Saturday, October 1, 2011

How to find an apartment in Madrid

When I studied abroad in Madrid, one of my biggest worries was the apartment hunting. We would be in dorms for two weeks, during which we'd have to find - on our own - an apartment to live in for the year. How am I going to find an apartment in this big city that I've never been to before? And do it in Spanish?!

Well, I did it! I found a great, affordable apartment that I was happy in all year. And you can, too! Here are some tips and information to help you on your apartment hunting. Get excited, because you're going to find a great apartment and have an incredible time living in Madrid!

How to find an apartment in Madrid

Piso vs. habitación

When looking for housing, you can either rent una habitación (a bedroom) from people who already have the piso (apartment), or rent a whole piso with others.

I would recommend not renting your own apartment as a new expat, because the contract would most likely be for at least a year, and you would have many legal obligations by having the apartment under your name.  Rather, I suggest renting a room from someone who has the apartment in their name; there are tons of these types of rooms for rent in the city, and it's what most expats (and many Spaniards!) do.

The habitación might be in an apartment of students, workers, and sometimes even families or widows will rent out an extra room in their flat to help pay the rent.

Neighborhoods of Madrid

If you're completely new to the city, first you need to familiarize yourself with Madrid and its many barrios (neighborhoods).

Barrios de Madrid
Map by Kelly Crull

Start by taking a look at some of these links: Madrid's Neighborhoods by (Interactive map, thanks Shaheen for sharing the link!)Madrid's Districts (Ail Madrid), Districts of Madrid (Wikipedia), Municipalities, Districts, and Barrios (Madrid-Uno), and then hop on a bus and start exploring! (The bus "C" has a circular route through many barrios of Madrid -- so you won't get lost!)

My first apartment in Madrid

Two years ago I lived near the metro Ventas, in the barrio Salamanca and absolutely loved the area.  Calle Alcalá is my favorite!

My apartment was an exterior, which means that it is on the outside of the apartment complex, so the windows look out onto the main street.  An apartment can also be an interior, which means it's on the inside of the building, so any windows will look to an inner patio where the laundry lines usually are.  Regardless of the type, make sure your room has a window!

It wasn't until after I had moved into my piso that I found out Salamanca is apparently the wealthy neighborhood of the city.  I couldn't believe it, since I'm so frugal, but I had found a great rent price for where I was living (320 euros / month, all utilities/internet included).

Looking for apartment ads

If you're out walking around while soaking in the different barrios, keep your eyes peeled for "se alquila" signs -- which are everywhere.

Many people put up signs with phone numbers when they're renting a room.  Rip off a number and start collecting them!

Sometimes apartment doors themselves will have a "Se alquila" sign with a phone number posted up next to the building number, or up on a balcony.  If you like the area, you can call the numbers while you're there to find out more information.

Websites with Madrid apartment listings

I would also suggest using the interwebs to enhance your search.  Here are some websites that you may find useful while looking for housing:

Segunda Mano - You can browse by district.

Idealista - You can browse by district.

Easy Piso - This one lets you make a profile, where you write what kind of apartment you're looking for, tell a little bit about yourself, and upload a picture.  It's actually nice though, because you can be sent e-mail notifications when new apartments are posted that are in your price range/location of choice.  Also, people renting rooms can contact the room-searchers they want to live with, so you will probably have a better chance of finding roommies you'll get along with.

Loquo - Unfortunately not organized by district, but you might find something on here that's not on the other sites, so I still used it.

Campus Anuncios - Select "habitación en alquiler" and you can set your maximum/minimum monthly price.  Don't forget to select Madrid as your location!

Making your first phone call

The next step is to call places you're interested in to get more information.  You will be amazed at how little some people write in their posts.  Don't send e-mails -- the people who call will beat you to it and get to look at the piso before you ever receive a response via e-mail.

If it's your first time doing this, here's a tip to make the calling easier: Find a piso you absolutely hate.  Somewhere you would never want to live.  Then call the number associated with that anuncio and ask them a bunch of questions about the place.  This way you get pressure-free practice, because you don't want the apartment anyway.  After each call you make, it will get easier and easier.  And to ease the nerves even more, here are some questions from my WIP Madrid 2009-10 handbook that you may want to ask over the phone:

La habitación y el piso:
1. ¿Es individual o doble? (Is the room a single or a double?)
2. ¿Cuánto vale?  (How much is the monthly rent?)
3. ¿El precio incluye los gastos? (Are the utilities included in the price?)  ¿Cuales?  (Which ones?)
4. ¿Hay calefacción?  ¿De qué tipo?  ¿Es central o individual? (Is there heat?  What kind?  Is it central heating or individual)  If it's individual, ask ¿de gas o eléctrica?
5. ¿Hay fianza? ¿Cuánto?  (Is there a deposit required?  How much?)
6. ¿Hay contrato?  ¿Por cuántos meses? (Is there a contract?  How long is it valid?)

El sitio:
7. ¿Dónde está? ¿En qué metro?  ¿Cómo se escribe el nombre de la calle? (Where is the apartment? What metro stop is it?  How do you spell the street name?)
8. ¿Hay teléfono fijo?  ¿Para llamar o sólo recibir llamadas?  (Is there a telephone?  Can you make calls or only receive them?)
9. ¿Hay lavadora? (Is there a washing machine?)
10. ¿Soy de los EE.UU., hay más norteamericanos en el piso?  ¿Hay más extranjeros en el piso?  (I'm from the United States, are there other North Americans in the apartment?  Are there other foreigners in the apartment?)  Things I would be sure to ask ahead of time if you're looking to live with Spanish speakers, which is highly recommended to improve your language skills.
11. ¿Hay más habitaciones libres?  (Are there more open rooms?)
12. ¿Cuántos personas viven en la casa?  ¿Estudian o trabajan?  (How many people live in the apartment?  Do they study or work?)

Find out as much as you can on the phone before you decide to so visit a place.  Seeing an apartment does take a decent amount of your search time, so only go see the places you're really interested in, that meet your top qualifications.  This means make sure you've asked about all of your questions or concerns before you go see a place, so you don't arrive and find out there's no window, for example.

Don't be afraid to ask the person to repeat or talk slower: Por favor, ¿Ud. puede repetir lo que dijo más despacio?

If you want them to spell you a street name or other information, ask ¿Cómo se escribe?

I would write all your notes from piso-hunting in a notebook.  It gets quite confusing with all of the different ads -- some you'll find on multiple websites, others you'll see only once, and some will get re-posted every couple of days.  To keep track of which places you've already called, which were already rented, etc., write it all in a notebook.

Questions to ask when seeing an apartment

Finally, from the same handbook, here are some questions to ask when you're seeing a piso:
13. ¿Cómo se pagan el alquiler y los gastos? (How are the monthly rent and utilities collected?)
14. ¿Puedo cocinar?  ¿La cocina es eléctrica, de gas butano o de gas natural? (Can I cook here?  Is the kitchen electric, butane gas or natural gas?)
15. ¿La cocina tiene todos los utensilios (platos, vasos, cubiertos, etc.)? (Does the kitchen have all the utensils (plates, glasses, pots, etc)
16. ¿Hay ropa de cama (sábana, mantas)? (Is bedding provided -- sheets and blankets?)
17. ¿Si hay alguna averia, ¿A quién hay que llamar? (If there is some problem with installation or something inside the apartment, who do we call?)
18. ¿Cómo funcionan los aparatos eléctricos?  ¿Hay que tener cuidado especial con alguno de ellos, o con la instalación eléctrica de la casa? (How do the electronic devices work?  Should special care be used with any of them?)

And remember to go with your gut!  This is where you'll be living every day, so you want to feel comfortable and have an honest/helpful landlord.  If something doesn't feel right about the apartment, keep looking! You'll find a great fit!

Buena suerte!


  1. Thanks for writing such a detailed blog! It's really helpful. If you don't mind answering a few quick questions...How early did you arrive to search for apartments? And how long did it take before you found one? Thanks!

    1. You're welcome -- so good to hear that it's helpful! I arrived in Madrid on Sept. 24 (work started Oct. 1), and found my apartment on Sept. 29, so that's 6 days. I had apartment hunted in Madrid once before (and lived in Madrid for a year prior), so I wasn't as worried. I was also staying with a friend the second time around, and not paying for a hostel, so if I had started work before I had found a permanent place, that would have been okay.
      In my study abroad program we had two weeks to find an apartment while we lived in dorms. I found my apartment on the 6th day, and everyone found one within two weeks.

  2. Hi Rebe, thank you for the tips. About the neighborhoods, this is a really good map of Madrid with descriptions that you might want to add to your list of resources :)

    1. That's an awesome map, Shaheen! Thanks so much, adding it now!

  3. Hi Rebe,

    Good blog. It could be very useful for a foreigner. Just tell one thing under the point of view of an spaniard from Madrid:

    The map is only of the city center (historic area...). There are more neighbourhoods, so I recomend you to visit the websites listed.

    Good luck to all of you.


    1. Hi Ana—Yes, there are definitely more neighborhoods than what's in the map above! Thanks for reminding readers of this! :)

  4. its been 5 years this article has been written and finding a flatshare still looks scary.

    who's going to be the genious to come up with the definite website that will help us all, and become a millionaire?

    1. It may look scary at first, but it's totally doable! Let me know if you have any questions. Good luck!

  5. You can use the RentIndicator if you want to get an indication of the market prices for rents in different neighbourhoods,

    1. I'm just seeing this now, but that's super helpful—thanks for sharing the link!