Renting a flat in Barcelona – an adventure in Spain’s frozen north

June 25, 2018

Well, here we are.

As you know (or as you don’t) Morena and I came to Barcelona a few days ago.

We were staying in an AirBnb for a few days. But before that was up, we had to find a flat to rent.

Renting a flat in Barcelona isn’t easy or fun, as we soon found out.

But it’s doable… and done.

And all in all, it didn’t take us too long.

Here’s some fun from the flat-finding process… please leave your experiences in the comments.

Ready?

Read on…

Renting a flat in Barcelona: welcome to the game

Rubén Butjolez is our first real estate agent – a short little guy in his 70s.

Yellow eyes, flaccid handshake. Dressed like a typical Spanish fascist from the 40s.

He takes us up to a flat that smells like decades worth of mold and had old movie posters on the dark-painted walls. 850 euros a month.

This flat search is already looking dismal.

When we seem unimpressed with the first option, Butjolez takes us to another flat just around the corner, in his car.

It’s much nicer. 1050€ a month. We sit at the table to talk turkey.

Then he asks for the second time what we do for a living.

Morena’s starting a job in sales, and I’m… uh… working in publishing. For a company. That publishes books. Books that I write. You could say it’s my company. And I guess I’m using the word company sort of loosely.

Finally he gets me to admit it: I’m freelance. Autónomo.

When you say autónomo in the presence of Spanish people, old grandmothers can be seen to cross themselves quickly. Men gasp. Children cry. “But how do you live without a stable salary?” they say. “What about your 5 weeks of paid holidays? That’s not a real job!”

It’s one of those things about Spanish culture I’ll never understand.

I’m doing way way way WAY WAAAAAAAYYYY better as an autónomo than I ever did on salary – despite being taxed like crazy.

Yet Spanish people think I’d be better off with a long-term contract at 700€ a month.

It doesn’t matter how much the salary sucks – as long as they can never fire you.

Anyway, Butjolez doesn’t like me being autónomo at all.

He says, “Well, landlords are going to ask you for a bigger deposit then. Three, four months of rent up front.”

“Is that legal?” I ask. “Because my understanding is —“

He cuts me off. “Listen – we’re going to do this my way! If you’re want to insist on doing things legally, you’re going to be sleeping in the streets!”

I consider jumping across the table and strangling him right there, but I’m worried that the call history and location data in my phone would incriminate me. So I just glare and start to get up.

“Check my website,” he says, angrily, as we walk down the stairs. “I’ve got more flats in the area. Best neighborhood in Barcelona.”

Oh, fuck off…

Adiós, Butjolez! Enjoy that one-star google review.

New real estate agents, more fun…

Later that day, we see another agent.

By now, I’ve got a spiel prepared to deal with the whole autónomo thing – “I’m doing much better now, and can present bank statements… tons of bank statements!”

It turns out not to matter – other agents aren’t nearly as worried about it as Butjolez.

“Don’t worry about it,” says the new guy. “We all have to start somewhere.”

He shows us 3 flats in la Barceloneta – narrow streets, old buildings, higher rents than you’d think for their age…

renting a flat in barcelona
Meet the new barrio – La Barceloneta!

I assume it was once low-cost housing for fishermen or dockworkers, now a mix of very old-school and sort of hipstery.

In any case, it’s right near the beach. And like other places in Barcelona, flats aren’t cheap.

The flats are a blur, but I have notes: TIIIIINNNNYYYYYY kitchen. 3rd floor walkup. Last floor, hot as fuck.

Newly painted. Smells like cat pee. Junkies on the stairs.

850€. 900€. 950€.

We go back to our AirBnB to regroup and plot next steps (read: eat Asian food, drink wine and hopefully sleep for more than 5 hours.)

And the adventure continues…

“I’m not racist, I’m just Spanish.”

The next day, back down in La Barceloneta, just off the beach, we see some crumbling old buildings. But at least the flats seem to have been remodeled at some point. Some of them are actually pretty new on the inside.

From the other side of one prehistoric doorway, an old woman shouts at us.

¿Quién es?

“We’re here to see a flat”, explains the new agent, a friendly young Colombian girl.

“A what? Who did you say you are? No strangers allowed!”

The agent struggles with the key, opens the door, and finally we’re face to face with the old woman.

“I live on the top floor” she says, indicating the tiny twisting staircase. The stairs are higher than most, and narrower as well. “And I have to carry all the laundry from the cleaners up there.” Flats with no washing machine are totally a thing, here in Barcelona – and for only 900€ a month, you can have one too!

(Take that, gentrification!)

The old woman’s got a cane and doesn’t look a day under 90 – I can imagine 5 flights of stairs being hard for her.

Morena, as usual, charms the old lady undies right off her. And the agent carries her laundry bag up to her door.

Once the old woman finally understands we’re looking to rent the first-floor flat, she smiles.

“Welcome to the building! And I’m sorry about before” she tells Morena. “I’m not a racist… just española española. You’re really pretty!”

Typical Spanish.

We check out the place – very new, very small, 950€. Not bad. But not cheap either.

By the time we’re done seeing the flat, the old woman’s barely made it up to the second floor. She needs a 30 second break after every step, it would seem.

Once again, reminding me of the necessity to work out and not lose mobility. Hopefully I’ll be that 90 year old dude who’s doing pushups on his deathbed.

In any case, the Colombian shows us three or four flats, and one of them is pretty nice

It’s small, but cheaper, and just a few meters from the beach.

I propose to Morena that we take this one and forget about the whole thing: save money, preserve our health, don’t spend the rest of the week hoofing it around the city searching and being miserable.

The agent says she’ll talk to the landlord about us, and the landlord accepts – even knowing I’m autónomo. She’s in Belgium and not too worried, I guess.

Victory!

We send our deposit and go out for Korean food. I’m always in a bad mood when I have to send large sums to strangers or the government, but I get over it soon.

Hooray for magic internet money!

Day one of your new life.

We sign the contract on Friday morning.

The day we move into our new flat is Sant Joan, and the beach is packed with thousands of people, even at midnight.

There are the usual long lines outside all the bathrooms, the Pakistanis and Senegalese selling blankets and trinkets and beer…

And mostly, fireworks. Fireworks everywhere.

renting flats at the beach in barceloneta
At the seaside in La Barceloneta.

Morena and I take a walk down towards the towering W Hotel, through the smoke and noise.

As we walk back home, people are lighting floating paper lanterns on the edge of the beach.

“There’s a whole festival for paper lanterns in Thailand”, she informs me.

Who knew?

The red and orange lanterns fill like hot air balloons, then float up into the sky, before burning out and slowly falling back onto the sand.

The fireworks go off, all along the beach.

It would seem that Barcelona is having a party to celebrate our arrival.

Crack, hiss, pow!

Yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.D. Have you ever tried renting a flat in Barcelona? What was your experience? Hit me up right here in the comments… I’m listening.

P.P.S. If you want to know more, I’ve got a whole article about the pros and cons of living in Barcelona too. And about the best restaurants in Barceloneta. You might like them. Or not. Just don’t be a butjolez about it.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. What you describe is the general experience with real estate agents in Spain. And can be even worse. It is really stupid that being a self-employed person scare the hell out of them. They should ask you how long you have been on business. They look for funcionarios as the real dorado. I have experience in several cities in Spain and real estate agents (and landlords) can be a pain in the ass.

    I used to live in El Escorial and once and I visited several flats with several agents. Despite charging you one month for their services, they really lack any professionalism, they care more on your signature so they can show the landlord their crappy flats have been show than your real needs. I remember asking for something simple 1-2 bedroom flat, garage, lift and furniture. Easy to fulfil isn´t it? None of the flats that I was shown comply with my requirements. They just try to get rid of the flats that are not easy to rent out.

    Jeez because I complained about this they call me pijo…It seems that being a single man leaves your standards as low as…even one agent said that one of the flats was the “typical man flat”…the flat that was really a wreck (shady, not light at all, dirty…broken sofas and the kitchen…uff nothing was in its place…the fridge, the washing machine…all over the place…and I just replied to her…”well, not this man”

    1. Miguel! I can’t believe it’s you! I live in Madrid now. How are you??? I’d love to be back in touch with you. Daniel, is there a way I can give Miguel my email address or phone number without posting it publicly? (And good luck with your exciting move!)

  2. I had a similar experience looking for a place in Barcelona in 2011. In the course of one year, I moved 4 times. I couldn’t afford a place to myself so was sharing… when it came to finding my own place I just couldn’t bear the prices, the noise and the 2 meses de fianza, más otro mes de comisión más IVA, said to hell with it, and came back to the East Coast of Málaga. Now I’m living right on the beach for a third of the price. That being, said, there’s not much going on in my little town. So, depends on your priorities at the time… there are things I miss about Barcelona, especially the music scene…

  3. Dear Daniel, many thanks for your writings. We are planning a trip to BCN from Boston this coming August (2022) for two weeks. Is there a way to get in touch and maybe ask a couple of practical questions? Best regards. Len.

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