While I’ve traveled many places before, I’ve never had to figure out how to rent a place to live.
The first step began months ago. Since almost the moment we decided to relocate, Amber started cruising real estate sites for Barcelona. In particular, she spent hours on idealista. Coworkers confirmed that as a top site on the topic, and as time approached Amber favorited dozens of flats to consider.
During our first weeks in country we took the next step of exploring neighborhoods. That confirmed our initial list of target areas: Gràcia, Poblenou, or Eixample. Each had different things to recommend it. Gràcia had narrow streets and old-world charm. Poblenou had relative quiet within walking distance of beaches. Eixample had the bustling urban heart of the city.
Next we finalized our need vs want list. We wanted three or four bedrooms so the kids each got their own space, and ideally we could support visitors (hint hint, come visit!) Multiple bathrooms, outdoor space, pool (?!), washing machine, laundry all fell on the nice to haves.
The biggest change to reckon with, though, was our very American notions of space. Obviously we were downsizing… but how much? We got pretty good at translating meters squared into square feet, and with some uncertainty capped the lower bound of our search at 90 m2 (about 970 ft2). This left us feeling by turns absurdly American and nervous at the transition we might find ourselves making.
Idealista lets you contact the flat owners straight from the website, so we shot off messages to a handful of our favorites. Here we encountered the difficulty of Spain in high season… much of the country is on holiday for weeks at a time during July and August. I’m convinced that a different time of year we might have heard from more of them, but we ended up getting four bites.
This revealed a big difference between renting in the US and Barcelona. Everything on idealista ran through real estate agencies. Back home I would have expected to directly contact apartment owners, or at least someone whoever managed the place. Instead, every time we were talking to a real estate agent. Apparently with effort you can avoid this–and the agency fees that come along, which are more than a month’s rent!–but with our timelines and inexperience, we just rolled with the agents.
We ended up seeing three places near Eixample and Gracia, and one in El Poblenou. The flats in Eixample were largely along Avinguda Diagonal, a large busy street, but all were surprisingly quiet behind closed doors and windows. These were close to my work, and two of the three had excellent space and layout. The parks nearby were lovely, and Amber loved the architecture nearby.
Despite all this, the flat in El Poblenou drew us continually back. It’s highlight feature was unique, and unlikely to show up for us wherever we move in the future–Mediterranean surf and sand just a short walk away. It’s also a quieter neighborhood, with a nice little Rambla full of shops and restaurants. Just the vibe we were after.
Having chosen the place, we visited a real estate office to sign papers that we intended to rent through their agency. At this point we paid the agency fee, although the agreement clearly stated if the rental didn’t happen it would be refunded. At this point after two weeks in a single hostel room with the kids, my attitude toward shelling out money to get into a place was roughly like this:
That commitment in place, our agent contacted another agent (really) representing the owners. Between them, they sorted out the details. The only mild hiccup was a type of insurance the owners wanted which our work status presented some issues for. After a little negotiating we found a way to settle that to everyone’s satisfaction.
A few days later, we had yet another round of signing at a different real estate office. Although the stack of papers was nowhere near the mountain of paperwork for buying a house, I did feel déjà vu signing page after page. Beyond the contract, we even signed pictures of the various meters with the understanding we could confirm the values once we moved in.
Papers signed, the keys were ours!
The owners weren’t present as they live in Germany, but their father, a friendly man named Antonio, joined for the signing. Afterward, he took us to the flat and showed us the place in more detail. He gave us a great tour of the various systems–locks, windows, AC, bunk beds–with the knowledge of someone who had really been around the place. He even introduced us to Dino’s Gelato just a block down the Rambla. Danger!
After Antonio left, the day presented one more task… moving in as best we could. Eight maximized checked bags and four sizable carry-ons were still stowed at the hostel. The kids’ room had a bunk bed, but Amber and I had nowhere to sleep. While we’d have liked nothing better than to just stay put for the night, instead we journeyed out, drawn to that place we’d spend so much time over the coming weeks: IKEA.
We purchased a queen mattress and a rather large pile of other items with which to start our new home. It was almost 10PM when we got out, with nary a taxi to be seen. I honestly doubt most taxis could have accommodated all our stuff. Fortunately, at the front of IKEA there are almost always unbranded vans with men hanging around, ready to help you haul. That evening there was only one, and he didn’t have room for the whole family. We finally got a taxi, and the family headed home while I set off for the hostel after loading everything from IKEA into the back.
The night was hot, continuing the smothering heatwave that we’d run smack into when we landed in Barcelona. The van didn’t have AC, and I sat with sweat pouring down me as we wove through the darkened night toward the hostel.
Our friends at the front desk at Twentytú graciously helped to ferry the gargantuan mass of luggage to the van. This saved time, and calmed my paranoid (?) concerns about the van suddenly vanishing with all our worldly possessions while I was inside locating that one last bag.
Another broiling hop in the van, and then we shuttled all the stuff into the entryway of the build. Hilariously, the driver mirrored my nerves, but about everyone else around us as we unloaded.
By the time I hoisted the entire world upstairs, my clothes were soaked through, and I was ready to collapse. We sliced open the plastic wrapping on the mattress, flopped it on the floor, took a quick cold shower, and then collapsed into a deep, contented sleep.
(Wondering what the flat’s like? Don’t worry… a tour will be forthcoming soon!)