"When we first started our property management office, we had six rental properties that were rented maybe 25 percent of the year," explains Graciela Quinde, owner of Rentals Cuenca in Cuenca, Ecuador.
"Now I manage between 30 and 50 rentals," Gabriela continues, "and they are occupied 90 percent of the year, some 100 percent of the time. And my company is not the only one managing rentals in Cuenca today. The rental market in this city is booming. More turnkey properties intended for the foreign client are available than ever before. Still, supply is lagging demand."
The good news for the renter in Cuenca is that, despite the growing demand and despite property values appreciating at a rate of about 10 percent per year for the past seven years, rents remain low in this city, though they are edging up.
The would-be renter in Cuenca has more support than ever. Typically, the world over, a property manager manages a rental property for the owner. In Cuenca, though, Graciela's company offers a service for the renter, as well.
"We're dealing with a lot of foreigners," Graciela explains. "A lot of them don't speak Spanish, and they need some hand-holding. We're happy to provide that. We help with things like setting up cable TV and internet."
Graciela's firm also provides turn-key rentals, furnished and with all utilities already in place. This is a great choice for someone who wants to spend two or three months in Cuenca to try the city on for size before committing to an annual lease.
"Ecuador law requires a two-year minimum for rentals," Graciela points out. "You don't want to deal with that until you're certain of your plans."
Again, the best news about the rental market in Cuenca is that rental rates remain very low on a global scale. A typical monthly rent for a standard, unfurnished, one-to-two-year rental is $300.
"When trying to find a rental, don't believe everything you read on the internet," counsels Cuenca expat David Morrill. "You can find a lot of information about apartment rentals on blogs and social media, but you really need to get in the market and see for yourself.
"Tell an expat in Cuenca that you're considering renting an apartment for $500 a month," David continues, "and he's likely to say something like: 'What?! Why would you pay that much? I'm renting for just $300 a month!'
"Maybe he is, but those kinds of conversations usually don't consider differences in neighborhoods and building amenities, for example. If you were renting an apartment in New York, you'd understand that you'd pay more in downtown Manhattan than you would in Queens. The same is true everywhere in the world, including in Cuenca. Neighborhoods can be very different when it comes to rentals, both in terms of what's available and also in terms of cost."
Expats in Cuenca typically prefer to be near the historical district, not in it. More than 70 percent of Graciela's rentals are in this area, within walking distance of the city's historical center.
How do you launch a search for a rental in Cuenca? As most anywhere in the world these days, the typical place to start is the internet. When you go online, search in Spanish. Look for arriendas or se renta. Local newspaper classifieds can also be a good place to start, especially if you are looking for something long-term.
Otherwise, you can walk the streets looking for rental signs and asking around. The best deals are found through word-of-mouth.
"It's important, when renting a place to live in Ecuador," Graciela says, "to try to understand the culture. Many of my clients will say, 'In the United States, we do it this way...'
"You need to remember that we are not in the United States. In Ecuador everything is different--the culture, the workers, how we work, the legal system, the bureaucracy..."
"'Unfurnished,'" for example, "Graciela continues, "may mean no appliances, no curtains, no lighting fixtures... very basic."
To state the obvious, rental agreements are going to be in Spanish, so you'll want someone who speaks Spanish and English and who you trust to review your agreement before you sign. Confirm how to get your deposit back, for example, and, very important, who is responsible for what.
"It is common for the tenant to be responsible for small repairs like a leaky faucet," Graciela says, "but we've had cases where the landlord has said, 'I'm not responsible for replacing the roof.'
"Or there could be an old microwave that's not working," she continues, "and I mention it during the inspection. The owner might say, 'Well, the tenant needs to pay for it, because it's in their hands.'"
"None of this should frighten you off the idea of renting in Cuenca," David adds. "The point is that you need to understand the differences between renting an apartment in Ecuador and renting an apartment in the United States so you can be prepared. You want to do more due diligence here than you would back home, not less."