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Looking for a flat in Barcelona


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Accomodation is one of the biggest problem among the international expatriates (and, actually, also among  Catalans). This is caused by two main reasons:

  1. An apartment is extremely expensive: During the last few years, thanks to property speculation, the price of flats has grown approximatle 20% per year. Nowadays even the smallest studio (25/30 square meters), in a semi-centric district, costs at least € 210.000

  2. Rentals: As a result of high prices to buy a flat in Barcelona, also rents as increased. Even if, being lucky and searching through the right channels, you can still find something decent for a relatively cheap price (at least compared with other European capitals), it’s very difficult to be able to live alone with a typical call-centre or English teacher salary.

At least in the beginning of your Barcelona experience, it’s quite commong to rent a room in a shared flat.
To look for an accommodation in a flat shared with other people, the best website is Loquo (www.loquo.com)
Remember that best rooms are taken right after the ad has been published: a few months ago, my girlfriend was renting a nice double room in her flat. Well, a few minutes after the ad was on the Loquo, the phone began to ring (she had to switch it off after a while) and 3 hours later she already rented it. Don’t discourage when you will visit rooms that, compared with some other standards, are very close to brush closets. You need patience, perseverance, timing and a bit of luck to succeed in renting a nice room, in a renovated flat, shared with nice people.

Anyhow, after a few scrambles, most probably you will find the right room: of course anyone has got his own peculiar needs: some people prefers a small room in a “marcha” district, others prefer escaping the chaos of the centre to enjoy a bigger room in a quiet area.
Barcelona offers the right solution for everyone!


Usually, the path you will follow, in order of time, will be:

First room: The “emergency room”…this will be the first room you find, after a few days searching, being more or less ok (less). Normally you choose it to stop paying the Hostal (Hostel) or to sleep on your friend’s coach.
This accommodation is going to be abandoned very soon

Second room: better then the first one, it’s an acceptable room in a renovated flat, a little bigger then the previous one and (if you’re lucky), also bright. Depending on many different factors, this could be a medium term accommodation.

Third solution: a flat of your own (or shared your Girlfriend/Boyfriend). Well…yes… after all you will have that stroke of luck and you will be able to rent (or buy !) a flat all for your own without having to stop eating.

When it comes to renting a whole flat, I suggest not using Loquo: usually, Catalan landlords who publish an ad on this website, know that most of the readers are foreigners and think they are extremely rich (remember, Catalans don’t know who is this "strange" people coming from faraway lands to live in their own  town)... so they must be punished with extremely high rents.
If you want to find a flat of your own, it’s better if you use the same channels as the Catalans: “Segunda Mano” (the newspaper or the website www.segundamano.es) or the “Col·legi d'administradors de finques” (it’s a kind of Property manager’s association. Property managers can also work as property dealers. The website is at this address: www.coleadministradores.com).
Also Idealista (www.idealista.com) sometimes is a source of interesting opportunities.

Of course, to successfully search through these channels, you need to speak Spanish and be able to (at least) read some Catalan.  If you cannot, it is better to ask some help from a friend.
Something you really have to avoid is the “Associaciones de particulares” (Landlord Associations – the name can vary a little bit, but the concept remains the same): they are pseudo-barely-legal companies who asks some money to “join the association” and access to a list of cheap flats. They will try to attract you with ads on major (i.e. Segundamano) newspapers describing wonderful flats at very low prices (around 400 euros per month !).
Be cautious: in Barcelona nobody gives anything for free !
These flats, together with the ones of the others on the “list-you-will-read-after -you-pay” don’t exist or has been already rented away months ago. You will just lose your money: when you’re lucky, a few hundreds euros.
In general, don’t pay anything before signing the tenancy agreement.
It’s ok and somhow normal paying an agency for their service, but real ones don’t ask you anything before you sign the contract.

As I said, through Spanish channels, the price to rent a flat is usually cheaper. Unfortunately this way you will have to pay a lots of money in advance (anyway, if you can afford it, just do it...you will never regret !). When you sign the contract you will be requested to pay

1. The month
2. A couple (sometimes more) months of rent as a deposit
3. A bit more than one month’s rent as Agency fee (sometimes 10% of annual rent)

So, you should be prepared to pay more or less 4 months of rent in advance. Some landlords, especially if they rent to foreigners, ask for an “aval” (it means  guarantee: this means you will have to lock some money on you bank account as a guarantee towards the landlord). To open an “aval” you just need to go to your bank and speak with the employee. Normally it has a price.

Usually flats you rent are empty, so you will need to buy your own furniture.
As long as you don’t want design stuff, you can go the local Ikea store and buy everything you need: there are 2 of them in Barcelona, one in Hospitalet and one in Badalona. Check here for the addresses.
Before going to Ikea, it’s probably worth having a walk around the “Mercado de los Encants” in the Glories barrio: there are plenty of little shops there, where you can find cheap furniture, sofas, beds and everything you might need for your new apartment. According to some friends’ experience, this is THE place to buy the bed and the mattress.

Some people (especially younger and most informal expats) really like the “dia de los trastos” (day of waste): once per week (day vary from district to district) people is allowed to throw in the street, close to refuse bins, furnitures and items they don’t use anymore. Once in the street, everyone’s allowed to grab whatever they want and take it home! Of course you should catch the stuff before the garbage truck comes.
Very often, electric items are labelled with a paper with the word “funciona” on top: this means it is still working. A friend of mined found a perfect microwave oven in the street: it just needed a good cleaning!
Lots of people I know has furnished most of their flat this way: even if most part of items are really scruffy, with a bit of luck you can find furnitures and domestic appliances in good conditions that just need to be cleaned and/or fixed a little bit.

Of course, if rent is too high to be paid alone, you can sub-rent one or more rooms to amortize your investment: this is what everyone does in Barcelona.
As you will probably realize, while looking for your first room, the best way to quickly find a tenant is publishing an ad on Loquo:  it’s better if you also attach a couple of pictures of the room(s) you’re going to rent. Most probably you will receive tons of calls of people interested in visiting your rooms.
It quite normal to "interview" a few people interested in your room and then decide who you want to live with... it's normal and nobody will be offended if not choosen.

Also keep in mind once you will present your “declaracion de renta” (tax declaration), you might be entitled to deduct up to 10% of your annual rent.

Talking about housing, I think it’s very important you really understand the meaning of some "key words" you will always read in advertisements.
 

Since Spainyards have the very bad habit to divide small flats in many smallest rooms these are the words you will need to remember: 

Habitacion individual: Very small room. It’s ok for a no-claustrophobic person. This kind of room usually host a single bed, a small wardrobe and, if you’re lucky, a small desk.
Forget the room you used to have at your parents’ place: that is the size of sitting rooms in Barcelona!

Habitacion Doble: It a room a bit bigger than the other. It might either be a small (but not too small) room with a double bed and a wardrobe, or a real double room. Depends on how lucky you are and how honest is the landlord.

Habitacion Interior: This kind of room overlooks a very small (1.5 meters wide) skylight passing through the whole building. Since these rooms are really dark and a bit stinky, they are usually cheaper than the other rooms of the same flat. Also opening the windows will be tough: every smell coming from kitchens and bathrooms of the building will be circulating through this “skylight”.

Habitacion Exterior: It’s a room that overlooks toward the street: of course this could be good or bad…it depends on the street, its noise-level and the floor.

Piso Ideal Parejas (Flat idea for a couple): This means a small “studio” or, at most, a couple of small rooms. Normally it’s a very small flat and, the more the concept of being ideal for a couple is emphasised, the smallest the flat.

No reformado: A flat that has not been renovated. These flats are usually really old.

Piso de diseño (translation: design flat): it’s a flat where landlord bought some Ikea-style furnitures and, maybe, Ikea parquet.

You might also find useful the following short description of the areas where most part of expatriates live:

Barrio Gotico: Looking towards the sea, it’s the area on the left side of “Las Ramblas”: it’s very centric, but also really old. Most of the buildings are crumbling but, if you want to live close to the “marcha”, this is the place !
It might be a problem the fact that this is a really noisy area and flats are usually quite dark.

Raval (former Barrio Chino): Still looking towards the sea, this is on the right side of “Las Ramblas”. It used to be an ill-famed area but now, after lots of money invested by the city hall to improve and “clean” this block, it’s quite all right.
Expats have mixed feelings about Raval: some people just love it, some could never live there. For sure Raval represents the multi-ethnic heart of Barcelona: here you can find living side-by-side Europeans and Arabs immigrants, each one of them with his own experiences and culture to share.
For sure this is an area to consider, specially the youngest residents and students.
Most of best bars in town are in Raval.
Unfortunately, flats are really old and dark in this area too.

Born: Born takes its name from “Paseo del Born” and it’s part of the Barrio Gotico (it’set out by Via Layetana, the Princesa and the Calle Comercio, but the boundaries are quite elastic). During the last few years it turned into one of the most fashion and trendy areas in Barcelona, especially for some kind of expatriates (intellectual and radical chic fellows). According to my opinion, Born has got that special atmosphere that makes it one of the most beautiful “barrios” of Barcelona.

Gracia: Until last century, it was an independent village right outside the town. Nowadays, Gracia can be considered part of the centre, even if you can still breathe that special “village” atmosphere.
It’s one of my favourite areas of Barcelona and I really suggest you to consider Gracia in your flat-haunting: it’s amazing waking up and having breakfast in one of the many cafes of Gracia, greeting and having a chat with the neighbor you meet in the street !
Buildings here are relatively new, so you won’t face all the problems typical of center flats.

Eixample: This is one of the biggest districts in town: it’s divided into Eixample Derecho (right side, with respect to Paseo de Gracia, looking towards the mountain) and Eixample Izquierdo (left side, still with respect to Paseo de Gracia).
Historically, this is the neighbourhood of Catalan middle class: big flats, usually with a Modernist touch (of course, it doesn’t mean you will live in a Gaudì palace).
This is another zone I suggest, especially for people who wants to live close to the centre without having the noise and the “fiesta” right under their door.

I suggest you to have a look at this map of Barcelona with a well marked indication of the different areas. It will be useful to know exactly where the flats you will see on the Loquo or anywhere else are.

 

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