One Wednesday morning, I helped my new friend move to a rented room in a shared apartment. She had been living with her sister’s family (including her two young nieces) for about a year and wanted a space of her own.
After plans for apartment leases fell through, she settled on a room listed on a supermarket bulletin board, which would at least provide a temporary living space while she searched for a more permanent option. We borrowed another friend’s car and loaded it with suitcases and boxes, and navigated our way to the new place. We shuffled her belongings into her new closet, laid her shoes across the floor, and rested on the twin bed in the centre of the room. She hoped to make a space for herself in this modest habitación across town with two other female roommates.
But by the next week, she would move back in with her sister; she didn’t feel safe walking home from the metro at night, so this new neighbourhood was less than an ideal fit.
In Colombia, the apartment search is tricky for everyone, whether you’re a local or a new arrival. And it’s nearly impossible for foreigners to secure a lease because they will have no local credit history. To sign a lease, you also need referrals from past landlords. However, as long as you’re open-minded about living with others, it’s much easier to search for a single room in a shared apartment, and to be picky about it. That’s what I did.
Here's my advice for finding a place to live:
Search for furnished rooms.
Because I don’t know how long I’ll live in Medellín and don’t own a car, I needed a furnished room. Buying a bed and mattress and moving them across town to a temporary living space seemed like too much of a hassle (and certainly less cost-effective). To avoid a potential headache, search for a "habitación amoblada" in an "apartamento compartido."
Know where to look.
Apartment listings are everywhere. Check out local grocery stores. Éxito is a large supermarket chain and you can find business cards, for-sale advertisements, and rooms for rent listed on their bulletin boards.
And, of course, search online. There’s always Craigslist, but I like Compartoapto.com. It’s the Latin American version of EasyRoommate.com, a site I’ve also used in the States to find a furnished room to rent.
You can also find location-specific Facebook groups for housing listings. While on the hunt, I joined two groups:
Avoid minimum agreements.
Some rooms require a three- or six-month commitment. In this case, you would only have to pay the first month up-front, but would promise to stay for longer. Search for rooms with no minimum lease. Compartoapto.com is a great site for filtering through housing options. Narrow your search by region or neighbourhood, cost, roommate gender and age range, and furnished or unfurnished rooms. On this site, ads also include details regarding a minimum agreement, if they have one at all.
Clarify the house rules.
When you go to check out a room, ask a lot of questions. Some owners request quiet hours in the evenings, prohibit visitors after a certain hour, or in the case that you’re sharing a home with a family, will try to limit your access to the kitchen.
Here’s a brief checklist:
• Can I have guests over?
• Is there access to a washing machine?
• Does the shower have hot water?
• Are the kitchen supplies shared?
• Do any of the roommates have pets?
• How close is the nearest Metro stop?
• Where is the nearest grocery store?
Within my first week in Medellín, an expat and a local, who shared an apartment, invited me to rent an extra room as a trial run, paying by the week. I was glad to leave hostel lifestyle behind and save money, and meet a couple of tour guides in the process. I had been paying 26.000 COP per night in a sweaty 10-bed dorm at the hostel, while the weekly 100.000 COP rate in the apartment nearly cut this living expense in half.
When looking for something more permanent, I visited three apartments in different neighbourhoods: Bello in the north, Los Colores in the west, and Itagüí in the south, before moving to a quiet street in Los Colores. For 350.000 COP per month (or about $125 USD), I have a small furnished room with the basics: bed, bedside table, chair, dresser, and closet. The spacious living room includes two couches, a breakfast table great for grading papers, and an enormous TV. A weekly load of laundry is included in the rent, and the building even has an outdoor pool (score!). The shower might not have hot water, but in Medellín’s constant springtime weather, it’s manageable, and a sure way to wake myself up in the morning.
Although leasing an apartment—whether solo or with friends—can come with a lot of red tape and headaches, many landlords are eager to rent individual rooms to foreigners. They trust that a foreigner usually plans to stay for more than a few months, and can afford to pay rent on time.
Don’t limit your options; explore different neighbourhoods, ask a lot of questions, and give an apartment a month-long trial run to ensure you feel at home.Add this article to your reading list