29 May 2013

Accommodation on your year abroad.

If you're a first time Erasmus-er (like I was) and haven't traveled anywhere particularly extravagant yet (like I hadn't/still haven't) then you might be feeling a little bit nervous and overwhelmed on the accommodation-front. You can read my blog post from July last year here, where I talk about stressing myself over finding somewhere to live and offer a few handy websites to aid you in your quest to find some quintessentially European sleeping quarters.

So, since I've come a long way since then (I wouldn't say boo to a goose about a year ago and now I feel like I can accomplish a lot of things if I just stop worrying so much and do something to get the ball rolling) I thought I'd compile a list of my top advice and, since France and Spain are very different countries, do another comparison table! Yay!

Issue France Spain
Searching for Accommodation
I would recommend searching online as much as possible before you leave for what you can rent in France. On most of the websites I listed in the blog post mentioned above, there are things called collocations. This basically just means renting from a live-in landlord/lady or sharing with others who have already sorted the hassle of agency fees and are searching for another cool cat to share their crash pad with. Again, I would recommend searching online to get a general idea of what is out there before you leave because it's helpful, but the estate agents in Spain don't seem to be all that complicated so we just went straight to them and found a flat in a day. I really wouldn't worry too much about struggling to find somewhere in Spain - there are loads of empty apartments just waiting for you!
Agency Fees
I have to admit I don't know much about how these work because I ended up going through a private renter (using appartager.com) and because as soon as I saw how extortionate agency fees were I closed the internet tab in horror and sat with my mouth open for about five minutes afterwards. Trust me, unless you're a trust-fund kid you don't want to be doing that kind of shit; agency fees are literally thousands of euros and that is even before you've moved into your place. I did go through an estate agent to find my Spanish residence, but the fees are almost non-existent. You have to fork over the first month's rent, plus the fianza which is just a deposit that you should get back provided you don't knock any walls through (this is another first month's rent - or was for us anyway) and agency fees which, again, was another first month's rent. If you share with people, the costs will be minimal. Just make sure you don't rely on your student finance/Erasmus grant to cover you - take some savings.
The Contract
I didn't actually have to sign a contract in France, but I think that was because I had an exceptionally nice landlady who didn't want to create too many formalities. I think she wanted to make me feel as at home as possible so providing me with a big scary contract on my first day would not have been ideal. I do however know others who had to sign a contract - just make sure you read what you're signing because the French love to screw people over using the means of paperwork. You may also need a signed letter from your parents saying that they will cover the costs if something were to happen to you or your bank account, as one of my friends needed when she signed her contract. Our Spanish contract was knocked up for us in a matter of days. Even for people whose Spanish had been worn down by six months of speaking French, it was fairly easy to understand. It's not very formal and all you have to do is hand over a few signatures to say you've read it all through. The Spanish are really lovely and helpful so they won't have a problem explaining things five or six times to make sure you understand what you're signing for. Furthermore, the contracts seem a lot easier to get out of here than in England - you have no obligation to stay and any problem that arose our particular landlord or estate agent found a way around it. (I am speaking in terms of small-town estate agents here - I can't tell you what it would be like for somewhere like Barcelona or Madrid).

So with that said and done, what are my "top tips"?

  1. Look before you book - shop around a bit on some of the websites listed in my blog post mentioned at the top of this one and get a general idea of what kind of thing your money can get you. Keep all options open and look for plan B possibilities in the area (friends to stay with, hostels, couchsurfing etc.), just in case you don't have anything sorted before you go.
  2. Learn the lingo - you wouldn't sign a housing contract or any other type of contract in England (save for phone contracts because let's be honest, nobody reads all that) without knowing just what you were signing, so make sure you learn how the renting system works and look up any words you might need to know when looking for a flat.
  3. Save - have a little wad of cash (not literal - there is such a thing as internet banking these days which, if you haven't set up, do it now!) set aside specifically for rent and initial costs. It may be painful because extra student finance for your year abroad will make you feel rich, RICH I TELL YOU! But trust me, you will thank yourself later.
  4. Share - If you're not going into student halls (which my friend Gareth very bravely did) I would highly recommend sharing with either a live-in landlord/lady, somebody you already know or find a flat that is looking for an extra housemate because it will cut costs right down and you could make some friends for life like I did with my landlady in France!
  5. Communicate - The best method in getting anything done is to communicate. If you have a problem, call your landlord or estate agent (example: I put my arse through my window on Easter Sunday and went and told my landlord straight away and he was absolutely fine about it). Don't leave it until three months down the line and then tell them because they're probably going to be more annoyed that you didn't tell them (whatever it is). Honesty is the best policy.
This post now comes to you in the wake of speaking to my landlord and his wife about having to leave Spain earlier than expected. We had a few things to ask such as tying up old loose-end bills and whether we could pay less rent in our final month since we would only be there for half of it and he was fine about it. He even offered to cover our first couple of months' gas bills! I suppose this ties in with the communication point I made above. Just remember that there's no harm in asking anybody anything ever

So, in return we're going to make him and his wife some Scottish shortbread and get them a card and some flowers to say thank you (which I also did for my French landlady because she was just so lovely). I wish you the best of luck in your house hunt and hope you come across people as lovely as I did on my year abroad!

Do you have any questions? Would you like to add anything to what I've written? Let me know about your experiences with renting property abroad, I'd love to read about them!

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