Although there are many more exciting and glamorous aspects of moving abroad, finding the right apartment is at the top of the list of importance! Your home should be your sanctuary, your comfort zone, and a place you WANT to be. However, I’ve found that the madness of trying to find a flat* in Spain, especially in a university city, can sometimes take a toll and leaves people settling for a less-than-ideal situation. Luckily for you, we’re here to help you through the initial process!
First and foremost, you should decide if you want to have flatmates or go it on your own. If language skills and/or cultural immersion are priorities for you, I 100% recommend looking for Spanish roommates. I now have my own apartment and while the privacy and freedom is nice, I really miss out on the social aspect of cooking and sharing meals with someone else, at the very least. As (shared) time spent eating is an important aspect of Spanish culture, this was a special part of my flatmate experience. You should have an idea in mind about how many flatmates you’d like as well. If you’re looking to form real friendships with Spaniards, I recommend having only 1-3 flatmates. At least in my experience, flats that have room for any more than that seem to be guiri central.
Once you have a decent idea of what you’re looking for, you’re ready to decide on the best search engine for you. Although you will also find plenty of flyers about pisos for rent hanging up around your city, I personally recommend searching online. It’s so much nicer when you can create an account, compare photos and details, and save your favorites. it’s a little bit more difficult to know what the apartment is really like from a flyer and you can save yourself precious time by putting in some serious digital searching first. By looking online you’re able to weed out ones that are definitely not your fit. You have quite a few option to choose from when it comes to sites advertising flats for rent and so we’re breaking down the best ones in another post this week!
Contacting and Viewing
Although some sites will have a built-in box right next to the ad for you to type in a message to “contact the advertiser,” I HIGHLY recommend you call. Although this can be intimidating, I have literally never received a single response after messaging so this option seems to be ignored by most renters. At least in bigger cities, there are generally a lot of people looking to rent apartments and so real estate agencies and even individual renters don’t seem to invest time in responding to written messages when they can just wait for the phone calls to roll in.
When you do call, have the reference number at hand (much more important for agencies than individuals) and make it clear from the start that you’re calling about the flat as many renters are elderly Spaniards and will be thrown off by your foreign accent so you’ll want them to know that your call could be beneficial for them! I find it most successful to suggest a particular date and time—at least “in the morning” (por la manaña) or “in the afternoon” (por la tarde)—that works for you rather to ask when you can see it.
Of course, you can often find some real estate agents who speak English but keep in mind that these agencies will likely charge you even more than an average agency. As long as you’re up for the challenge, going through the process in Spanish will be the cheapest and most efficient route. Unless your Spanish is flawless, I recommend you practice some house-related vocabulary before your viewing as you’re going to want to ask questions! We’ve compiled a short-list of words and expressions we have found useful, but be sure to look up any language you think you’ll want to use.
Alquiler = rent
Inmobiliario = real estate agency
Particular = individual renter
Compañero/as = flatmates
Piso = apartment
Planta = floor (don’t forget that the ground floor is ‘0’!)
Dirreción = address
Dormitorio/Habitación = bedroom
Cama individual = twin bed
Cama de matrimonio = double/queen-sized bed (literally a bed for a married couple)
Calefacción central = central heating
Aire acondicionado = air conditioning
Amueblado = furnished (this is actually REALLY common in Spain and you can typically expect furniture, kitchen supplies, and even mops and brooms included with many flats)
Gastos = utilities (if you’re feeling so inclined, check out this article on how you may need to pay your gastos)
El agua = water
La luz = electricity
Comunidad = the association of owners in the building (and the payment that you have to pay to live there—often included or incluido)
Por butano = fueled by butane gas (potentially for the hot water heater and/or stovetop, more details on how that works here)
Fianza = security deposit (generally one-month’s rent, reimbursed upon move-out if all is in order)
Making the final decision
I’ll be honest with you, the renting game moves fast here in Spain! If you are looking to find a place for the school year, you will likely be among a large group of individuals and so if you love a place you should go for it as soon as possible. It’s not uncommon to follow-up the very same day to confirm you’d like to rent the apartment (I even know people who have said yes on-the-spot). The process thereafter also moves fast, especially if you are moving into a place where others are already living. In that case, they have already paid the fianza and will often let you move in right-away, figuring out the difference in rent owed for that month, if necessary. If you are renting on your own, you will have to sign the paperwork, pay your fianza and inmobiliario fees (if applicable), and get the keys. Still, you will likely be able to finalize the process and move into your new home within a matter of days!
I know it may sound scary now and/or feel daunting to go about contacting people and viewing apartments in Spanish but, with these tips, you can totally do it! Let us know how your experience goes!
*For you Americans out there, I’m sorry but I now tend to say “flat” just as often as “apartment” since this is the word all Spaniards (and most Europeans in my experience) are likely to use, but I’m talking about the same thing either way.