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How to Snag (and not lose) a Good Rental Apartment in Paris or Anywhere
From time to time I hear sad stories from people who have rented an apartment in Paris and feel they didn’t get what they paid for or, worse, thought they were scammed. It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen. On the flipside, I also hear complaints from apartment owners about lousy tenants. Why not? Renting an apartment takes two sides, after all. You have to look out for yourself, check out the apartment, do some homework. But you also have to understand the owner’s point of view. And this is what I want to talk to you about.
Don’t assume it’s a buyers’ market when it comes to renting an upscale short-term apartment in Paris or anywhere else. Sure, landlords may be willing to take what they can get when there’s little or no demand. But in Paris, like New York or London or Tokyo, try not to offend the apartment’s owner before you click “send.”
Reliable agencies (and that may be the best route for some) are able to interpret your wishes and act as intermediaries. They have an ongoing relationship with the owner and ought know what he or she might accept or tolerate. If it’s a good agent, and there are many, with luck you’ll land your dream apartment—or at least place
you’ll be glad to stay.
On the other hand, please don’t have the same expectations as in the U.S. in terms of spaciousness. Properties in European cities tend to be smaller and, yes, there are fewer bathrooms and not every apartment has an eat-in kitchen big enough for a chorus line to rehearse in.
If you’re looking on the internet on sites like VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owners) and it’s clearly a nice property that’s had more than a few positive recommendations, don’t expect a sensational deal. Read what’s written (the list of amenities and the fees) and be polite if you feel like negotiating.
Here are some things you should not do.
If there’s a minimal rental period of a week, don’t send a request for three days. Something may be better than nothing for the owner, but please remember that if the apartment is well-maintained, owners need to have the apartment cleaned before you arrive and after you leave, and the cost is constant whether you’ve been there for a three days, a week or even a month. The cost of turning an apartment can be substantial if the landlord has an onsite concierge service.
Apartment owners who specify no young children usually mean it. Don’t write and say your 2-year-old toddler is perfectly behaved and never gets into anything. If so, your perfect child will surely discover the joys of being bad in someone else’s apartment—and do you really want to be responsible for breakage? If the apartment description says it’s suitable for four people, please don’t ask if it can accommodate eight. And don’t try to sneak extra people in. Landlords get cranky when they receive calls that there isn’t enough hot water, and don’t think it doesn’t get back to them when there are people sleeping in the apartment above and beyond what the contract stipulates.
Let’s say you find an apartment that interests you, but is beyond your budget. Please factor in the cost of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in the hotel or in a restaurant. In Paris, where an inexpensive breakfast can set you back €10 (and that’s essentially for bread, coffee and a glass of juice), being able to eat at home eases a lot of the financial pain and burden—especially if you’re a family of four. A glass of wine in a café frequently costs less than a Coca-Cola and staying in an apartment means you can have your own stash of delicacies to eat and drink and save a ton of money. (It also means that you can take adventage of Paris' fresh produce.)
Please, don’t send blast e-mails saying, “Best price” and leave it at that. You'd be surprised at how many of these landlords receive for rentals in May and June, when the best price can be double since it’s high season. Look at the apartment’s calendar to see whether or not it’s available before making the assumption that it is.
If you’re dealing with an agency or an individual who has multiple apartments, they may have other properties to offer. But if it’s someone who rents out one property, don’t come back and say, “What else do you have?” If they had something else, they would have told you.
Once you’ve decided on two or three apartments and are homing in on your decision, it’s perfectly fine to ask about the neighborhood and whether or not there are stores within walking distance. But please read the description first. Chances are it’s covered in the write-up.
Landlords dislike e-mails saying, “We’re an elderly couple, very quiet, and we’re coming in two weeks. Rather than your apartment sitting empty, we’ll pay 25% of your asking price and will tell all of our friends and spread the word.” Hello?
What are these people thinking? What apartment owner wants others knowing the apartment can be rented for next to nothing? Perhaps these people will strike it lucky, but they aren’t going to be staying in a stellar apartment.
When it says discounts are given for long rentals, ten days doesn’t qualify. You can try to negotiate the price, but please know you may lose the apartment if it’s a prime one. Keep in mind that some people actually take offense when you try to negotiate. A sad fact, but if that’s what you perceive, you have two choices: back off and accept the deal as offered or look elsewhere.
Please do a little research before you rent. If you’re coming to Paris, there’s no Bed Bath & Beyond or Costco where you can buy sheets and everything else in bulk quantities. There’s a Costco in the U.K., but unless you’re planning to stay for more than a few weeks, is that why you’re renting an apartment abroad? No, a U.S. curling iron is NOT going to work in the EU except to blow out fuses and possibly cause a fire. It’s all too easy to check different voltages from one country to the next by clicking here.
Then there’s the question of food. Please don’t think I’m unsympathetic to people who have allergies or dietary preferences, but one dumber than dumb question, especially when it comes to Paris is, “Will I be able to find food I can eat?” One of the pleasures of travel is trying different things and for better or worse, the world is becoming so homogeneous. It’s hard to go anywhere and not find a version of corn flakes. When it comes to organic and biologique, yes, it’s available in Paris even though there’s no Whole Foods.
When it comes to finding the ideal rental apartment for you, it’s important to wear a reality hat. And, then, of course, there are some people who should stay home because that’s where they’re most comfortable. If that describes you, don’t worry. Nothing’s wrong with that. Plus you’ll save yourself a lot of heartburn.
© Karen Fawcett
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