VRBO vs. Agency for Paris Apartment

Sep 10th, 2006, 02:17 PM
  #21  
 
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Nina's DH here..

My nomination for the absolute worst first night in a Paris apartment is...

With a 250+ pound locksmith, who neither spoke nor understood any English, and who was as wide as the narrow hallway, throwing his full weight against the thick metal door; me pushing the highest edge of the door inward, and Moos attempting to jimmy the striker with a stiff steel ruler, we were straight out of the Three Stooges!

It was after 10:00PM, and the above routine went on for a full forty five minutes, all to no avail. We made so much noise during that time, that I fully expected the local Gendarmerie to descend upon us at any moment, weapons in hand.

There is no way that every person in that building didn't hear us, yet no one investigated, possibly fearing for their lives

We finally gave up on jimmying the lock and decided to drill an access hole. With all three of us drenched in sweat, testosterone levels elevated, we debated with two languages, six wildly waving hands, and several roughly sketched diagrams, as to the proper location for the critical incision into the patient.

We must have done something right, because the one and only access hole drilled, turned out to be perfectly placed. A few seconds later, the lock snapped open.

It was a great release, as we three men who had bonded in battle, collapsed onto the floor, laughing hysterically - at that triumphant moment, the locksmith, Moos and I were ONE.

-Frank

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Sep 10th, 2006, 02:33 PM
  #22  
 
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Nina's DH here...

My nomination for the worst first night in a Paris apartment:

With a 250+ pound locksmith, who neither spoke nor understood any English, and who was as wide as the narrow hallway, throwing his full weight against the thick metal door; me pushing inward at the corner of the door; and Moos attempting to jimmy the striker with a stiff metal ruler, we were straight out of the Three Stooges!

It was after 10:00PM and we were making enough noise to disturb the tenants at the far off Pere Lachaise cemetary - all to no avail.

I expected the local Gendarmarie to appear at any moment, with guns in hand.

After approximately 45 minutes, we went to Plan B. Debating in two languages, six hands wildly waving, and with the use of rough diagrams drawn on bits of paper, we decided to bring in the big guns.

With much thought and effort, we finally decided on the exact spot to drill the critical incision into our patient. Drenched in sweat and testosterone levels elevated, the work began .... triumphant on the first attempt - the door snapped open.

We did it, we won the battle of the door. Laughing hysterically, we collapsed on the floor in victory. At that moment, the locksmith, Moos and I became ONE.

-Frank
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Sep 10th, 2006, 02:39 PM
  #23  
 
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Frank here again.... sorry for the duplicate posts. I'm new at this board and when it didn't appear within a few minutes of hitting 'post my reply' as Nina insisted it would, I wrote it all over again - hence the thought is the same, but the words aren't.

This posting thing is too much work .... I'd rather have my head in the engine compartment of my '65 Alfa Romeo.

-Frank

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Sep 10th, 2006, 04:32 PM
  #24  
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Thanks, everyone for all the informative, and sometimes intense postings! Gee, see what happens when you leave your computer for a few hours, to try to get some real life stuff done?

Sorry, Nina, about Hovel/Hurst. That is the exact situation I am trying to avoid. Very descriptive...I can tell you are still very upset, and deserve to be! Sometime I'll tell you about my experience with a hotel in London in Queensway, with mold on ceiling, fan that blew dirty air around, and threadbare carpets. At least in a hotel, they'll move you right away.

Thanks, Christina, Shanti and AnselmAdorne---you are absolutely right. Stupid to send a check without a rental agreement first, as owner asks. I'll have him email the agreement first, then negotiate the deposit, etc. Owner also says the balance is due 90 days before we arrive, and he will mail the keys to us. Also that he has a rep in Paris, but that his clients have never needed to use it. I have emails out to former clients who gave glowing recommendations. Seems like a "nice guy," with sense of humor. Sounds like he's been in this business for years, and takes rentals pretty casually. He lives in Northern California (I'm in Southern California). Very responsive to emails.

I did compare the apartment with the agency that the owner mentioned it was listed with. The owner's price is a good deal. In fact, he suggested that if I want the extra hand holding, that I go through the agency. Also, according to the agency, the apartment is completely booked in September and October, so perhaps it is as nice as represented. Our vacation is in December for two weeks.

Thanks all!
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Sep 10th, 2006, 05:49 PM
  #25  
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btw, Nina, I looked at Hovel on Lacicigale website. Did they clean up and remodel, or are those just deceptive pictures? Looks like a cozy, tidy place!!!

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Sep 10th, 2006, 06:08 PM
  #26  
 
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Nina, La Cigogne really is nice! I agree - it would be a good idea to let Randy S. know what you found in the other apartment. I certainly wouldn't want to be associated with it!

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Sep 10th, 2006, 06:58 PM
  #27  
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Danna, could you please tell me more about the apartment you stayed in. The website looks very nice - but there are not many pictures. We were hoping to stay in the apartment that Neo rented in July, but it is already booked for next May. So - we are looking for something else - and would prefer a personal recommendation to avoid anything like Nina experienced. This will be our first rental - so we are a little nervous.

I would like to know more details about the apartment and the area. I assume that the apartment was clean, etc., or you wouldn't be recommending it. Was the owner easy to deal with? Is his price firm at 110 E per night for a week rental? I didn't notice a weekly rate. Anything else you can tell us would be appreciated. Thank you so much!
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Sep 10th, 2006, 07:03 PM
  #28  
 
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I think it's normal to pay the full amount in advance (or a deposit and the rest on arrival but before you are given access to the place), but I do think full payment 90 days in advance is a bit much.

But, if you are sure you want the place, I suppose it doesn't matter that much if you pay 15 days ahead or 90 days ahead, if you trust them. I would buy travel insurance in that case, probably.
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Sep 10th, 2006, 08:29 PM
  #29  
 
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tennistraveler - from what the site says, the hovel was completely redone in 1999, probably when the American bought it. The furniture is exactly the same stuff that was there when we rented in Oct. 2005, so I think that perhaps the pictures could have been taken in 1999 as it has been on Smith's site for at least three or four years that I know of.

I had checked his site a few years back when he posted about his apartment on another message board and the hovel was listed there at the that time.

I remembered it and as I was frantically trying to find something on short notice last year, and I contacted the owner.

The photos show the layout and the furniture - they don't and can't show the tired, worn condition of everything and the well worn furniture, which looks like it was probably bought used to begin with. The bad mattress and pillows and the moldy peeling wall paper in the kitchen, of course would not show up on the pictures.

They didn't lie about the windows, they just neglected to mention that there were none.
When I initially posted last year about the apartment, several Fodorites looked at the site and no one, including me, saw that there were no windows.

In fact Christina who is usually very good at picking out things like that, only made a humerous comment on the fruit bowl on the bed! Pictures don't really mean that much, so I have discovered.
Poor maintaince, Stale air, and dirty, cluttered kitchen draws and cabinets, are never photographed

I was going to contact Randall Smith, last year, but I figured that they are friends, so I didn't bother.

Then after writing this last night, I decided that I was definetly going to tell him, but now that I know that he and Moos are close, I know that it would be a waste of my time.

Hopefully these posts will save someone else from a horrible experience. Now Nina ... it's time for closure.

As DH says, 'I can make our bathroom look like Versailles, with the right lens!'

Nina

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Sep 11th, 2006, 11:00 AM
  #30  
 
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I don't know, I can understand you may think it a waste of time (and perhaps it is), but I would email him, anyway, for the record. He should know that this affects his reputation, also. I would probably email him just because I was mad, actually, and to tell him off. He shouldn't be allowing that on his website if the photos etc are really misleading.

I do remember looking at those photos and not noticing anything looking that bad, but don't remember commenting on the fruit bowl. Did I think that was a positive or negative? Maybe it just looked funny.
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Sep 11th, 2006, 09:50 PM
  #31  
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Nina, I agree with Christina. You definitely should let R. Smith know your dissatisfaction with Moos and the condition of the apartment. Maybe Moos is misrepresenting or hiding things from R.Smith. You should also put in a negative customer review if they have one on the Lacigale site.

You were there in Sept/Oct 2005 (not 2006 as in your posting), right? It's probably too late to get any money back, but a good argument would be that the property was not in the condition represented to you, and the deceptive pictures were an unfair business practice. Or you could have told the owner you would report her to the French equivalent of the Fair Employment and Housing Department. If there is one.

DH (Darling Husband?) Frank: Very entertaining and descriptive post about the 250 pound locksmith! Good thing you could laugh about it. Funny what males bond over.

As for me, I got rave personal emails from the previous renters. Got an emailed contract right away. Got a good deal by checking prices against the agency. So I'm all set! (I hope). Christmas in Paris!!!

Au revoir
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Sep 11th, 2006, 11:02 PM
  #32  
 
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Thanks Christina & tennistravler for the moral support. As far as I know, there is no apartment feedback on Smith's site.

Christina, I think there were several humorous comments about the fresh fruit in the bowl sitting on the bed. It's probably still sitting there, forgotten, in one of the cluttered kitchen drawers!

I had no idea Moos was even connected to Smith until I read Smith's on site newsletter yesterday. Smith gushed about having dinner with Moos and his girlfriend Martina and how Moos has done such a wonderful job, as always, in remodeling the kitchen in the new small apartment, cabinets, counters, etc... That's when we chuckled, because as I said, Moos by his own admission and Marilyn the owner of the hovel, said that he was not handy, but knew 'everyone' and knew how to get things done. After reading the description of Moos, I knew that Smith wouldn't believe anything bad about his friend.

Of course, he can't deny the hovel, unless she has cleaned it up since October 2005. OK, I'll email him something about the apartment, but to give myself _some_ credibility, I'll leave out Moos. And to think, I thought this was all just a bad memory ...oh well, one more email. The money is long gone and that is not an issue.

Traveltennis - Small world - Christmas in Paris....we will be there over Christmas and New Years. We are planning to go to Jim Hayes' soiree on Christmas Eve. Do you have plans for that night or does that sound interesting to you?

If you are not familiar with his Soirees, do a search here on his name and check his site.

I was going to wait until it was closer to that date to see if any other Fodorites will be there, or might be interested in meeting there that night.

I'll do a separate post on that, but if anyone is interested, let me know.

Nina

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Sep 12th, 2006, 01:11 AM
  #33  
 
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Ooooops, Jim Haynes (not Hayes - that's Gabby).

Nina
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Sep 12th, 2006, 03:39 AM
  #34  
 
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Nina - I'm sorry about your bad experience but for me it was worth it to read your DH's post, tears are coming out of my eyes I was laughing so hard. The scene brought to mind ones I've seen in Pink Panther movies.....

Okay, back to real world stuff. I have to agree: on your linked site, the photos of the front facade of the building do indeed imply that the sliding glass door windows at the front would open, because you can see one open in the photo (although it is possibly not the same apartment, it is still one in the same building.)

Your point about those doors being habitually locked is extremely important, and suggests a question for others to ask when booking any apartment, not just this one. In case of fire/hazardous fumes, etc., that door and its balcony is likely the only alternate egress from the apartment. No way, ever, should that door not be able to be unlocked by a resident tenant. To have it understood that it must be relocked when the apartment is vacant is fine (it might be part of an agreement between the owner and other owners in the building as part of a blanket security scheme) but tenants should most definitely have the ability to open the only alternate egress from the unit!

The OP has asked about recourse 'if something goes wrong'. Tennistraveler, you need to specify what you mean by things going wrong. In general, travel insurance won't cover instances of customer dissatisfaction with the unit - you might, I stress might be covered in the event that the unit was gutted by fire or flood just prior to your arrival, but in that case the owner would likely refund your money anyway under local law. Otherwise, an apartment can be 'unacceptable' as in 'dirty' as deemed such by many people, but still be technically deemed 'fit for human habitation' by a third party inspector. Which, in the legal sense, is usually all an owner must ensure at a minimum. As indeed it is hard to come to a mutual understanding of what is an 'acceptable' level of comfortable mattress is. If it's any consolation, one faces the same problem with hotels - one is truly banking on the reputation of the place for it to be acceptable to one.
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Sep 12th, 2006, 08:16 AM
  #35  
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tennistraveler - can you share the information about the apartment you have rented? We are looking for an apartment to rent in May.
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Sep 12th, 2006, 10:00 AM
  #36  
 
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Sue xx yy - you made DH's day, thank you. Also you brought us some very valid points.

The apartment is not visible from the street. What you see on the site, is the front of the building and the entrance door to the courtyard (after you pass through an indoor covered area). The apartment is at the very rear (we think), deep in the bowels of the building.

The large, three story building has numerous apartments and a strange (to us) configuration. To gain access to the apartment, you have to walk through the courtyard that is pictured, turn left at the rear, go up a few steps, turn right, and you enter a small interior hallway, no windows, and only large enough for a 250+ pound locksmith, DH, Moos, and the infamous drill.


Given the layout and the fact that the windowless unit was at what appeared to be the very rear and bottom of the building, we think that it may have been a storage area prior to being converted into an apartment.

The site shows a very clear picture of the sliding glass door in the 'veranda room' and the tall cement block wall which completely encases it. That sliding glass door would be useless as an emergency escape door. The opening is very small, possibly the track was blocked, and a normal sized person would have difficulty getting through it. If you did manage to get outside, that wall, would prevent any escape especially if time was of the essence. It would be impossible for most people to climb over that wall and since we couldn't see how high off of the ground we were, we have no idea what was beneath it. It may actually be at ground level, but we had no way of knowing. All we could see was the building next door and the small balcony of the apartment next door to us - no ground whatsoever.

The small, narrow balcony, maybe two plus feet deep and as wide as the sliding door, was cluttered with several dead plants in pots. That is probably the most accurate photo on the site.

We did spend time tying to figure out where we were in relation to the rest of the building, but that still remains a mystery to us. If DH can't figure it out, it is, in my mind at least, unfigurable.

Another mystery, actually a reverse mystery, is how someone could gain access to the apartment from that area.

In the event of a fire, or other life threatening situation, if there was no way to escape through the front door, we would have been trapped. I could never have climbed over that wall, even with the aid of DH and a chair, and again, how far up were we, or were we on ground level?

Obviously their building codes and enforcement, are different from ours', and the age of the buildings and units that may possibly have been 'grandfathered in' many years ago have to be taken into consideration. As a tourist, in any foreign country, it would be impossible to find the proper authorities to complain to and language would be a major barrier. It takes years here at home to attempt something like that, and you would be a short term visitor.

Since ur only view of the outside world, as restricted as it was, was from that sliding glass door, we had to stick our hands outside to check the weather - and the funny part was that we never knew how warm it actually was, as the air back there and in the courtyard, was cooler than on the street. Weird, weird, weird...for all we know, we could have walked into another dimension when we entered that door ... do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do - perhaps into The Twilight Zone - "Renters' Hell".

Thanks Sue, we all have another very very important question to add to our rental question list.

Nina

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Sep 12th, 2006, 10:29 AM
  #37  
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BLH: Here's the reference from Jeanne.:


Hi Diana: Sorry I didn't reply to your emails right away, I was out of town over the weekend.

We had a great experience at the apt. in Paris. The appliances are fine, although the washer/drier is a bit wierd (it's one unit) and the drier is not as efficient as what most of us expect in the US. The dishwasher, kitchen, TV and bathroom fixturers an appliances are fine. Eugene supplies detailed operating instructions for everything as most of it works differently than standard American stuff. I don't know if there is anyone to call in Paris if you have a problem, you will need to ask Eugene about that (after we got there, it occurred to me that I should have asked that, but we didn't have any problems.)

The apt was very clean and the linens and towels are great. It is wonderfully fitted out with everything you need.

There are great markets, bakeries and shops nearby, some in the immediate area and more within a 10-20 minute walk. There is a cart and a couple of backpacks in the apt which make it a lot easier to carry back what you buy.

I don't know what's "typical" in apt rentals, and I was also a little nervous about sending off all that money to someone I didn't know, but it worked out fine for us. There wasn't really a rental agreeement, just the keys and a bunch of info about the apt. It is a bit of a leap of faith and a "trust me" deal, but we considered it well rewarded.

Please let me know if you have any other questions, and have a great time in Paris!



Jeanne L. Sexton
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Sep 12th, 2006, 11:29 AM
  #38  
 
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Tennistraveler, sounds good, maybe we can get together as you will arrive two days after us and leave the day after we do.

We've talked about going to Jim's on New Years Eve, which falls on a Sunday, but haven't as yet decided. I am not a street/mob scene kinda celebrant, but I do love fireworks and will try to find out if anything is scheduled and where is the best viewing point away from the crowds. Jim's would probably be a great place to be that night.

Your apartment looks great and with good recommendations, I know that you will have fabulous time there. Don't worry about the clothes dryer. We's used the exact same ones in several Paris rentals. The main thing, if it like our last one, is to empty the water compartment where the water collect as it is drying your clothes. They do take a looooong time, but we tha was never a problem. I'm sure that your landlord will give you all of the info that you need.

I don't want to post my email address, but I'm sure that we can find a way to contact each.

Children, especially bright, interestings ones, are always a pleasure to be with, so that would not be a problem with us. In fact we just entertained DH's relatives from Germany here in San Francisco. The kids were almost 13 and 15 and we loved being with them.

Nina

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Sep 12th, 2006, 12:40 PM
  #39  
blh
 
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Thanks for the information about the apartment. It looks wonderful! We only need a one bedroom or studio - for two. It would be nice to book one directly with an owner at a better rate! Hope you all have a great trip!
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Sep 12th, 2006, 01:03 PM
  #40  
 
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Tennis - I feel as if I know you well enough to call you by your first name ... From personal experience (read that as screw ups on my part), once you have posted, it is carved in stone.

Maybe someone can give you a solution. I don't know if you can write to the editors and explain your error.

Perhaps a separate post would be better, I think maybe my boo hooing about the apartment has dragged your post into the ground.

Also, I just now opened a yahoo account - you can email me, if you want, at
[email protected] That's the address I'll be using for anyone who wants to meet at Jim Haynes' or perhaps GTG for a dinner in Paris over the Holiday period.

Please put Fodors in the subject line so I'll know it's not spam.

Nina
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