Several weeks ago, I shared the advantages of renting a Paris apartment for your next dream trip to the City of Light. Are you ready now? Great, because in this post I am going to give you the lowdown on all the secrets for doing this successfully. Now, of course if you become a Paris Made for You client, I will personally take care of arranging the Paris apartment of your dreams – but, even for my clients, I want everyone interested in going to Paris to know the ins and outs of how to choose the perfect place!
In Part 1 below, I’ll discuss:
- Whether or not your travel style is right for renting an apartment
- Who should you rent from
- How to decipher an apartment description (because not all listings state the truth and I want to teach you how to do a bit of detective work to make sure you select the right place)
So, ready to get the keys for your pied de terre? Let’s go!
Reasons to Rent – or Not to Rent – a Paris Apartment
If you’re the type of vacationer who prefers someone to make up your bed, enjoys the services of a concierge and considers the place where you rest your head last on your list of vacation must-haves, then renting an apartment is probably not for you.
But what if you relish your privacy and don’t want a chambermaid walking in on you at inconvenient times. Or what if you want to scramble up some oeufs yourself or you like the idea of crunching your croissant while in your jammies (of course, you could do the same with hotel room service but at three to four times the cost!).
If you desire more room than most hotel lodgings offer, and want to feel that you really belong to a Paris neighborhood, then having your own place to call home while traveling may be just the perfect situation for you.
If this is your first trip to Paris, you may appreciate having the security a hotel provides. You may like that you can select from various room types and, if unhappy, simply move to another room. You may also feel more comfortable having a hotel concierge arrange taxis, dinner reservations and more. All of these are good reasons to choose a hotel.
However, keep in mind that some apartment agencies do act as a concierge and will assist you with your stay. So, you are not necessarily all on your own just because you rented an apartment. But if any of these things are high priority for you a hotel is a good choice. Or, if you’re a last-minute type of traveler, booking a hotel on short notice is certainly easier than booking an apartment.
Also, be aware that most apartment agencies require 50% of the total fee upon booking, so if you don’t like having your money tied up, that’s another reason an apartment rental might not suit you. Although I always recommend travelers insurance for any type of vacation, it’s critical to have it when booking an apartment. Most agencies have strict cancellation policies, and you can understand why. The likelihood of finding someone to fill a cancelled spot is much more difficult when you’re dealing with an apartment.
As a footnote, I’ve counseled many first-time Paris travelers who did splendidly on their own in an apartment. It depends on your travel style. I’ve also arranged apartments for experienced Paris travelers who have only stayed in hotels on previous trips. Needless to say, they’ve kicked the Paris hotel habit to the curb.
Who Should Handle Your Rental?
So, from whom do you rent your little slice of Parisian life? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll break down your search into two categories: agencies and listing services.
For the most part, agencies are run from an office that represents a collection of apartments. The agency may actually own some or all of the apartments. Or some or all of the apartments have owners that hired the agency manage their apartments.
When you deal with an agency, you’re dealing with an office and not the actual apartment owner. This is why they may at first appear to be more expensive than apartments offered by listing services. Agencies build their fees into the cost of the rental and this can make an apartment look more expensive than renting directly from an owner.
However, dealing with a great agency, in most cases, can guarantee hassle-free service and high standards; and that is priceless.
This doesn’t mean emptying your kid’s college fund. Most agencies offer a wide range of apartment prices, so even with a modest budget there is plenty to choose from.
Here is what to look for if you go the agency route:
- Look for an agency that has a physical office in Paris. They may or may not list a physical address, so be sure to inquire. The advantage of this is that the agency has closer control over its properties. They also have staff or at least someone to assist you if your toilet overflows or you have trouble with the key. They also usually have their own cleaning service, which keeps standards consistent. The amenities offered in all of their apartments will likely be the same or at least similar.
- Some travelers I know would rather just be sent the keys ahead of time so they can enter the apartment at their convenience. I think it’s far better to have someone meet you to go over the particulars of the apartment. Agencies almost always send a person to greet you upon arrival. Operating a French dishwasher is different from an American one, and it’s very useful to have someone actually show you rather than having to read the manual.
- When you arrive, if you are really dissatisfied with the apartment, a Paris-based agency can usually address the problem more quickly than one operating in the US or another location outside of Paris. If you don’t go with a local agency, you might end up having to leave messages on voicemail, and that gets tiresome and time consuming. Then, when you finally do reach the agency, they will first have to contact the owner to see what the owner is willing to do to remedy a problem. Non merci! No thank you!
- Make sure that the agency’s website is up to date, grammatically sound and not riddled with obvious spelling mistakes. If it doesn’t meet these standards, it demonstrates lack of attention to detail. When you email the agency, be aware of the time difference. Good agencies will usually get back to you by the next day, but due to potential differences in time of day, do cut any agency a bit of slack with regard to response time.
- Read online reviews of your agency and its apartments on travel forums such as Trip Advisor or Fodor’s. Opinions on these sites vary widely and “everyone’s a critic” so look beneath the silly chatter for real gems of advice regarding the agency. Try typing in the name of the agency that you are interested in and sit down for a good read. If your agency doesn’t appear or hasn’t generated any buzz online, I’d be cautious. It doesn’t mean the agency doesn’t exist or that their apartments are terrible, but I always steer my own clients to better-known and well-received agencies.
- Look for agencies that represent at the most 100 properties, and preferably fewer. Unless they have a very large staff, hundreds of apartments are difficult for one agency to manage. It’s just like when your favorite restaurant or store expands too quickly; the quality suffers and things fall through the cracks much more easily.
- Most agencies rent for a minimum of one week, but not always. Be sure to inquire. If the agency you want to deal with only accepts weekly rentals, you’ll have to stay for a week; oh poor you! If you only need an apartment for less than a week, you might have better luck with a listing service which can be more flexible.
Listing services sound just like what they are: a website where individual owners list their properties but which handles the apartment transaction for you and the owner.
Once you choose your apartment, you’ll typically be sent an email with information for contacting the owner or the owner’s representative. Examples of listing sites include VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner – a worldwide listing service),
The advantage of using one of these listing services is the enormous inventory of properties from which to choose. Additionally, your encounter with an owner can be a wonderful experience.
Plus, you might get to lodge in an apartment that looks and feels nothing like a sterile rental. You’ll also be in a better bargaining position dealing directly with the apartment owner rather than an agency. While agencies often offer specials, I know few who will actually bargain with you.
You will find the prices through listing services to be real bargains because the middleman is eliminated, but you’ll need to be wise to the ways of dealing directly with an owner.
Here are some tips:
Avoid wiring money! Wiring to a bank may or may not be legitimate, but be aware of owners who ask you to send money via Western Union. There have been a few reported cases of prospective apartment dwellers sending money through Western Union and never hearing from the owner again. It’s hard for a listing site to check up on each and every property, and there have been gorgeous properties listed that are actually nonexistent. A true owner who is serious about running his/her apartment like a business will usually accept credit cards, perhaps personal checks and PayPal.
If you can speak to the owner by phone, that’s a real plus. Sometimes accurately gauging who you are dealing with through email is tough. Even if you have to place one long distance phone call, I say it is worth it.
Once you have the owner on the phone:
- Ask for recent reviews (also ask agencies for these if their website reviews are out of date)
- Ask who will be available if problems arise and if anyone will be available to meet you upon arrival.
- Ask about policies – for example, what are the consequences of accidentally breaking a dish or glass. Point is, be clear about their policies. I know one case where a simple lamp was tipped over by accident and damaged. The owner strongly requested the renters find the exact same lamp to replace the one they broke before they left Paris.
Pay attention to the language some owners use to “sell” their place. Look at a map (online or offline) and look up the physical address. Some owners give vague descriptions such as “a stone’s throw from Notre Dame” when it is, in fact, a good mile away (or kilometer in this case).
In my experience based on dealing with many agencies, descriptions for each apartment is written by the agency and not the owner. Therefore, the apartment is usually described accurately and honestly. However, I’ve also read claims that the Eiffel Tower can be “seen” from all of an agency’s apartments no matter where they are located in the city – simply NOT possible!
Be aware of other words and phrases used in the listing or by the owner:
- “Cozy” can be code for very small
- “Lively” can be code for noisy
- “Quaint” can be code for decorated with the same furniture your grandmother has
You get the point. Read very carefully.
Advice for Dealing with Both Agencies & Listing Services
In dealing with both agencies and listing services, some advice overlaps when it comes to evaluating an apartment.
First, make sure there are photos and that a healthy majority of the photos are of the apartment itself. One or two close ups of details on a curtain for example, or a few outdoor pictures of the neighborhood or just of Paris itself is fine. But avoid apartments that present photos that are “not of the apartment” to excess. They are most likely hiding something about the apartment. Request additional interior photos.
Be aware that most photos are taken with a wide-angle lens, making the apartment seem much larger than it actually is (more about size in the next section). Look instead for a numerical measurement of the entire apartment in square meters.
As stated previously, peruse as many reviews as you can find. Sometimes apartments are listed on more than one website. So do a little detective work and gather all the reviews together.
Take the average of the reviews to get a better sense of the reality of the apartment, and watch out for possible “padding” of that reality.
Be wary of negative reviews as well. A negative one that reads something like “kitchen too tiny” or “metro was more blocks away than I thought” are not really negatives – they are subjective opinions. You will have the size of the kitchen from its description or you can ask, knowing that most Parisian kitchens are small as a matter of fact. When it comes to distance from places like metro stops, you can easily look on a map to see how far away it actually is.
If the description indicates the apartment has two bedrooms, look for that second bedroom in the photos. Some owners count a bedroom with a door as one bedroom and pull-out couch with a curtain around it as the second bedroom. It isn’t exactly deceptive, but from an American perspective it can be. So, look carefully.
Paying for Your Apartment
Payment options for apartments vary. Most require a 50% deposit at the time of reservation. This is typical and nothing to fear.
Some agencies and owners using listing services will have you pay the balance upon arrival, while others require the remaining balance 30 to 90 days prior to arrival. I personally like to pay the balance (on a credit card, not in cash) when I arrive. It puts a bit more power in your court should the apartment not be acceptable.
Both agencies and owners may ask for a security deposit. This is to protect you and them. It is not a scam. Some will charge against the security deposit to your credit card without letting the charge go through. When you depart, they will then come and inspect the apartment. The charges are dropped if the apartment is left in a satisfactory state. So do find out exactly what “satisfactory” means to the agency or owner, as well as when you should expect the charges to be returned. Some agencies and owners may just ask you for a personal check upon arrival that they will keep during your stay and tear up upon your departure.
When reading reviews about any agency or owner, look for complaints related to not returning the security deposit. This has been known to happen.
There is one last thing to watch out for. I have known people who have rented an apartment well in advance. Then, one to two weeks prior to their arrival, the agency or owner emailed to tell them something like “the water heater has broken and the apartment is no longer available.” In some cases this turns out to be the truth. But I have friends who later discovered that their apartment was given to renters who were planning a longer stay.
Of course, reputable agencies and owners will not do this unless the water heater really is broken. But to safeguard yourself, make sure your chosen agency or owner has a written clause that states what they will do in the event that the apartment you rented becomes uninhabitable prior to your arrival. Ideally, the agency will do the work to place you in another apartment of theirs that is of equal value or they will upgrade you. Make sure the clause also covers issues that render your apartment uninhabitable that occur on the date of your arrival or during your stay.
At extremely busy times, when all the other apartments within the agency are already booked, a good agency has enough connections with other apartment agencies to place you elsewhere. This situation is more difficult to resolve if you rent from an owner who only has one property. So before you rent with an owner, find out what their policies are and make sure that the agency or owner will foot the bill for a hotel that is acceptable to you should there be no other option. I realize this defeats the entire purpose of apartment renting, but you don’t want to be homeless on the streets of Paris!
Your Next Step
Whether you choose an agency or a listing service is, of course, up to you. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
But once you’ve identified the agency or apartment owner you feel most comfortable dealing with, there’s still a bit more work to be done!
Part 2 of this series will cover how to determine what you need in an apartment, as well as how to select that perfect Paris hideaway!