Hire a local to look at properties you are considering renting long-term, and save yourself nasty surprises.
Two years ago while making her property management rounds in my condominium complex, my business partner here in Mexico mentioned to me in passing that she was in a rush trying to help out a Mexican family who had been scammed on eBay.
The family thought they’d rented a vacation stay for a week in the complex I lived in at the time, a beautiful building on the beach for which many photos are available online.
The complex, the old and elegant Pato Blanco Hotel near the Marina Del Cid of course exists but not that particular unit number.
The scam Mexican site preyed on fellow Mexicans but it happens everywhere, including the U.S.
Practically anyone can throw up a website over a weekend these days or post a listing on Craigslist. It would be relatively easy to impersonate a legitimate property management firm too, given the brevity of some apartment finders sites
It was heart-wrenching to think of the eager young family arriving for a well-earned vacation after perhaps a long drive only to find they’d been taken for thousands of dollars. My colleague Elise was trying to help them find a deal and save the family’s vacation to whatever degree possible.
This was an extreme example, but stories about misleading realtors are extremely common. Don't let the fact that they are Canadian or American lead you to trust them. I hear just as many horror stories about them as native realtors, maybe more. The industry is not nearly as regulated in Mexico. If at all possible, find an independent third party to look at properties if you can't be there to do it personally. It may cost you $100 but believe me, the wrong place can make your experience most unpleasant.
Concierges are not only people behind concierge desks in hotels
Concierge services don’t just set up vacation activities and dinner reservations on your behalf. Sharp independent concierges-for-hire like my colleague can be your representative in a myriad of ways and relieve you of a great deal of anxiety about unwelcome surprises upon your arrival or return to Mexico as an expat.
For a nominal fee (much less than in the U.S), your concierge can meet with realtors to see rentals and check things like appliances, air conditioning, and internet. They can make sure of items that are just a plain pain in the neck if are missing when you get there; things like toilet paper, paper towels, coffee or hand soap mean a lot at 1 a.m after a long flight.
When renting anywhere, pictures can be very deceiving. Let’s take neighborhoods. Mexico can be a noisy place. A beautiful apartment on the inside can be next to a nightclub or a street of honking cars or a backyard of barking dogs.
One couple I know rented a large house for six months only to find upon arriving it had no hot water (from an American realtor by the way).
Independently hired concierges can check the security in your complex or rental. They can advise on pet issues. A number of women I know who live here come back and forth with lap dogs. Many places do not take pets.
They can tell you the nearest bus routes and the nearest real grocery store. They can scope out the parking situation of your complex if you are driving in, and what the guest policy is. As longer term residents of the city, they will know reputations and histories of many businesses. Mexico is a gossipy place. Without as many legal protections, you have to rely much more on reputation.
Your concierge can pick you up from the airport, pick up your guest for you if you are in the midst of preparing shrimp for the barbie, or have had too many pina coladas under the palapas (true story).
While most realtors are trustworthy, I prefer to have a person with no vested interest in the rental checking things out for me when I can’t. That's where rental concierges come in.
If you are considering a longer term stay or are going back and forth to Mexico as you investigate a potential city for retirement, I urge you to develop a relationship and hire, via Skype preferably, an independent concierge or person with the proper skills to act as one.
If applicable, let your prospective rental concierge know you are looking for a long-term arrangement, someone you can repeatedly hire to keep things going in your absence. If I were going back and forth a lot, I would even consider a small retainer. When the season gets busy, the trust demonstrated by a retainer, more than the cost itself which is nominal, ensures your call gets answered first.
Elise Page, your Mazatlán connection
Concierges can do practically anything. Elise has acted on my behalf for things like paying a few hundred pesos if my Mexican-issue Telcel phone when it has run out of minutes and has even done on-the-ground research regarding Mexican news items in American papers I’m tracking.
She’s also on top of the weather channel for her clients when hurricanes haven’t even crossed their minds.
It's easy to forget to check the forecast in the rush of making a big biannual move, and probably renting your own place out in the U.S.
Reconnoitering future digs is especially important when you are staying a longer duration, although I would take the step of hiring a rental concierge for any length stay.
Even if you decide to own your own condo or house in Mexico, if you go back and forth every year a concierge relationship or property manager is useful. Forget to buy that new bedspread for your master bedroom? A concierge on retainer will have it there upon your arrival, not something a realtor would do.
Like my business partner, your concierge should speak some Spanish and have years in that city. They should be familiar with Mexican culture and how business is done in Mexico.
I always ask that pictures be taken, including the view and the entrance. Videos are even better. Determine a checklist.
No photo shopping required!
When you consider what is at stake - your comfort for months, it’s a heck of a deal. Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish.
American and Canadian tenants are very welcome in Mexico so you might be in the position to strike a good deal for longer term rentals. Your contact/concierge will know what a good deal is for a particular town.
While I suppose it might be possible that even an experienced property manager miss something or get misled, I stand firm in my conviction that if they are misinformed or misled, you most certainly would have been.
When it comes to concierge services, another service that I am a big believer in is having a fridge stocked upon arrival, this costs less than the cost of a single dinner out at home.
It will be a long day accompanied by customs inspections, changes in temperature and the always vaguely disconcerting experience of passing through a cultural membrane.
Every time I've not hired one, I am reminded what it feels like to walk into your place for the first time, open the refrigerator after a long day and not have so much as cold beer in it. You know nothing will be in there, but you are disappointed anyway.
Waking up to nothing (and I do mean nothing) to eat or drink and having grocery shopping be the first thing you have to figure out is not the way to start a six month stay in Mexico.
The only thing you should have to think about upon your arrival is kicking off your return to your second home with a margarita, your favorite tostada and one of those soft neon Mexican sunsets you’ve been missing.
We like to include the occasional video of unique places to live in Mexico. Ventanas Mexico
"How to Avoid Rental Listing Scams" - by the Federal Trade Commission.
"How to Avoid Rental Scams on Craigslist - by Tough Nickel
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About the author, Kerry Baker
Hola - I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to those considering expat life in Mexico.
I wrote the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web. Insights and tools that will enable you to experience the best free features on the web. Organized into lesson plans with interactive links, the variety presented will keep boredom at bay.
"If Only I Had a Place" is on how to rent and who to call if you're an aspiring expat thinking about one the popular expat areas. Includes listing of concierges in most popular expat areas.