One of the first things I did after buying my ticket to move to Medellín was start searching online about how to rent an apartment. As I believe to be the case with all people visiting Medellín for the first (or second, fifth, eighth) time, I started with the blog/source of all expat info: Medellin Living. More specifically, the excellent series of posts written by Jeff about where to look, what neighborhood to choose, how to do the paperwork, and then how to furnish your new apartment. Really, if you’re looking for guidance on this topic, I suggest you leave my page and go read what Jeff’s written, it’s much better.
I made a profile on the apartment-sharing site called Comparto Apto (which is completely in Spanish) and listed what I was looking for. I started poking around on Espacio Urbano (also in Spanish) and did a few dozen google searches recombining the words “medellin” “apartment” “furnished” “unfurnished” “laureles” “estadio” “metro” etc. As I usually do, I started making multiple lists, mostly concerning money. How much could I spend on rent? If I chose to go unfurnished, how much would it cost to pull together the essentials? How much would utilities and internet be? What was my budget for transportation? Groceries? All this with a giant “x” factor of my employment. I still had no job, or job prospects in the city.
Fast forward a few nervous months, and I’m staying at an Airbnb in Laureles. I rented a large room with a desk and a built in closet from the lovely couple Mario & Cata. I share a bathroom with one other room, but this doesn’t bother me. There are a total of four rooms in the apartment, each rented for short periods of time. My original plan was to stay in the apartment from the date of my arrival, January 18th, until the 31st. I figured with almost two weeks I’d be able to find a place that suited my needs and desires. I now had a job, writing content for an investment group, with an office near Floresta metro station. That gave me a neighborhood to focus on and a point on the map to stay close to.
I developed my must-have list:
- price under 1 million pesos per month ($370 USD)
- modern kitchen
- separate living room and bedroom
- close to the metro, or a location I liked a lot
- plenty of natural light
And a wishlist:
- more than one bedroom (I have a little dream where I can make it a beautiful room and rent it out on Airbnb, or share with couchsurfers)
- access to a pool
- brand-new cabinets and countertops
- an elevator (obviously only if it’s in a big building)
For the first few days I went a little crazy looking for a place. I called about 15 rental agencies and went to see 7 different apartments in 3 days. I was constantly refreshing the Espacio Urbano page, hoping something would come up that I loved. Finally, I saw the one I loved. Huge windows, right on the main avenue of Laureles (the neighborhood I liked the best), new kitchen, lots of storage space, good price. I told the agent that I wanted it, immediately. He then asked for a copy of my cedula, Colombian work papers, and my fiador. My heart sank. According to everything I read online, not having these papers was an enormous obstacle, but you could get around this by offering to pay a higher price monthly, or to pay a few months in advance. I asked about this (in as many different ways as I could think of), and was told, flat out, many times over, NO.
That exchange happened at around 11am. I went home, ate some leftover lentils and rice, and crawled into my bed. I stared at the ceiling and lamented my crushed dreams. Of course finding an apartment, especially in a foreign country, is difficult. I know that. But I was emotionally exhausted and starting to question if I’d ever find a place of my own and really be happy. This was the low point, I think.
Next I turned to Mario and Cata, the couple I was renting the Airbnb from. They told me about a few services that can be your fiador (for a price, of course) and gave me some contact information. Erik, a Venezuelan man who is also staying in the Airbnb, gave me the number of the real estate agency he is using. He also is having trouble with the fiador hurdle. I started messaging people on facebook, I commented and liked every apartment-search related post in the Expat groups I was in.
Finally I found a short-term solution. A shared living space in Laureles, priced 700,000 per month ($240) with internet and utilities included. It was bright and modern and the people seemed very nice. I’d have my own room and bathroom. When I saw the space I had slight reservations about the size and the lack of closet, but I agreed to the price and made a down-payment. A few days later I was set to move in.
On Sunday afternoon, I packed up two of my suitcases and headed in a taxi to the house only a 10 minute walk away. I met the manager of the house and received my keys. He opened the door to the room and my heart sank. It was smaller than in my memory. There was no desk, no place to hang clothes, and the shower was in another, unconnected room. I had a place to store things across the hall, but the room was like a box. No windows, no space to move. I felt like a hole opened in my gut and filled up with all the doubts I had about living in Medellin, all the fears other people had put in my head and all the ones I’d dreamed up on my own. I told the manager that I had to go withdraw money to pay him the rent, and left. I cried all the way to the ATM, and then all the way back to my Airbnb. I knocked on Erik’s door and told him I couldn’t live there, I hated it.
Erik told me to follow my gut, and I knew he was right. We went back to the place together, he waited with me for the manager. I got my deposit back, took my suitcases, and handed over the keys. Back to the Airbnb again. Two days left on my reservation and still nowhere to live. I collapsed into a puddle of tears. Poor Erik had no idea what to do. We decided to go get some lunch and ice cream at the mall, and he was very nice about all of it. I calmed down and we went to go play air hockey at the arcade.
Luckily, I was able to extend my Airbnb, but in a different room in the house. It’s far too expensive to be a long-term solution, but it buys me some extra time. I’ll be here until February 12th. So now I start the search again. A little more jaded, a lot less hopeful, but with a little more experience too. Hopefully my next post will contain some good news and pictures of my new place.