For some of us, renting a home abroad is a step along the road to buying and becoming a fully-fledged, full-time expatriate. Others – up to a third of Brits moving abroad, according to a recent survey – need property abroad to work from. For still others, it’s an end in itself, part of a holiday or trip that’s been long in the planning. Whatever your reasons, renting abroad can be fraught. There’s the usual list of hoops to jump through when you rent a property anywhere: but local customs, culture and regulations can vary too. Before you go any further, read these ten tips for renting abroad!
1: Start Your Search From Home!
It might sound elementary, but that’s why it’s number 1 on the list. Start looking while you have time in hand. It’s not a bad idea to begin Googling for ‘Long term rental in [destination],’ and in many countries you’ll turn up plenty of English-speaking agencies this way. In other countries, though, you’ll find that the housing market doesn’t work the way you’re used to: some places have totally deregulated housing markets where it’s a case of ‘let the buyer beware,’ while in other countries most transactions go though a state housing bureau or local housing departments. Rolling up in-country without knowing this can be a real damper on your trip, so learn it in advance. You’ll also often find that searching online and talking to agents on the phone or online is only the first step.
2: Don’t Put Down Money Until You’ve Seen It
Don’t pay a deposit, don’t hand over a little cash as a retainer to stop the place going to someone else, don’t pay a 5% holding fee – not until you see the property. At the best you might find your ‘beachfront view’ is actually a vista of someone else’s wall or that your neighbours have mistaken your getaway for Ibiza circa 1997; at worst the house might either not exist at all, or be nothing to do with the ‘agent.’ Photos can be misleading.
3: Contact Vacation Rentals
If you’re looking for long-term rentals in a certain area and always coming up short, it may be because they just don’t exist in that area. Investigate suburbs, cities or rural locales in the same area – if you can’t find a long term rental in town, try the outskirts; if you can’t find anything but holiday cottages in the rural area you want to visit, consider looking for a flat in a nearby small town. Some places are just so tourism-dependant that there’s barely a long-term rental in town, but it can be worth contacting a long-term vacation rental manager and offering a long-term deal, which can sometimes mean a lower price; the lure of guaranteed income through three months or more can be very persuasive.
4: Read the Lease Carefully: If You Can’t, Hire Someone Who Can
A lease is a legally binding contract. Once you’re in, you’re in, and often have to pay to get out. It’s important to understand what you’re signing up for, and ‘it’s just a standard contract’ can mean very different things, depending where you are. Find out things like how much notice you’ll need to give (and how much you can expect!), what your rights and responsibilities are and who’s responsible for maintenance and repairs. Not only do you not want to find out it’s you when you get hit with the bill for a pre-existing problem: you need to know who to call, too. Sometimes leases will be in a non-English language – in some countries, the lease will be in the country’s official language by law. If that’s the case, you should consider hiring a translator or a solicitor or lawyer, depending on circumstances.
5: Review the Property Thoroughly
When you’re renting, you should rigorously document the contents of the home. Use a camera phone to get footage of the house, including its contents, and close-ups of anything that looks dodgy or worn, so you can prove later that it wasn’t you. Make sure the official manifest lists things as they really are, so you don’t get charged for things that aren’t your fault, or have repairs refused while you’re there.
6: Check Which Documents You Need
Some landlords will want to run a full-fledged credit check on you. But when you rent abroad, you have no in-country credit history, so local landlords may have other preferred methods of vetting you. Remember that, even as you’re wary of being scammed, running up against unexpected cultural differences or otherwise getting the short end, deliberately or not, they’re thinking the same of you – and in some places the ‘magic disappearing foreigner’ is a recurring problem!
In France, they’ll often ask you for proof of income, so wage slips will come in handy. In Panama, it’s often a letter of recommendation from a local that will get you what you want. Find out before you start packing what documents you’ll need to smooth your way.
7: Always Negotiate The Price
There’s always a list price. Then there’s the price you end up paying. Lest you think this is advice to haggle with foreigners because it’s how they do business, remember that when it comes to houses, it’s how everyone does business: Floridian homes regularly get haggled down by 10%-15% of the asking price, for instance, and the practice is so common that the difference between asking and final sales prices is a key metric for assessing the health of a housing market.
You’re offering something managers and landlords want: a regular income from a long-term tenant. With no breaks while the property stands empty, they’re financially better off getting a lower monthly fee from you than a higher one from a tenant who’s only there 3 weeks, leaving the property empty a fortnight before it can be filled again. Talk this through with the landlord or manager: more often than not, they’ll bite and give you a significant reduction.
A word on deposits: In Europe and North America, the norm is between one and two months’ rent, depending; in Uruguay, though, you might be talking about 5 months’ rent. It differs from country to country, so don’t assume.
8: Research Non-Rent Costs
Some countries have cheap rent and expensive electricity. Some countries cost £500 a month for a 4-bedroom house – and then £400 a month for power and heat. Don’t get bushwhacked by unexpected charges. Do some research, and factor in moving-in and out costs, transport, utilities and any commissions that you might have to pay – as to notaries in France, for example. Some countries will tie tenants into a monthly upkeep payment separate from the rent, nominally at least, though since you have to pay it or lose the place it’s a distinction without a difference from the tenant’s viewpoint. If the place boasts a maid service, or laundry, or other services, check who pays and how, and whether they’re optional.
9: Ask For Extras
Other things that might not get mentioned are things that aren’t laid on – for everyone. A bit of back-and-forth, though, and they could be laid on for you. Bargain with the landlord or manager for free internet, cable and internet, maid service, use of a car… don’t be afraid to ask, or to open a discussion. You could get services bundled, or even free.
10: Check for Coverage
City dwellers in Britain expect cellphone coverage and wifi like we expect running water. But you don’t have to go far afield to find spots where you’ll get no bars and the internet still runs on comically old-fashioned beepy modems: there are spots in the peak district, the lakes and Brittany, as well as in Wales, Scotland and popular overseas destinations like Spain, where there is no cell coverage for miles – and often the radio’s pretty patchy too. Check before you go; if your plan involves Skyping with friends and telecommuting, and the local internet is one step away from the telegraph, your plans could come off the rails. If the house looks great but you can see majestic mountains rising in the background, check whether they impede 3G or not before you pack!
In conclusion… Ask, ask, ask. Ask for what you want, ask if you’ll be stuck with what you don’t want, and if you don’t know what the deal is, ask. That way, when you move, you’ll know exactly what’s going on, and you’ll be in control.