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kopp Apr 22nd, 2007 08:40 AM

Renting an apartment? Questions you may wish to consider asking ahead of time.
 
I have just returned from a 5-week trip (Chamonix, Florence, Rome, Venice) and stayed in 5 different apartments. While the overall experience was enjoyable, it was not without its pitfalls.

If you are in the hunt for an apartment, you may wish to know:

<b><u>What buildings and/or businesses are in the immediate vicinity of the apartment?</u></b> As apartments generally do not have a name posted outside like hotels do, this is helpful when trying to locate the specific door you’re looking for.

<b><u>Upon arrival, what is EXACTLY written on the doorbell sign?</u></b> You have paid the deposits, arranged the arrival time, and someone will be there to meet you. I have lost count of how many emails I wrote ahead of time asking this precise question. Having been assured that a specific name or code would clearly be written on the doorbell panel, on 2 occasions we had to search for a phone to try to make contact. Standing outside a building after a long train ride, luggage in tow, wind in your face, scooters racing by, this was not a pretty picture. Certainly a test of character.

<b><u>Does the apartment come with a dishwasher or washer/dryer?</u></b> If so, be sure to get a detailed tutorial on their operation. Some washer/dryers are even combo units. If you don’t know how to control the heat, be prepared to go shopping for new clothes after the cycle is finished.

<b><u>Ready to stock that refrigerator?</u></b> Find out where the nearest supermarket is. If you arrive late on Saturday, you may be out of luck until Monday.

<b><u>What do you do with trash?</u></b> Do not leave bags of trash in your apartment. Most of our places seemed to have a central trash collection area, even recycling bins. Yet in Rome, we were told to just bag it up and place it outside the door on the sidewalk. Sure enough, it was gone in the morning.

<b><u>Is there someone nearby who can assist with problems?</u></b> Get a local telephone number of the property manager, owner, cleaning person, etc., preferably someone who speaks your language.

The extra room you get in an apartment is wonderful. The fruit and vegetable markets, the special deli, and even the barber shop combine to make the experience heavenly. You can spread out and have space to yourself (required on a long trip), but most of all you immerse yourself into a bit of the local culture. Say “buon giorno” to your neighbor each morning or help the elderly woman up the stairs with her packages, and you’ll have a friend for life!

Ciao, y’all!

Robdaddy Apr 22nd, 2007 09:04 AM

Sound advice, kopp. Thanks for posting.

Statia Apr 22nd, 2007 10:20 AM

Great info, kopp. :)

I also ask on arrival where the nearest ATM attached to a bank is located, since we like to get our funds for the day and deposit the ATM card back at the apartment.

LoveItaly Apr 22nd, 2007 10:33 AM

Good information kopp!

I would like to add one more. If a/c is important to you and if the apartment/villa advertises that the unit has a/c find out what kind. Family members rented two units in Tuscany for three weeks. A/C was very important to them. They discovered the a/c was a window unit in each of the units. They assumed that they were getting central a/c so they were quite displeased. The owner brought in fans for the various bedrooms but they were still quite miserable at night.

travelbunny Apr 22nd, 2007 12:04 PM

..another question that is really impt as you are considering the various apt choices you have it whether there is a security deposit and how is it handled. If you break a glass during a 2 week stay, will you be dinged or is that considered normal wear and tear? Again when paying for the apt, will they accept paypal, a US check, money order or do you have to wire money (which costs a lot). Almost all require at least a 50% deposit when booked and many want full payment well in advance. Thius is fair but must be budgeted in the cost of the apt.

crepes_a_go_go Apr 22nd, 2007 12:17 PM

good questions to ask. I see one already that I have neglected to think of for my upcoming one month apt. stay. Thanks!

Danna Apr 22nd, 2007 12:19 PM

I extensively use the French Yellow pages http://www.pagesjaunes.fr/pj.cgi?lang=en
in my research of the neighborhood. You can find what is nearby, and then go to the photos of the cities to have a virtual walk around the neighborhood.

Then mappy.com is very nice for maps, finding ATMs and satellite images.

NeoPatrick Apr 22nd, 2007 01:32 PM

In reading those suggestions (which are good) I realize how lucky we must be. With all the apartments in Europe we've rented, none of those problems have ever come up. We seem to be very lucky in always being provided a full book or list of instructions for all appliances, directions to nearby groceries and other places, and things like what to do with the trash.

Brazilnut Apr 22nd, 2007 02:55 PM

Don't forget to ask on what floor is the apartment and if they have lifts.

I rented a lovely apartment in Paris, great neighborhood, but I only realized I had to climb five floors when I go there! I really should have asked about it before renting the place...

kopp Apr 22nd, 2007 05:07 PM

Patrick,
I count myself as one of the lucky ones as well. We love renting apartments, and most experiences are good experiences. But sometimes even with the best planning efforts, things go awry and get confusing.

Statia, hi! Yes, most landlords require payment of the balance upon arrival.

LoveItaly, your point about a/c is very valid. In fact, I can probably safely assume that there are those that assume if a place says it has a/c, that it is in fact going to be available for use year-round. Not so in some cities. Even if it's hot in February or March, the a/c does not get turned on until such-and-such date.

travelbunny, good point about breakage. Did this happen to you?

Brazilnut - (love your name :) and the nuts too!) Even if you know there is no lift, asking how many stairs up is good to know. At our place in Chamonix, it was on the first floor, and the elevator was out of order. So we figured no problem. Well, it was a gigantic building with high ceilings, two flights of 17 steps each to the mezzanine level and then another set of stairs to the 1st floor. Good thing the lift was out only 2 days!

Perhaps someone will find something useful in this information, especially the first-time apartment renters.

And of course, many of these comments are valid for hotel rentals as well.

Happy travels everyone!

hipvirgochick Apr 22nd, 2007 07:04 PM

Is there a telephone?
We stayed in great apartments in Rome, Venice, Florence and Paris, but only the one in Paris had a phone.

Where's the nearest bus line?

NeoPatrick Apr 22nd, 2007 07:09 PM

About the height of the stairs. I keep seeing ads for apartments in New York. Several say &quot;no elevator, but just four very short flights up&quot;. What does that mean? The people on the first three floors only have 5 foot high ceilings?

One of my concerns is a large enough bed and one that isn't against a side wall, which seems to be a not so unusual location. Climbing over each other to get in and out of bed is not a great thing -- well, maybe OK for honeymooners.

Nikki Apr 22nd, 2007 07:16 PM

Patrick, I'm guessing the short flights of stairs are half flights that turn at the landing, so there would be two short flights of stairs from the first to the second floor and two more to the third. One possibility anyway.

OReilly Apr 22nd, 2007 08:43 PM

Great topic Kopp and all great suggestions! Wish we had known all this stuff the FIRST time we rented a property in Italy, which was a disaster!

We have rented many properties in Ireland and France and Italy. Almost all experiences have been good to excellent, particularly in Ireland, where the entire village seemed to know we were arriving and many times we have had neighbors dropping in to welcome us. All had a manual/folder with information on how to use appliances; most had recommendations on local restaurants, grocery stores and suggested tours/activities. In all cases we had cell phone numbers to call in case we were delayed, and I had my cell phone with me.


I’d add:

Regarding stocking the fridge, we always try to arrive with the basics – Don’t trust! We stop off at the supermarket before we hit the property. Ask for directions to the nearest supermarket before you leave and pick up the basics.

Is there a WORKING telephone? I rented properties in Ireland and Italy that had a telephone, several in fact, but no dial tone, despite the fact that I had specified that it was a basic requirement for my renting the properties. The Irish came through, allowing me to run a cable to their rental office to do an important conference call. The Italians stared at the phone and shrugged their shoulders, offering no help and no rebate. Same applies to WORKING Internet and WORKING TV Cable – what do you do if it is NOT working? Do you get a rebate if it does not work?

Test all the important appliances before you take the keys, particularly the cooker. Not possible to do a full wash in the washer/dryer, but at least make sure they have power. Who do you call if it doesn’t work?

Run the taps and showers in kitchen and bathrooms to ensure the plumbing works.

SMELL: Are there any strange odors? Mould : Be careful about renting older properties if you have allergies. When communicating with the owner, tell them you can’t rent the property if has mould (same for those allergic to cats, dogs and ciggies). Bad drains – not pleasant to endure for a 2-week stay.

Try the keys before your contact leaves and make sure they work, particularly in older properties – sometimes there is a “trick”. I had an awful experience where I had to check into an hotel for the night because I could not get into my apartment. I failed to notice that the person who gave me the keys pulled the door violently toward them before turning the key.

Don’t assume the contact speaks English – ask the question and also ask if that person will be on-call in case of emergency. In a non-English speaking country, make sure you have a local contact that speaks English well in case you need to ask for directions to get there or have problems conversing with the cleaning woman or person you are getting the key from. I speak a bit of French, but it doesn’t work so well when I have just arrived (need to practice for a few days) and fails me completely when I am in a panic because I am completely lost. Also, even if you have spent months learning the language, you may encounter a “dialect/accent” that is incomprehensible to you. It happened to us in Provence. The owner was American and the lady who met us spoke perfect English and Parisian French – no problem. The housekeeper and gardener/handyman, however, were both from the region and had almost no English. Once they discovered I had a smattering of French they abandoned any effort to communicate in English and chatted away merrily in a form of French, with an accent that was incomprehensible to me, unless they spoke really slowly. Actually, at first I didn’t think they were speaking French. They could understand ME, but I had real difficulty understanding THEM L

What redress do you have if the property is BAD BAD BAD? If you are renting directly from the owner, probably none, but if you are renting from a rental agency, there may be some possible alternatives of the property falls far short of what was described. Does the rental agency have an office in the area? What are the contact details? Is there a person (NAME) you can talk to, preferably before you leave, so you can establish a personal connection? I am thinking of the first time we rented a property in Tuscany, in the days before the Internet, when we rented from this high-end Swiss-based rental agency. We were given to believe we were renting this gorgeous rural property in the Chianti hills. When we got there, it was a skanky peasant cottage, which stank of mould and bad drains, had not been used or cleaned for decades, with ancient furniture and lumpy beds, a filthy kitchen and full of mouse droppings and creepy-crawlies. The deciding factor to leave was the 4-story electrical pylon in the back garden that was transporting power to the entire valley. We left after 2 hours and spent the weekend in a spectacular and expensive hotel in Florence that gave us a very special rate when they heard our sad tale (Bless ‘em). We then spent 2 days of our precious holiday in the rental office in Sienna trying to find an alternative. They were horrible, horrible people to deal with. The office was FULL of French and British families with even worse stories than ours.

If you are in a rural area, ask about friendly locals that you might be willing to help you in case of problems. Also ask for the names and telephone numbers of the doctor and pharmacist in case you need them. Introduce yourself, after a couple of days, to the local grocer, butcher, baker. Always greet people – it’s a nice and a normal thing to do in the country, its also important to establish connections.

I’d add items you may want to bring with you or expect to buy locally.

Even with the best/most expensive places we have rented, the cooking utensils have fallen far short of that required by a good cook that intends to create great meals at home using local produce. We have found that the utensils were either of poor quality, or completely destroyed by previous renters (one unfortunate owner had a full set of Le Creuset pots and pans that had been totally ruined!) In every case, we have had to go shopping for a good pan/pot, sharp knives etc.

We always bring our own small Bodem, as Hubby has to have his prefect coffee every morning. We also bring coffee (for him) and tea (for me), depending where we travel to, as one can never assume what one finds in the rental place meets the standard one is used to (three-year-old Nescafe and insipid Lipton tea bags left by previous occupants – gag!).


Regards Ger

cupid1 Apr 22nd, 2007 09:56 PM

I'm glad to see others also ask a list of questions as well. Owners and agencies can never post too many photos for me, and I have to be able to locate it exactly on a map, too.

My pet peeve is beds! If I don't see a four-poster frame in the photos I ask because the beds-pushed-together configuration to make a double just won't work for me and Mr. Cupid--the gap is too uncomfortable.

I always pack a little bag with a bit of salt, pepper, sugar, sweetner, coffee, a pot holder, sharp utility knife, small plastic cutting board, corkscrew, ziplocs, microfiber cloth and a plastic spatula.

Everything else we can purchase later. Sometimes condiments are provided, sometimes not, but we always seem to need the utensils at even the best places and the cloth and potholder are always useful.

kopp Apr 23rd, 2007 05:04 AM

This is good stuff. Love all the comments.

Regarding the appliances, the type and quantity you get can certainly differ from place to place. If you don't plan to cook, it's most likely no problem. But I love to cook, even after a long day of being out and about (especially when I can buy a veal fillet roast for less than half the price of what it costs here in Texas!)

One morning while cooking eggs, I forgot to use the potholder and just grabbed the frying pan handle -- OMG, the burn! And it seemed like a high quality, heavy-duty pan as well. So be careful!

Ger, what a story! Glad you could at least find another place on short notice. That must have been very stressful.


azandfl Apr 23rd, 2007 11:59 AM

I think this discussion had some excellent points about renting apartments. As a whole we have been lucky for rentals in France and Italy through the years. However, the most delightful apartment and service was in Dijon, France. We stayed at myhomeindijon that can be found on the internet. We plan to return to Dijon. The owner of the apartment met us at the train station and showed us the town. You can easily get around town without a car. You can take the train to Beaune if you want to have a day trip to another town in Burgundy. The owner of the apartment lives 15 minutes from the apartment so can be contacted if there should be a problem. There was food in the refrigerator and a washer/dryer combination. There is a computer for using the internet and free service for international calls. We mailed a 25% deposit ahead of time and used ATM's less than a block from the apartment to obtain cash for the remainder due once we were settled into the apartment. It is a charming apartment for 2 people. There is cable t.v. and a DVD player with a collection of DVDs. We highly recommend Dijon.

Carlux Apr 23rd, 2007 01:32 PM

Am I allowed to mention that our guests get working appliances/telephones etc., a book with very detailed instructions, doctor/hospital/emergency numbers, trash/recycling information,kitchens with supplies, even oyster knives and champagne corks? Plus complete directions, including the name on the mailbox - we meet them anyway, but it's nice not to be waiting for hours while they're around the block doing the same.

I really believe that every rental place should operate on two basic assumptions; first, what would you like to find if you were staying somewhere yourself? We hardly ever rent anywhere that's as clean or well equipped, but keep hoping. (Meanwhile houses across several continents have had their wine glasses upgraded, one of the first things we usually have to do.) And two, if people are paying you to stay there, don't they deserve good quality?

Also, from the owner/manager's point of view, the more information I can give someone, the less they have to call me. Not that I don't enjoy talking to them, but it's easier for all of us if they can be reasonably independent, and concentrate on enjoying their holiday.

gamidtown May 14th, 2007 12:51 PM


Hello. We just came back from Rome and would highly recommend either this apartment or this agency. Very easy to deal with as well as very reasonable prices (and no unpleasant surprises!). Good luck!

http://www.b-b.rm.it/accommodations/desc.php?id=387

Scootoir May 28th, 2007 02:46 PM

Thank you all. We are in the process of researching apartments in Paris for a week this fall and found many helpful suggestions here.

One concern we have is what if the apartment is not as advertised or somehow unavailable when we arrive? We decided to book only with credit card so that we have the credit card company to assist with a dispute. With a hotel we may have paid for only one or two nights but the apartments we have found all want payment in full about 60 days prior to arrival. They've got all your money and what recourse do you have?

Danna, pagesjaunes.fr is a wonderful site. We have already taken &quot;tours&quot; of the neighborhoods of our leading apartments.

Scootoir


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