I am the first to admit that I did the apartment thing all wrong when I moved to Spain – without so much as seeing the place in person, getting a feel for the neighborhood or even exchanging more than a few emails, I paid a deposit on Seville's Calle Numancia and September’s rent.
Looking back, it was probably not my smartest moment. What if the place was a dump? What if the landlord lived there, too? Would my roommates smoke indoors? Thankfully, everything worked out fine, and I lived in that apartment with the same Spanish roommate for three years before packing up and moving in with the 'novio' and eventually buying a house.
When people ask me for tips on apartment searching, I am often not a great source of information because – confession time – I have never searched for an apartment on my own in Spain!
I have heard all of the horror stories and read all of the advice, but there are a few things missing, mostly by way of what they don’t tell you about flat hunting (not included on this list: my creepy landlord who had a habit of showing up whenever I was in the shower).
You will have a noticeable lack of appliances
In building my wedding gift registry, I’m taking a look around at what sorts of appliances we may need. For years, I lived without an oven, a toaster, a dryer and electronic water heaters. My clothes were torn apart my machine wash cycles. The TV was archaic. I forgot what heat and air conditioning felt like.
But I got by.
Photo of washing machine: Shutterstock
Currently, we don’t have a microwave, but this is only a problem during Thanksgiving. I haven’t had a clothes dryer since moving here, but thanks to warm weather and plenty of sun, I haven’t needed one (ugh, except for the year it rained three months straight).
Many landlords are older and have had the apartments left to them – a staggering two-thirds of Spaniards live in apartments as their first residence, and living in a house is quite uncommon. This means that you’re stuck with older, heavy furniture, ancient appliances and occasionally a saint’s bust.
Nothing a little Ikea trip (or nicely asking your landlord) won’t fix!
There will be scams
The most common way to search for apartments is through online websites like Idealista, Easypiso or Spotahome, which allow you to put in specifications by number of rooms or neighborhood, among other factors.
So, you spend all afternoon browsing, getting a feel for what you can find in the center of town with international roommates who will feed you and who are clean and who maybe have a cat. Then, the perfect place pops up and, surprise! The landlord speaks English!
You get in touch with him via email, and he claims he’s had to run back to his home country for a family emergency, but can mail you the keys if you wire a deposit.
This should be massive red flag. It is never, ever wise to send money to a landlord if you've never seen the place in person. But if you’re not into the whole hitting the pavements and making endless calls, there are bona fide agencies that can set you up with a pre-approved place to live.
You won’t be best friends with your roommates
Once I’d moved in, I was thrilled to meet Eva, my German roommate in the back bedroom.
She was a fantastic friend who announced that she was moving back to Germany a few weeks later. While I was pining for European roommates to share meals with and practice Spanish with, I was on opposite schedules and rarely saw them.
And because we were three girls of three different ages, three different native tongues and three different cultures, there were often misunderstandings.
Don’t get me wrong – I've stayed in touch with both Eva and Melissa, our Spanish roommate, as well as the other two girls who came later – but the expectation that you’ll all have one another’s back isn't always true. Convivencia brings out the claws, people.
My advice is to lay out house rules right away – can guests spend the night? How do chores work? Is smoking permitted indoors? It’s one thing to live with strangers, and entirely another to combat language and cultural issues!
You can't (and won’t) always get what you want
It’s good to have parameters to help you find the perfect place for you – I firmly believe that your living situation has the power to make or break your experience in Spain. Think about price range, neighborhoods, connectivity and a few comforts, like an oven or a double bed.
Then remember that a decently-sized Spanish apartment is a glorified walk-in closet, not every place will have a terrace and the chances that you have both air and heat are slim to ni de coña (no bloody chance) in many areas, including Seville.
Or, you can get the mess that is my next door neighbor’s house as far as 'pisos amueblados' (furnished apartments) go. I’m not saying to give up on those things, but to remember the reality of the Spanish apartment situation.
Remember that most apartments already come furnished, though you’ll have to buy your own towels and sheets. At least that’s good news, right?
Now you see it, now you don’t
When we bought our house and signed the mortgage in late June, the property stayed on the real estate agent's listings, and on several other websites, for weeks. If you see a apartment one day and can’t make a decision about it, move on.
These sorts of places come and go quickly, so even in a span of a siesta, you may be caught taking a place you didn't feel so fondly about because the top places were gone. And don't get discouraged when a place you’d like to have is suddenly off the market, either.
Here’s some advice: start early, ask the right questions and don’t give up and settle. Where you hang your hat or flamenco shoes at the end of the day can have a huge impact on your year (or seven) in Spain.