VRBO vs. Agency for Paris Apartment

Sep 9th, 2006, 04:59 PM
  #1  
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VRBO vs. Agency for Paris Apartment

Anyone have recommendations in favor of or against going through VRBO vs. agencies to rent an apartment in Europe? Is it less expensive to go through a VRBO? Does either offer you recourse if something goes wrong? I bought travel insurance.

Thanks!
tennistraveler is offline  
Sep 9th, 2006, 06:38 PM
  #2  
 
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I used www.homelidays.com this spring. What I really liked about this site is that renters can submit testimonials rating the places they have rented. I stayed at three places - one of them was new and had only one testimonial and it was okay, the other two had numerous testimonials saying that they were wonderful - and they were wonderful!
Shanti is offline  
Sep 9th, 2006, 06:40 PM
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Because you're new to this, and there are SO many options, you might want to start with a search here "Paris Apartments" for those others have stayed in and recommend.

There are no constants, only variables. Everything turns on the agency and your specific rental.

You will need to carefully read your travel insurance policy, particularly "exclusions".
djkbooks is offline  
Sep 9th, 2006, 06:59 PM
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I recommend the apartments on lacigaleparis.com. The owner is just so easy to deal with. He's in the US so that is nice if you are too, and the apartment (we rented the smaller of the 2) is just as promised - nice, clean, well supplied and in a great area.

I have recommended it several other times on here, but NO, I don't work for them. It was just such a pleasure to deal with the owner. For me, it removed all of the "scary unknowns" that I have felt when renting apartments.

Celiaanne is offline  
Sep 9th, 2006, 07:53 PM
  #5  
kdcwood
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VRBO is a rent-by-owner website. Owners pay to post their rentals and the interaction is between the tenant and the owner.

We spent a year+ in Europe (2004-2005) and rented 20 different properties. 15 of those were direct from owners (including several I found through VRBO) and 5 were from agencies. The only place we weren't happy with was a rental through an agency.

Usually it is cheaper to rent directly from an owner, since there is not a middle man. But some people feel more secure going through an agency. Some agencies very carefully screen their properties and provide a high level of service... others do not.

The best bet is to rent places that others have had positive experiences with. You can read hundreds of European rental reviews on www.slowtrav.com or can ask questions here. I also found it very helpful to have a real dialogue with the owners and strike up a relationship through e-mail. We met some absolutely wonderful people.

Some owners will have a contract of some sort, but others will not. There is an element of trust on both sides.

Kathy
 
Sep 9th, 2006, 11:44 PM
  #6  
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Thanks for your comments. I will review all the old postings and lacigaleparis. I am in contact with a VRBO, who is asking for 50% payment now, then he will send me a rental agreement. Then the balance a few weeks before. This seems to be standard from what I understand, but a little scary. I've read recommendations from his other renters, and have emails out to them.

NYHabitat was AWFUL...no answer to any of the questions I posed. Just an emailed contract with note that it would expire in 48 hours. Homelidays and Bienvenueaparis had nothing for me.

There does seem to be a premium tacked on to the rental by the agency...

Thanks!
tennistraveler is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 02:46 AM
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Celiaanne - We too rented the smaller apartment on lacigaleparis.com at 8, Avenue des Gobelins, the Hargrove/Hurst apartment, for four weeks in Sept.-Oct. 2006.

I can't believe that we are talking about the same place. It was a hovel - dark, dirty, mold on the kitchen wall, very very tired furniture, flat stained pillows, a very uncomfortable stained mattress and NO VENTILATION.

There is a small skylight in the kitchen and the veranda shown on the site, had a locked door that we had to beg the local rep to open so that we could breath. That sliding door is the ONLY window in the apartment. It took us three days to convenience him and he finally gave in. He insisted that we lock it when we weren't in the apartment, although there was no way that we could see that someone could get in. The 'balcony' was very tiny, filled with some ugly plants and encased with chicken wire. No room to walk or move out there.

We didn't notice until the day before we left home, when I took a last look at the site, that I couldn't see any outside windows. DH thought that I was nuts and said that they just didn't show in the pictures. (Notice that there is no mention on the site that it overlooks anything). The locked sliding glass door in the vernada room, was the only view of the outside and that was some buildings and the neighbors balcony.

The kitchen was a mess, all of the pots and pans were jammed into one cupboard and the silverware drawers were dirty and cluttered. We never cooked one single thing.

From the minute that we walked in with the rep, the smell hit us in the face and we were both ready to turn around and leave - except we had no place else to go and we were tired from the flight.

For almost three weeks, we were never able to clear the air or have a good nights sleep. On my side of the bed, the rug smelled like cat urine. Lucky me

The only nice part of the apartment, was the bathroom which had a lovely bathtub and lots of good thick towels. The lighting around the mirror was good for applying make up. Those are the only nice things that I can say about the apartment, other than that the neighborhood was good, with lots of stores and restaurants nearby.

After a few days we knew that we couldn't stay there for four weeks, it was just too disgusting and we couldn't sleep on the old, uncomfortable mattress, especially since we had a hard time breathing the stale air. There is a fan over the bed, but once you moved away from it, YUCK.

We told the rep, from the second day on, but he tried to pacify us by making excuses for everything, including the mold and peeling wall paper on one of the kitchen walls. He himself admitted that because of lack of venilation, no matter how many times he cleaned up the mold, it always returned. We suspect that he gave up quite awhile ago and that it was very old mold.

We spent a lot of our precious Paris time trying to find something else, an apartment or a hotel, but Paris is packed that time of year and nothing was available. We tried every single day, calling and going to various hotels.

Finally the last four days of our trip, we were able to move to a wonderful place in the 16th, the one that a lot of Fodorites know from VRBO. We had to stay in this apartment for all but four days of that month, because those four days were the only time that it was available during our stay or we would have taken it earlier. It was over twice the amount of the hovel, but worth every penny to get out of that awful place.

The rep told me NOT to tell the American owner why we were leaving, only that we should telephone here (at our expense) and tell her that our plans had changed, and that maybe she would give us a refund for those four unused days, about $460. He knew her well, and said that she probably wouldn't refund anythng, but it was worth a try.
This was a last minute trip, planned about 8 weeks in advance, so we thought that we were very lucky finding such a 'nice' place, with a 'nice' owner, at such a low price. We tried to rent other places, including two that we had stayed in before, but because of the late date and the time of year, our dates were not available. So when we found this, we jumped on it - although I did make a few posts here to see if anyone knew the apartment, and I asked about the neighborhood, as we were not very familiar with it.
The rep Moos knew that we were desperately trying to get out of there, from the third day on. When we finally got the new place, although we had to wait over two weeks until it was available, Moos told us to call the owner in the US. and tell her that we had a change of plans and would be vacating the apartment four days early. He told us not to tell her the reason at that time, but to wait until we got home and then explain the situation to her. Too late we realized that he didn't want to get involved and make waves with his employment with her.


The same day that we got home, I called the owner and was told that she was in Paris at her apartment!!!! I guess she used our four days for herself.

When I finally reached her a few weeks later, she didn't return my calls, she said she was so surprised that we hadn't been comfortable and that IF we had told her sooner, she may have refunded part of our money, but now it was too late as it had been spent!!!!!

Please tennistraveler, believe and trust me on this one, stay away from this unit. I've read some excellent reviews on the larger apartment on lacigaleparis, which is owned by Randall Smith.

Celiaanne - when did you stay there? I know it was completely redone in 1999, but since then, it has obviously had plenty of use and has not aged well, nor has it been maintained and cleaned properly. Moos the rep, told us that Americans like flat pillows!

Even if they gave it a fresh coat of paint, a new mattress and new pillows, and cleaned up the kitchen, the fact remains that there are no windows and no ventilation.

There is no place to sit and relax in the middle, sleeping room, as there is only one chair and nothing else but the pull down, Murphy bed. The veranda room only has a couch and not much floor space, and there is no place to store your luggage except in the veranda room, so there goes the couch and the rest of the space.

See my review on SlowTravel. I also discussed it in my trip report on this board.

In the past twenty years, we have rented at least 15 apartments all over France, mostly in Paris, but this was absolutely our worst experience ever.

If I sound angry - I am. I can still smell that stale air and hear her voice telling me that there was nothing she could do about it. That hovel _almost_ runined our one month stay in Paris, I said _almost_ because the weather was beautiful, Paris as always was beautiful, and DH and I felt the same way about the apartment so we supported each other, and spent as little time there as possible.

I hope you find what you are looking for.

Travel Insurance will not cover a bad apartment - only if you have to cancel or interupt your trip for a covered reason - illness etc...

Nina
Nina66 is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 04:21 AM
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I apologize for the looong rant above. I edited it numerous times, correcting typos and misspelled words and I even deleted about 75% of it, but no matter what I did, it came out in the original form - with no changes or corrections, with whole paragraphs being repeated. It was weird that I couldn't change anything.

What happened???? Can anyone explain it to me. Is it the length - that's why I deleted most of it, to no avail.

Thanks,

Nina
Nina66 is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 05:52 AM
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Nina66, We didn't rent the same apartment. I am very sorry to hear of your awful experience -- for a whole month. That is what is so scary about renting -- you are stuck! We rented La Cigone in 2004, and we loved it.

If I understand the set-up correctly, R Smith owns 2 apartments, La Cigale and La Cigone. Isn't it a friend of his who owns the Hargrove?

Regardless, if it's on the same website, it should be reliable too. For some reason, we didn't really give the Hargrove any consideration when we were looking - thank God. I can understand why you didn't notice the lack of windows at first (just looking at the site now). The inside doors in the picture give you the "impression" of leading to the outdoors....

We are renting through sleepinitaly for our trip to Rome in 2 weeks. "Neopolitan" stayed there a month or so ago and gave it a decent review. After hearing your story, I am very relieved!

Celiaanne is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 06:19 AM
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"I am in contact with a VRBO, who is asking for 50% payment now, then he will send me a rental agreement. Then the balance a few weeks before. This seems to be standard from what I understand, but a little scary."

tennistraveler, while we're not quite in Kathy's league when it comes to rentals, we've rented more than a dozen places in France over the past seven years. All have been through sites like VRBO or French Connections, and all have been directly from owners.

Are you saying that the owner wants you to send a deposit and that you will then see the rental agreement? That is completely backwards. In our experience, owners will send you the rental agreement before you commit to anything. The agreement spells out the location and nature of the property, the times and dates of the rental, what is included (such as electricty, television, internet access, cleaning, etc), payment conditions, cancellation policy, and whether a damage deposit is required.

Many owners will ask for 50 per cent of the rental cost on signing the agreement; the balance is usually due several weeks before arrival or on arrival.

Many owners will also ask for a damage deposit (€ 200 seems to be common) on arrival. In these cases we have generally been able to give them a cheque for an equivalent amount in Canadian funds, which they hold until our departure.

Like Kathy, we go through a bit of a ritual in getting a sense of what the owners are like. We ask a series of questions spread out over several e-mails, and in some cases have telephoned the owners as well. It's hard to describe a process that is essentially intuitive, but our instincts have generally been pretty good.

Checking reviews and references is essential (Nina's experience, for example, is incredibly helpful for anyone thinking about that particular apartment), but in the end it is a leap of faith. I always find sending off a bank transfer to some stranger in Europe a sobering event, but it has always worked out for us.

Good hunting.

Anselm
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Sep 10th, 2006, 09:18 AM
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Do not send 50% payment and then look at the contract. Actually, I wouldn't pay 50% in advance even if I read the contract.

I dealt with three different owners when I rented places in Paris and Italy. Two of the three owners originally wanted me to transfer money, but it was pretty expensive and they waived the requirement when I told them how much it would cost me.

The Paris owner sent me a contract to sign and then I gave him about 25% as a security deposit when he met me at the apartment on the first day. One of the owners in Italy asked me to send him a check for $100 as a deposit and then tore it up when I showed up. The third couple never asks for a deposit and said that it's always turned out ok for them. In all three cases I paid my rent the day I left.

If I were you, I'd look into other places to rent.

Shanti is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 09:21 AM
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I would want to see the contract first before sending any money. Contract may include "surprises" such as a hefty security deposit required in cash on arrival.
djkbooks is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 09:36 AM
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I've seen that guy who owns a couple apts (La Cigale, etc ) mentioning them on various message boards, and I know nothing about them, but do know that he has a couple of his own and then also advertises a friend's apt. on his website. I agree that if he is advertising his friends' apt, he must know quite well what it is like (espec since he owns his in Paris and must be there a lot) and should be held responsible for what he is allowing on his webiste.

Any agency is going to add on fees, they have to make a profit. So, you should be able to get a better deal on VRBO, but prices vary all over the place, and some of those owners may be pricing theirs competitively with agencies, who knows. I think you just have to look around a lot and get an idea of costs and what you want to pay. No, renting from a private owner doesn't offer you any recourse if anything goes wrong (VRBO). If it's an American owner (or wherever you live), I suppose it would be easier to sue them if you had problems. But that isn't something most people are going to want to go through and wouldn't be worth if for debatable minor problems (ie, something not working right or misrepresented, etc.). I have only rented in Paris from a couple reputable agencies that have been in business many years, and have local rental offices in Paris, and took credit cards. There was always someone to call in Paris, or even drop by their office if you really had to -- which I did not, and had no problems. One apt. I rented had a minor plumbing leak in the building somewhere, I gather, and the agency contacted me personally a couple times to make sure my apt. was okay when they were notified by the building owner, and to solve any problems. I didn't even notice it as it didn't affect my apt., but I liked the service. That was Locaflat.

As for the contract, I agree with others -- it doesn't make any sense to have somebody request you pay 50 pct in advance and only after that getting a rental contract. Unless there is some confusion on what you mean by that (maybe they would then return the rental contract with a note that 50 pct was paid?), I wouldn't deal with such a person. You have to sign a rental contract BEFORE sending any money. Also, you can see the terms that way before you pay.

I do not agree with Shanti that you shouldn't consider any apt. that makes you pay 50 pct when booking. That is very standard, and to be expected. Shanti may have been fortunate in finding a couple private owners that didn't require payment in advance, but that is really unusual. I think both agencies I rented from required full payment within the last month before arrival, or maybe 30 days ahead, something like that--and the other part upon booking.
Christina is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 09:53 AM
  #14  
Neopolitan
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I think it is often false thinking that tells people "since the owner doesn't have to pay an agency fee, VRBO will probably be cheaper." I think many agencies convince owners what the fair market value is. Many owners feel their own place is so special that they charge even more for it -- sometimes more than the agency would agree with. And some owners try to figure out what the agency fee would be and then add that in thinking they will keep it themselves. I've even seen a few places on VRBO that were priced exactly the same and even higher than the same apartment also listed with an agency.

This is not unlike thinking that a house for sale by owner will usually be a better bargain than one listed by a realtor. It just isn't so.
 
Sep 10th, 2006, 11:54 AM
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Celiaanne, (HUGE sigh of relief)... I'm laughing now, but when I read your post that you liked the apartment and thought that it was clean - I was shocked. I know you by your posts and you 'seemed' to be a lovely person with good taste. I know that people see things through different eyes, but this was a huge, unimaginable stretch of my already vivid imagination.

I wasn't aware that R. Smith owned two apartments. I was only familiar with the larger unit and his friend's hovel. I too 'know' him from years back when he and I posted on another board. At that time he had recently bought the large apartment and went through it's renovations, step by step by step and then 'advertised' it constantly. I actually told him that it was bordering on spam. He was very nice on the board and stopped touting his place.

I guess that I should have written to him through his site and told him how bad the Hargrove/Hurst apartment is. Perhaps he has never seen it????? In that case, it shouldn't be on his site - and if he has seen it. hmmmmmm?

We have always negotiated the terms, rent, etc.. either via telephone, snail mail, or in recent years, email. Then the owner would send a contract to be signed and we would send 50% in advance. The rest is due on our day of arrival. Sometimes the security deposit is included with the initial payment and sometimes it is due when we pay the balance.

We've rented through owners and through very reputable agencies - FranceHomestyle, Chez Vous and a few others. We have had problems with both of the above agencies (apartment-wise) and with owners who were less than truthful.

It is impossible to tell if a specific apartment is cheaper through the owner or an agency, unless you can find other rental listings for it. One apartment that I know of is about $50 a week more through an agency, but that was a coincidence that I found both listings.

I can't imagine that anyone would read through that mess that I posted. Thanks for the kind words.

Nina
Nina66 is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 12:01 PM
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http://www.parisholidayapts.com/

try the above link. We have rented two of his apartments on our trips to Paris and been very happy with them. John is the owner of each property and speaks perfect English....

heatherx is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 01:34 PM
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Cecliaanne, I just went on R. Smith's site and saw his new, smaller, apartment that you rented. It looks lovely. If Smith wasn't there, you must have dealt with Moos his local rep/employee.

I am giggling again, because in Smith's newsletter about Paris and his apartments, he mentions Moos several times, with great affection - Moos is the one that we dealt with at the hovel, and who was absolutely worthless as far as we are concerned. He may be able to arrange for renovations, by his own admission and the apartment owner's, Moos isn't handy, but he has a lot of connections in Paris to get things done.

He did nothing to help us, except unlock the sliding glass door. He decided that he wanted to be our new best friend in Paris, and dropped by more than once, unannounced to chat, or would call from the cafe across the street to have us join him for coffee.

He said that he knew several very wealthy Americans that had apartments in Paris and he would see if they had any vacancies. Of course everything was already rented, so that led nowhere.

Since he would be out of town when we departed the hovel four days early, he insisted on coming to our new apartment on our last day in Paris to retrieve the keys. He said that he wanted to see the apartment and asked us several times to tell the other owner about him, and say that he would be a good local manager for the apartment. RIGHT ...

No way, we were out of there, and left him a phone message (wimps that we are) telling him that we would leave the keys behind. We stupidly had given him the address and phone number for the new apartment, and wouldn't have been at all surprised if he had shown up on our last day there - as that is what he had intended to do. We were gone all day, so I have no idea if he did in fact make an appearance.

It also bothered us that there would be no local rep to call if something went wrong with the apartment, plumbing etc... for nearly l/4 of our stay. Moos informed us a day or so before he left, that he would be vacationing in Germany for a little over a week, and that we would be unable to reach him on his cell during that time.

We had assumed, as we do with all rentals, that there would always be a local rep in case we had an emergency. Of course he was entitled to a vacation too, but either he or the owner should have arranged for a substitute.

I now have one more, very important requirement on my rental list.

Normally I wouldn't make such a critical personal attack on someone online, but he was worthless to us during our stay, except for the very first night and then he was worth his weight in gold.

We had a friend who was also visiting Paris, and her last night was our first night. When we were leaving the apartment for dinner, she got to the front door first, and turned the key that was in the lock on the inside of the door. That key prevented anyone from opening the door with a key, from the outside. What she actually did was prevent us from being able to unlock the door from the outside.

Fortunately, given the hour, as soon as the door was closed, we remembered something that we wanted from inside, and realized that we were locked out.

It was about 8:30PM on a Friday evening, and we immediately called Moos from the payphone outside of the building. He couldn't believe that that had happened - DH says it was due to the poor design of the lock. Moos came to the restaurant where were were eating about a half hour later and contacted a locksmith.

120 euros later, plus something for Moos' trouble, we were back in of the apartment. We laughed in disbelief that we had actually paid to get back inside. Talk about adding insult to injury

Aside from this much appreciated service, he could do nothing but make excuses for every flaw in the apartment, and gave us nothing but 'lip service'. He obviously didn't want us to make waves that would impact his longtime relationship with the owner.

Anyone who has met him, will agree that he is charming and personable, and has a 'gift of gab'.

Nina
Nina66 is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 01:49 PM
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You're lucky that you got away with such a cheap locksmith's bill. We have friends who stayed in a Paris apartment owned by friends. Jet lagged, they too managed to lock themselves out by leaving the key in the lock - and it was closer to 1000 euros by tthe time the locksmith dismanted the whole door and replaced the lock. The friend figured it was their fault, and so they ended up paying a lot more for their free apartment than we did for our hotel room.
Carlux is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 01:51 PM
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I am another VRBO user who is comfortable with the 50% down and full payment 15-30 days in advance of use. Those terms have been pretty typical for both US and European rentals.

I always check numerous sources before renting apartments/condos and have gotten great deals on VRBO in comparison with rental agencies. I've sometimes used manangement agencies anyway when I've found the "perfect" rental I had to have- like the glass house on the tip of an island for my 40th b-day.

I do agree that it is nice to know that an agency representative is in town so that you have access to local help should something go wrong, especially in the case of an overseas rental.

One of the best examples is when I rented a new Keystone condo in a cookie cutter building where every unit is exactly the same down to the required lamps, etc... The onsite agency price was $500/nt (Christmas week prices, yikes!) and I got it directly from the owner for $275/nt.
amwosu is offline  
Sep 10th, 2006, 02:08 PM
  #20  
 
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We rented this apartment in the 16th through VRBO and I'll go there again in a heartbeat.
http://www.vrbo.com/60877
Danna is offline  

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