House Hunting in Spain

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We just returned from a whirlwind weekend trip to do some house hunting in Spain, where we’ll be moving in less than three weeks! I thought I’d share some of the things we saw, and what we’re learning about finding a house to rent in Spain.

First of all, we did not find a house. That’s OK. It was a learning experience, and I believe it was still a good idea to go out there before our move, because it will inform some of our decisions going forward.

Before we get to the houses, let me just say that the weather was gorgeous. Yes, it was cold, and at times really, really cold (like mid-30’s) but the skies were a gorgeous, deep blue the whole time. The sun really warmed things up by the afternoon, and it was pretty blissful for us, coming from short, gray days in England. IMG_3241The plan was to arrive in El Puerto de Santa Maria Friday evening, and see a place via a co-worker at Jeff’s new job. Then, we would head to Sanlucar de Barrameda, 30 minutes away, to see another place. Then we would meet with a rental agent to see a whole slew of properties that she had booked, based on the long list of properties we had been sending her for the past month.

Everything went as planned, up until the part where the agent got involved.

The place we saw the first evening had a great rooftop terrace with a view of the ocean. But the kitchen was honestly just way too depressing, and the outdoor space was seriously tiny. The property in Sanlucar was nice! Small, but brand new, and I loved the style. The owner is a really friendly, helpful guy that speaks great English. And there was another really nice rooftop terrace, and it was a quick walk to the beach, pictured below. It feels like a real possibility, but I honestly would hope for more outdoor space and a bigger kitchen.IMG_3164IMG_3167Just one day before we left for our trip, the rental agent we had been in touch with told us that she couldn’t show us any properties in Sanlucar, where the homes and prices looked the best to us. If we had known in time, we definitely would have found another agent to show us places there!

So, we hurried back from Sanlucar to meet up with her and see the properties she had for us. Keep in mind, we had sent her at least 30 properties over the course of a month, and they all had outdoor space, and most of them were fairly small in terms of number of rooms, and most were single, detached homes.

When we arrived at her office, she told us she had just realized that we didn’t want to look at the kinds of homes most Americans do– “urbanizations” which are condos, mostly without any garden space. She said she was quite shocked about this, and had assumed otherwise until just now. Ugh.

She also said, “Maybe you don’t even want to see the properties I have to show you?”

Um… We all just flew over here on an airplane to do just that. So, let’s just go ahead.

She got lost looking for every single property. At one point we were just walking around neighborhoods for 20 minutes, looking for a property. And yes, she is from El Puerto.

She was obviously having a very bad day. I understand. I have bad days, too. But this was such a huge bummer.

Here’s what a typical urbanizacion looks like. They have big common areas with swimming pools, but little to no private outdoor space. The insides can be nice! Or terrible! It depends. Most are vacation rentals.IMG_3170After showing us a couple places that were not even close to what we would want, I just told her that I didn’t want to waste any more of her time with these kinds of places. She had a couple of “chalets” to show us, so we went ahead to see those.

Again, lots of driving around and getting lost and asking people for directions. One of the houses was OK, and fairly close to the beach, with a big yard. But it was also kind of depressing, super dirty, and really dated. I had planned on taking pictures to share with you, but once we were there, I couldn’t bring myself to, knowing that I wouldn’t want to have ugly pictures on my blog.

Sure, we can spruce it up. But I want to feel a little happier about a place before I sign up to live there for a long time! She was really pushing for us to rent that one. I kind of got the feeling that she had a special arrangement with the owner, because I couldn’t understand why she thought it was so amazing.

We saw another one in a really nice neighborhood. The yard was great. The inside was WEIRD. And the kitchen was truly awful. Sigh. Then she told us that it was listed for 1,400 euros, not our 1,000 euro maximum. She thought the owner could adjust the price a bit. We said not to worry about trying to negotiate. This led us into another conversation about what we’re looking for.

Again, the agent commented that she had been surprised to hear that we wanted a yard, and that it’s hard to find a big place with a yard within our price range.

Jeff and I have been looking at listings online for months, and we know that they are out there! And for less than our max! We also let her know that we never said we wanted a big place. In fact, we don’t– I’d love to keep housework and energy bills to a minimum. This brought to mind one more property. I had a headache and we were all super hungry and tired by that time, but we said we would be willing to see it.

First we had a hard time finding it, then the keys wouldn’t work. When we finally got into the gated area, we had to look all over the complex for the place. But once we found it, it was nice. It’s kind of an urbanizacion, but different from the others because it has its own yard and it’s a corner unit. The complex is really small and quiet. It has a beautiful rooftop terrace, and a (distant) view of the sea. And it had the best kitchen we’d seen all day (admittedly, that is not saying much!).

It bears mentioning that we had actually sent her this listing! It’s the only one we had asked to see that she had chosen to show us. That was a victory of some sort. And of all the places we had seen with her, it was definitely the most promising.

A couple of issues we have with it is that the home comes completely furnished. Fortunately, the owner has nice taste. And he may be willing to move some of his things out, but that will increase the price, as he has to pay for storage. It would be a very long walk to the beach, but there is a community swimming pool. So, we are thinking about it.

The agent is of course telling us things like,  There aren’t very many listings right now, and they’re going fast! You need to decide now! It’s hard to find the kind of property you want, so you’d better take one of them! But I don’t believe it. There are so many listings available right now, and I am just disappointed that we didn’t connect with the right person to show them to us.

Here are some things that make house hunting in Spain a bit more challenging:

  • We have gotten warnings about renting from a landlord without an agent– that they can be pretty shady, and make life unpleasant and expensive.
  • We have also heard that there is a documented phenomenon in which Americans are automatically charged about 30% more than Spaniards for the same places.
  • It also doesn’t help us that most Americans living there have a pretty big living quarters allowance (from the Navy) so everyone assumes that we do, too. (We don’t!)
  • To complicate matters even further, we need to be choosy about the neighborhoods we rent in so that Amelia can go to a good school (as is the case in most places) with a positive environment for an American child coming in not knowing any Spanish. There are some great schools, which we are thrilled about– it just makes finding a home a little trickier.
  • There are a lot of assumptions among rental agents about what Americans look for in a home. This has been the case in Germany and England, too– everyone assumes we want a huge house, a double-car garage, and no garden to take care of. Many are looking for the most modern home, rather than something with more character. (But I am open to modern, if it’s attractive and means less cleaning!)

Anyway, that is how our house hunting went. We were thrilled to say goodbye to our agent, cut our losses, and start focusing on enjoying Spain for the short time we had left.

(OK, now I feel like I just have to take a moment to say that I think our agent was a nice person. She just wasn’t doing a good job, and she knew it. She said that even if we didn’t find a place to rent through her, she would still like to hang out with us when we come back. We might!)

We went out for lunch nearby and sat there in the sunshine, marveling that this place will be feeling like home to us soon. Then I asked Jeff if we could see how long it would take us to get to the beach from the property we had just visited. We drove for quite a while. Maybe there’s a quicker way, but it won’t be a short walk, that’s for sure! Once we got to the beach, we found the most amazing thing! A bar on the beach. I think I’ll write a whole post about that. We raised our glasses to a good life in Spain, no matter where we decide to rent.IMG_3198Whew!  So, the house hunting was disappointing, but we really did have a fun time there, and really enjoyed the sunshine and getting to know the areas that will soon be so familiar to us.

We’re continuing to look at properties from this side, and still considering that last one. We’ll see!

I think we’ll end up living in temporary housing for a while after we arrive, and then move when we find the right fit. You may be wondering at this point why we bothered to go over there to look, when we could just stay in temporary housing… It is because we want to get Amelia back in school as soon as possible. She can’t enroll in a school until we have a long-term housing arrangement. So we really want to find the right place as soon as possible.

Thankfully, this is a very slow time for the housing market, so there are lots of places available, and there is less urgency to snag something.IMG_3235Thanks for coming along with us on this adventure! I’m looking forward to sharing more with you soon!



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22 Responses to House Hunting in Spain

  1. Colleen January 27, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    I have been following your journey 🙂 I feel like i’m always telling my husband about your families adventures! Good luck with the house hunt and future move! I hope to travel/live abroad someday myself, with three little ones at home right now it seems like a way off in the future dream 😉

    • ariana February 4, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

      Thanks so much for following along with us! I love sharing what were up to, and glad you can enjoy our adventures. 🙂

  2. Liene K January 27, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

    We had a similar experience with finding a place when we moved to France. I felt like it was my fault, that I was being too picky… until I found out nearly every American expat had a similar experience. We stuck it out, found our place, survived 6 months while the place was being remodeled, and ended up loving it. I wish you patience!

    • ariana February 4, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

      I guess this is kind of heartening to hear, that it’s OK to be kind of picky. We do have 2 weeks in a hotel paid for, and the season right now is very slow, in terms of people moving into places– so there are lots of properties, and most are empty. You have also given me the idea to ASK for some kitchen improvements before moving in, if it seems like it would make a big difference!

  3. Diana Cote January 27, 2015 at 7:28 pm #

    are you guys only looking to rent there? My mom is selling her house in Spain. It’s located in Fuente de Piedra, My father passed away and it’s way too big for her and she wants to move closer to family. If you are interested here is a link to a video she had taken:

    • ariana February 4, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

      It looks nice! I am sorry to hear your father passed away, and I hope you find the right buyer soon. We can only rent at this point.

  4. Caterina B January 27, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

    Wow! 5 bedrooms and 2,500 something square feet for $1,250! Yes, I read Spanish. I hope you can still find one this impressive later. The decor looks really nice. Good luck. I know it would be better to have a single family home, at least that’s what I would prefer. So exciting….living in Spain and near the ocean. Sigh.

    • ariana February 4, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

      Sigh, indeed. I can hardly believe we’ll be near the ocean, and with sunshine! We’re going to look at a whole slew of other places as soon as we arrive. The landlord would want us to pay 200 euros more per month for him to store his furnishings, and I think we can get closer to the beach. Hope springs eternal! 🙂

  5. Susan Gaines January 28, 2015 at 1:31 am #

    The last option surprised me with bars on the windows in a gated community. I wonder what is that communicating? Hang in there, you will find your preference.

    • ariana February 4, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

      Bars on the window are actually just the decorative style. It feels weird to em too, though, coming from Los Angeles. The crime rate there is extremely low, and everyone raves about how safe it is. Not sure why there are so many gated communities, but it probably has to do with not sharing the swimming pools with all of the tourists. 🙂

  6. Pam January 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    I love reading about your adventures. Spain looks like it’s going to be amazing! Those blue skies would make me consider moving, too. 🙂

    • ariana February 4, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

      I know… I keep dreaming of that deep blue, as I watch the rain outside my window here in England….

  7. Andrew Couch January 28, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

    Wow, what a ride. We were in Sevilla for a month and were really surprised at the state of apartments. We stayed in two different places, neither had an oven and neither kitchen was very big. Admittedly these were apartments, not houses, but apparently ovens are not as common in Spain as one might think.
    We also just went through the crazy-albeit happily short- ride of looking for a place to rent in Berlin. We got really lucky and found a great place on the first try. The agent was average on the helpful scale, so I guess I count ourself lucky.

    Good luck on your move.

    • ariana February 4, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

      Congratulations on your move to Berlin– that is exciting! And so glad you found a great place so quickly. Best wishes on the next chapter!

  8. Robert & Cari Lanker January 29, 2015 at 8:43 pm #

    We rented in sanlucar for fifteen years (while working on Base Naval de Rota) Upon returning to the states, and retiring, we decided that our hearts were in sanlucar. We purchased a townhouse in sanlucar , and have returned for at least three months a year for the last ten years. We have recently put our home in Illinois on the market, and plan on moving back to Sanlucar to stay. Whether you choose La Jara or in town, it’s all good, and worth the effort to live there. Find a local realtor, who knows the area, there are lots of properties to rent. I’m sure you will find the one that is made for you. Buena suerte.

    • ariana February 4, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

      Thank you for this note! Most people have told us that it’s not as nice there as in El Puerto– but we liked it! We will definitely check out more properties there when we arrive. We also really liked the person who showed us his home there that morning. Wishing you well as you return to Spain for good.

  9. Hausfrau February 2, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    Oh, dear! Are you laughing about this yet? Well, based on the listings you’ve seen, it does seem that once you find the right agent for you, you’ll be able to find the right house for you! We’d be looking for the same things, so I’m a little surprised the agent found your preferences so unique, especially regarding private outdoor space. Hope you’ll find the right place sooner rather than later, so you can get Amelia back in school. Looking forward to seeing how it goes!

  10. Ariana Mullins February 4, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    Well, it will be a lot easier to laugh once we’re in a house of our own again! We have a new agent now that seems to be really “on it” and is finding a lot of places to show us. Fingers crossed!

  11. Debra | The Saffron Girl December 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    I’ve had similar experiences everywhere I’ve moved. Finding a place to live in NYC is a hellish experience on a budget, especially if your priority is not shlepping your laundry every week down the street in the snow/rain/stifling heat. In Germany, the agent also thought she knew better than us what we wanted because coming from America, all Americans want the same thing… (and yes, expats are all thought to have big housing budgets!… ) I kept trying to explain to her that we were not typical Americans (my ex is Dutch and I grew up in Spain), but to no avail. I was the one that finally found what we rented from an online source. Then in London, we moved twice and I visited over 100 properties. I documented it because I couldn’t believe it. I do have to say, the Germans have higher quality standards and larger homes (even if a lot of their rental properties come without kitchens!) than the English. And I’ve been house hunting in Spain to purchase an apartment, and again, I think our quality in Spain is iffy, unless it’s brand new… especially for rentals. Landlords believe (and I’ve seen this especially true in summer rentals) that the tenants are going to ruin their place, so why spend money on quality things anyway, like upgrading a kitchen?! I think some people are finally realising that the better presented and equipped one’s property is, the better tenants one will have, generally speaking. Having said that, they also know that renting to Americans, especially from the Base, means they have a guaranteed lease for a rather long-term and their property is guaranteed by the Base in case something is destroyed. So renting to Americans is hitting the lottery sort of.

    House hunting in a foreign country is so tricky. We too were given the opportunity to fly over and do a reconnaissance visit prior to moving, on both occasions this involved trying to find a place. But a week is never enough time and doing it in a rush is not a good idea. You guys did the ‘right’ thing. Ironically though, one never really knows the area and where the really right choice is until after having lived somewhere for a while. The fear of something being too far, in the wrong area, not having certain conveniences, etc sometimes leads us to rent in locations that we later realise were to expensive or incorrect, at least that has been my experience. That’s why on both occasions on our expat missions, we moved twice. Plus, those agents who supposedly are experts generally know nothing or don’t listen well enough to understand their clients. … Now, there’s a good business! 😉

    I know now you’ve moved in, and I hope the place is almost or completely perfect for you guys!
    Debra xx


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