Expats moving to Spain will discover that finding good quality and reasonably priced accommodation is relatively easy. Of course, prices vary enormously depending on where one wants to live, with the best parts of major cities still being expensive. COVID-19 had quite a dramatic effect on the housing market, and prices plummeted considerably, which is good news for househunting expats.
Types of accommodation in Spain
Expats will find that there is a wide range of accommodation available in Spain. Those wishing to rent in larger cities such as Barcelona, Madrid or Seville will find that their options are limited to furnished or unfurnished apartments in the downtown areas, but there are plenty of freestanding houses and villas on the city outskirts and in the more rural areas.
Furnished vs unfurnished
While it is easy to find both furnished and unfurnished apartments, expats should keep in mind that most freestanding houses and villas come unfurnished. Most properties in expat areas are sold and rented out furnished, as the owners are likely to be expats themselves who are relocating and would therefore have no use for the furniture. Furnished properties typically include everything from kitchen fittings and appliances to bedsheets and utensils; this is a popular choice for expats who are only planning to be in the country short term.
Unfurnished housing in Spain usually comes equipped with a useable kitchen and working appliances (fridge, washing machine, cooking range and possibly microwave and dishwashers). This is a fantastic option for expats who would prefer to add their personal touch to their homes. Fortunately, expats can ship their household goods to Spain duty-free, and there is a range of affordable furniture stores, including Ikea, Zara Home and Carrefour.
While serviced apartments and short-term rentals may be pricier, they are fully equipped and will usually include utilities in the rental price. They are also a more affordable alternative to hotels, while expats research the different areas and suburbs in their chosen city before making a long-term commitment.
Renting accommodation in Spain
Most expats will opt for renting property in Spain, at least at first. The rule of thumb is that the closer to the city centre one lives, the higher the rent becomes. It's therefore strongly advised that expats look to secure some kind of accommodation stipend in their employment contracts. It is not uncommon for housing costs to account for a significant percentage of someone's monthly expenses if their salary is based on Spanish pay levels.
Having found a suitable place in a desired neighbourhood, expats will need to inform the landlord of their interest as soon as possible, seeing as there are likely to be many interested parties.
Finding a property
One of the first things an expat should do when looking for accommodation is to go online or travel to the desired Spanish city and identify the area that appeals to them most. After this, house hunters can scour online listings and local newspapers and ask around on local forums.
Although there are a few English websites and publications that are aimed at the expat community, most are in Spanish, so expats should either learn the language or employ a translator or agent.
After the terms have been settled with the landlord, the new tenant will sign a lease agreement or Contrato de Arrendamiento. The contracts are often in Spanish, which is why an estate agent or at least a local translator is useful. If expats decide to make use of an agent, they should note that on top of the first month's rent and the security deposit, they will also have to pay the agent's fee. This is generally the equivalent of one month's rent.
It is recommended that new arrivals use a property registration website to ensure their landlord is the legitimate owner of the property. Leases in Spain are typically for a year with 30 days' notice should either party choose to terminate the agreement.
Landlords will generally require a security deposit of one to six months' rent. Community fees, paid for the upkeep of communal areas and services, are generally included in the monthly rental amount.
References and background checks
Prospective tenants usually have to provide proof of bank accounts, their NIE number as well as references from current and former employers and landlords, as these will improve the expat's chances of securing the lease.
Termination of the lease
Both expats and landlords can terminate the rental contract by giving 30 days' notice in writing. Expats should ensure they return the property in the same condition, as they are not entitled to receive their deposit back if the property is damaged beyond normal wear and tear.
Utilities are usually not included in Spanish leases, and the tenant will be accountable for electricity, water, gas, internet cable and so forth. Fortunately, utilities in Spain are quite affordable. Bills are usually sent monthly and can be paid online, via direct deposit or at the post office.
Most households in Spain use electricity for heating and cooking. Expats will usually be allowed to choose their own provider, either from the free market (mercado libre) or regulated market (mercado regulado). Access fees, excise duty and VAT are some common factors between the free and regulated markets.
Electricity prices change daily in regulated markets, and those who subscribe to this option are charged higher prices based on when they use electricity during the day. In the free market, private companies set prices for customers, and they are charged per kilowatt rather than prices based on supply and demand.
As most of Spain's water infrastructure has aged, the water often has high chlorine levels, leading to an unusual taste. For this reason, most people in Spain drink bottled water. Expats can use tap water to brush their teeth or wash vegetables, but it's not safe to drink in most areas.
Spain has a combination of public and private water suppliers; expats will need to verify the water supplier in their specific regions. To transfer the water bill to their name, expats will need to visit their local town hall with their ID and address to register the contract in their name.
It is important to ensure all outstanding bills have been paid before moving in to avoid incurring unfair costs.
Telephone and internet
Expats will be spoilt for choice when it comes to landline and internet providers in Spain. Some companies will provide a turnkey service that includes landline, TV and internet connections. The major telecommunications providers in the country include MásMóvil, Movistar and Vodafone.
Waste and recycling
Most expats will pay an annual fee for waste disposal; in some autonomous regions, it will be included in the monthly water bill. The country is making strides in increasing the recycling of household waste; Spain recently enacted a law stating that municipalities with more than 5,000 residents must have separate collection systems for organic waste, paper, metal and glass.
As such, Spain provides blue bins for paper and cardboard, yellow bins for plastic and tin and green bins for glass. There are also grey bins for general waste as well as brown bins for organic waste.
Expats should contact their specific region and municipality's website for detailed information.