Apartment hunting is always a fun process…said no one ever. It’s a bizarre and frustrating process enough back home in the States where everything is familiar but doing it in a foreign country is a completely different can of worms. How do I pick a neighborhood? What do I need the most in a room? Will I have to live on the 9th floor with no elevator? Is my landlord going to be the devil?
I can’t tell you exactly what you SHOULD do when settling in for long term living abroad but I can share my own experience and maybe, hopefully, you’ll have an idea of what it takes.
My first 8 days in Madrid I stayed in a hotel with 145 other participants from my placement program. I had paid for this way back in May when I first got my placement and it was such a relief to get off the plane, dehydrated and jet lagged, and just CRASH on the hotel bed like a falling tree. With all the necessary orientation sessions to be held, I couldn’t throw myself fully into the process of piso hunting until Thursday night…and we had to check out of the hotel Monday!
Let’s start with some basic tips:
1) Get a local phone number (put a SIM card in your American smart phone or buy a throw away phone), do pay as you go cuz it’s just so dang easy.
You’ll need it to call all the landlords to set up appointments to see the piso/room or find out if it’s already rented, the rent charged, all the important deets. I burned through all 20 of my prepaid minutes in the 3 days I spent calling places so trust me on this one.
2) Wear comfortable shoes and carry a bottle of water!
You’ll be hoofing it all over town to find your dream flat and climbing up stairs, getting lost, and viewing a lot of places. At the end of each day of my hunt, I was SO exhausted that I would just sit on my squishy hotel bed and feel the blood in my legs pulsing like the bass in a techno song. My feet would hurt so much that I would lay down and prop my legs up against the wall and just let the blood drain down from my feet. You may be thinking, “Amanda, you’re crazy, it wasn’t that bad,” but oh, yes, it was. This will go hand in hand with my next tip…
3) Take a stroll through the neighborhoods you like the best!
Do some research ahead of time and get an idea for where you want to live based on your work commute, shopping, ease of getting around and general neighborhood vibe. I ended up moving into a barrio (neighborhood) that I didn’t even know about until arriving in Madrid, hadn’t even considered living in, and it ended up being the absolute most perfect little gem. This is a good thing to do for a million reasons. You can get an idea of the people who live or work there by just people watching. I would sit down on a bench near the Metro stop and just people watch for however I long felt like doing it, often in between piso viewing appointments. Walking around in the streets near a potential piso is a great way to see which shops are close by, bars, restaurants, and the all important Metro stops (at least in Madrid!).
4) Do your research online for rooms/flats and vocabulary.
Some of the most popular sites for finding somewhere to live in Madrid are the following:
Browsing through these can help you get an idea of what kind of costs to expect in different areas, the quality of rooms, standard amenities, etc.
Carry a small notebook and pen with you everywhere you go so that you can write down numbers, street addresses, names, appointments, etc. You can use it when you’re working online and need to write down the address for a place you’re going to see and when you’re wandering your hopeful new neighborhood, write down the numbers of the signs on apartment buildings with “Se Alquila” written on them.
5) Be patient and go with your gut!
Just because you think a particular neighborhood is your favorite, doesn’t mean that’s the place you should live. You may see a fabulous apartment online and be concerned that it’ll get snatched up before you can get it and want to reserve over the phone or wire money to the landlord. DO NOT DO THIS. Seriously, it’s like the dumbest thing you can do. What if you get there and all the pictures online are from 3 years ago before a ravenous and wild pack of party guys lived there and the walls are splattered with only God knows what? Lighting in photos is always deceiving so don’t be afraid to ask to see a place and check it out. (Pro tip: Always sit on the mattress and couch in place when visiting-make sure you won’t be sleeping on a brick.)
6) Don’t settle for anything that you don’t love!
It’s going to take some sweat, tears, and blistered feet but you will find your dream room/piso! Ok, so maybe not “dream” per se, we can’t all have Malibu Barbie’s dream house, but we can find the right place for us, to make us feel at home and put us where we need to be.