Our landlord is throwing us out.
Well, not exactly. The landlord has put the apartment on the market, and hopes to sell it this spring. We have time to figure out our plan.
Plus, we WANT to move into our own apartment. The one we live in is furnished, which is a nice feature, except that the furniture is pretty ugly… And it includes the most uncomfortable white leather couch you’ve ever sat on. It’s all boxy and angular, and you just slide right off when you want to relax. If you’ve ever seen the fancy couches I had back in the US, you know this modern boxy leather stuff is NOT my cup of tea!
Oh, and did I mention our current apartment is 30 minutes outside of Paris, in a quiet and lovely suburb. It’s full of families and retired people who want a slower life than what Paris has to offer.
I’m more of a city girl, though…
I like places that have people moving about and that look alive after 7pm. So, my husband and I are looking for a place in Paris. Ideally near the RER (light rail) B, or the line 6 of the metro, so we can both easily get to work. This amounts to the 14th or 13th arrondissements (which are like boroughs or districts inside of Paris).
We haven’t yet found a place, so this post is my initial look at the apartment hunting process. I’m sure I’ll have another story very soon about THE apartment we found.
For now, here’s how I’ve gone about finding the Parisian apartment of my dreams. (NOTE: the first photo of this post is of an apartment that costs twice as much as our budget. It will not be what our first apartment looks like, except in my dreams!)
Website messaging at its best
No response. Within 24 hours the apartment announcement had been removed from the website, and nobody ever contacted me.
Of course I thought it was a fluke, but after trying this several times and never receiving a response, I changed strategies.
Here is a photo of one of the apartments I thought looked cute, was in our budget, was big enough, and had a separate bedroom. (Location means “for rent”):
Who are the real estate agents?
Someone told me that real estate agencies can help you find an apartment, so I thought I’d pay some a visit.
I walked around the neighborhood where I want to live and walked in to ask about what they had. Strangely, most of the agents had apartments in other arrondissements, but not any in the district where they are located. I found this pretty confusing, and when I started looking at the addresses of other agents on the rental websites, I noticed the same trend.
So, visiting these specific agencies was not particularly helpful. Any agent across the city could advertise for the apartments in the neighborhood I like!
I had other questions for these folks, so I persisted. The first agent was super sweet and looked at my dossier (my stack of application documents) to tell me if it was complete or not. (Omg, this is a whole other problem… the number of documents required makes me feel CERTAIN somebody is going to steal my identity in this process…)
She gave me her card and told me to call her the following week. That seemed promising, and I left feeling hopeful.
The next two agents were super pessimistic.
They both doubted they would have anything that would interest me. (I’m looking for a unicorn, by the way: a *cute* 1 bedroom apartment under 900 euros a month in a perfect location with good lighting… They exist, but they are in high demand!) They gave me their cards with very doubtful looks.
They all told me: when you see something on SeLoger.com, give me a call.
Until then, I can’t help you.
So, I kept on exploring and found two other real estate agencies to visit. Theses folks were nice and positive, but had exactly the same responses: we have nothing now, and when we have something, you’ll see it on SeLoger.com. As soon as you see it, give us a call. Until then, we can’t help you.
So, I need to call you… in français?!?
The 5 agents I spoke to all said to CALL them. Which I am petrified to do. Talking in French face to face is hard, but phone calls are the worst! It’s so easy to mispronounce things on the phone and completely confuse the person you’re talking to. PLUS, you can’t just hand over your business card, you actually have to SAY the digits in your phone number!! And spell your name with the French alphabet. Have you tried this? It’s impossible. Not even close to possible.
So, I told my husband that I’d let him know when I needed him to make a call. I figured the agents would probably prefer to talk to a French person than an American anyway.
The problem with this strategy is that my husband’s job is pretty demanding, and he can’t really take a lot of time during work hours to make calls.
Between my hesitancy to call, and his schedule at work, by the time we’d be ready to call, the ad would be taken down! This new strategy wasn’t working.
I decided I had to call myself…
Usually I’d find the new ads in the evening after work, so I took to calling and leave a voicemail after hours. This felt more reassuring to me than having to speak with a live person.
I assumed they’d call me back in the morning when they got my message.
Nope. Nobody ever called. Ever.
More beautiful apartments kept appearing and quickly disappearing from the websites, and I hadn’t gotten ahold of anyone!
Making gutsy phone calls
So, you have to call during business hours? What a novel idea! But omg, so terrifying!
After missing out on a SUPER cute apartment with a great price in the neighborhood of our dreams, I knew this was the only way.
I signed up for the SeLoger.com email alerts, and got ready to phone them as soon as I saw an email about apartment I liked.
At the start of one of my classes, I told my student that I had just received an alert about an apartment, and she INSISTED I call right there during the class. I said no, but with a horrified look on her face she said, “No, you must call now, or else someone else will get it!”
Calling in front of my English student was worse than calling on my own from a quiet Parisian street. I had to use my choppy French *in front of my student!* I was embarrassed, anxious, nervous, everything all at once.
The guy took my name and number and told me he’d call me back.
That was it.
So very anticlimactic. And hours later the ad was taken down.
This happened another time: I called the agent right away and they took my information so they could call me back another time to set up a visit to the apartment the following week.
It’s only been a few days, but I haven’t heard back about either apartment.
Apartment Hunting Strategy #6 – dissuade the other potential renters
And then it happened, I called an agent with a cute apartment at 9:30am, and the guy said, “Great, we’ll have a viewing at 1pm today,” and he gave me the address. Luckily, I didn’t have a class to teach, so I could go.
I was the third person who arrived to see the place, and after a few minutes, there were at least 10 of us swarming around and snapping photos of this dark little apartment. “Little” is relative, because this is the largest apartment I’d seen in our price range (this one was 45 square meters, but most are 27-35). I was impressed by the size, and kept meandering from room to room, squeezing past the other prospectors.
The walls were dingy, though, with odd colored spots and poorly covered up damage. The windows hadn’t been painted in a while, and they opened up into small dark courtyards.
On the plus side, I liked the size of the place and the numbers of closets, the exterior of the building was cute and the neighborhood was stellar.
Upon leaving a lovely young woman left at the same time as me, and said, “It’s quite dark isn’t it? And far from the metro?” I agreed about the darkness. She then asked me if I knew about the neighborhood.
I’m quite sure she was playing coy, and simply wanted to plant ideas in my head about how dark it is (it’s true, it was super dark) and about how terribly far the apartment is from the metro (a short 10 minute walk).
I thought, “That’s a pretty great strategy she’s got…”
I then proceeded to call my husband to tell him it was too dark and that we should keep looking.
Thing is, it worked like a charm!
More visits ahead
I have an appointment next Tuesday for a super adorable apartment with the most ridiculously tiled kitchen: it’s dark orange! (Not all of it, thank goodness, just the backsplash.) It’s in the perfect neighborhood for us, and it has lots of light (south and west facing windows!).
I’m in contact with the agent, and I even have her cell phone number. I’m going to bring all my documents and a blank check and be ready to sign immediately for this adorable apartment.
And I might use Strategy #6 on the other clients while I’m there! LOL
Wish me luck! 😀
Tips for a Successful Apartment Search
Here’s what I’ve learned about the process so far. Of course in my next article on the topic, I’ll give you the low down on actually getting a place, but for now here are some tips for getting started:
- Get your dossier (the huge stack of documents agents will use to steal your identity, er um, no… Just kidding! It’s to evaluate your ability to pay rent) together before you contact anybody. This must include copies of the following – and may include additional documents as well: ID card or passport + visa, last 3 pay stubs, work contract(s) (and if the contracts are older than 3 months old, a letter from the employer stating you still work there and are in good standing), last 2 years of tax returns (avis d’imposition), your student ID card if you’re in school, last 3 rent receipts, the lease to your current apartment (or a carefully worded document that attests to your current living situation with a copy of the ID of the person who wrote it and proof that they live there too), and your RIB, which is a document from your bank that allows people to give you money or to take your money electronically. PLUS you should have a co-signer (un garant), and they’ll need to provide all the same documents AND their last property tax statement (taxe foncière), and proof of residence (ex: electric bill). Self-employed people have to get a document certified by a CPA (expert comtable) that attests to their earnings.
- Make a PDF of this dossier (1 document, not multiple PDFs), and send it to yourself in an email. Then, if the need arises, you can email an agent the whole file, which they can print in one go.
- Make several copies of the dossier, to be ready when the perfect apartment becomes available. Bring one with you EVERY DAY of your search, because you never know when an agent will call to tell you about a showing. It’s possible you will look at several apartments in one day, so be prepared with several copies of your dossier just in case.
- You’ll need a blank check on hand so that when the occasion arises, you are ready to hand over your dossier and pay your security deposit.
- Walk around the neighborhoods you think you might like. Keep an eye out for the distance from a metro, the locations of local grocers, the types of people you see around, etc. Visit these places at different times of day so you can see the activity level and get a sense for how safe it is.
- Sign up for alerts on SeLoger.com and LeBonCoin.fr for apartments with the exact parameters you want. A 1-bedroom is called un deux pièces. It literally means “a two room” apartment. That means you’ll have one living/dining room and one bedroom. Un trois pièces has three separate rooms. You get the idea.
- When you see an announcement for an apartment you like, take screenshots of all elements of the ad, including the price, location, phone number of the agent, etc. This way, if the apartment disappears from the website, you have all the details to stalk the agent or the apartment!
- As SOON as you see an ad, call during business hours, which can vary, but are generally from 9am until 6:30pm. Ask to get an appointment to see the apartment. They might take your information and call you back.
- Be ready to see an apartment at a moments notice. They might have you visit it the same day the ad goes up, and then someone will sign a lease that same evening. You have to have a very flexible schedule and be very reactive.