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Moving abroad? Be careful when renting an apartment!

  • Suomeksi
  • In English

Scams, drugs, police investigation, murder… A true story of the difficulties and dangers of renting an apartment abroad.

I shared some job searching tips to Spain that ended up being quite popular based on the amount of readers and e-mails I received. Some things don’t change—moving abroad, and especially living under the Spanish sun, feels tempting year after year.

For this reason I want to warn about the risks related to renting an apartment abroad. This happened in Spain, but it could happen anywhere in the world.

Warning: this post contains quite rough facts and it ain’t pretty. Finding an apartment in a foreign country can be challenging, sometimes it can even be dangerous. I am writing this post hoping that young people looking for an apartment abroad would avoid making the terrible mistakes I almost made.

This happened about three years ago. I had been living in Spain for a while and I was looking for a new rental apartment. I needed it fast and I had a tight budget. Being under pressure, I was about to put myself in real danger, without even realizing it.

Be careful, it might be a scam!

I used several websites for my mission of finding a new apartment. It took all of my spare time and I have to be honest, it was a bit frustrating, especially when most of the apartments I went to view were such rat holes, with high rents. Once I finally found an amazing apartment, which seemed perfect for me and was very affordable, I got really excited.

Moving abroad? Be careful when renting an apartment! | Live now – dream later travel blog
My first apartment in Estepona was nice but too far away from work.

I wasn’t the only one looking for an apartment at that time, so it was huge news for me when I received an e-mail stating that I could move in the next day and live there as long as I want. I replied to the e-mail asking if I could see the apartment before signing a contract and how the rent could be paid.

The reply I received wasn’t quite what I expected. It would be difficult to see the apartment, the payment should be done immediately and I would get the keys after the payment has been completed. My boss recognized the e-mail being a scam. Thanks to him, I saved my money. Some other people probably didn’t.

I went later to check the location where this apartment was supposed to be. I found the address but the apartment itself didn’t exist. I returned to square one with the apartment hunt, but at least I still had my money and my account details safe.

An old saying again holds the truth: if something sounds like it’s too good to be true, it most probably is!

Be careful, it might be a crime scene!

The scam case taught me to be more careful, especially when dealing with unidentified private people. A couple of weeks passed by without any apartments, so I had to raise up my budget limit. That worked, and a real estate agent contacted me with another dream apartment.

The location was perfect (this time I went to check it beforehand). The size was perfect. The furniture was perfect. The pool section was more than perfect! And the rent was only 50 euros over my original budget. The only problem was that it would take a couple more weeks until I could see the apartment from the inside.

Moving abroad? Be careful when renting an apartment! | Live now – dream later travel blog
This was my favourite spot when living in Estepona. And it was located right next to my first apartment.

I was running out of time, as the day I had to give the keys of my apartment back to the owner was getting closer. I was trying to put a bit of pressure on the real estate agent to let me in to see the dream flat. He said it was impossible, because the previous tenant had left a big mess behind him and no one was allowed in until it has been properly cleaned. I tried to convince the realtor to show it to me anyway so that I could ensure it really is perfect and I could sign the contract before anyone else.

Being persistent made the realtor confess that the untidiness wasn’t the only problem with the apartment. There was an ongoing police investigation and no outsiders were allowed in as they were still looking for fingerprints and other evidence.

Excuse me, what!?

C’mon, be sensible!

The police investigation could take weeks and I didn’t have time to wait for that long. So I agreed about moving in to a shared apartment instead. Just a couple of days prior to my moving day the realtor called and told the investigation is over and in two weeks time I could see the apartment. I really wanted to have my own place instead of a shared flat, so I insisted to see the apartment immediately or I would need to pass on it. After a small debate, the realtor agreed to let me in. I was training my brain to imagine the flat being as clean as in the pictures I had seen.

Once I entered the apartment I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I always imagined that the stuff police uses for fingerprints is some kind of white powder, but instead the flat was covered with this black mess that looked like spray paint. It was everywhere, all the way from the floor up to the ceiling. All the furniture, walls, cupboards, bathroom… everything was covered with it!

I still tried to imagine the flat being clean, as it would be in a few weeks. I asked the realtor what had happened. Apparently the previous tenant was a drug dealer, who had been caught by the police and taken back to his own country. The police investigation was finished and the flat had been released for renting, so it would be safe to live in. I negotiated the rent a bit lower and we agreed to sign the contract the following week.

What happened next?

The next day I was excited to tell about my dream apartment to my colleagues. I made jokes about not appearing at work one morning and suggested they should then come to the flat to check if I’m still alive. And then it hit me. And it hit me hard.

Suddenly I started panicking like crazy. I had been so excited about the perfect apartment that I didn’t even think what possibly could happen. What if one night some creep knocks on the door looking for some drugs or debts and finds me? What if that happens when my mum or a friend is visiting and I’m at work?

I felt the cold sweat and the shaking taking me over and the feeling didn’t go away. I was asking for advice from dozens of people: the police, my friends, realtors, locals, foreigners, everyone. My boss even helped me to find out about installing an alarm system in case I wouldn’t be able to sleep without one. Then I became realistic: is a nice apartment really worth all this?

Finally I called the realtor and cancelled the whole thing. Afterwards I found out that besides the drugs, a prostitute had been killed in this apartment. I also heard that this black stuff that the whole apartment was covered with was most probably used for finding blood stains. The event ended up in the television news.

Moving abroad? Be careful when renting an apartment! | Live now – dream later travel blog
I finally found my real dream apartment on the bottom floor of this building. From my terrace I had a direct access to the pools. I’m so happy I came to my senses, as after all, all the troubles were paid off with this fantastic apartment.

After a while I finally found a safe flat, which was a real dream apartment. Before that I had to live at the office for a while, but better at the office than in a murder house. Today, when I think about all this, I feel ashamed and horrified. How could I even consider taking that apartment?

Don’t be as stupid as I was! Be careful instead and only deal with people you can really trust. People, who can tell you about any risks that might lie in the apartment you are about to rent.

If you’re seriously thinking about moving abroad, you might also want to read about my most terrifying travel experience—the night our apartment got robbed! Read also a true survival story about how to get rescued from a locked balcony (yes, that can really happen)!

Are you dreaming of moving abroad? Pin this reminder for later:

Moving abroad? Be careful when renting an apartment! | Live now – dream later travel blog

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This Post Has 11 Comments

    1. I’m glad I came to my senses and didn’t take the apartment. To be honest, most probably the place would have been perfectly safe to live in, but when you know something like that happened, it’s difficult to ignore and forget.

  1. Holy cow!! What a harrowing experience! I’m happy it all worked out in the end but boy , what worries! Thanks for sharing this important advice with us!

    1. Thanks Lia, please feel free to share. My purpose was not to scare anyone, just to remind young people moving abroad to be careful, as this COULD happen. Hopefully it won’t, though. I know now I was about to do something really stupid back then, but at the time I was just so excited about the apartment that I didn’t think it through. Luckily it all worked out! 🙂

      1. I’ll definitely share your advice for anyone moving abroad! It actually unfortunately happens here too in NYC that apartments are scams:( it’s sad for those who get their hopes up and instead, lose their money.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m looking for one too and there are a lot of scum out there, gosh! It’s so hard to find a good-looking (not even perfect) apartment.. Wish you all the best!

  3. This is a crazy story! What happened to you is really extraordinary! I’m pretty sure that you just had a bad luck! Anyway, it is always a good idea to be extra careful when searching a place to live abroad! Thanks for sharing your amazing experience! 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment, Harriet. I also think it was extraordinary, and for sure it won’t happen to everyone! 🙂 But I also think it’s good to warn, especially young people moving abroad, that it COULD happen (on the other hand, I guess it could happen anywhere, even in your own country). So it is good to be careful, especially when dealing with complete strangers. The problem is that people like me only see the positives, not the negatives, and that can sometimes be a bad thing, like in this case. But I survived! 😀 Have a great weekend, I hope to see you again!

  4. If this happens to me I will be really scared and shocked! I use to rent an apartment in Spain and I’ve never heard something like this…. Anyway people should be really cautious when renting an apartment abroad and as a general. Thanks for the story! All the best!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tammy. I’m very sure this won’t happen to many people, I was just extremely unlucky. But I suppose it could happen, and it’s good to warn about it. Luckily everything went well in the end! 🙂

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