Renting an apartment

We had found the perfect apartment in the center of Alicante, but we had to return home earlier than we had planned – without finalizing a contract. But we had to have a finalized contract in hand in order to apply for our visas, and that appointment was fast approaching.

As planned, we moved into my mother-in-law’s house so we could prep it for sale. NOT as planned, there was no internet. It’s very hard to conduct business internationally without internet.

Not to mention that it took two agents in Alicante to conduct said business. Miguel, the rental agent, spoke no English, not even “apartment English.” Carlos was the business rental agent at the estate office. He spoke excellent English – turns out that his parents met at The University of Texas (small world). They emigrated from Venezuela to Spain before he was born. Carlos was essential to our finding and renting the apartment.

Also, not to mention, a 7-hour time difference that made things even more difficult.

Many e-mails back and forth with follow-up phone calls. The final conversation: I had the contract (in Spanish) called up on my phone, while we had Miguel and Carlos on speaker on Todd’s phone. Carlos walked us through a translation as I skimmed the Spanish text.

Then we had to return to our former neighbor’s house to print out the contract, initial all pages and photos (Spanish rental contracts include pictures of the property to confirm the condition), scan and return the contract.

We then had to transfer funds. First month and last month rents as deposit, plus two months because we’re not Spanish. So, by the end of July, we had an apartment paid for through November – an apartment we wouldn’t be in until October.




Finding a Home

Finding a Home

Husband had done a lot of online research – for several years. We pretty much knew what we could get for our $750-900 budget. And we gradually compiled a list of requirements:

  • furnished
  • 3 bedrooms – knowing one would be the size of a closet
  • Preferably 2 bathrooms
  • shower
  • Balcony
  • Upper floors – with elevator
  • Centrally located – walking distance to necessities & amenities
  • Washing machine – not combined with a dryer
  • Workable kitchen – expecting small, but well-arranged

We arrived in Alicante at the beginning of Fogueres. Our short-term rental was a one-bedroom. But not really: they had put up a glass wall between the bed and sofa to make the studio apartment into one with a “separate” bedroom. A bit of a cheat, but it worked for short-term.

We began exploring the town. It was jammed with people for the festival. Streets were blocked off. Effigies were going up at every street corner. The last was helpful, as that was how we found our way around – as buildings have been updated, street signs have not gone back up on the new facades. Fireworks every afternoon. Parades and music every evening. This was NOT what we had in mind.

Then came the last day of the festival. All of the effigies were burned. By the next morning, all of the blockades were down and there was no sign of the effigies. Alicante had become the quiet town we were expecting.

On Wednesday of Fogueres week, we stopped into a real estate office to search for an apartment. We eventually found Carlos, who spoke perfect English. But he was the business agent, so he couldn’t help us with a private apartment. That would be Miguel, who had already gone for the day. Friday would be the official office-closed holiday, and he doubted Miguel would be in on Thursday. We’d have to come back Monday.

We were running out of time. We had had to cut our trip short, and we had a flight out Monday evening.

We looked up the offerings on the agency’s website and picked the 2 we were most interested in.

We showed up at the office at opening time Monday morning. And waited. Someone finally showed up to open the office. They suggested we go down the street for a coffee until Carlos or Miguel arrived. We had already had coffee with breakfast, but we did as the locals do and went down the block to a coffee shop. We returned to find Carlos at work. Miguel was apparently taking pictures of a new listing on his way in to the office. We were sent away for another cup of coffee. When we returned, still no Miguel. We told Carlos they REALLY didn’t want us to have any more coffee. And we sat and waited. Apparently, that’s unusual behavior here. People seemed uncomfortable with us just sitting in the lobby.

Finally, Miguel showed up. Carlos joined us to translate. It took Miguel a while to get booted up and find the listings (the ones we had already looked at). He had 3 apartments available. We ruled out the unfurnished one. By this point, it was late morning. Miguel only had keys to one of the apartments and couldn’t get the others until that afternoon. We should come back when the office reopened at 4:30 and he could show us both apartments then. No, that won’t work: we have a flight out at 6:30. No problem, he would meet us at 4:00. No, we have a flight out at 6:30; at least us see the one you have keys to. Much deflecting, then he finally agreed. The apartment was less than 2 blocks from the office.

It was perfect. Newly updated, furnished (except the smallest bedroom), gas stove, washing machine, 2 (small) bathrooms with showers, 8th floor, balcony with view of the castle AND the Mediterranean. Within 4 blocks: the central Mercado, a grocery store, several pharmacies, el Corte Ingles (the main department store, with a large grocery store), and all major bus lines. VALE!

Miguel was shocked that we didn’t even want to see the second apartment. No time for that. So he started on the contract process and we agreed to finish everything online after we returned home.



Sleepin’ Easy

Our apartment was furnished – but no linens or kitchenware. So we stayed in a hotel for several nights while we got the basics set up.

Priority #1: the bed

In the U.S., beds are easy: twin, full, queen, king, maybe California king.

In Europe, not so much. Our apartment in Alicante came with 3 beds: one double and two single.

Off to el Corte Ingles!

The double was “standard”: 135cm x 190cm. Note that my husband is a tall man; his feet hang over the edge. The fitted sheet (sabana bajera) measures 137cm x 200 cm x 35 cm. It’s a little baggy. We conversed briefly about getting a little-larger-than-usual top sheet so we had room to roll over without stealing the sheet from the other. We decided to go with the apparent standard: 240cm x 300 cm. That’s right: LOTS of extra room. We bought 2 standard pillow cases, then came home and unmade the bed: the two pillows were actually one body pillow! Add that cover to the next day’s list…

I insisted we measure the twin beds. Sure enough, they were two different sizes: 90cm x 190cm and 105cm x 190cm. Apparently the 90cm is more common, but both are typical. Oh, and the pillows on those beds are two different sizes – makes sense, since the beds are two different widths.

Confused yet?

We ordered a new (longer) bed, then fretted about whether it would fit in the room, while still allowing the balcony door and the closet door to open. Turns out, we didn’t order the biggest option, we just got 150 cm x 200 cm. Enough extra room for both of us. And both doors still open.

I think the landlord’s wife was offended – they had just redone the apartment, and apparently all of the furniture was new. Then I pointed at our husbands: mine is easily 8 inches taller than hers! She laughed and agreed that a new bed was indeed vale. And she approved of the bedding we had chosen.

So: sheets for the original three beds, sheets for the new bed, then back for a second set of sheets for the new bed. When you have to air dry, you can’t count on sheets drying in a day!


Getting Connected

First order of business: Spanish phones and wifi (in Europe, pronounced wee-fee) for the apartment. Based on several casual inquiries and an informal poll of wifi networks available in our wanderings, we chose Movistar. Like everything else here, it took several visits to get the job done. The first visit was our bad: we had just dropped in without passports. Note to self: you have to have your passport to be able to conduct any business. Try #2: We had to have a Spanish bank account number. Our supposedly international account with BBVA has an American account number, so it won’t work. This was late Friday afternoon; banks in Alicante close at 2:00 or 2:30 for the day, and they aren’t open at all on weekends.

First thing Monday morning (first thing being 9:30), we were at the BBVA bank down the street. We were told we couldn’t open an account without setting up medical insurance through BBVA. WHAT??? We went back to the apartment to get all of our paperwork – including the international insurance required for our visas – and regroup.

After lunch, we went to the Caixa bank across the corner from our apartment. It took an hour, but we now have a local bank account – no medical insurance required! And, though BBVA was reluctant (read: unwilling) to open an account with dollars, we were able to do so – no problema! – at Caixa. The process took a while, true, but Johanna knew what she was doing and we had all of the necessary paperwork in hand: passports, NIE numbers, proof of pension.

Back to Movistar – and we ended up with Anna, the girl we started with originally when we didn’t have passports with us. Using an online translator, we got through the process fairly smoothly. New sim cards for both phones, and she even searched for easy-to-remember phone numbers for both of us. There followed some pronoun confusion about who would notify whom for cable installation, but we were notified and cable was installed with no problem.