HGTV is one of my favorite channels to watch, hands down. While I was pining away and missing being abroad, I found comfort in a good old marathon of House Hunters International and the occasional bowl of ice cream (chocolate cookies and cream explosion by Eddy’s, if you’re really curious). If you’ve ever seen the normal House Hunters, you can put 2 and 2 together and realize that instead of the states, the protagonist is going abroad for a home. I already spent too much time decorating my own non-existent home on Pinterest and getting more ideas from HGTV so once I discovered a show that added in my addiction to travel, my productivity levels pretty much tanked.
The show starts with an introduction to where the person currently lives, where they’re moving to, and why (complete with beautiful sweeping views of the city and area). They also give their must-haves for the future place. You follow them to the new city where a wonderfully helpful, English speaking real estate agent appears to show them 3 different options. At the end, the person chooses one and when we check in a week or two later, everything has started to come together.
In real life, this is all a load of crap. At least in my real life. Which sucks because having everything so nice and prepackaged would be better than being able eat anything without consuming excess calories. I can’t speak for other countries, but for Spain, the way it goes is that, once your feet hit Spanish soil, that’s the earliest time you can do anything productive in your apartment search. You can look at the internet all you want but the only thing you’ll hope to find out is your comfortable price point, neighborhood, and that your efforts in the states are futile. And for me, once I arrived, even all of that changed. If you contact the renters via e-mail while at home, the general consensus is “cool, sounds great, call me when you get here and you can swing by”. You show up, find places you like online, call a lot of people, and hope for the best.
Basically, not being accustomed to this type of last minute nature for important things, like a house, can be confusing and frustrating. I cannot even count how many times people gave me the wide-eyed, you’re crazy for not having a place yet, look when I told them what the system and culture here was. It’s just something that some people are uncomfortable thinking about. It took me many many deep breaths, good cups of tea, and advice from locals to get more relaxed about all of it. It also helped that I had never found an apartment in the US, so my norm, more or less, became the Spanish way. And it was not damned thing like House Hunters International.
First, in real life, if an agent shows you apartments, you’re expected to pay 2 months in security deposit. Except the name security deposit is a lie. It’s falsely labeled because one of those months actually goes as payment to the agent and you will never see it again. They also won’t tell you this until you’re about to sign the contract, as my one friend experienced.
Second, the long list of must-haves becomes a moot point. After viewing many different apartments, you start to narrow down that list to the bare necessities. I would have loved to have a place where there was a nice elevator to carry me up to the 3rd floor (which is really the 4th because the ground floor is 0. Which is really deceiving. But that’s another cultural difference for another day). Do you know what I got? Stairs. Lots of stairs. Every day, I’m mildly panting as I reach my doorstep, but I can live with it. Nothing liked some forced daily exercise in exchange for a clean and safe apartment with great roommates.
As much as I love House Hunters International, it is quite misleading. It’s a lot of hard work finding a place abroad and maneuvering all the new systems that you’ll encounter. In the end, it’s totally worth it, don’t get me wrong. But be warned that HGTV does not equal reality.