Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 5 – The Flat Hunting Expedition

At the beginning of January we were already so sick and tired of the Berlin winter that going to Tenerife on a flat hunting expedition felt like getting away for a bit of an urgent vacation someplace warmer and brighter. As realists rather than unwavering optimists, though, we were mentally prepared for a rather tough and nasty month ahead, possibly even failure. We managed to book an affordable room in the coastal town of El Médano via Airbnb and landed on Tenerife with lots of determination, a chunk of money in the bank, and not much else. A week into our expedition a couple of good friends from Slovenia, who have lived on Tenerife for years now, took mercy on us and let us stay at their place. Our day-to-day expenses were thus significantly reduced, and they also provided us with lots of information as well as an occasional car ride. For that we’ll be eternally grateful.

Buying a flat is not something one normally expects to do very quickly, and we had already taken the island’s skewed perception of time into account as well. Nevertheless it took us a while to wrap our minds around the radically relaxed Canarian pace (I doubt the average “northerner” ever truly gets used to it, in all its various dimensions), as on the Canaries everything indeed strictly adheres to the proverbial “mañana, mañana” routine. We found several affordable apartments in the towns around the general area we’d opted for, but the infernally sluggish pace of even arranging for a single viewing was nerve-wracking. Of course, I won’t bore anyone with details, not even myself: I’ll just say that the initial enthusiasm soon gave way to routine phone calls (if somebody around here tells you they’ll call back or send you an e-mail, don’t put too much stock in it), information gathering (fortunately Monika speaks perfect Spanish, otherwise we’d be completely screwed), and, above all, waiting. Lots of waiting.

In the meantime, the first priority was to get our N.I.E. (identification number for foreigners), because you can’t even open a local bank account without it, let alone buy an apartment. We were told we had to go to Las Americas, a city some 25 kilometres from El Médano, to get it at the local police station, and that we better get there very early, otherwise the appointment slots for the day might all be filled. We took the advice seriously, but due to poor bus connections we weren’t able to make it there before ten, approximately: we did take the first morning bus, but it took the “scenic route”, meandering through every village and hamlet. So we arrived about an hour after the office at the police station opened… And it was already too late. The nice police woman told us we better get there at 7 in the morning at the latest, two hours before they start giving out the “tickets” for the appointments, because sometimes they supposedly ran out of slots in under half an hour. “No, you can’t get a ticket for tomorrow today,” she beamed. “Oh, there aren’t any buses from El Médano so early in the morning? Well, why don’t you ask a friend who works in Las Americas to drop you off?

Of course, how come we haven’t thought of that: like each and every foreigner who needs an ID number for foreigners, we had a horde of friends in El Médano who worked in Las Americas and commuted there every day at 5 a.m.

Stuck in Las Americas until the bus back, after accomplishing nothing whatsoever for who knows which day in a row, I succumbed to the first bureaucracy-induced redout of the season, and as all the anger management techniques I could think of failed miserably, including counting slowly to 999, I had no choice but to resort to bitching for half an hour to no one in particular. During the venting episode I hatched a theory why they distributed the N.I.E. numbers at police stations: so that the people who had been standing in line for hours only to be turned away and told to come back another day didn’t start slapping unarmed bureaucrats around.

However, the one thing we could do before showing up for our accursed ticket again was to pay the fees associated with the N.I.E. in advance, which you’re supposed to do at a bank. The nice policewoman had told us how much these fees would be, but, of course, we didn’t remember the price precisely to the last cent, figuring that of course the tellers at the banks would know. We went to a bank only to discover that one could only pay these fees during a short window of a couple of hours early in the morning. So we went to a bank in El Médano early next day, where we waited in line for the better part of an hour, only to find out that that particular bank did not accept this sort of fees. We headed to another bank that did, but after we’d waited for another hour (way past the “fee payment schedule”, but fortunately they elected to overlook that), they told us they didn’t know how much that fee was. We could have said anything, because nobody would check, but that would probably get us in trouble with the nice policewoman. And no, they didn’t have any price lists, nor did they believe the information could be found online somewhere. So, again, we accomplished absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, further redouts were averted, as we simply gave up on doing anything useful, sought solace in gallows humour, and decided to have a beer and stare out to sea instead.

At this point we started taking a piece of advice we’d received from a friend very seriously: “Don’t apply your mainland logic to anything you’re trying to do on Tenerife, because it’ll usually turn out to be completely flawed.

Our next attempt at obtaining the coveted identification number involved buying a bottle of the most expensive wine we could find in the local store, because we elected to bribe the poor guy in whose place we were staying. He gave us a lift to Las Americas at five a.m. the next day. Thus we managed to show up at six in the morning, and we were definitely not the first sufferers there. At around eight – about an hour before the slot assignment began – this was what the line in front of the police station looked like:

After several hours and a high-speed trek to the bank in order to pay the relevant fees in time, we finally managed to get our paws on the priceless documents. The policepersons were smiling and nice and, on the first-name basis with Monika, they said her Spanish was great. We soon ended up chatting about the wonders of linguistics and discussed who had studied what. One of the policepersons was an English major. Lovely, though frustrating for everyone else in line… But apparently the police were sick and tired of N.I.E. numbers and had more interesting things to discuss.

(It turns out I won’t have to learn the Spanish constructions for addressing people formally anytime soon, because not only is everyone on the first-name basis on the Canaries, but almost everyone you meet, even officials, immediately starts calling you “my love”, “my dear”, “my girl/boy”, and the like. Even I noticed the phenomenon, despite the fact that my knowledge of Spanish is currently virtually non-existent. I asked Monika if this was a Spanish thing, but she said that it definitely wasn’t and that it had to be a Canary thing. Other foreigners later confirmed that it is indeed so and that it’s as funny as it’s endearing. It’s kind of hard to argue with a bureaucrat who keeps calling you “my precious”, though. At least the policepersons refrained from doing that, exactly, but they were by no means able to go along with Monika’s unwitting attempts at keeping things formal for more than two initial sentences.)

Finally the apartment viewings started as well, as one by one the real-estate agents eventually started emerging from the woodwork, and eventually – after about a month or so, all in all – we found two apartments we really liked. As soon as we actually saw the inside of the second one of these, we both fell in love with it, especially because of its two terraces on the roof of a three-storey apartment building in San Isidro, a decently large town some 5 kilometres from the coastal resort of El Médano. Even if the apartments in the coastal towns weren’t far too expensive for us anyway, we’d have opted for San Isidro instead: it is an actual small city, not a tourist resort; and it is mostly populated by immigrants, a situation we’ve had great experience with during our five-year stay in the Neukölln district of Berlin. After all, we were moving in order to live and work somewhere else, not to go on eternal vacation… And as immigrants, what better place to do that than in a city full of other immigrants. Furthermore, unlike the coastal villages in the area, San Isidro is a real city of 20,000 people, with all the amenities, facilities, as well as comparatively good public transport. Hell, it’s even in the process of installing fibre optics (though, taking the Canarian pace into account, that’ll take another year or four).

As soon as we decided for the flat – a bank repossession which had been empty for years – it turned out that we’d have to collect a heap of documents, proving the origins of our funds. On the one hand that’s normal, in line with the EU legislation, and intended to safeguard against money laundering, but the task was exacerbated by the fact that the bank that owned the flat was, contrary to what one might expect, not at all happy that we wanted to simply buy the place rather than take out a loan with them. Thus they were by no means making the transaction easy. It makes sense: their best case scenario is giving someone an expensive loan, repossessing the flat once the borrowers (hopefully) default, and selling it again.

Playing it safe, we acquired our own cadastral records for the chosen flat and ran them past a lawyer, our friends’ acquaintance. Organising a meeting was rather difficult, as the lawyer whom I soon started calling “Nocturnal Attorney”, mostly operated during the night: allegedly all the commotion during the day distracted him. Finally we managed to meet, he verified the documentation, explained a few things, checked the supporting documentation we’d gathered in the meantime, typed up an explanatory note for us, and gave us the go-ahead.

It was time to pay the reservation for the flat, which means that the bank took it off the market, after which we had one month to provide all the documents, officially translated into Spanish. These sorts of transactions on the Canaries involve bank checks, not wire transfers, so we went back to the bank where we had opened a bank account and got it done. Our bank on Tenerife is the funniest place (well, that’s an original sentence I’ve never thought I’d come up with), thanks to Jocular Banker, a guy who convinced me that my choice of banks on the basis of a neat logo and colour scheme was the right one. (What do you mean, I’m being ridiculous? Sorry, but that’s all the info I had when we had to choose our bank, except for the fact that I dislike Santander because of their various well-known machinations and their role in the recent – or still ongoing – financial crisis. Santander was also the bank that sold us our apartment, which they had earlier repossessed from some poor guy, and capitalising on somebody else’s misery is all I ever want to have to do with them.)

After a trip to Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife, the preliminary contract was signed. We returned to Berlin in order to take care of the rest of the paperwork and wait for it to go through.

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