finance, Spain

My Sticky Note House

I’ve been diligently saving money for the last year since the pandemic started with the goal of buying a house (I mean… apartment) in the next couple of years. I set aside a special savings category in my YNAB budget as my age of money started growing. Age of money is a cool thing – according to my budget, I’m spending money I earned almost 6 months ago! It’s a buffer or a cushion, and I can relax a little knowing the money to pay the bills is already there. So I started doing a little research on Idealista, looking at fixer-upper apartments because it’ll take a long time to be able to afford anything else. I played around with the website’s mortgage calculator to know how much down payment I’d need to hand over and how much the monthly payments would be.

With this in mind, not long ago I stumbled across YNAB’s blog post “How Much House Can I Afford?” – I think it actually came in a weekly newsletter. The post gives a fresh perspective on how to think about your housing options based on all the features a house should have in your ideal world. They suggest three major questions to ask yourself: what are thirty must-haves for the house? What are the non-negotiables? And what spending would I give up to be able to get this house? Another suggestion is to budget as if you already have the house – what would the expenses really be?

So I made a couple of sample budgets to see what that life might look like, including one based on a 50-30-20 rule where no more than 50 percent of my pay goes toward essentials like housing, food and necessities. Thanks to that wake-up call, I realized I’d be spending a lot on repairs and updates if I bought a fixer-upper, and I’d need to save for quite a bit longer to save for the down payment of a newer, nicer place. So I decided to start thinking about what it might be like to live in my own place rather than sharing with roommates. (I’d also been considering the idea of buying a car with my savings. I could pay cash for a car right now if I wanted to, but I also don’t like the idea of using up all my savings in uncertain times.)

So thinking about living on my own rather than buying, I started my thirty must-haves list for a rented apartment. As the blog post recommends: “Grab some sticky notes and start writing. Be descriptive.” So I opened my phone’s ColorNote app and started adding some things. Honestly, I could only come up with 20. Apartments in Spain don’t have that many options, like yards or gardens or kitchen islands. So I was realistic but laid out everything I was looking for.

Shortly after that, I felt completely ready to start looking. I had made my budget scenarios and realized I could afford it. I’d also had a remote job interview that perked me up and made me feel like a big girl, even if the job itself didn’t materialize. So I drew my map on Idealista, slapped on some filters (no elevator? Nope!) and started getting some results. I immediately liked what I saw. The main catch was that most places required a 2 month security deposit AND a month’s rent for the real estate agency, like a finder’s fee. Even if I could afford that (technically I can), I didn’t want to throw away so much money I’d never get back.

A few days later I got a notification from the Idealista app about one place that grabbed my attention immediately. A two-bedroom place in the city center, rented by a PARTICULAR (an individual, not a real estate company, so no extra finder’s fee). I messaged right away and coordinated to see it later that evening. I really liked what I saw and the location was great. So, as it goes here in Spain, it was a “vamos hablando, ya veremos, hay otra gente” situation, so I couldn’t get an answer right away. I told the owner I’d think about it too and get back to her. That night with all the adrenaline pumping through my veins, I turned it over in my mind a hundred times. Can I really do this? What if…? I finally decided to sleep on it, and the next morning I felt a peaceful “yes! go for it!” So I wrote the owner and told her I’d like to take it if nobody else had yet. After an agonizing several hours which turned into days, I finally got an answer that I could take it!

I moved in the first of June and the new place has 16 out of my original 20 wishes. (No bidet, garage, dishwasher or garden.) I think I was well prepared by thinking about those wishes in advance, because once I saw the place, I had it clear in my mind that it had everything I was looking for, so I could say YES right away. It also helped me feel a lot clearer that the place where I had been living was just alright for the moment, but it was time to move on. Once I moved in and  saw just how great it really was, I can say that I’m so glad I made the choice! So now I’ve got two bedrooms – space to work and space for visitors. Come on over!

It even came with Boteros