralded Merida lifestyle, with its great colonial architecture, neighborhood mercados and centuries-old culture. A lovely man who owns a small boutique hotel in Merida gave us the names of some realtors for us to begin our rental home search. We decided upon one of these realtors and began a telephone relationship with her prior to moving down here. We felt it was important for the person we were doing business with to really understand our needs and how we operate. We thought this person had understood us, but in hindsight, we believe she was more interested in her commission than in finding us the right house.
We moved down here with three cats. Crazy, we know... but our cats are family. Because of them, having a home to move into the moment we got off the airplane was very important to us. Our realtor put us into what appeared in the photos to be a lovely large home in the south centro part of Merida. At the time we knew nothing about locations and had to totally rely on this person to be honest in describing the neighborhood. We rented this home for six months beginning in December. Fortunately we came down three months prior to moving in and rented the house for three nights.
After the first night we broke the lease. We did not care for the neighborhood. The neighborhood was noisy, and there was a huge cell tower beaming directly into the master bedroom and living room. We felt uncomfortable with the neighborhood and were far removed from the life we were seeking. As always, however, the people in the neighborhood were very kind.
The next day, the realtor showed us another one of her homes that we liked very much. We agreed to rent the home in December. A month prior to our move from California, I thought it odd that I had not received any paperwork to sign regarding the house, so I called the realtor. I was surprised to learn that the home we agreed to rent was not available. The person currently renting it was not going to move out in time for our arrival. My first question, of course, was “and when were you going to tell us this”? For an answer, the realtor told us how busy she was, how everything is getting booked up and how little is available. Of course, that was why we began our communication and search in July. Oh, well. Moving on!
House #3 looked fine in the photos, although it was much smaller than we had wanted. In addition, we had to sign a two-month lease. By now we were desperate, as our departure date was only weeks away. The realtor said the home was on a busy street, but that the noise was not too bad. Again, since we were not there, we had to trust her judgement. We arrived at the house after 10pm at night. She kindly had put food in the refrigerator so we did not need to run out for provisions first thing in the morning. What she failed to tell us is the “not too busy street” was a major North/South thoroughfare, Calle 62. This seemed to us a street crammed full of buses, taxis, trucks, and cars from 5 in the morning until 9 at night. The exhaust fumes alone about killed us, not to mention the noise.
Exploring Our Beach Options
After two weeks, we explored the VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owners) site and found what appeared to be a nice home at the beach in Telchac Puerto. Our intention was to stay for two weeks, regroup our shattered bodies and decide what to do. We connected with the property manager who was delightful. Unfortunately the property was not well maintained.
These particular photos seemed about ten years old and the house was really showing its age. Cabinets in the kitchen were broken, knobs missing, there was a leak in the bathroom... after a walk through, we could come up with a long list of things needing attention. With all that said, we felt that being there was nicer than living on Calle 62. We had Internet, television, and a washer/dryer... three vital necessities for us. We stayed for three weeks and kept looking at homes along the beach, realizing at this point that this was where we wanted to live.
North Merida Rental
To establish our current living situation, we returned to our realtor in the city and told her we were not moving back to Calle 62. Having had some time to explore the colonial city center, we decided to search for a home in the north-eastern part of Merida. This was not our realtor's territory, so she helped us contact another realtor for help. The second realtor found a lovely home for us in Montebello II, very close to the Altabrisa Shopping Center. We lived in Home #4 for six months. During this time we took advantage of what the city had to offer and learned our way around the neighborhoods. We discovered that Merida is a wonderful city, as most of you already know.
Beach Rentals in Yucatan
Long-term rentals at the beach are not easy to come by. Almost all the homes there are vacation rentals. Yucatecan families own many of the homes and they usually stay at those homes during the three week Easter break, and for all of July and August. Other homes are owned by expatriates who come down only during the winter months, or when they have time off to enjoy the beach. Finding a six-to-twelve month rental seemed almost impossible. With the help of a property manager we had met, we were able to rent a new home that was available in July, six months away, and we agreed to take it.
While we were staying in our Montebello home in the city, we also came out to the beach and rented the home we were going to rent long term (five months) in July. We spent one to two weeks at a time in Home #5. This rental home was not large, but very comfortable. Also, it was clean and everything worked initially.
When some strong rain storms began in late May with very high winds, we discovered a very serious leak right over the master bed. Water came down the wall and went right under the mattress. At that time, we were only there for a short stay and told the owner and property manager of the problem. They brought the contractor out to the house and he felt he fixed the problem. After we moved into the house later on, there were things that needed to be fixed that the owner did not have time to attend to during their stay, which was just prior to our moving in. During our first month in the house, the air conditioner stopped working. It was July, it was hot and humid and we had no air conditioning in the living room. There were a number of other issues that needed repair, requiring a lot of time and disruption to our lives while we waited for workers and repairs to take place. It turned out to be five weeks before the air conditioner was fixed.
That October, during another rainstorm, the leak we had discovered in May reemerged again, soaking our bedding, pillows and the mattress. We then realized that the problem had never been fixed. Based on what we were told it would take to fix the problem, including a jackhammer, arrangements were made for us to leave the house a month early.
Back in March, our health insurance representative had recommended a friend of his who runs an agency in Progreso that is owned by a Canadian company. We contacted his friend to see if he had any homes along the beach we could rent from December – June 2015. At that time, we were not sure if we were going to stay in Mexico, or move back to the states. The agent showed us a home in San Benito that we rented for a week in June to see if we would like it. The beach was lovely, the home was okay, but the Internet did not work well. However, we felt we could live there and be happy for six months. The agent agreed to come up with a solution for the Internet issue. Unfortunately, we learned that we had to move out of the house for three weeks during the Easter holidays so the owner could come out and enjoy their home. We agreed and put down a deposit to secure the home for our upcoming six-month stay.
During our time in Home #5 at the beach, we decided to make the move to Mexico. We contacted the realtor who found us the city home and told her where we wanted to be located. She was great and found a property that we decided to purchase.
Preparing to Build, We Needed To Rent... Again!
In making this decision we realized we needed to line up homes to live in for the twelve-month period it would take to build our own home. We already had one home from December – June so we only needed another home for six more months. We contacted the Progreso agent to see if he had any homes available and to inquire if the home we were renting from him for six months in December might be available for a longer period of time. He said he had a meeting coming up with the owner and would be in touch soon. A few weeks passed and when he contacted us, we were informed the owner had double-booked the home. She had a renter who always comes out the month of February to rent her home. This year he told her he was not coming, and then he changed his mind and threatened never to rent her house again if she did not rent to him. The owner chose to go with the one-month renter and not with us. Even the agent was upset with her decision.
The agent then began looking for other homes and took us to see two homes. We decided upon one we felt would work for us. However, it would only be until Easter vacation in March. He knew our most important needs (washer/dryer, Internet, Television). When he gave us a tour of the home, he pointed out a unit he called a combination washer/dryer and the television, which was buried under outdoor furniture. We trusted it was there, as he said. He also told us he had purchased a special box for the Internet that he said would work.
Home Number Six
So, in November, we moved into Home #6. On moving day, we learned that our agent was on vacation and we were working with two staff members. One was a handy person, and the other a possible agent in the making.
When we moved into the house, we had some surprises. There was a television, but it did not have a power cord. When the cord arrived a week later, we discovered there was no cable box. The agent told us the owner’s son was taking the box in to be re-formatted for use at the beach and it would be delivered to us the following week. As I write this, it has been more than three weeks and we still have no cable box. Now we are told that we are responsible for paying the monthly service provider rental, something we were not told earlier.
Also, the washer/dryer was not a combination unit as promised. You wash clothes on one side of the unit and spin them on the other side. The dryer was, by default, a clothesline. This is not what we were promised. As for the Internet, it does not work most of the time. Instead, we frequent a cyber café about 15 minutes away. It is part of the adventure now to be on the computer, while ten-year old boys have a great time playing video games and make loud noises right behind us.
For three weeks after our move in, we made calls to the rental agency. Our agent was on a month-long vacation, and of course was not responding to our calls and e-mails. The agent in the making was changing her mind about the cable situation daily, and then she stopped taking our calls and would not respond to our messages. Emails were going back and forth, sometimes daily, but there was never a sender’s name on the email communication. We thought that was very odd because we thought we were working with a small local office staff. Finally, after more than three weeks we connected with our apologetic agent. We learned the rental agency he works for is so large that they have service centers in the United States and Canada. Our emails went to one of those centers and someone responded based on their limited knowledge of our situation. The multiple stories regarding the non-existent cable box went from “the box will be delivered next week”, to “there is no box”, and “you aren’t paying enough rent to have a box”, and lastly “you can rent a box from us but they are all taken for the next three months”.
We decided to never again rent from a company not based here in Yucatan.
Homes Seven and Eight
We did get our other Homes #7 and #8 lined up for the next twelve months through an outstanding realtor who lives in Merida. We have never met a person who goes so far out of her way to help clients. First, she found us the beachfront property we wanted. Then she began finding us beach homes to rent when she learned of our rental problems. We regret that we had already put a deposit down with the ‘vacation rental’ agency, because this realtor would have taken much better care of us.
This realtor showed us approximately six different homes. In some cases, we would try to make the potential home fit our needs. When she saw we were not 100% happy, she kept looking without us asking her to do this. We have been very impressed with her ability to find homes and to be of outstanding service to her clients.
Building Home Number Nine
Home #9 will be the home we are building. We are looking forward to not having to move again for some time!
There are excellent people down here to work with. If you are coming to this area, we know you will have a wonderful time and we hope this article gives you some insight into the process of renting a home here. Merida is a city and Yucatan is a state that is filled with wonderful, helpful and friendly people. Have fun and enjoy the adventure!