New Habitat: Mexico Housing

After arriving in our new city of Queretaro, one of the first orders of business was to find a place of our own to rent.  As I intend to stay for at least a full year in Mexico, I was prepared to sign a lease to see if more favourable pricing could be secured.

It was very nice of our friend Linda to allow us to stay with her, but after a week in the city, it was time to start house hunting.  Before leaving Canada, I had been put in contact with a leasing agent who would locate properties for us to consider, and then take care of the details necessary to secure a rental property.  As with many things in Mexico, it seems that this is somewhat more complicated than it is in Canada.

Here in Mexico, agents who secure properties either for sale or rent tend to be very competitive and aggressive.  The possibility of a deal closing sometimes depends on how good the commission is, and how many agents are involved.  One thing is certain: Having an agent on your side, even for renting a property, is a good idea.

Even before our agent (Gaby) had found us a property to look at, we learned about a requirement for all rentals in Mexico.  It is required that everyone renting is able to have a guarantor before the selling/renting agent will agree to a deal.  The guarantor must be a Mexican national who is a property owner.

Alternatively, there is also a service that will basically take on the risk for someone who wants to rent a property, for a fee.  We were able to find a local guarantor who was willing to provide surety for the lease, and so were able to avoid the $2,000 peso service fee.

In talking to friends about the rental climate in Queretaro, it seems that most people here own their own homes.  People who typically do not own property and who have to rent are generally considered by property owners to be a bad risk, as the stereotypically do not take care of the property they rent.  This being the case, property owners are eager to secure whatever type of guarantee they can that renters will be on the hook for any damages, and especially for their monthly rent payments.

After having a Mexican friend offer to sign the necessary surety for me, we were able to forego the external agency getting involved to act as guarantor.  This saved money, and likely time.

I should explain about the types of housing we discovered are available in Queretaro (and other Mexican cities, I am told).

Housing Types in Queretaro

Building regulations in Queretaro do not require any sort of structure offset from the property line, as they often do in Canada.  As a result, houses are always built right up to the property line, which is usually at the sidewalk, or even the roadway in older areas.  The sides of the house join onto the exterior wall of the house next to them on either side, resulting in what you might call ‘row housing’ similar to what we might call ‘townhouses’ in Canada.  Many of the homes built this way will typically feature a ‘yard’ in the front that is meant for parking and is sometimes secured behind huge iron gates, with the yard acting as an offset from the road with the gates being right at the edge of the road or sidewalk.

On houses of this type, there is often a ‘patio de servicio’ at the back of the property, which is a walled, private patio that adjoins onto the neighbour’s property on the back and both sides.  The walls between each patio de servicio are often topped with barbed wire, broken glass, or purpose-made decorative wrought iron spikes for the purpose of intrusion deterrence.  Properties sometimes also include a rooftop ‘terraza’ or terrace that is accessed from the upper floor of the home via a staircase.

These regular types of homes are often referred to by the name of the neighbourhood where they are located.  Sometimes, neighbourhoods will hire a private security guard on a motor scooter to patrol the area to watch for suspicious activity.

Due to security concerns in Mexico, many cities have ‘privadas’, which are secured, gated communities often referred to a ‘fraccionamientos’ or subdivision.  These are often arranged as huge developments that will feature a guarded gateway at the main entrance, as well as smaller guarded gates at each of the smaller communities within the privada.  The comings and goings of visiting vehicles are often recorded at the gate, and some even require ID before letting a visitor enter.  Especially vigilant privadas also record the time when a visiting vehicle leaves.  Residents generally have a key-card that allows them to bypass the visitor queue and activate the entry gates themselves.

Queretaro also does have some apartment buildings with regular condo-type units, but this wasn’t something that interested me.

We Get Things Moving

Our agent, Gaby, was able to arrange a viewing of a property in the expansive “privada” called Fraccionamiento Sonterra, located on the western extremity of Santiago de Queretaro, very close to the Guanajuato state line.  The location wasn’t ideal, as it meant that shopping areas would be about 20 minutes away, but as a result, the price was a lot more attractive than other rentals I had heard about.

I immediately liked the small house we were shown.  There were a few drawbacks that I probably should have paid more attention to, but I was eager to get a deal closed so we could settle into our own place.

The unit in Sonterra had everything we would need to get started, which made the price even more attractive.

Street view inside our privada (fraccionamiento)

The offered property was a three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home that included major appliances (except washer/dryer), that was about 1,000 sq. ft. over two floors.  This particular property was being leased as fully furnished (which isn’t unusual in Mexico), and as such included two queen beds and one single-over-queen bunk bed in the second bedroom upstairs, as well as night stands in the bedrooms, window coverings, kitchen table with six chairs, and a sectional sofa with ottoman.

The previous tenant had left behind all manner of household goods, which the

Main floor living room and dining area

leasing agent said we could use freely.  This included a clothes iron and ironing board, kitchen blender, knives, mixing bowls, toaster, poolside table umbrella, mini vacuum cleaner, flat screen TV, dishes, cutlery, cleaning supplies and some food.  There was even an assortment of local beers in the fridge!  Other than some linens for beds and bathrooms, virtually everything we needed to get started was included.

The unit was offered at $8,500 pesos per month on a one year lease (or about $550 CAD/month as of this writing).  That price was already more attractive than other similar units we’d either seen listed or heard about.  The unit was quite small, but more than adequate for a one year term for two of us.

Kitchen area includes a six-burner gas stove and oven

I had discussed the rental cost situation with a friend here in Mexico beforehand, so I suspected that a strategy of advanced cash might be very motivational in reducing the monthly rental cost.  In Mexico, cash is hard to come by.  Many people who rent only can afford the security deposit and first month, so offering a lump sum to a landlord is fairly rare.

Through our agent, I inquired if a six month advance payment would allow us to reduce the rental cost to $8,000 a month.  Within 24 hours the response came back: Absolutely!

The leasing agent sent me a soft copy of the rental agreement, and I did my best to read it using Google Translate.  A Mexican friend (who is a real estate agent) looked over the agreement also.  One thing I did notice that seemed problematic was that the maintenance fee was stated in the agreement.  My understanding was that maintenance was included in the monthly rent – not payable separately.  When I raised this with the leasing agent, he insisted that this was normal.

With my contracts background, it sure didn’t seem normal.  In fact, for the sake of clarity, a Canadian contract would never contain such extraneous information, as a later reading could raise doubts about the intent behind such information being included.  I objected to the agent and asked if the clause could be removed by hand, since they had already printed the agreements.  (In Mexico, law requires that all contracts be in hardcopy with physical signatures, and that every page be initialled. )  My real estate agent friend said that this was entirely possible for the purpose of striking out a clause by mutual agreement.

After a couple of failed attempts to arrange a meetup to sign the contract, we finally met with both agents at the property to get everything finalized.

Upper floor main bathroom with glass shower enclosure

To complete the contract, the leasing agent recorded a full inventory of all the furniture, appliances and equipment that was being left with the property for our use.  We also struck out the clause relating to the maintenance fee, to ensure we weren’t going to be charged for this over and above the rental price.

On the day of signing, we were handed the keys.  What we were NOT given was the key-card that enabled direct access to the privada or condominio.  The leasing agent, Marco, promised that he would get the cards to us tomorrow.  (To enjoy a minor digression (rant) about Mexican sensibilities around timeliness and the true meaning of ‘tomorrow’, see my article “The Fuzzy Concept of ‘Tomorrow’ In Mexico”.)

Once we finally received our key-cards to access the gated community, we discovered that one of the two cards was apparently not programmed.  A halting conversation with the guard in my broken Spanish  revealed that we would have to take the card to the main administration office to get it programed.  Ah, nothing here is ever easy…

As we settled into our new home, there were a few peculiarities that struck me as odd…

The electrical outlets in the house are all single plugs.  This is really annoying, especially as we have quite a bit of electronic equipment that needs power.  One of the first shopping trips after moving in, we picked up a couple of multi-plug adapters to get around this problem.

When Mexican renters vacate a rented property, it is typical that everything is removed from the house.  And I do mean everything.  I’ve seen pictures of homes that are ready to rent (unfurnished) where the light fixtures are missing and the toilet seats are removed.  An unfurnished property in Canada, by contrast, would typically still include things like toilet seats, light fixtures and pretty much anything that is semi-permanently attached to the dwelling, even window coverings.

Bare light bulb hangs from ceiling
A bare light bulb hanging by wires is a legitimate lighting solution in Mexico

Because this property was likely built very cheaply as part of a speculative real estate project, the builder included the absolute bare minimum of equipment to make it saleable.  That likely explains why all the light fixtures in the home are nothing more than a light bulb socket hanging by wires from the ceiling!

Another alarming discovery is how variable the power delivery seems to be in this neighbourhood.  Mexico is on the same 127 volt at 60 hertz, so our Canadian equipment should work fine.  However, the actual voltage seems to vary wildly from one moment to the next.  We first noticed this when we were running a small fan to combat the heat during the night.  I woke to the sound of the fan tempo changing from a whisper to a roar.  At first I thought someone had switched the fan motor speed from the lowest setting to the highest.

Fortunately, I brought with me a large uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that includes a voltage regulator.  This will hopefully protect our gear from both spikes and ‘brown outs’ that seem to be common here.

gas-fired boiler
Gas-fired boiler for hot water, located outside on the patio de servicio

One of the bigger changes that is going to take some getting accustomed to, is the way hot water is provisioned in Mexican homes.  All of the places we’ve been so far, hot water is produced using a very small gas-fired hot water tank which is located outside the home, usually on the service patio.

The hot water boiler is usually left off, without even the pilot light burning.  I am told by locals that running the boiler before you want to use hot water is more efficient than leaving it running and allowing the thermostatic control to maintain temperature in the tank.  This is something I would like very much to test out, since it seems counterintuitive to me.  Especially this time of year, when afternoon temperatures hit 35° C, it seems to me that it might be more energy efficient to leave the boiler running, rather than having to reheat the entire tank each day.  If anyone has data on this (or even an opinion), by all means comment below.

Our privada is fairly large, containing about 120 homes within this gated community.  The development includes a swimming pool and a playground for

Sonterra map
A map view of the Sonterra Fraccionamiento

children, but no other common areas.  If we want to enjoy more common areas to walk in the evening, we can exit our privada to the larger Sonterra development (also protected behind the main gate), which has extensive grounds, and likely contains over a thousand homes in a dozen other privadas.  Similar fraccionamientos cover the nearby hillsides around Queretaro, as this type of secure community is quickly becoming the preferred type of dwelling among those who come to the city to live and work.

Suffice it to say, we are finally moved into our new home, and looking forward to the year ahead.

Hopefully, it will be a year with fewer challenges.  But time will tell!

Thanks for reading!

~Mexican Moose

 

4 Replies to “New Habitat: Mexico Housing”

  1. I know nothing about the cost of things in Mexico but in Germany they leave the tank on all the time as they like hot water on demand
    It’s good to hear you’re settling in to your own place, have fun

    1. Interesting… I wish I had a way to meter gas usage going to the hot water tank to do a test so I know for sure if it saves money by not leaving the tank heated. With how hot the weather has been, even the cold supply line is at about 15° C! In this weather, it wouldn’t take much to maintain temperature, it seems to me!

  2. Hey Guil,
    What about water? Do you get city water that you have to pump with a ‘bomba’ pump, to a reservoir on the roof and rely on gravity feed?

    1. Water in our house here is on the city supply, but all homes in our privada do have a ‘tanque’ on the roof, which is a pressure tank. Even so, the water flow in our showers upstairs are terrible! Just one of the many things we are having to get accustomed to here in Mexico!

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