Whether it’s your first year living in Madrid as an auxiliar de conversacion (language assistant) or an intern or you simply outgrew your old place, you may have heard how daunting finding an apartment in the Spanish capital can be. It’s not easy but it’s also not impossible to find your home away from home for however long you may be here.
I’ve been in Spain for five years now but I just recently reached the three-year mark as a resident of Madrid. In these past three years, I’ve lived in six different neighborhoods, all located both in the North and South. I’ve never lived smack dab in the Center but I know plenty of people who have. Going from a shared room (yes, you are reading that right) to four different individual rooms to my own apartment with my husband (read how we got married in Gibraltar), I know my way around searching for an apartment in Madrid.
The city is big and crowded. The search? It’s nerve-wracking, stressful and there is a rent crisis going on all over the city which is causing prices to go up, up, up.
This article is full of personal tips that I’ve learned in the last three years and it will help calm your nerves about this big search you just embarked on. Plus, later on this month, I’ll be releasing a complete guide to the neighborhoods of Madrid in E-book format! Keep an eye out for it soon. 🙂
Never fear because with a good head on your shoulders, persistence, a clear idea of what you’re looking for and lots of helpful advice and warnings, you CAN find the room or apartment you’ve been searching for.
This goes without saying but location is by far the most important factor when you’re looking searching for an apartment in Madrid. As I stated above, the city is huge and although the public transportation systems are fantastic, you will want to focus on a location that will be as close to the nearest metro line or physical location where you’re going to work or study (ie: place of employment, public or private school or university) as possible.
Once you pinpoint the best location for you and your own unique situation, take into account what’s around it.
Make sure you’re not more than 10 minutes walking distance from the nearest metro station (or Cercanías station) and as a backup, try and make sure at least 2 or 3 bus lines run through the area.
You might think a slightly longer walk to a metro station or a bus isn’t that big of a deal. What’s a little more exercise?
Well, keep in mind that it gets to 40°C (or higher!) in the summer and then as low as -7°C in the winter. If you think walking to and from the metro when you’re tired is exhausting, imagine doing it in one of those extreme temperatures! (And in no shade or when it’s snowing.)
Yeah, didn’t think you’d want to…haha
On the other hand, where an apartment is located and what is around it (a football stadium, fancy hotel, the biggest square in the city, etc) will certainly increase its property value. And, a secondary factor, how many metro lines are nearby.
If you are able to, try to live in the North of Madrid.
The apartment buildings and neighborhoods are newer (think 1950s and newer) and there is a bit more room for expansion. The Center is a great place to visit during the day but it’s not where you want to be if you want to get a decent night’s sleep.
Or have a decent sized room for that matter.
Apartments will still be a LOT smaller than those you’ll find in cities like New York, Chicago, L.A. or Miami but they will definitely be bigger than some tiny flat in London.
(Count your blessings if you’re moving from London to Madrid!)
However, the apartments I’ve lived in north of Nuevos Ministerios (which might be considered very north to some people), have been nicely sized. I may have lived in the smallest room of my life for almost two years (my last place) but I was officially a freelancer who worked from home so while my roommates were at their office jobs during the day, I had the common areas to myself.
Now, if you absolutely must live farther South in the city, choose an apartment that’s not too far from your school, job or university. If there’s no reason for you to have a 1.5 hour commute to your job or school, then don’t give yourself one because you want to live in a specific neighborhood.
In general, choose a location that will have lots of shops and supermarkets nearby as well as access to your bank, the post office, at least one metro line and some bus lines. And if you can, live within a 15-20 minute commute to the nearest bus station (like Avenida de América or Plaza de Castilla) or train station (either Chamartín or Atocha) so you can travel outside of the city for work or for pleasure.
And don’t forget to walk around your new neighborhood and get familiar with street names and shops. You will be spending a lot of time there so you may as well get acquainted!
Before I start into my list of what I personally prefer an apartment to have, I want you to answer a very important question:
How long are you going to stay in Madrid?
Are you here for a 4-month study abroad semester, a 6-month internship or a 9 month school year teaching English? (Or none of the above and staying longer?)
If you can answer one of those questions or have a general idea of how long you’ll stay here, you can better figure out what kinds of amenities to look for.
Have you always dreamed of living in the Center and leaning out your own picturesque balcony while watching the world go by?
If you’re only going to be here for a short time (a few months to a year) and you’re from a colder climate or smaller town, you may find having a balcony in your living room or own room, justifiable.
If you’re going to be here for longer and want to pay less in rent, don’t go for the apartment with a balcony in the Center.
In my opinion and due to Madrid’s fickle weather in spring and autumn, you won’t have enough time in the year to enjoy it. You might have at best from late May to July or August (if you’re here) to enjoy sitting out on it drinking coffee or a cocktail or reading.
So, that’s about 3 months maximum with one of Madrid’s iconic balconies?
As beautiful and stunning as they are, I would cross that off the list of must-haves if you plan to stay here long-term.
After six moves in the big city, I have, as you can imagine, created my must-have list when it comes to searching for the ideal apartment. And these must-haves should be in the new place I’m viewing and considering spending the next year or so in. Or else I’m not interested.
Here it is:
- Central heating or at least a very good gas-powered radiator system (as in, not ancient). Read why central heating is preferred in my post about how to stay warm in Spain during the winter.
- A large to medium-sized working oven. You can’t be frying or boiling all your food because you know you will get bored and miss some of your home-baked favorites from back home. Even if it’s a small toaster oven, it’s better than nothing!
- A naturally well-lit room and apartment so you won’t have to stick your head out the window and look up to see how you’re going to have to dress for the day. (I lived like that for almost a year, true story.)
- A window in both the bathroom and kitchen. Madrid has a dry climate but bathrooms are damp by nature and you know you’re going to need ventilation in a kitchen, especially if you share a place with other people.
- A physical person to act as a doorman/maintenance man and offer extra protection for and help to you and your roommates. I had one for close to two years and actually became friends with the cheerful man who kept our building running in tip-top shape. And it’s a great way to use your Spanish! 🙂
3. Contractual Agreements
I will confess that when I lived in the North of Spain (Galicia) from 2014-2016, I never rented a room that came with a contract. Most of the time, I received a receipt after every month I paid the rent in cash but I was never given (or even looked for an apartment) with a contract.
Looking back on those two years in rainy Galicia and my three different living situations there (and only one roommate who became a true friend), I learned my lesson.
Thanks to living in the big city and getting shafted out of my 100 EUR deposit for one of the rooms I lived in (a temporary stay with an older, eccentric Colombian woman who lived closed to my assigned school), I have wised up and always prioritized searching for and accepting apartments that are legally bound by a contract.
After those living experiences, I was invited to live with a new friend of mine and replace one of her Master’s classmates who was returning to her country. She was able to negotiate with the landlord so well that I didn’t have to pay a deposit for that new room. Her old roommates were leaving early (short story: due to too much partying) and thus breaking their contract and losing their deposits so that made it easier for the new tenants (like me).
My biggest tips for you in this area are:
- Settle and agree upon a contract length/stay for one year minimum. If your visa or work permit could be an issue, explain to your potential landlord that you plan on renewing your visa. And also explain that if you don’t and if you’re an American citizen, you will be able to activate your 90-day tourist visa and plan to complete the one-year agreement and fulfill the length of the contract.
- Negotiate that the rent payment will be paid via bank transfer and ask to see proof that the rental income is being declared to the local Tax Collector. You always want to see proof of everything and have a record of your payments. These two factors will come in handy if you are required to file an annual tax return in Spain and can claim a percentage of your housing expenses on your refund.
- Review the language and clauses of your contract to better understand what is covered and what isn’t. If you have a lot of valuables or for peace of mind, apply for renter’s insurance. It’s not mandatory like in places in the U.S., but it would just serve as extra protection for you as a renter in a foreign country.
4. Seasonal Factors
What seasonal factors?
It’s mostly sunny (and relatively dry) here all year round!
Consider the winter and summer in Madrid. Climate change is a highly likely culprit for the frigid past two winters and absolutely scorching month of July we had this year but it’s good to prepare for both of these seasons.
One of the main ways you can prepare for those two extreme seasons is to find an apartment that will help you survive and thrive in both. You may want an extremely sunny and bright room when it’s not a million degrees outside but think about how you will feel when it does get really hot.
And it will get very, very hot here.
Opt for a moderately sunny bedroom or apartment that gets enough natural light to brighten the place up but say no to something that might give you a sunburn just by being in the room. 😛 Also, invest in opaque or “blackout” curtains for both the summer and the winter. They will work well in either season, blocking heat from the sun or absorbing it hungrily respectively.
5. Furnished or Unfurnished?
This is by far the least amount of information I’ve ever written in a section…
It’s easy to answer this question after you’ve moved about a dozen times.
Basically, only rent an unfurnished apartment if you have recently bought the place thus making YOU the landlord. Then you can do whatever you want with the place…
However, if you haven’t settled into a full life abroad and won’t be here for like 5-10 years, buying your own furniture will only add to your worries and burdens here.
Sure, furnishing an apartment in a cool and exciting city like Madrid and making it feel like home sounds really appealing.
Until…you have to buy everything for the apartment right down to the end tables and forks and maybe the microwave if they didn’t throw that in.
Have you ever rented an apartment in Madrid? What was your experience like?
Are there any other tips you would give to hopeful renters out there? I’d love to hear them in the comments!