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Looking for a flat

Finding a house to rent in Spain is usually a pretty straightforward process. When I say house I really mean flat because, although it's not impossible to find houses in the middle of a town or city, by far the most usual style of dwelling for urban Spaniards is the flat.

I need to qualify this a bit further. It's easy to find a place if you are willing to pay an estate agent. The other options involve walking around random streets looking for to rent signs with your mobile phone to hand. We've only ever done it a couple of times and it has not produced good results.

The internet has made it a slightly less fraught process to find an individual renter and the place that Maggie rented in Ciudad Rodrigo came that way. Even then it takes ages to sift through the various websites usually to find that nobody answers your email or phone call except for the estate agents.

The estate agent method is the most straightforward but also the most costly. The standard charging process is that they take a month's rent for showing you round. The renter will want a month's rent plus a breakage deposit also equivalent to a month's rent. Effectively you have to hand over three times the rent as your initial payment.

Most agents generally have places to rent close to their offices. So you find an agent in the neighbourhood that you like in a big town and any old agent in a small town and stroll in. Given my tenuous grasp on Spanish this can be plain sailing or utterly confusing but eventually someone in the office will approach you waving several bunches of keys and you're off. There are usually little hiccoughs along the way - the agent not knowing exactly which street or which flat is particularly common.

The second stage relates to the flats for which the agent does not have the key so it involves the owner or some third party like another estate agent. These meetings are coordinated via mobile phone. Five or six calls is common before everyone eventually meets up.

Once you're underway it's possible to see flats at a cracking pace. So fast that you soon can't remember which have terraces, air conditioning, garages or sufficient storage and which don't. The only method I've ever found to work is simply deciding which is my favourite as I go. I've tried other methods like notes and even photos but I still get confused. Maybe confusion is just my natural state?

Anyway, as I type I'm in a hotel room in Cartagena. The reason for this is that I can't decide where I want to live. I need to find somewhere that my paltry wage will support, somewhere that won't be too prison like for Eddie the cat and somewhere that isn't too horrid. As a renter I'm not looking for a place with potential I'm looking for a place to use as it is.

In Cartagena what I'm able to pay has, so far, produced scrubby flats or scrubby neighbourhoods and nothing suitable for Ed. I also poked around various villages close to Cartagena which I eventually decided against because they were either too depressing or too far away from work. Yesterday though I did some serious looking in la Unión which is a down at heel ex mining town about 12 kilometres from my work in Cartagena. I saw a couple of good places and the town was lively enough. I probably have a winner but today I'm going to have a second go at Cartagena proper just to persuade myself that la Unión is not a big mistake.

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