Searching for an apartment was one of the more stressful and time consuming aspects of our move abroad. Despite having found several apartments in Canada (both in Ontario and British Columbia) I was woefully unprepared for the way they do it in Spain.
Now, three months after the dust has settled, there are so many things I would do differently. So today, I’m sharing my top ten tips for renting an apartment in Madrid. Please, learn from my mistakes.
As soon as you decided to move that you’re moving to Madrid (yay!), start researching the various districts and neighbourhoods. Madrid is a huge metropolitan city that’s divided into 21 districts, which are further divided into 128 neighbourhoods (or barrios). A bit overwhelming at first, you’ll quickly see that there’s something for everyone.
A quick Google search will bring up countless websites and lists that will detail each neighbourhood, who it caters to, and amenities that can be found within it.
Start Before You Arrive
Before we moved to Madrid I glanced at websites, researched the various neighbourhoods and the cost of living. And that’s it. At the time there were a lot of listings so I assumed it wouldn’t be too hard to find a flat and we could figure it out once we were there. While it all worked out in the end, I wish I had started our search and lined a few viewings up before we’d even arrived. October is a notoriously bad month to be a renter (how were we to know?!) so there were limited options in our price range and desired area. Had we set-up a few appointments/viewings before we arrive in Madrid we may have sped up the search and saved ourselves a few sleepless nights.
While I would recommend starting your search before even touching down in the city, I would caution anyone to avoid falling in love with a place before you see it in person: 1) It might not be available by the time you arrive; 2) it might not be as advertised; and 3) you might hate it.
Internet searches and helpful websites
In Canada, apartment hunts are done primarily using the Internet, so I assumed this would be the case in Spain. And for the most part, I was right. Idealista and Fotocasa are filled with listings throughout the city and even let you sign-up for helpful alerts. At first, they can seem a bit overwhelming, but by applying filters you can create a manageable search. My only caution with Fotocasa and Idealista is that in some cases landlords use real estate agent (or the services of an inmobiliaria) and unlike in Canada where the landlord pays their fee, in Madrid renters can be requested to pay the fee, which is equal to one month.
While Craigslist and Kijiji were primary tools in Canada but they are best to be avoided in Madrid—at least that was my experience. When we first arrived, Craigslist seemed to have a number of really great (too great?!) options, but every single one I emailed turned out to be a scan requesting a Western Union transfer before being able to see the place.
REMEMBER: Never send money to a landlord if you haven’t seen the apartment, haven’t signed paperwork, haven’t met them, etc.
Get a Phone/Use Your Phone
I wasn’t confident in my Spanish skills and was terrified to have a phone conversation, so I tried to rely on email. Big mistake. Not only did many of my email inquiries go unanswered, those that did immediately requested a phone number. Calling the posting would have cut down on the wait time, and would have drastically increased the number of viewings we could have scheduled.
After you’ve narrowed it down to what neighbourhoods you’d like to live in, spend a couple of hours just walking around. Many landlords in Madrid seem to like to do things old school and post a for rent (or Se Aquila) sign in their front window. If you see something you like, give them a call and try to set up an immediate appointment—I mean, you’re right there, why not?!
Join Expat Facebook groups, like Girl Gone International: Madrid
Many people are looking for roommates in Madrid and the Madrid: Girl Gone International Facebook group (and others) is full of postings. We were looking for our own place, so this wouldn’t have helped Dave and I much, but if you’re on your own it’s a fantastic resource (side note, it’s a fantastic resource for any Expat in Madrid—knowledgeable, supportive; I wish I hadn’t waited two months before joining.)
Note: there are Girl Gone International groups for a tonne of cities around the world. If you’re an expat, I highly recommend you join in your area.
Most things in Madrid are quite laid-back and move at a leisure pace. This is not the case when you’re apartment hunting. In a matter of hours an apartment can be posted and rented. On more than a couple of occasion, we contacted landlords and set up a viewing for later that afternoon, and by the time we arrived the place had been rented. Obviously it was frustrating, but it taught us that
Have a checklist.
As with all apartment searches, have your list of must haves, nice to haves and deal breakers. This will definitely help narrow down your options, and write certain ones off right away.
For Dave and I we were looking for a furnished one-bedroom apartment with in-suite laundry in Chamberi, and not a street level unit. These were our must haves. Anything like a balcony, dishwasher, second bedroom, etc. would have been icing on the cake. Having our must haves list helped us narrow down which postings to contact, and upon viewing the apartment we were able to figure out almost immediately if it worked for us or not.
Know your rights and requirements as a renter
In Canada—or more specifically in Ontario—renters are required to give landlords first and last months rent. They’re a guarantee or security deposit to the landlord that are exactly as described: first and last months rent. In Madrid, it’s a little different, especially given that we are expats.
Most renters in Madrid are required to put down a fianza, a deposit equivalent to one months rent in order to guarantee the property. As per SpainLawyer.com, the fianza should be returned to the tenants upon vacating, assuming that the property is in good condition.
Since we’re expats with no credit history in Spain (or Europe) we were a bit unreliable to landlords. To prove that we’re not degenerates, we were asked to put down an additional deposit of a couple months worth of rent. One apartment asked that we pay the equivalent of five months rent as a deposit, which seems outrageous to us. After that, a couple months didn’t seem so bad.
Have an open mind
Most people moving to Europe have an idea in mind of what their apartment will look like, where it will be, etc. Given that the cost of living is cheaper in Madrid many people come thinking they will end up renting a beautiful pied-à-terre in the centre of town, with gorgeous views, French doors, and rooms upon rooms of space. Well, I hate to burst your bubble but this will most likely not be your reality. Maybe it will be for some very lucky people, but it wasn’t for me.
Before we found our place we looked at a myriad of places: big, small, expensive, cheap, perfect location, a bit of a hike. We looked at some beautiful apartments, and we looked at more than a few dumps. It was frustrating and exhausting, but at the same time it was great because we got to know the market and saw what was out there.
Honestly, had we not seen some of the dumps we saw, we might have passed on our current home. While it’s far from perfect, it’s a pretty great spot for us for right now.
For more tips on finding an apartment in Madrid, check out this other great resources:
Please Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. All thoughts, feelings and opinions shared on this blog and in this post are my own.