Living in Mexico or a cheaper country either full or part-time as a single person can cut your yearly budget to half, especially if your U.S. address is in a more costly urban area. Housing is cheaper, food is less expensive, the list goes on and on.
The key to part-time expat life as a financial plan is subletting or renting your apartment or house while you are gone. Paying two rents or mortgages negates any savings and no one wants to pay double for housing. The cheaper housing in Mexico is where you'll make your greatest gains.
Denver, home sweet home
If you are planning on embarking on the part-time expat life in the next year or two, now is the time to start preparing not only for your Mexico destination, but the U.S. home base that can be rented while you're gone.
If you rent, you will want to find an apartment that lets you sublet, or in some cases, put a "room-mate" on the lease.
If you own a home, you will want to take steps to make your home attractive to the best prospective renters or even buy or lease a new place that's more attractive to potential renters, say near a university. Look for apartment complexes that will work with you in exchange for you remaining ultimately responsible for the rent payment.
I will deal here mostly with subletting although most of it applies to owning as well.
Location, Location, Location - Even if you have to pay a little more, I highly recommend your U.S base be located in an area attractive to potential temporary renters and young professionals.
If you are living much more economically six months a year, the money you say may enable you to bump up your standard of living. Small luxury apartments or condos in hip downtown areas attract young, affluent professionals who are the perfect candidates. University areas attract graduate students and professors.
The smaller the place in an urban area, the easier it is to rent. My one bedroom sublets far more easily than my neighbor's two-bedroom in the same building. Your city may be different so do your research before deciding to move.
Know your lease agreement. While I would never suggest doing anything illegal, a certain grey area exists when you consider the term “sublet.” luxury apartments probably won't prohibit your asking a friend to watch over your place during a long-term absence. For that reason, put the word out to your Facebook friends and social networks.
Apartments understandably may ask for information on anyone who will be staying in your apartment for extended periods, maybe more than two weeks.
For one thing, they want to want to run them through sexual predator data-bases. Sometimes they will classify the person as a room-mate if rules prohibit subletting in which case they simply add the person to your lease. By informing the apartment manager of your tenant/guest’s presence, the tenant will be able to work with the property management office should they get locked out or have a maintenance issue.
Your guest/lessee should fill out an application just like you did when you signed your lease. You might have to pay a modest processing fee which you will ask your sub-lessee to cover. The application on file protects you as well if something goes wrong. You have an application with their signature. Something in writing, as simple as an e-mail confirming the dates you've agreed to is a good idea as well.
Have the application ready. Having an application on file, whether it’s your property management company or a template you have downloaded yourself from a legal form website is necessary. Application forms standardize the background information and make it easy to check credit, work history and references.
Completed forms make it easier to document why someone is turned down, which is especially helpful if you need to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws You will need social security numbers (to check the sex offender registry) and all contact information.
The best prospects as renters are professional athletes, students doing thesis, young professionals completing internships or law school, professionals doing contract work and people new to the area who want to get to know a city before purchasing a house.
Pre-screen on the phone? I used to advise pre-screening by phone, however in recent years I've have several excellent tenants that I never talked to or met. In one case I only talked to the tenant's father, who was covering the rent for his son who was doing a professional internship.
Should you decide you do want to talk, have a half-dozen questions ready, the most important being why they want to sublease, their income (their monthly income should be at least twice their rent amount) and “a little about themselves.”
Be thorough in your background checks. Even if your property management company checks their personal and professional references and credit history, you do it too. You actually have more at stake than they do. Your name is on the lease and your place is likely furnished so you'll want a tenant who respects property.
Check all past residences and employment, not just the most recent. Look for unexplained gaps in residence. Ask past landlords if they’d rent to them again, if they got their deposit back and how much their rent was.
Get a personal feel. The more you like someone, the more you need to check references. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but really hitting it off, or thinking you’re hitting it off, with a prospect can cloud your thinking. People can charm you when a desirable place to live is on the line. People lie.
If you’re considering a younger person, nothing beats developing a relationship with parents so accept them as personal references. While I have never had to go to parents regarding rent on my more upscale apartment, I own a place at a ski resort in West Virginia where it is much more difficult to find stable tenants. Having the names of tenents' parents saved the day on more than one occasion.
Think about your neighbors. What kind of personalities do your neighbors have? Are they intrusive? How are they going to treat your guest/tenant or feel about your sublet? If necessary, plant the necessary seeds that they will have nothing to worry about.
Don’t ignore professions. As much as we want to avoid stereotyping, certain professions do attract certain personality types and lifestyles. Don’t think you can tell someone how to behave in your place. Find tenants for whom acceptable behavior comes naturally.
If you are subletting and do an even more thorough job than a typical property manager, your property manager will continually approve the arrangement. Look at it from their point of view: you find perfect guest/tenants without the cost of turning the apartment over.
They have a tenant as good (or even better!) than yourself. As you are the owner of the lease, they still are guaranteed their rent on time. You have your freedom, save some money and have an exciting double life in another country. Everybody wins.
Don’t offer up more information than necessary regarding your lifestyle. You are embarking on a life most people only dream about. Property managers and neighbors are human. You don’t want to encourage jealousy or power plays by gloating or telling them about your exciting life and how you’ve finessed it. Be friendly but private.
Don’t rush. Make your flight arrangements for Mexico or wherever your expat destination is after you find the perfect guest/tenant so you can build your schedule around their time frame. The caliber of tenant is more important than a month more or less in your second home. All your scheduling should center on finding the tenant first.
Setup automatic rent payments from your checking account, not your guest/tenant's. Your tenant should automatically transfer money into your checking account on the first. There are many services to transfer money directly including Zelle or Transferwise or Venmo.
You set up an automatic withdrawal from your bank account for your rent or second or third of the month to your property management company or landlord. Always have enough in the bank to cover two months. It's a money transfer not a bill payment - don't let the bank terminology on some websites (like Bank of America) confuse you.
I recommend doing the same with the electric and utility bill. Build it into the rent, otherwise you will have to check every month to make sure it's been paid.
Keep a tastefully furnished, non-gender specific executive style apartment or home with some creature comforts. Stage the place as you would for a sale. Remove sentimental items and photos. If something would make the place more attractive or special and can’t be broken easily, invest in it.
Quality furnishings, accent walls, nice comforters, and well-framed art will make your place stand out. Plus, you want to feel like you’re home when you are there yourself!
Tip: Don't make assumptions about would be useful to a tenant, like your lawn chairs or bicycle. Before turning the place over, have them take a run through the house on what they want and what they're rather you store give them more space for their own goods and interests.
Be discreet. If your ability to sublet is a discretionary issue with your property manager, you want to be low-key. Try not to sublet more than twice a year. Neither your property manager nor your neighbors want to feel like they are operating or living next to a hotel operation or an Air B&B
Mazatlán, Mexico home sweet home
Be a perfect tenant when you are in your U.S base.
Be there around the months when the lease renews. Maintain a low-key presence. Show appreciation for your leasing personnel.
Write good reviews on their sites. Don't be a pain in the neck. If you are out of town half the year, you may need a favor someday.
Require the maximum deposit. I ask for the amount it would cost to fly home with little notice, which is about two weeks rent.
Remind them that you expect to be communicated with immediately should there be a problem. Communication is key. I let them know that if the rent is not paid on time, their deposit is used the next day for my return ticket back. I keep a full set of keys with me.
If they are not solvent enough to meet your requirement, you don’t want them as a tenant. Don’t apologize. Don’t feel pressured or guilty. It’s your stuff, your lease, and your joband maintain the arrangement with your landlord.
Ask for a non-refundable deposit to hold the place and apply that to the security deposit when they move in. Make sure they don't post-date security or any deposit check to the moving date. The bank will not accept a post-dated check and they can cancel it anytime so it's worthless as a commitment. Keep the deposit in a separate account. I use the membership account of a credit union.
Keep a personal presence. Recruit a friend to be your representative in your absence. Pay them. I have contracted a very charming, beautiful friend who can “drop by” or make a call to “make sure everything’s okay” if I have a concern. I try to introduce them casually when I hand over the keys.
Your guest/tenant knows you’re out of the country. Introducing them to your friends in the neighborhood when you meet them or turn over the keys gives the transaction a personal touch. It conveys that you still live there and have friends - friends they might run into at the grocery store or the local bar some day.
Take pictures in the walk through. Be clear on the electric bill. They will receive your last bill after they move in. You will receive their bill after they leave so it might be a wash. Don't return the deposit until you are sure you have no bills they left unpaid if they are responsible for paying them.
Don’t forget to leave them the parking passes, internet network pass codes, mailbox keys and entry fobs. Let them know the rules for the common areas and parking for guests.
Turn the apartment over to them clean with everything in good repair. Leave a bottle of wine or fresh flowers, paper towels and other things for the first week. Small things help build a relationship.
Remind them that you will provide references for them when you return.
Let them know you expect the place as clean on your return as you left it for them. Your return day will probably be a long one and you will want to come home to a clean apartment or house.
They won’t be perfect in this regard but by setting up your expectations, they will probably do their best. Allow for normal wear and tear. Expect a really dirty carpet, scuff marks and some dinnerware chipped. Give back the entire deposit unless the damage is significant. Look behind the couch - they almost always leave something.
After you’ve left for Mexico, leave them alone. No check-ins to make sure everything's okay. They want to feel they live there, that it’s their place. As long as the rent is being transferred, bills are paid and you don’t hear from your property manager, let them enjoy the place in peace.
You can do everything right and still get fooled. Should you have to go to small claims court for unpaid rent, lease agreements and contracts help prove your case. I highly recommend the site People Claim, an online mediation site if you don't receive the payments as agreed. Your complaint is publicly posted. When potential employers, girlfriends and other people interested in your tenant do a search your tenant's name, the claim will surface. I have found this more effective than any lawyer.
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Hi - I'm a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering expat life in Mexico.
I authored the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web.
Have a unique Spanish learning experience every day and be ready for expat life in Mexico with the Guide, which takes you, through interactive links, to the best teaching sites on the web. Many are resources you'd never find in a Google search, like sites based in Spain.
If learning a language from the same tool every day is not for you (it wasn't for me), the Interactive Guide is for you. Use its lesson plans or create new ones every day. Study from anywhere with internet with your e-reader, laptop or tablet, like the Amazon Fire.
Released in July 2017, "If Only I Had a Place," a guide to renting luxuriously in Mexico for less, including a listing rental concierges.
Renting in Mexico is different, with both advantages and disadvantages compared to renting in the U.S. Build your foundation as a expat the right way with this system.