Thursday, November 24, 2011

Vacation apartment rentals: Lessons learned

Le Duc and I typically rent an apartment when we visit Paris, now that longtime local friends have downsized from family homes or retired to other cities.

An apartment makes sense for us. We need two bedrooms (serious snoring on his part, despite surgeries and therapies). He works part of the time on the trip, sometimes in the middle of the night. We like to receive friends; we also enjoy the break from eating every meal in a restaurant. A washer/dryer makes traveling light easy.

For nearly a decade, we've used the same agency, Paris Address, and received excellent service. But, distracted by other matters, we were not as vigilant in our selection this time. We ended up in a clean but charmless flat. The place lacked any grace notes, let alone stoppers for sinks. 

The kitchen was insufficiently and cheaply stocked: one dishtowel, two old napkins. Some of the furniture in the photos below had been swapped for pieces in rundown condition; the thin, stained livingroom carpet, not evident in the photo, created such a bleak ambience that we would not have anyone visit. The curtains were now dreary beige and the tiebacks shown had gone on vacation.

Apt. #1 looked pleasant enough...
and had large, comfortable beds, but...

On the plus side, the beds were fine, there was a tiny but newly-installed bathroom, and one bedroom window opened to a pretty courtyard. In short, habitable but not gracious. That is, habitable until a major construction project began upstairs, canceling any chance at relaxation.

After I broke into sleep-deprived weeping, Le Duc called Paris Address and in less than an hour we were relocated to a gorgeous apartment in a nearby neighbourhood. 

Apt. #2 was so appealing and well-equipped that we were on a different planet. The price for the time period we stayed was €1,195/week (US$1,660), a bit less than Apt. #1. That's about US$230 a day and just try to find two hotel rooms with these amenities in the 5th or 6th arr. for less.

Bon matin!
This is one cool pad, from decor to the well-stocked kitchen. The front window provides a bird's-eye view straight down chic Rue Mabillon, framed by the arcades of Marché St. Germain. We saw Paris awaken each morning from this exact view.


Apt. #2: Dining area in LR
Livingroom: View toward window
Livingroom: Désirez-vous un apéritif?
Here are the lessons learned; I hope you can use them for any location.

1. The camera does not lie, but it can fib. Photos on the site may not be recent. In Apt. #1, furniture had been moved to make rooms look larger and the best view was obscured by the 'real' arrangement. Some furniture was exchanged for inferior pieces, and a camera can't show a rickety table.

2. If you're disappointed, state your issues politely and ask to be relocated as soon as possible.

- Take the phone number and name of a manager at the agency with you. (Paris Address told us that Apt. #1 was inventory from another agency and said that they had not inspected the place personally "yet". Whatever; they moved us.)

- Be reasonable and flexible. The agency cannot know if neighbours have plans for major renos. They are technically are not responsible for peace and quiet, any more than a hotel can be responsible for that drunken soccer fan party under your window. But the agency wants satisfied return customers, and a cooperative attitude gets the best results.

3. Price more often reflects square foot of apartment than "niceness". Apt. #1 was in fact slightly more expensive than #2, because of a slight size difference. The increase in space was in a useless hall.

4. If you have a certain ideal image, be clear about it and talk to the agency before booking. If you long for an antique-filled garret, or plan to cook for a crowd, or need absolute quiet, say so. Read the customer reviews, paying attention to date of post. We wish we had, because one man had flagged the deficiencies in Apt. #1 with acerbic accuracy.

We can't wait to return to Apt. #2. But we're won't count on a "one and only", because these places come and go from the market.

Once relocated, we felt that we were living, as the Italian saying goes, "like God in France".  We learned how to choose more carefully and recover when we make an error.

If you have any further tips about making wise vacation rentals, I would appreciate hearing them.

15 comments:

Frugal Scholar said...

We've only done a rental once--near Notre Dame. The location made up for the tiny size. My sister-in-law and family rented a gorgeous apt near rue Cler. Though it looked like something from House Beautiful, it lacked air conditioning (as do most places, I suppose). There was a heat wave...and all have bad memories of the Paris trip.

Switching out the furniture--that sounds like a non-non to me.

HB said...

Wonderful post!! My only additional thought is to move before you're totally exhausted by a bad situation or out of time on your vacation. In our case, we didn't ask enough questions of the person renting via Craigslist when we went to Hawaii for a wedding. It was the North Shore so not nearly as expensive and touristy. Still, though, it was overpriced and dark, not clean, tiny and had really uncomfortable beds. I was shyer then than I am now about these things and in retrospect the additional $100 a night would have been worth a comfortable bed for our short stay.

If you or other readers have good recommendations for N American agencies I'd love to hear those too. Always on the search because renting an apartment is really the way to go. For shorter visits we usually do very well with boutique hotels for value, ambiance and comfort.

laurieann said...

Thank you so much for the tips Duchesse. I have not rented a flat in Paris though I look forward to it but have in London and Dublin. Not having friends in the locations where we travel means that we look more for function (washer/dryer, good neighborhood) than for interest. Mostly I try to read posts on Slow Travel, Rick Steves, Fromer's web sites to see if I can find a flat or agency recommended by more than one person. I also use google.earth to look at the neighborhood.

Too bad money doesn't grow on trees as I'd like to try the flats of Paris Perfect because they look lovely and are very near Rue St. Dominique; a very convenient area.

Glad you were able to get your location sorted out so that you and Le Duc were more comfortable.

Duchesse said...

Frugal: The agencies make that trade-off too, the more desirable the location, the higher the price.

HB: Absolutely second your early request advice and we wonder why we stayed so long in #1- except it was not dirty. (Dirty would be a no-go from minute one.) I've used Air B&B very successfully in Canada, but it is a network, not an agency. Still, there are user's reviews and I've found the places as represented, very nice.

laurienn: We will definitely rebook with Paris Address and find the apt. route cheaper than the 2 hotel rooms we require due to the snoring.

lagatta à montréal said...

Here is a thread about budget rentals and other accomodation from another travel board I'm on:

http://anyportinastorm.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=paris&action=display&thread=4108&page=1

Frugal, I'm sure some of the higher-end rentals in Paris have air conditioning but not a single one of the people I know there does, and some are professionals with very nice places indeed.

Alas there is a lot of not-quite-fraud but deception in rentals, if one is not careful. Then there are the places with spindly stools and a high bench for meals. Owww!

Ali said...

This will sound seriously dumb, but I had no idea you could rent an apartment/flat in Paris over the short term. Lessons learned!

Thank you so much for invaluable information and the link to the rental agent, Paris Address.

Tiffany said...

Great advice. We may be going to Paris next year, and will definitely choose an apartment over a hotel, so it's very helpful to read your thoughts.

We got a great apartment in Manhattan last year, but not without a couple of hitches ...

materfamilias said...

We're so grateful for your recommendation of Paris Address -- our rental (right in the heart of St. Germain) was great for the price and we were most impressed by the agency. The young man who met us to introduce us to the flat and its features was very helpful. There were a few minor issues (the coffee table that converted to a dining table perhaps required certification to effect such conversion), but overall we were so pleased to be able to feel at home this way. We have a hotel we love, that's v. reasonable, with great management, in Paris, but having one's own flat is a completely different experience. Grocery shopping & cooking there made us feel a wee bit like real Parisians!

We made a point of stopping by the Paris Address offices one day -- it's very reassuring to know that they are so "gettable" in case of any concern. So many of these agencies are much less available. Thanks once more for posting about this!

Duchesse said...

Ali: You can, but there are fewer than there used to be; the French government is acting to restrict short term rental. The 'noble' reason is that the apts. are not available to Parisiens but the real reason, according to friends who live there, is the influence of the hotel lobby, and the city wants the tax revenues from the rooms. Therefore, we rent through agencies, not Craigslist.

Tiffany: There are certain restrictions but I much prefer it over a hotel for a longer stay.

materfamilias: Glad to help and maybe one day we will be in Paris at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Your pictures brought back memories... My family did house swapping with folk in Europe and North America so we got to stay in an apartment in the centre of Paris.

Mum, Dad and two kids - one bedroom, a fold out couch in the lounge and a bed (I kid you not) above the toilet!! And because it was so old, toilet paper couldn't be flushed. Oh my. Still, Paris was, and is awesome!

Cheers,
Eleanorjane.

Duchesse said...

Eleanorjane: When you're a kid, the adventure is sufficient to override ideas of what should be. (And what a time you had!)

We try to retain some of that spirit. At the same time, Apt #1 was not worth the cost, as we knew-from previous rentals with the same agency- what else was offered for the pretty much the same price.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you're right about the drawbacks of straight surface rates, as my own apartment must have 15 expensive square meters of hallway.. I also recently landed in a much better hotel by reading reviews before clicking mindlessly for the most convenient location, during a recent Paris weekend. When comments run to 'one of the worst places I've ever been in', you don't want to muck about with how accurate they may be. I do hope you're adding this very detailed review of apt#1 to the site yourself..

If M.Duc is so loud, you should probably consider a CPAP. Fast. Before the hypoxia really gets to him.. Oh, I'd better go anonymous before I get into how I know :-)..

Duchesse said...

Anon: Le Duc has a CPAP, but finds the effect of totally dried out airways makes him more miserable. He m finds it better to sleep without one and his health does not require it, at least not presently.

Tamera Beardsley said...

Thank you so much for your wise advice...we too have to make travel arrangements around 'snoring conditions' will remember the apartment alternative!

Duchesse said...

Tamer Beardsely: More and more couples are having to consider this condition, or one goes sleepless, not usually the snorer.