This four-part series will cover my experiences in renting three unfurnished apartments in Medellín as well as my recommendations for furnishing apartments, which can act a guide to renting apartments in Medellín.
First a little history about how I ended up in Medellín. I originally discovered Colombia back in 2006, when I was looking for a new vacation place. I spent several weeks in Cartagena as a break from a cold winter in the US.
I thoroughly enjoyed Cartagena, which I started describing to my friends in the US as kind of a mix of a Caribbean beach location with the vibrant history, restaurants and nightlife of a place like New Orleans.
I returned to Cartagena several times on vacation. I then started to explore other locations in Colombia, traveling first to Santa Marta, followed by San Andrés. But I met some expats that told me I had to go to Medellín.
So I planned a vacation trip to Colombia in December and decided to go to Medellín to see the Christmas lights.
To make a long story short, I had an amazing time in Medellín and was enchanted by the city, so much so that I wanted to spend more and more time in Medellín. I started spending all my vacation time in Medellín.
By late 2009 I made the decision for a trial of living in Medellín as my job in the US provided location flexibility, I just need the Internet and a phone to do my job so I have the flexibility to work from anywhere.
For my first living in Medellín trial, I rented a furnished apartment in El Poblado for a month in late 2009, which was close to Oviedo mall. This was followed by a longer-term trial of renting a furnished apartment in Fatima in 2010 for three-months.
I really didn’t like living in El Poblado, which is the area of Medellín most popular with foreigners. To me, El Poblado is relatively expensive and too much like living in the U.S.
By June 2011, I decided it was time to pull the trigger on renting an unfurnished apartment as continuing to rent furnished apartments in Medellín would be expensive.
I started looking for unfurnished apartments with my moderate Spanish skills and immediately encountered a problem. I called the real estate agent numbers I saw posted on some apartment windows near the apartment I was renting in Fatima.
The agents told me the details of the apartments (how many bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.) and then when I asked to see the apartments, the agents asked if I had a fiador.
What’s a fiador?
Under Colombian laws a real estate agent is responsible to the property owner for collecting rent. So real estate agents require a fiador. A fiador is a cosigner who guarantees the tenant’s rent payments so the agent can go after the fiador if the tenant stops paying rent.
My understanding is that a fiador must be a real estate property owner in Colombia. I am aware that fiadors are also used in other countries in Latin America, such as Mexico and Peru.
I started becoming frustrated as every agent I called asked if I had a fiador. So to get in to actually see some of the apartments I started saying “yes.”
Unfortunately I didn’t find an apartment I liked near where I was renting in Fatima so I expended my search to the Laureles/Estadio area, which is another middle-class area of the city I was familiar with.
I looked for apartments on some real estate websites and found that many of the apartments listed on these sites were no longer available as they weren’t kept up-to-date.
So I spent some time walking around areas in Laureles/Estadio I liked and called numbers posted in apartment windows and looked at a few more apartments.
But this was a frustrating process, I heard many times things like: come back tomorrow, sorry I do not have the key, let me call the owner, etc.
Overcoming the fiador requirement
After looking at a couple more apartments, I found an apartment I liked in Estadio. This was a three-bedroom apartment in a new low-rise five-story building.
It was on the top floor and located three blocks from the Floresta Metro station and four blocks from the fútbol stadium.
The real estate agent who showed the apartment to me didn’t have experience renting to a foreigner. When I told her I didn’t have a fiador she said I needed to find a fiador to rent the apartment.
Even though I had lived several months in furnished apartments in Medellín, I didn’t know anyone in Colombia that could be this fiador. So I asked, what if I paid rent in advance?
I told the agent I could pay six months in advance. She called her lawyer about paying in advance and also the apartment owner to see if he would agree to a six-month lease – and both said yes!
Next was the apartment rental contract process. The contract was in Spanish so I spent some time on the Internet translating it. There were standard sections in the contract about the rental price, how to pay, who pays the utilities (tenant), contract renewal terms and grounds for termination.
Nothing in the contract concerned me and it looked pretty standard. There was no need for a Colombian ID (cedula) to rent the apartment, just my passport.
I paid six months of rent in advance and went to a notary to get the contract notarized and received the keys!
My first apartment specifications:
- 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, about 75 square meters (807 square feet)
- Kitchen with cooktop and granite counters
- Gas water heater (tankless)
- Top floor in brand new 5-story building
- Estrato 5 neighborhood, three blocks from a Metro station
- Cost: 1,200,000 pesos ($637) per month
Part two of this series will look at furnishing my first apartment in Medellín, getting utilities set up and my hunt for a second apartment a year later.