In one month we’ll be moving again, which means that I’ve spent the last week poring over announcement after announcement of pisos for rent in Burgos in my free time. Now that we’ve rented together in both Canada and Spain we have become cleverer, as over time we have learnt what we want, need or appreciate having in a flat. We have also learnt what doesn’t work for us and what we really want to avoid. I acknowledge that figuring this out took a lot of time and plenty of mistakes to understand the renting scene in the place where we intended on living. I think that the most important thing is to understand what your needs for a house/room/flat are before you begin the hunt. For this very reason I’ve come up with a list of points to consider when looking for accommodation in Spain, whether it be short-term (studying abroad for a semester, working as a language assistant for an 8 month period) or long(er)-term (indefinite work contract, 1 year working holiday visa, immigration etc.).
1) Shared or unshared piso
Deciding this in advance will cut down on the amount of time you spend prowling the internet looking for available flats. Naturally, if you’re moving to Spain with your family you’ll be looking for an unshared flat, making it an easy decision for those coming with their partner and children. However, if you’re moving alone or as a couple you will have to make this decision.
Sharing a flat will cut costs (especially in big cities) and I’ve found that it provides instant friends (when I moved to England and France I opted for renting a room in a shared flat for this very reason, providing me with company and plans from day 1). Sharing with Spaniards (or foreigners from different countries who only have Spanish in common) will provide you with an opportunity to speak Spanish on a daily basis, but keep in mind that this could prove problematic if you have a very low level of the language. Shared flats are also quite easy to come across if you live in a big city or one with a university. Living alone, on the other hand, is practical for couples who are ready to live by themselves or for anyone who feels that they can handle the cost or don’t need to rely on flatmates for friendship.
2) The area
It’s likely that when you first move to a new city/town you won’t yet have a good understanding of the layout, so really consider the area where you’d like to look for a flat. If you have already secured work then consider how long it will take you to commute, bike, or walk to work. Will it be worth the hour bus ride every morning? I choose to live close to work, a 5 minute walk actually, meaning that I can get up later and get home faster, and that I’ve also never used (or paid for) public transport in my 8 months here. Next, consider how close it is to amenities that you’ll want access to, like grocery stores, bakeries, gyms, coffee shops/bars or the bus/train station. I’d also stress that while it might seem incredible to live in the very centre of things remember that Spaniards are incredibly talented at staying up all night, so if you are a light sleeper stay away from flats above bars or those on the streets where the best partying takes place!
3) Furnished or unfurnished
Websites dedicated to helping people advertise and search for housing often provide you with the option to filter whether or not you want a furnished apartment (like this one from the Idealista website where you can look for amueblado, meaning furnished, and sólo cocina equipada, the kitchen equipped with the basics, but otherwise unfurnished). Unless you’re eager to drop a few hundred euros at Ikea I’d recommend choosing a furnished flat. Take note that furnished flats are much more common here than they are in North America, so you may be hard pressed to find a bare flat. If you do go with a furnished flat, but find that when you move in it doesn’t quite have all the things you expected, try asking the landlord to provide them before heading to the shops, as some are eager to help our their new tenants.
4) Agency or private owner
Inmobiliarias, or real estate agents, often advertise flats for rent in Spain, especially in newer buildings or barrios. Depending on your needs agencies can be positive or negative, but from experience we do our best to avoid them. While they do tend to show newer buildings, we found the agents that showed us flats were pushy and rushed, which we didn’t appreciate. Then there’s the commission. Renting from an agency usually means dishing out the first month’s rent, the deposit (equivalent to 1 to 2 month’s rent) and a commission. Let’s say you’ve found a flat through an agency that is €300/month, that would be €900 up front, a high cost for someone who has just arrived from another country. This was definitely the case for Borja and I, so we avoided agencies. The best way to steer clear of agencies is to: 1) use filters on websites, 2) avoid contact numbers that start with 9 (indicating a landline), as it’s likely to be that of an agency (private owners normally list their mobile phone number, which begin with 6). If you do choose to go through an inmobiliaria remember to factor a commission rate into your budget!
Consider what type of contract you want before arranging to view a flat. If you will only be Spain for 6 months, don’t sign a one year contract. Many landlords- especially those who rent shared accommodation or those who have dealt with students and/or temporary workers (like language assistants) in the past- will be willing to give you a shorter contract or a month-to-month contract if you ask, which will save you a lot of trouble when it comes time to move out!
It’s also important to know that due to the current economic situation a lot of private owners in Spain don’t want to pay taxes on the money they make from renting flats, so they don’t. They rent flats without declaring that they do. If you choose to rent one of these flats know what that means. You won’t get in trouble for living there, but the owner may if they’re found out. Also consider that any contract that you sign with them isn’t going to have the same hold as a contract in a legally rented flat, which may be good or bad for you. I’m not suggesting you avoid them (in fact, we have experience with renting one of these apartments), but to know what it means. For instance, it may be difficult to obtain documents you need if the owner is registered as living there, but doesn’t (such as the certificate of cohabitation, required for obtaining residency through pareja de hecho).
Unless you’ve decided to rent a room in a shared flat it’s probable that your rent won’t include utilities, so remember that when viewing flats. You should to consider gas vs. electric heating. While back home in Canada I would never have considered renting a flat that used home heating oil, here in Spain a lot of people do their best to avoid electric heating, which is said to be more expensive. So, check it before you sign!
Don’t forget to ask if the monthly rate for maintenance/cleaning of the building is included or if you’ll have to pay extra every month (look for: gastos de comunidad incluidos). In most cases it will be included, but I have seen some ads on housing sites that sneakily add an extra €30 to the monthly cost at the very bottom of the ad, where you’re least likely to notice it.
Buena suerte in your search!