Part four in this series looks at my costs for renting unfurnished apartments over the past three years in Medellín, plus the costs of furnishings and utilities to enable making a comparison to the cost I would have paid if I continued renting furnished apartments.
In addition, I cover my lessons learned in renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín.
I decided to do this as I believed renting an unfurnished apartment and furnishing it would be cheaper in the long run compared to continuing to rent furnished apartments.
Costs to Furnish
The following table outlines my actual costs to furnish my three-bedroom apartments in Medellín:
Note that I brought some items from the United States such as two DVD players, pillows, sheets, towels and some kitchen items, so these aren’t included in my above furnishing costs.
I also upgraded some items from what I originally purchased in my first apartment in Colombia. I was able to sell these items for about what I originally paid for them as I had bought them on sale for a good price.
The Colombian sofa I originally purchased wasn’t very comfortable so I upgraded to a leather sofa imported from Canada. When I moved to my second apartment in Medellín, I also upgraded the kitchen table and chairs I originally bought to a higher quality set.
Comparing Unfurnished to Furnished Apartment Costs
The following table outlines my monthly average costs over a 36-month period for my three-bedroom unfurnished apartments in Medellín, plus furnishing costs and utilities:
Not as many three-bedroom furnished apartments are available for rent in Medellín as are smaller one or two-bedroom apartments. The three-bedroom furnished apartments that I am aware are available in Medellín cost $1,200 to $2,800+ per month.
In comparison to my unfurnished apartment costs, the least expensive three-bedroom furnished apartment I found in Medellín rents for $1,200 per month based on a search on Airbnb and other Medellín apartment rental sites, but there may be cheaper available.
8 Apartment Rental Lessons Learned
1. You can overcome the fiador requirement
Fiadors (cosigner guarantors) are not just a requirement in Colombia, they are also required for apartment rentals in several other countries in Latin America like Brazil, Mexico and Peru.
There are three ways to overcome the fiador requirement in Medellín if you don’t have one:
(a) A few real estate agents in Medellín are willing to lease apartments without a fiador but these agents can be challenging to find. Plus you will have to pay rent in advance as I have done for my apartment rentals in Medellín over the past three years.
(b) You can bypass real estate agents and deal directly with apartment owners in which case everything becomes negotiable and some owners will lease without a fiador.
(c) You can find a company that will act as a fiador for a fee. I refuse to pay a fee for someone to be a fiador, which I understand can cost as high as a month of rent.
2. Understand the estratos
In Colombia residential properties are classified by socioeconomic stratifications known as estratos ranging from 1-6 (with 6 being highest).
Properties in lower estrato neighborhoods pay lower rates for gas, electric, water, telephone, TV and Internet services. Those in higher estrato neighborhoods with higher incomes pay more for services to enable those living in lower estrato neighborhoods to pay less.
There is some correlation between the estrato of an apartment and rental pricing with apartments in lower estratos (1-3) costing less to rent than higher estratos (4-6). Also coming into play is apartment size, age, features and location/view.
The majority of apartments in Medellín are located in estrato 1-3 neighborhoods. El Poblado is primarily an estrato 6 neighborhood, which is why the most expensive apartment rentals are located in this area.
Most foreigners tend to rent apartments in Medellín located in estrato 4, 5 or 6 neighborhoods.
3. Use a real estate agent to help
You can try to search yourself to find apartment owners and bypass the real estate agents in Medellín. Some foreigners have had success with this method. But this takes time and can be a frustrating process.
A good agent with many years of experience can save you time and can find many apartments that meet your needs that you may never find yourself. With an agent you can potentially save yourself a significant amount of unnecessary stress.
Since there are few exclusive agent property listings in Medellín an agent can also show you most available apartments. However it is important to do some research to know market prices to ensure you are not getting overcharged with a “foreigner” price.
I have now worked with my current real estate agent for five apartment lease contracts in Medellín that total over three years – without the need for a fiador.
4. Prioritize your needs
I am located one block from a Metroplús station that provides access to the metro to get around Medellín. There is a pharmacy in my building and many small restaurants nearby with inexpensive typical Colombian food.
In my apartment building there is also a pool and small gym and the building has 24×7 security. I am also located on the 14th floor in an apartment with two balconies providing a fantastic view of the city.
However, it takes me 30 to 40 minutes on the metro each way to Universidad EAFIT where I take Spanish classes For me this apartment is perfect. However, for others the commute to Spanish classes would be too far. Or maybe for others there is a desire to live in the ritzier El Poblado neighborhood.
Or perhaps there is a need for an even lower cost apartment. Decide what is most important for you and use this during your apartment search.
5. Shop outside of El Poblado to furnish an apartment
Prices are the highest in the stores in El Poblado so if you shop in other areas of Medellín you can save money.
A good place to find furniture in on Autopista Sur in Itagüí where you will find a few large furniture stores.
This includes Fabricas Unidas, which is one of the largest furniture stores in Medellín where you can buy entire rooms of furniture, which can enable fast furnishing of an apartment.
Fabricas Unidas has frequent sales and I purchased several items there on sale. Other smaller stores with Colombia produced furniture with good prices are found on Ochenta – near the Los Molinos mall and just north of the Fatima metro station.
Mattresses in stores in the large shopping malls Medellín are typically overpriced. You can find small mattress stores near the Homecenter store near the Suramericana metro stop that sell mattresses about 40 to 50 percent cheaper. Make sure to negotiate.
For appliances and televisions look in the Jumbo and Exito big box retailers, which regularly have sales.
6. Use multiple methods to search
Many available unfurnished apartments in Medellín are not advertised on the Internet or in newspapers, so the only way to find them is via real estate agents or by walking around looking for signs in windows.
During my last apartment search, I used a combination of walking around, my real estate agent and the Espacio Ubano website.
I looked at over 20 apartments before I found one that was a perfect fit for me. The apartment I ended up selecting was found via my real estate agent and it wasn’t advertised with a sign in the window or via a website.
7. Spanish is needed
In my experience, few real estate agents and few apartment owners in Medellín speak English so Spanish is required. Rental contracts will also be in Spanish.
If you don’t speak sufficient Spanish, you should find someone bilingual to help. I speak Spanish at an intermediate level, which was sufficient to rent several apartments in Medellín.
8. Try living first in a furnished apartment
If you are planning to move to Medellín from another country, I recommend not jumping right into an unfurnished apartment. First rent a furnished apartment for at least a couple of months as I did to make sure Medellín is right for you.
This will also give you the time and opportunity to explore the city to find which neighborhood(s) you would like to live in.
There are challenges to overcome in renting an unfurnished apartment in Medellín, and furnishing it, but you can definitely save money over renting a similar sized furnished apartment.
Bottom line, I estimate that I saved over $10,000 over the past three years by renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín, which I furnished myself, instead of continuing to rent furnished apartments.
My cost will continue to drop each year, as the costs I spent furnishing will be spread out over a longer period.
This coming year, my costs for apartment rent, utilities and Internet/TV phone services for a three-bedroom apartment in a high-rise in Belén I estimate will average $665 per month. My furnishing costs that are now spread out over four years only adds $131 per month.