Housing, in Spain? Oh my!

Housing, in Spain? Oh my!

The time is getting close for everyone to move to Spain and everyone is stressing about not having an apartment. Yes, you do have fair enough reason to be stressing, you are moving across the ocean with all of your junk and you don’t have anywhere to keep it! However, just relax. It WILL work out. To be honest though, finding housing isn’t as easy as it was in college. You can’t just ask one of your friends for advice because everyone has a different school placement and different financial situations. In college, we just wanted to know where’s the best place to live off campus, closest to the bus line, nearest to the best bars (because we would all be walking home through knee deep snow) and which landlords are most likely to give back your security deposit in full. Friends could usually tell you all of this information and more! In Spain, we want to know the same things, it’s just ALOT more difficult. You have a lot of options, almost too many. Do I want to be an au pair or just rent a room? Do I want to search on a website? Do I want to go through a company? How much am I willing to pay? How far am I willing to commute? Let’s take a look!

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Thanksgiving at my apartment in Madrid! November 2013

Housing Options

Rent a room: One room. This is the ideal situation. It’s all you want and all you need. Bills in your name? Try not to. Sign a lease? If you don’t have to, don’t. Security deposit? One month only please.
Rent a piso (an entire apartment): Yes, people do this however, really really think about what you are committing to.This would mean that you would have to fill the other bedrooms and you would have to have all the bills (internet, water, gas, etc) in your name. If you don’t find a roommate, you are responsible. If the internet stops working, you are responsible. If the bill is really crazy one month, you are responsible to find out why. If there are cockroaches, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE. Think about it…do you want to be THAT responsible?
Be an au pair: Live with a family, spend a couple hours a day teaching english to their kids and you can live for free and eat for free. Everyone I know who has been an au pair has had a different experience. Some liked it, some hated it. It really takes dedication. I tried it for a month, in the end I moved out. I didn’t want to spend 5 days a week giving private classes to three kids when I only have to work as an auxiliar 4 days a week. Maybe I am just lazy but I didn’t want to feel guilty when I wanted to take my 3 day weekends to myself. If I wanted to travel or lay in bed or do whatever I darn well please, I didn’t want to have to worry about a family needing me to pick kids up from school and then give them english classes on my day off.

How to Find Housing

Idealista: A housing website. The problem with housing websites is that many rooms get filled and the landlord doesn’t take the ad down. You could call 15 people and they could all say “Sorry, its already rented out”…Really irritating especially when you’re wasting minutes calling them!
EasyPiso: A housing website. I don’t like this one really but I know others use it.
SegundaMano: A housing website.
Auxiliar de conversación Facebook page: Often auxiliars are looking for roommates or renting out their own room. Also, Spanish people use the auxiliar page to contact people about open bedrooms in their flats or about being au pairs.
Ads on the street: As you walk around the neighborhood you want to live in, you will see ads posted on telephone poles or doors or anywhere really. Write down the phone number, give them a call and go see the apartment. (That’s how I found my first apartment!)

Paying Rent/Gastos (Bills)

Rent in Spain can be with gastos includos or gastos no incluidos. So, either your bills are included in your rent or they aren’t. If they aren’t, ask about how much they will cost monthly to figure out how much you will truly be spending on housing each month.

How much? It varies. In Madrid, I know people pay anywhere from €300 to €600 a month rent including what they pay for bulls. Paying €300 will get you a small bedroom in a shared apartment and €600 would be your own small studio apartment. The average from what I have heard is about €400 a month for a normal (for Madrid) bedroom. Friends of mine outside of Madrid paid €200 all included. Really you should try not to spend more than half of your salary on rent. In Madrid we make €1000 a month and everywhere else in Spain makes €700 a month.

Some advice about paying rent…make sure, make sure, MAKE SURE that you are not living with people who are stealing your money! It seems simple to say, but with the language barrier and lack of knowledge about how renting an apartment works in Spain, people get screwed over big time. The tenants and the landlords, to be honest. For every five housing stories with happy endings, there are 15 horror stories.

Make sure you read your lease, know what they will take out of your security deposit and make sure that you know what you are paying for. Also, make sure you are getting what you paid for. Most bedrooms will vary in price within each apartment, if you are in the smallest room and paying the most there is definitely a problem. Try not to open an internet account or any account in your name. The contracts are always at least one year and do you really want to pay for internet for 12 months when you will probably only live in your apartment for 9? Just a thought. Later on you will be posting on the auxiliar page saying “do I really need to pay this? I am going back to america anyways.”

Last but not least, when you pay rent each month, you need to pay your money directly into a bank account and make sure you know WHO the bank account belongs to and ALWAYS ALWAYS keep evidence of what you have paid. ALL of the receipts you get from the banks are the ONLY proof you have that you have paid. Try NOT to pay in cash, because if you pay in cash there is no proof that you ever actually paid it.

Leases (Contratos)

You don’t want a two-year lease. Simple as that. Honestly, you don’t want even a one-year lease. It’s a bitch to find a sublet. Sign a lease but make sure your lease has an out or even that your lease ends when you plan on leaving Spain. Most want at least a 6 month commitment, which is totally doable as an auxiliar!

If you didn’t sign a lease, DON’T PAY A SECURITY DEPOSIT. If it’s not written down, they don’t have to give it back, and trust me, they WON’T give it back.

If you didn’t sign a lease you can move out whenever you want OR they can kick you out whenever you want, it goes both ways my friends.

Social security number, official documents, etc. be CAREFUL as to who you are giving the information to. Yes, you’ll probably have to give a photocopy of an ID, most likely your passport, however, no one wants a random photocopy of their passport floating around in the hands of someone else. If they don’t ask for it, don’t give it.

Where to Live/Commuting

Take a look at the public transit information for your city. Does it look like gibberish? I imagine so. This gibberish will become your life. Madrid has a great metro system, cercanias (trains) and the busses aren’t bad either. All Spanish cities have really reliable public transport. To be honest, Madrid isn’t THAT big either. You should be able to find yourself an apartment that lets you have under an hour commute.

WOAH, an HOUR commute?! That was my thought too. Really, an hour on the metro isn’t bad, you can get lost in Game of Thrones, just don’t forget to get off at your stop! Some people even have a 5 minute walk to school. It all depends on your school and the size of your city! Honestly though, don’t set yourself up for failure, if you know you can’t make it on time living an hour away, move to a different part of your city. Living by school is an option too! However, if you are an hour from your friends it makes it a lot more difficult to meet up for dinner. Especially at night when public transport stops at 2am. Sucks to be the one to have to leave early to catch the metro…or sucks to have to taxi it home when you just missed the last metro by minutes! or you could just take the metro home at 6am when it opens back up!

Sunrise walking to the metro in the morning when it opened back up!
Sunrise from Gran Via at 6 in the morning on the way to the metro to go home from a party!
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The city center of Madrid as a ghost town as I walked to the Metro at 6am!

Metro: Locate your school, find which metro stop you are at and which line your school is on and plant yourself in an apartment in the center that’s within easy walking distance of the metro line your school is on. For example, your school is off the red line but super far north. Try finding an apartment by the red line closer to the center, so you can metro to work but walk a short distance to meet up with friends. Not having to transfer lines could save your sanity on early morning commutes!
Cercanias: The train, takes you to the suburbs of Madrid (Getafe, Alcala de Hernares, etc). If you have to take the cercanias, you should try to live with an easy commute to Atocha to make your life easier!
Bus: In Madrid, there are city busses that are red or blue that stay within the city limits. Then there are green busses that leave from Principe Pio or Moncloa or wherever that take you to the suburbs that there may not be a train or metro! If this is your situation, live near the bus station!
Walking: Then there’s the lucky ones. Those that have their schools in the city center and can live there and walk a few minutes to school. Lucky ducks.
Biking: Within Madrid, I wouldn’t bike to work, the bike paths aren’t great. However, in other cities throughout Spain, such as Sevilla, there are great bike paths that you can easily and safely bike to work.
Car: In some towns, teachers live in the center and drive to their school if there is no good bus system to the school. This takes place more often in very small towns. You can contact your school and ask the teachers their schedule and maybe there is a spot for you in someones car. You’ll have to pay them but you will have a direct route from your home to work! Seems pretty good to me!

Things that are easily Overlooked

In Spain, their idea of what is included in the apartment isn’t exactly the same idea as what we would have in America. If you need an oven, make sure that your apartment has an oven. Some may have ovens that don’t work (you have to directly ask if the oven works sometimes, not even joking). Is there a microwave? Is there heating? In my old apartment we had radiators in all of the rooms except mine. The reasoning was that my bedroom was an interior bedroom so the cold from the street couldn’t reach my room. I thought the cold air came in through my window…either way, they bought me a mini heater. If your apartment is big, make sure the WIFI reaches your bedroom. They sell “repitidores de WIFI” for about 60 euro (In english maybe it’s called a transmitter, it’s to make the signal reach further). Also, if your bed is really uncomfortable, before you move in, let them know that a mattress pad is something you want included (Yes, you can do that).

I do know people who have complained that they don’t have paintings on the wall. However, I would take a toaster over a poster any day. Some other things you might want to ask…when is the last time they sprayed for cockroaches. Have they got bug problems? Do the neighbors play the piano really loudly? Really anything you can think of. You should ask the questions to the roommates if you see other roommates around, it’s probably the only way you will get the truth.

If you have any questions feel free to ask! I will help as much as I can! If you think I left out anything important in selecting apartment, let me know and I will update my post! Good luck on your apartment hunt, I will be starting again in a couple weeks too!

Kate