FINDING THE PERFECT HOME AWAY FROM HOME
(My Translation: We all have our house, which is our private home; and the city, which is our public home.)
When you move to a new town or city, one of the most important things on your mind is where you are going to live. You want to feel comfortable, safe, and have a place to call your own. It doesn’t matter whether you’re moving to a new U.S. city or a city in a foreign country; this is always a difficult task.
(My Translation: Roommates: Their pranks lose all the fun when you can no longer breathe.)
One of the first things you must think about is whether or not you want to have a roommate. If you do decide you’d like to live with a roommate, you must decide how many you’d like to have and what kind of people you can live with.
When I started my search, I knew I wanted to live with at least one roommate. I also wanted to primarily live with Spanish-speaking people so I would be forced to practice Spanish at home. I did not want to have more than three roommates and I needed to have my own bedroom. I didn’t care if I lived with girls or guys.
Since I didn’t care whether I lived with guys or girls, I had more options when I searched for apartments. However, many of these options would have required me to live with couples. While I really wouldn’t have minded living with a couple if there were other people in the apartment, all of the places I came across would have required me to be the awkward third wheel. I knew that situation would not work out. I started to doubt this a bit when I did meet one couple I got along with very well. We had a great conversation about Spanish linguistics, something I studied in depth during college. Unfortunately, the apartment was not very nice, the boyfriend and girlfriend were both at least 20 years older than me, and they smoked cigarettes at home. This was something I would not compromise on.
Unfortunately, other potential roommates neglected to mention that they smoked as well. I went to visit an apartment one day and as I entered, I was greeted by a cloud of smoke and three women who looked like they belonged on the Golden Girls. The apartment looked like something from TLC’s Hoarders with garbage and trinkets all over the shelves, cabinets, and floor. The woman who showed me the apartment informed me that they did not have heat and that they smoked in the apartment during the winter to keep warm. Needless to say, salí corriendo de allí. (I ran out of there!)
After that incident, I made sure I called the apartments first and asked the landlords or flatmates if they smoked. If they said yes, I always said I had an allergy and moved on to the next apartment on my list. I also learned another thing I needed to start asking: the age of the other potential roommates.
One day, I ventured to an apartment in Malasaña, a hip and trendy neighborhood in Madrid, excited at the prospect of living somewhere so fun. I had communicated via e-mail with the “girl/woman” who wanted to rent out a room and she seemed very nice. I thought she was around 20-30 years old. Imagine how surprised I was when I went up to the third floor and a 70-year-old woman opened the door for me. She showed me around the apartment and explained that we would share everything except the bedroom. She also told me she didn´t have wifi because estamos en medio de una crisis (we are in the middle of an economic crisis). I wanted a peaceful apartment, but could not imagine myself knitting all afternoon with my roomie. I immediately changed my apartment search strategy.
Hotel Bathroom in Paris. This all in one shower/bathroom deal seems to be quite common here in hotels and small apartments.
Before you actually visit potential apartments, decide which amenities you need and which you could live without. The majority of apartments in Spain do not have dryers. However, they have nice clotheslines where you can hang everything to dry. I decided that a dryer was not one of my “must-have’s,” though it is not impossible to find. Also, many places come without ovens and dishwashers. I did not care about a dishwasher because I usually do not use that many dishes unless I have friends over. As for an oven, I was on the fence. I wanted one but I figured I could, theoretically, live without one.
Another thing that seems to be a luxury here are exterior windows. Apartments and bedrooms themselves are listed as “interior” or “exterior.” Exterior faces the street or perhaps a park, and interior places will face the interior courtyard which is usually where the clotheslines are. Interior bedrooms are typically cheaper but they usually lack natural light. I decided that I could have an interior bedroom, but the apartment would need to have at least one big window.
Generally speaking, these are the main things you have to think about in terms of amenities. Sometimes, however, you will come across an apartment that lacks something that you´d think most apartments would have. For example, I visited an apartment that didn´t come with a refrigerator…. I’m not lying! To solve the problem, the girl who lived there bought a mini-fridge. Sharing a mini-fridge with two other people did not seem like my idea of fun, so I kept searching.
Another very important factor in the apartment/house –search is the neighborhood. Your home extends far beyond the walls of your apartment or house, and if you do not like your neighborhood, you may not have a good experience.
This is not always the case in the United States, but in European cities-especially large ones like Madrid-your neighborhood is where you do all of your shopping. When I told a friend’s sister about the neighborhood where I lived when I studied abroad in Madrid, Valdebebas, she said that her friend inherited a house there and did not want to go because “she would not be able to shop or do anything without having to use the bus.” I think that her friend is actually trying to sell the house now. My old neighborhood, although charming in its own ways (the field where Real Madrid practices is located nearby), is not desirable to live in because there are no places to go shopping. I do remember seeing a restaurant, but that was about it. Needless to say, this time I wanted to be in a livelier neighborhood.
Another factor to take into consideration is your commute to and from work. Use Google Maps, or similar programs, to time the potential commute from each place you consider in your house hunt. Decide ahead of time what the maximum commute you are willing to do is and if you are willing to transfer buses, trains or subway lines. Also take into consideration how long it will take you to walk to the train or bus station.
Since my school is in a small town outside of Madrid, I knew that the best way to commute would be by the Cercanías RENFE, the Madrid short-distance commuter trains. I originally wanted to live by Atocha because it is the main station for both short and long distance commutes and thus my commute would only be a little over 30 minutes. However, I did not have a lot of luck finding an apartment near Atocha, so I branched out a bit and started to look near Sol and Nuevos Ministerios, two other stations that have Cercanías. I figured that the longest possible commute would be about an hour.
WHERE TO LOOK
Apartment searching in Spain can prove to be a difficult task because the best way to do it is online. There are many website where people post apartments (pisos) or rooms (habitaciones) that they are trying to rent. I conducted the majority of my searches on Idealista (www.idealista.es), Fotocasa (www.fotocasa.es), Easy Piso (www.easypiso.com) and Piso Compartido (www.pisocompartido.es). The first two websites also have SmartPhone App’s which allows you to literally search apartments all day long. You can also check out the Madrid Craigslist page (http://madrid.es.craigslist.es/), Segundamano (http://www.segundamano.es/) and Loquo (http://www.loquo.com/). On all of these websites, you can search by neighborhood, number of roommates, cost of rent, whether or not the roommates smoke, etc.
Another option is to go to college campuses or walk through neighborhoods you like and look for flyers. I found this method to be a little difficult, though, because, usually, I only found whole apartments to rent-not bedrooms. Also, I had to call and ask a lot of questions that would otherwise have been answered on the websites I listed above. In conclusion, I think it is a lot easier to just search on these websites according to your wants and needs and just call or Whatsapp for more information or to schedule a visit.
BING BING BING! I FOUND AN APARTMENT!
After a month of failed apartment searching, I started to give up and considered just renting out the one-bedroom place a friend was renting to me that didn’t have exterior windows. The location was good and I wouldn’t have to deal with others. However, I knew that I would get lonely if I didn’t have roommates. I couldn’t find anything in my preferred neighborhood, so I decided to look in another neighborhood that was farther away but also near a train station. A few days into the search, I found a beautiful apartment with awesome roommates. Although the commute is a bit longer than I would have liked, it is definitely worth it.
I have my own bedroom with a double-bed, huge closet and a desk for my computer. I even have my own exterior window!! We have a big dining room and living room, a modern kitchen, and a bathroom with a nice, warm shower. The neighborhood is also great.
I live about 5 minutes away from Santiago Bernabéu, Real Madrid’s stadium. That means I must go to a game! We also have about five different grocery stories, fruterías (fruit and vegetable stores), restaurants, cafes, shoe stores, and even clothing stores like H&M and Zara. Also, the language school where I teach private classes is within walking distance of my apartment. If I continue walking up the street, I can find a huge market, more shopping and the famous Plaza de Castilla.
Most importantly, I get along very well with my roommates. Two of them, C and M, are originally from Bogotá, Colombia. C is M´s mother and C moved here to study for her Master´s Degree. She works as a travel agent and M is finishing up her last year of high school. JF, my other roommate, is the same age as me and he is originally from Murcía, Spain. He is here in Madrid doing his Master´s. There is also another woman, K, from Ireland. She is working as an English teacher in big companies and will only be with us this month. We are a very international apartment and we all get along very well. After all of the struggles I had, I finally found something. One thing I definitely learned in this apartment search is that you should never settle or give up on finding what you want.