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Finding Housing in Spain

I have been working on my Spanish visa for some time in order to have a second residency overseas. The main reason I chose Spain was because of low cost of living, good weather, solid public transportation, and easy access to the rest of Europe.

The visa came together quite well but there are a few more logistical issues to work out:

  • booking airline tickets
  • timing my move overseas
  • finding housing

In this post I’ll focus on housing. Spain is a very popular destination for other Europeans. There aren’t a lot of jobs there and if you manage to find employment, the salaries are low.

Housing standards are unique in Spain. Not only are you going to mostly find townhouses and condominiums in the larger cities, the interior will look like a blind child put them together.

Construction standards are that of a Favela. Though in a way it’s refreshing because people just don’t care about that shit as much. Tiles are put on crooked and walls patched with playdough. Everything is functional but it will be below your US standards.

 

Renting vs Buying

Buying a house for a traditional household is easy – if you are single then you want to be in a flat in the city-center and if you are a family then you want to be slightly further away from the chaos in a quiet neighborhood. In both scenarios it’s ideal to be close to a metropolitan city for the purposes of employment.

Once you’re financially independent or can at least earn your income online then your options expand greatly. Still, renting versus buying is an important decision.

Buying in Spain: Home Types

Unlike the US, most Spanish property sale prices correlate to rent. Unless you search in the outskirts of the major cities we’re talking mostly condominiums (flats) and townhouses (detached homes).

Property types come in the following flavors:

  1. Flats (condo’s)
  2. Houses (more of a townhouse – attached to another adjacent house)
  3. Country homes (detached single family residence)
  4. Duplex (2-story home, single family residence still)
  5. Penthouse (top floor, usually with a terrace)

Buying in Spain can be really complicated because the housing laws are complicated and there are a few shysters selling to foreigners. Inspection and tax history and squatters all need to be considered before purchasing a residence in Spain.

Buying: Prices

I don’t care how large my flat is as long as it is well ventilated. For such meager requirements I can get a flat for as little 50,000 euros.

For €200,000 you would get something quite nice by Spanish standards. Usually with 3+ bedrooms, higher floor, and likely a terrace.

I am referring to locations such as Valencia, Barcelona, Seville, and Malaga. Other locations will be cheaper and Madrid and San Sebastian might be more expensive.

Buying: Purchasing Costs (closing costs)

I would recommend doing this with the help of a lawyer which can cost $2,500. In general it’s safe to say that closing costs will be 15-20% of the price of the home.

Here is a great calculator to estimate your fees – the lawyer fees are built into the calculator though you could skip that if you’re bold enough.

Buying: Legal Matters

You will need a realtor and likely a lawyer. I would recommend finding a lawyer who deals with expats and can foresee all the problems you’ll encounter. You’ll find a lot of British realtors/lawyers for this purpose in Spain.

When I am ready to make the purchase I will be hiring a lawyer who deals with their own realtors and have them oversee the entire transaction.

Buying: Foreigners

As a foreigner you are allows to buy in Spain and even get a mortgage. Mortgage rates are favorable. I can get a variable rate of a little under 1% currently or a fixed rate of 2.5%.

You will need 20% down plus closing costs. There is a 10-15% sales tax on the price of the home so you need around 40% in total.

Renting in Spain

I have spent 3 months in Barcelona and finding a place to rent was a lot of work. If the option was available then I would have much rather hired someone to do the leg-work for me.

I ended up overpaying for a studio in Barcelona. $1,400/month. Though it was gorgeous, I overpaid.

This time around I have a lot more flexibility and am looking in different cities in Spain. Unfortunately it’s quite difficult to find something long-term without being there in-person. I have decided that I will obtain a short-term rental for 2-3 months and then hire a realtor to either buy or rent something once I am on the ground in Spain.

Renting in Spain: Long-term

If you rent a furnished place short-term then you will get it with electricity, internet, gas, A/C and a refrigerator and a washer/dryer. You won’t have any extra expenses generally unless you go crazy on the A/C.

When you go for a traditional 12-month lease then you often get a barebones flat with no furniture, no utilities, no fridge, and no washer/dryer. In the US at least people often leave the fridge/washer/dryer.

You will need a Spanish ID (NIE) before you can apply for utilities and home internet. You will also often need it to sign the lease on the flat.

The lower the price the more emails and phone calls the rental websites get which makes it nearly impossible to get through to the landlord. We’ll address that later when I talk about each website individually.

Walking around and looking for “For Rent” signs is a decent option as well but there aren’t a whole lot of these available so this might be a good back-up option but it certainly wasn’t a good option for Barcelona.

Renting: Short-term

Short-term rentals are easier but you pay the convenience premium. A short-term rental will normally cost you €500/month on the low-end plus any fees you might pay the short-term rental website.

The advantage here is that the place will be furnished and all utilities will be hooked up and in the name of the landlord.

You won’t have to find a fridge or washer/dryer or get a bed from Ikea.

Renting: Sight Unseen

You can get away with renting a place in another state in the US sight unseen. For many reasons this is not a good idea for a long-term rental in Spain.

If you are doing a short-term lease for a site such as AirBnb or Spotahome you’ll be okay because the images are extensive and the descriptions and reviews adequate. Still not ideal, but adequate.

Long-term rental options which are listed on various websites have horrible pictures, often no pictures at all.

A few problems I encountered when searching is that some units had a shared bathroom with another unit. Some units were converted commercial units. Some had no kitchen and others no washer/dryer. Another one had hot water only from 7pm-midnight. Weird, random shit.

 

Renting Resources

I’ll talk about rental options in Spain since purchasing in Spain will need to be a whole different post. I’ll need to talk to some realtors and lawyers there before I can give you guys reliable information regarding buying real estate in Spain.

I’ll discuss both short-term and long-term rentals for those who are interested.

Websites & Security

Just like Craigslist there are rental listings that are shady. The person might just be trying to collect your information illegally or they have other sinister motivations.

For the long-term rentals you will need to sign a paper contract and you will need to provide copies of your passport and Spanish ID card. You might not feel comfortable doing so but these are required and it’s common to exchange these over email.

AirBnb

AirBnb is the best place to start. Short-term prices are 2x what it would cost for a long-term rental. For example, a flat which might rent for 400 euro a month will rent for 800/month if you are renting it for only 2-3 months.

As of this writing €1 = $1.25.

Remember, you can negotiate.

Contact the landlord and tell them you are interested in staying or 3 months if they can give you a discount. Be flexible with the timing. Maybe the tenant needs to stay there for a week out of that 3 months – give them the options.

When doing your AirBnb search start by entering the dates because some flats won’t be available for the entire duration. This will help limit your search. Start by entering the full 3-month stay, for example.

Alternatively, if you are staying for 3 months then consider hopping from unit to unit every month. The 1-month time gets you a discount and you might get an otherwise cheaper rental that won’t be available for the whole 3 months.

Spotahome

Spotahome is a very interesting option but they are only representing the major cities. The concept is that each unit is inspected by someone on a Spotahome team member. There will be a video and an impression of the unit in the description.

A few units may not be inspected – this will be noted in the description and there won’t be a video walk-through of the unit.

My experience: I requested a booking for 3 months at the listing price of 650 euros a month but the landlord replied back that they can only give it to me for 710 euros. This is the kind of experience that make me hesitant to recommend Spotahome but it might be an isolated event.

Idealista

Idealista is similar to Zillow in that you can search for both for-sale and rental listings. It’s fairly easy to navigate and it’s in both Spanish and English. However, you will have to communicate with most contacts in Spanish because few people speak English.

There are a ton of units listed on here so you will need to grab that glass of wine before sifting through everything. Some listings are done by realtors and others by private landlords.

You have to be careful with the former because there might be some fees the realtor may not indicate on the website. They will be upfront about it if you ask them – most likely.

Forget emailing unless you are looking at very expensive listings. If you scroll all the way to the bottom of some of these listings you’ll see that 130 emails have been sent.

When you’re ready to view the property or if you want to risk sight unseen then call the listing person up on their phone and arrange it from there.

HomeExchange

I decided to list HomeExchange because it’s a very valid option. You might want to live in Spain for 6 months and another individual wants to live in the US.

From their website it seems that most transactions are done for several weeks at a time but there are individuals who want to stay for several months.

You don’t have to exchange housing synchronously. If you stay there in July/Aug/Sep then they can stay at your place Dec/Jan or whatever agreement you reach.

The downside is you have to sign up for the website before you can communicate with other individuals who are listing their homes. I don’t know how to get around that but I wouldn’t recommend that because I have ended up paying for websites where the majority of the listings are dead-ends.

Nestpick

Nestpick is an aggregating website. These are great websites because they link you to all the other common rental sites but list the everything in one place to make it easier for you to compare them.

Nestpick only lists furnished apartments and they allow short-term rentals. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to stay longer and prices are much more reasonable.

 

My Plan

I will rent a furnished short-term rental the first 3 months in Spain. That will give me enough time to get my NIE and find realtor and lawyer contacts.

I’ll explore the different neighborhoods in my destination city and possibly nearby cities. Once I lock down my neighborhood then I’ll look for a purchase option of a unit ~€100,000.

If a purchase isn’t feasible then I’ll settle for a long-term rent contact.

If I decide to buy then I’ll get my cash together and prepare an application for a mortgage. At 2.5% interest rates I would rather finance the unit and if all goes well and my ass doesn’t get deported back to the states then I’ll pay off the mortgage with my cash savings.

Because Spain is such a hot tourist destination I will be getting at least a 2/2 unit so that I can rent out the spare bedroom and bathroom.

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