Monday, 23 February 2009

Looking for a Home.

“This room has everything you want”, the women said. Her husband, standing in the background nodded in agreement. They were not wrong. There was a fat desk, a hugely oppressive dark walnut wardrobe, a high bookcase with bowed shelves showing years of use, a Lloyd loom wicker chair taking up twice as much space as something more utilitarian and a bedside table that looked as if the mere weight of an alarm clock would cause it to collapse. The latter stood next to the lower half of the narrowest pair of bunk beds I have ever seen. My first thought was that I was to share this room, ¡que horror!, but I was assured that was not the case. So why bunk beds? Yes the room had everything. The amazing thing was that “everything” was contained in a room that measured barely four by two metres.

The room had been advertised on Loquo Madrid and I was now in the business of searching for accommodation. The ascent to its fifth floor location in an elevator that was not sufficiently ample to contain both me and my suitcase together should have given me due warning. But after seeing the room, my fears were well grounded by the twenty meter obstacle course to the (shared) bathroom and the two square metre kitchen with just a two ring hob and a microwave oven that I would have to share with three other tenants.

It is possible to wander the streets looking for those signs advertising “Se Alquilar Piso”, Flat to rent. There are many of these. Some are handwritten, others printed posters where the phone number of the landlords has been felt-tipped in underneath. I have seen apartments worth several hundreds of thousands of Euros advertised on a handwritten, photocopied sheet of paper sticky-taped to lampposts. But you can’t just knock on the door hoping there is someone to show you around and negotiate the price. Things will never be that easy.

And of course there are agents, or inmobiliarios, who always have something wonderful and cheap in their window, which has always “just gone”. But they can certainly help, although their fee adds considerably to the “up front” money.

There are a number of websites that prospective tenants can use to find rented accommodation in Madrid:,,, and Loquo. All contain plenty of properties, but do not guarantee suitability or quality. Beware also of those that do not mention size. After a while it dawned on me that a suitable piece of equipment would have been a cat for swinging. Many would have failed the test.

Beware also those where the owner says he will meet you at the door of the building containing the apartment or room. You will probably find upwards of a dozen people crowded round the door. This is a room with a queue! These people are the Enemy. They are competing with you for that shoebox of privacy, that black hole of clutter. Why do the owners bring such a clamouring hoard to their doors? It is not an auction. Or is it? Should I have slipped the guy showing us the property a secret cincuenta note? Would it have given me an advantage over the poor students who jostled for position at the doorway like piglets at a fat sow. Or were they wiser than me? Did they know tricks I had yet to learn?

Was the girl who viewed first and came out scathingly flapping a disparaging hand claiming it was “muy muy pequeño” trying to discourage us? A couple did wander away. Did she hope to return later and claim her prize? I was not fooled by this subterfuge. I waited my turn. She was right as it happened. It was “muy muy pequeño”, but its associated facilities were ok and its location, a hundred metres from a metro station in a much sought after barrio, were superb. I gave my details as one interested, but I never received a call back.

Look carefully at these people. They are your prospective “house mates”. Ok the two girls in tight clinging dresses might have brightened up sombre mornings as they fought for the bathroom, but the guy in the shirt he had worn for several days in Madrid’s sticky humidity? Hmmm! I think not. Differing tastes in music and the volume at which in is played are minor in comparison.

I am sure the Comunidad de Madrid has housing regulations. Is it legal to rent a room for human habitation that does not contain any windows? Or a window only the skinniest could clamber though set way above head height? There must be rules on cubic metres per person and so on. There must be a limit to how many people can share the same toilet facilities. Does anyone check, I wonder?

And how does Spanish law stand on sexism? Most of the ads on the websites are for chicas. Are men less deserving? Are women less trouble? One site had little pink and blue hearts denoting the sex of the sought for sharer. The pink slides down the page like a rash. But at least it saved the cost of a telephone call. The male recipient of one of my calls made no bones of his preference. “I am only looking for women to share”, he told me. Did he have an ulterior motive, one wonders? He probably wanted someone to do his washing.

The various websites allow you, for a small fee, cleverly collected by SMS messaging, to place a “Wanted” advertisement. For a paltry one euro twenty my ad appeared for three days. This works! Within twenty four hours my inbox was nicely filling up with offers of rooms all over the place. But where were the places? I opened my Michelin map of Madrid, (the best five euros I have ever spent, incidentally!), and checked. A pattern developed. All big cities have less desirable areas, areas not easy reached or not suitable for various reasons, like directly under the flight path of Barajas airport. These were the ones filling my in box. Some were not even on my map, and the Michelin covers a wide area.

“Only fifty minutes by cercanias from Nuevos Minsterios”, one happily admitted. My ad clearly stated “in Madrid”. This must mean different things to other people.

Then there was the lady who intriguingly asked if I wished to share her apartment with her and her three kids! Oh, the possibilities! Was this a property website or a dating agency?

And while on the subject of agencies: You have to pay two month’s rent up front. That’s normal and you get the extra month back at the end of the rental. But the agencies require a further month as their fee. That’s a whole lot of cash to spend for an over priced room. And they are over-priced! The utility closet masquerading as a bedroom at the start of this article was more than five hundred euros a month. The disparaged “muy muy pequeño” was six hundred. One lady of my acquaintance pays six fifty for her single room. That equals the cheapest apartment I have seen advertised. But it’s a renter’s market and maybe the invited crowds around the doorways are the renter’s way of demonstrating that fact. Face it; accommodation will cost an arm and a leg. You don’t need to eat as well.

The main thing I learned was that you can’t find anywhere in August as everyone is away on vacation – and by September first it is too late as the returning students have snapped up all the best places. But there probably isn’t a good time throughout the year. But there are good rooms to be had. Not everything I saw was bad. Some were spacious with bright windows. The smell of fresh paint pervaded in many places and many were indeed reasonably priced, although never cheap.

Mind you, my Spanish had to take dramatic leaps forward as I dealt with prospective landlords. Not just face to face but also on the phone. I made so many calls I had to recharge my prepay phone several times. I forgot simple words and I really mangled the grammar, but I did communicate and that pleases me.

And I did eventually find a room. I am no longer of no fixed abode. I have somewhere for my belongings and I do not have to travel with a suitcase the size of a house. It’s in quite a good area, the room is large with its own facilities and the rent is affordable. Oh yes! The lady who wrote to me turned out to be bastante guapa and the kids are no problem at all.

© Richard Morley 2007 / 2009


  1. Go out of Madrid more for your money :)

  2. Keep on blogging. I'm living in Spain vicariously and loving each new episode.