International House Hunters (aka Piso Hunting)

If you’ve ever watched an episode of “House Hunters International” on HGTV, you probably can picture the amount of stress that the house hunters are in. If you’re an expat living in a foreign country and learning a foreign language, you probably feel like you could apply to be on this show! In the past year that I’ve moved over to Spain, I’ve changed pisos four times; not counting the time I moved back home to the states for 2.5 months. Four times sounds like a lot for moving all of your things around a pueblo, without a car for help, and carrying boxes, bags, and luggage down the busy streets. I’ve had my fair share of really bad landlords, and then lucked out and met some very nice and helpful landlords.

Through my experience of moving again, and again, and again, I can tell when a landlord seems to be a little on the “sneaky” side, what you need to keep your eyes out for, and how to negotiate in a foreign language (and how to do it correctly!). I’ve lost two security deposits, thanks to landlords who aren’t very nice, and have even tried to take a landlord to Spanish court! When I first moved here, I had no idea what I was looking for, what to ask about, and how to correctly save money. I thought: “Hey! I’m in Spain, I’m living the dream, and I just need a house!” WRONG. There are specific things you should ask your landlord about, or even the previous resident about, to make sure you’re not charged 400€ for heat for one month (which, I have paid… that was more than overall rent!).

Piso #1 (which was ridiculously expensive)

To make the “house hunting” a little less stressful, here’s a list of things to make sure you ask your landlord or the previous resident:

  1. Gastos (aka: utilities)
    This is a question that you should ask the previous resident AND the landlord. Ask if the gastos are aparte (apart) or incluido (included) in the month’s rent. The landlord should be able to tell you that, and ask what gastos you need to pay for (luz [electricity], agua [water], gas [gas, haha], basura [trash], and comunidad [community for living in the building/having it cleaned]). Then, if you can get in contact with the previous resident, ask them what each month’s bill was for each utility. In Spain, the bills come every month or every two months. Remember, take into account if you live alone or if you choose to live with roommates. Living with roommates tends to be a little cheaper.
  2. Distancia a mi colegio o instituto/al centro (aka: Distance to my school or institute/the center of the pueblo)
    For me, this is one of the most important questions to ask. We may only have to work 12 hours a week (which isn’t much!), but our main purpose here is to serve as an auxiliar to the schools. I don’t have a car, scooter, or a bike, so everyday I walk to and from work. I walk to and from the private lessons that I have, and I walk to and from the center. Make sure where you’re living is close enough to your school (or the center) of the pueblo, so on rainy days, snowy days, windy days, or hot/cold days, you’re not walking over 45min to get to your school! Being practical is key! At the moment, I am assigned to two different schools on two complete opposite points of the pueblo. My piso is 15min walking to one institute, and 25min walking to the other. To get to the center, it only takes about 5min walking downhill. This is great for those party nights, where I may have had one caña too many and need to get home quickly!

    Piso #2 (which wasn’t so bad)
  3.  No entiendo (aka: I don’t understand!)
    Living in Castilla La Mancha last year, and now moving down to Andalucía, one thing has remained constant. No matter how great my Spanish has improved, Spanish people just talk SO fast! I’ve gotten much better with understanding, but moving down south is a whole different story. In the beginning, I was always afraid to ask someone to clarify something and to admit that I didn’t understand. That left me with a lot of problems, and a lot of confusion. So, now, I’ve finally learned to tell someone that “Lo siento, pero no entiendo!” (I’m sorry, but I don’t understand!) or “Puedes hablar más despacio, por favor?” (Can you please speak slower, please?). Don’t be afraid to tell your landlord you don’t understand, or that they’re talking too fast! You want to get all of the prices and details about the home before you move in!
Tim (ex-roomie!) and I had to carry kitchenware down the street

If all else fails, you can talk into Google Translator and communicate with each other if you are both not understanding what the other person is saying. To be honest, that’s what I did with my first landlord. She didn’t speak any English, and I barely spoke any Spanish, and didn’t know about any of the vocabulary necessary to renting an apartment. It sounds silly, and if you’re imagining two people standing in a kitchen talking into their phones and their phones translating into broken English or Spanish, it’s a very hilarious situation! Goodluck, auxiliars, on finding yourself a home away from home! (: 

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Walking out of house #3. Just kidding, it’s a building in Toledo (hehe)

Stay tuned for more posts on piso hunting, how to negotiate for prices, what to do if your landlord is kindof crazy, etc. Also, the boyfriend told me to mention that agua and agua caliente are two different things, and you need to ask about both! Has anyone else had any scary or crazy moving stories? Share below!

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2 thoughts on “International House Hunters (aka Piso Hunting)”

  1. I’m so glad you posted the picture of our struggle to take everything to the piso! HAHAHA such a great time!

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