The Short-Term Housing Conundrum in Mexico

Anti-AirBnB Graffiti in CDMX

When moving to Mexico, one of the first (and biggest) issues you must deal with is finding short-term housing for when you land, don’t really know anyone, and maybe aren’t even sure which city or neighborhood you’d eventually like to call home.

Most expats in this situation initially turn to Airbnb. The advantages of using this platform include:

     

      • The ability to pay in USD and with credit cards online

      • The flexibility to book properties before you even set foot in Mexico

      • The opportunity to sample a lot of different neighborhoods (or cities) before settling into something more permanent

      • Tons of properties to choose from, especially in big cities and tourists hotspots

      • Extensive reviews to help you narrow options and make a good decision (Pro tip: stick with Superhost properties if at all possible)

      • The ability to contact customer support 24/7 if something goes wrong

     

    Along with those upsides, as a frequent Airbnb user in Guadalajara in 2022, we also got a quick education in the myriad disadvantages of the platform, including…

       

        • Difficulty modifying or cancelling reservations when your needs change.

        • High cost relative to local rents. After you factor in service fees, cleaning fees, and taxes, the premium for using Airbnb in Guadalajara was nearly 2x local rents.

        • No loyalty benefits (your 100th Airbnb night is treated the same as another person’s first night ever).

        • Some places fall well short of what’s advertised online. (Our negative experiences on top-rated properties included faulty plumbing, unreliable/weak wifi, lack of maintenance, sub-par cleaning/sanitization, flaky owners who didn’t show up to meet us and hadn’t enabled self check-in, off-street parking issues, and more)

        • Few pet-friendly properties (in Guadalajara maybe 10% of all Airbnb listings allow pets, which was a big deal since we were traveling with two cats)

       

      The truth is, Airbnb these days is such big business for so many, that you can’t really trust the 5-star ratings to help you avoid sub-par properties.

      It was around this time last year that I found myself negotiating with the owner (and superhost!) of a 5-star property in Ajijic seeking a refund of 2 weeks’ payment (of a planned month-long stay) in exchange for not writing a review. During our stay the hot water heater broke twice, the wifi went out repeatedly, the furniture was badly-deteriorated, and the place was filled with mosquitos.

      My cat Chloe in our Airbnb

       

      My cat Chloe in our first Airbnb in Guadalajara.

      Fortunately for us, the host was kind and accommodating, enabling us to claim a partial refund in exchange for not writing a review. While I knew this arrangement would mean that future guests would book without knowing the potential pitfalls of this place, saving ourselves more than $1,000 USD and moving to a more functional place took priority.

      I suspect I’m not alone in taking the initiative when an Airbnb stay goes sideways, because there’s no real alternative. The sad fact was, I had more difficulty getting Airbnb customer support to greenlight the refund than the host, which further soured me on the platform — as it felt like the company had the host’s back over the customer’s interest, despite our having spent significant money on the platform that year, and having stellar reviews as guests.

      While your mileage may vary, the challenges of Airbnb begin to weigh on your psyche and your wallet over time.

      So what else is out there!? Until you know exactly where you want to be and are willing to sign a 12-month lease, renting from a local isn’t really an option, at least in Guadalajara. But if your heart is set on staying in Mexico, don’t despair! There are still a handful of options to explore when you’ve finally sworn off of Airbnbs.

      Let’s take a look at 5 short-term housing alternatives to Airbnb that fly a bit under the radar.

         

          • Renting an Airbnb property off-platform

          • Securing House & Pet-sitting gigs

          • Sublet arrangements with a traveling expat

          • Extended Stay Hotels

          • Facebook Marketplace

        Renting an Airbnb off-platform. The fine people at Airbnb undoutedly hate option #1, but the fact is, they have no control over what their hosts do once they are contacted by prospective guests, or guests who have completed an Airbnb stay.

        Hosts and guests have the ability to create a rental arrangement off-platform. Indeed, on several occasions following stays of a few weeks in Guadalajara, I received nice messages from hosts who shared their personal contact info with an invitation to contact them in the future if we were ever looking to return.

        Now this isn’t something available to everyone. Only considerate, low-maintenance, and tidy Airbnb guests are likely to have this “backdoor” opened to them. So it’s worth doing everything in your power to be a great guest!

        By renting off-platform and cutting out the middleman, you’ll probably save hundreds of dollars (if not more) on fees over a few weeks time. While many hosts probably won’t give you the time of day if asked about renting their place to you directly, it only takes one.

        House and pet-sitting gigs. Another great way to land short-term housing and try-out a new locale is to pitch yourself as an experienced house and pet-sitter. While the concept is not widely recognized (or accepted) by Mexicans, there are now are a number of online communities catering to the growing demand.

        One of the first was Trusted Housesitters. We joined the service 9 years ago while living in the U.S. At the time this English-speaking community was heavily centered in the UK, France and Australia, but has exploded in popularity in recent years and is now global. The concept brings vetted travelers and animal lovers together in barter arrangements — with travelers enjoying free accommodations in exchange for taking care of homes and furry companions as “payment.”

        Trusted-Housesitters

         

        LWM readers receive 25% off when entering the code LIVEWELL25.

        To land one of these house-sitting gig does take some effort — buying an annual subscription (starting at ~ $129 per year), creating an online profile, getting some recommendations, and most important — being a genuine animal lover. At the moment there are not a ton of house-sits in Mexico listed on the site, but they are starting to get more traction here in the expat community.

        Another option that’s Mexico-specific is the House and Pet Sitting Mexico Facebook group, which has grown to roughly 7,500 members. While it lacks many of the safeguards present on Trusted Housesitters, it’s free to join. Be sure to do your own due diligence when considering housesits.

        Sub-letting a place from a traveling expat. Some foreigners are only here 6 months a year, a.k.a. “the snowbirds” taking respite from Artic-like winter chills in places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada. When summer returns these folk head back up north; but may keep apartments that sit empty while they’re gone. Others embark on months-long vacations to Thailand, Patagonia, Ireland, and other far-flung places.

        All of this churn opens up a plethora of short-term rental opportunities if you know where to look. FB expat forums like Expats in Mexico and MEXPAT Guadalajara are good places to hunt for posts advertising short-term rental opportunities like this, as well as the GDL Adventure Club WhatsApp Group.

        Extended stay hotels. While I love hotels (Disclosure: I spent 3 years in IHG’s corporate office) I confess to using them only twice in our relocation to Guadalajara, mainly because they could be as expensive as Airbnb if you’re not careful, and living space is normally much tighter.

        That said, there are three solid pet-friendly, extended stay hotel options in Guadalajara, Demetria’s Bungalows and Staybridge Suite’s two locations — Avenida Mexico and Guadalajara Expo.

        Demetria’s Bungalows are located in a nicely refurbished art deco building in Colonia Americana, with separate bedroom and livingroom spaces, and small kitchenettes. Bungalow guests also have access to Demetria Hotel’s amenities, which includes a pool, during their stay.

        The Staybridge properties are well-equipped modern high-rises in bustling neighborhoods, with breakfast, happy hour cocktails & snacks, free laundry machines, and daily maid service included in the room rates. The downside to Staybridge Guadalajara’s properties is that many rooms are not equipped with kitchens, as is the norm in the U.S.

        Nico at Staybridge Guadalajara

         

        My cat Nico chillin at Staybridge Guadalajara.

        While I generally find Facebook Marketplace to be a cesspool teeming with scammers and predators, in a pinch last fall I began scouring the FB rental listings after a few acquaintences swore it could be a good source of rental options. While most of the listings seemed click-baity, with photos of spectacular apartments not actually available to rent, I did stumble onto a diamond in the rough.

        A young couple (U.S. & Mexican) living in Providencia was relocating to San Diego for work and wanted to rent their gorgeous one-story casita. It had a lovely private garden, modern amenities, roof deck, chic ambience, and fantastic, walkable location. The rent for all this was a reasonable 25,000 pesos, with flexible lease term and no difficult hurdles to clear (like getting an Aval). We didn’t end up renting that place as we found a house we decided to buy. But it goes to show that even FB Marketplace can bear fruit every now and then!

        All told, my husband and I, along with our cats Chloe and Nico lived in ten temporary residences and ten different neighborhoods during our first six months in Guadalajara. It was a stressful and bumpy ride at times, but it provided ample time to discover each area and learn about the city (and Lake Chapala!) in the process.

        In the end, we put down roots in a lovely old colonia in Zapopan that we knew would suit us well.

        About Live Well Mexico

        My name is Dawn Stoner. In 2022, my family sold our house and half of our possessions, then relocated to Guadalajara, Mexico. We now live here full-time.

        Since then, we’ve learned how to navigate the real estate market, deal with the Mexican bureaucracy, and manage our finances as expats… all while having a pretty fine time!

        I created this blog to help newcomers solve the everyday challenges of living in Mexico, because it isn’t easy figuring all this out for yourself.

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