Tougher Than I Thought: Finding a Place to Live

Back in Viña, finally!! What an adventure to get back here, but on Thursday I finally returned to my city by the sea. Every step of the way, I waited for something else to go awry. Not until I had both my bags (miraculous!) and I sat down on the Santiago airport bus did I relax. Once at the main bus terminal, I bought my ticket and usual empanada. I fell asleep, but awoke to enjoy the approach into Viña. There is a moment you can first glimpse the ocean between the hills. It’s my favorite part of that trip. It means I have arrived home again.

Now, I feel it’s time for an update on one of my two major projects – finding an apartment.**

The apartment search has proven more difficult than I anticipated, though I shouldn’t really be surprised. Finding the perfect place to live is difficult in the U.S. Why should it be any easier in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and don’t have a job (yet)?? 😉 My criteria also make the search more problematic: I prefer to live on my own; I want to be in Viña centro; I want a furnished apartment; I want a balcony; I would love a view of the ocean. I also want a year-round rental.

This last requirement may actually be the most challenging one. Viña del Mar is a major tourist town in summer. A quick Internet search identifies Viña as the “Riviera of South America”. While the high-end luxury of the Riviera may not be here, the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, its beaches and lovely climate certainly are. Additionally, Viña and Valparaíso are famous for their New Year’s Eve fireworks celebrations. So it’s pretty busy here!

Many furnished rentals only run March – December (the school year). The owners make significantly more money renting to tourists during New Year’s Eve and the summer months. That requires many permanent residents either to vacate Viña during the summer, or temporarily live with relatives. When I told this story to my aunt, she said, “It sounds like the Hamptons”. I found this hysterical. Only I would find the equivalent of the Hamptons in somewhere as far off as Chile! I really do know how to pick them, don’t I?

I began my search with the commonly recommended websites. I sent out inquiries. I quickly discovered that not having employment was a showstopper. With no ability to prove that I make 3-4x the monthly rent, I am told I must pay for the entire lease in advance. While theoretically I could do this, it made me very uncomfortable, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps my search had ended even before it really began. Even with a full-time English-teaching job, I wouldn’t be making 3-4x the monthly rent.

I visited a place in Reñaca. It’s further than I wanted (about 20 minutes from Viña centro), and more money than I wanted to spend, but in all other ways is fine. The rental only runs through December, so I would need to find alternate lodging for the summer. I’m not entirely comfortable with my choice, but feel I have few options.

The real estate agent sends me a contract, and my discomfort grows. There are clauses that state the tenant must return the apartment in “perfect working condition”; that the tenant is responsible for small repairs (such as leaky faucets, running toilet, electric switches); that the tenant is responsible for larger repairs (such as water and heating system).

My intuition is telling me that this apartment – especially for a short 4-month lease – is likely more trouble than it’s worth. I reached out to the FB expat group here in Chile to ask their advice. This forum provides a support network for expats, and is the “go to” for just about any question one might have about living in Chile. I received many replies, most of which confirmed that many of these clauses are typical in Chile, except for the one about water and heating systems. Most agree this is not a fair contract, but tell me that I can and should absolutely negotiate the terms of any contract here in Chile. They also tell me that I should take pictures of the condition of the apartment prior to signing any contract, and that I should attach those pictures to the lease. I receive a lot of good advice, all of which I will use in the future. For now though, I decide against the apartment.

Instead, I agreed to rent a room in Viña centro (with a private bathroom) through the end of the year. I found this place through one of my new Chilean friends, and am very grateful. I share a living area and kitchen, but in all other ways it’s exactly what I’m looking for. (pics below) It is in Viña centro, which makes me indescribably happy. I have a desk, a window that faces the afternoon sun and plenty of room to do push-ups, sit-ups and yoga. J And it was waiting for me when I returned from the U.S.! Rodolfo (my landlord) seems like a very nice man, and has been very helpful and kind thus far. I immediately felt comfortable and at home.

While I still need a place for summer (this makes me somewhat nervous), I have a “worst case scenario” option, and I continue to make friends (both Chilean and expat). They may know of a place, or know someone who does. My Spanish continues to improve, which I’m certain will aid in my search. Knowing the language makes such a tremendous difference. With my current focus on apartment vocabulary, I will feel better prepared to resume my search!


**Job search update to follow.



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