Monday: We lost the Unicorn Apartment (Feb 15th)
Although we didn’t get the “unicorn apartment” that we had visited, with its tall southwest facing windows and view of Paris’s finest architecture, the fact this apartment exists made me feel hopeful that we COULD live my dream. I thought perhaps if were were just patient enough, another unicorn would appear to try to rent.
The problem is: there are a lot of terrible apartments in Paris
We are looking for a 1-bedroom (deux pièces) apartment with the hookup for a washing machine, in a cute neighborhood, and under €900 including the building maintenance charges (les charges). This is rather difficult, because 90% of the apartments in our price range have at least one huge red flag, and sometimes several.
They’re in poor condition and are in need of significant repairs: outdated windows, lots of peeling paint, water damage, old carpets peeling up from the floor, wood floors that haven’t been refinished in over a decade… and worse.
Once, I called about an apartment and the agent warned me: “There’s a small humidity problem and there’s a smell in the apartment. Are you still interested?” No. No, I do not want to visit your moldy apartment! The announcement for this apartment has been up online for about two months now. Nobody wants that smelly place!
They are really ugly: water heater tank in the living room, awful pink bathtubs, very dated kitchen tile designs, no classic architectural features, and aesthetic repair problems as described above.
They are in an ugly neighborhood: cheap buildings built or renovated in the 60’s with no character whatsoever. It’s surprising that this even exists in Paris, but it’s true.
And so many are totally inconvenient
They are on the seventh floor of a building without an elevator: imagine coming home after grocery shopping?!?
They are on the ground floor with windows facing the street: noise, peeping Toms, street dust, lack of security… need I say more?
They are tiny studios or have the “bedroom” in an open mezzanine, neither of which are acceptable options for us.
They are a LONG walk from the metro and grocery stores.
They are far from the city center: at that point, why not simply pay less and live in the suburbs?
Meeting our basic needs is hard enough…
Most of the apartments listed in our price range have one or more of these problems, so simply finding something that meets our basic standards feels nearly impossible. Approximately 2 potentially-decent apartments show up online every week, and sometimes they have problems not evident in the ad.
Add south facing windows and a prime location on or near a vibrant pedestrian street, and you’ve got a “unicorn apartment.”
These rarely exist if ever
And to be fair, even the unicorn apartment we had visited had its small problems: it was only 27 square meters (the smallest we were willing to go in total area), there wasn’t a hookup – or room in the kitchen – for a regular sized oven, the kitchen and bathroom had water pipes awkwardly running along the baseboard, there was a very tiny and awkward shower, most of the outlets were not grounded, and all the windows faced the street, which could be smelly and noisy in the summer.
Surely, nothing is perfect!
The best apartments aren’t advertised
A lot of apartments of the size we are looking for are passed on to the friends and acquaintances of the current renter, who are often students.
Additionally, some landlords only rent to people they know.
This is not to say we didn’t work our network. We both spoke to everyone we knew about our apartment search. Every one of my students knew we were looking and all of Romain’s family and friends knew as well. I guess we just aren’t in the right circles!
The good ones go quickly!
The best ones that are advertised online are often rented within 24 hours.
One morning, I called an agent about an apartment that had been posted online late in the evening the night before. I attended the only scheduled visit the same day at 1:30 with 20 other potential renters and the agent told me that he would not take any applications on the spot, but that at 4:00 that afternoon he would be at his office and would take the first applicant that came with a completed (and satisfactory) application file (dossier).
It was an ugly, dark apartment, but it was big and had a bunch of closets, and was located on a quiet street in a pleasant neighborhood. Somebody was going to love it. And I never saw it up on the site again, which meant they found a renter!
Priced correctly, even the ugly ones are hot in the Parisian market!
Acting quickly is not enough
Once you find a place that fits your needs, and you get to see it, your the final challenge is to have your dossier accepted. Basically, people with a long career history and who earn 4 times the rent (net) have their dossiers accepted immediately.
The unicorn apartment probably went to someone like that.
In spite of any thoughts I had had of waiting for another unicorn apartment to appear, the truth was, we needed to hedge our bets and grab anything that seemed satisfactory, and try with all our might to have our dossier be selected.
As you might know from my previous posts about this search, it initially took me too long to respond to the ads. As I pondered and researched neighborhoods, the ads would disappear before I had a chance to call.
To improve our chances, I started to get in the habit of responding immediately to any ad that seemed even remotely satisfactory. I was basically on auto-pilot: receive alert, evaluate the ad for red flags, email and phone immediately if no red flags.
The apartment search continued on full speed despite my grief over losing the unicorn apartment.
Tuesday 4:29pm Email Alert (Feb 16)
The day after losing the unicorn a notification popped up on my phone about an apartment in the 13th that had been “renovated as new.”
The building was not located in my preferred neighborhood
While I had been especially tied to that ONE neighborhood (near Denfert-Rochereau) more than the rest, I knew we had to be at least a little flexible about the location, because otherwise it could take months before we found an apartment that met all our criteria.
I took a quick look on Google Street-view at the road where this apartment building was located and decided that the area was active and attractive enough for us.
There was one terrible photo, normally a red flag
The one photo they had online was taken at night of an obvious renovation project. The lighting was terrible and cast strange shadows about. Drop cloths covered the floors. The doors were off their hinges. There was a huge mess.
But, beyond the disorder I could see the beautiful curves of classic Parisian ironwork around the windows. The doors were old and beautiful, and the electric heaters looked new. All good signs.
The promise of a renovated space and wood floors diverted my attention from the lack of photos. It would be worth seeing the place to find out how nice it was, especially since the location was satisfactory and the rent was in our budget.
Tuesday 5:33pm Email into the void (Feb 16)
I emailed the agent at 5:33 pm via seloger.com, with the assumption that my email would get lost like it had for almost every other email I had sent through the site.
To my surprise I quickly received an email from the agent indicating a phone number to call to get more details.
6:09pm First phone call
When I called, they told me there would be a group visit on Thursday the 18th at 12:30 pm. I accepted without knowing how I’d make it. I’d need to cancel all of my classes in order to attend the visit!
Thursday 12:30pm Group Visit (Feb 18th)
Romain offered to go by himself, since he had vacation days to use up, so I had to content myself with his description and photos he texted to me during my lunch break.
He told me it was the best apartment we had visited!
When Romain saw the number of men in suits visiting the apartment at the same time as him, he became discouraged. If their clothing was any indicator of their income, we were up against some stiff competition, and since neither of us wears suits to work, it seemed likely that our dossier would not be accepted.
Giving the best impression possible
While visiting the apartment, Romain made sure to only say positive things about the apartment and said out loud how much he liked it. This was one of the recommendations we had found online.
We knew from past experience that our dossier also needed to look professional and be presented in a clear, organized format. We were ready and Romain carried our very professional looking dossier with him to during the visit.
Every agent has a different process
Some agents want the dossier on the spot, others want it emailed to them, and still others want to collect it in person. This particular agent didn’t want to collect any paper at all. She gave Romain a form to fill out and that was it. He had a meeting to attend that night, so I started to fill it out as soon as I got home.
They asked for the names and addresses of our employers, the phone number of our supervisors, the date we started with each employer, our salaries, types of work contracts, birthdays, places we were born, and all the same information for our co-signers.
I couldn’t believe the information they ask for… But Parisian apartment searches are like the Hunger Games: you do whatever you can to survive the hunt. I was ready to do whatever was necessary!
To give an extra flair to our application, I wrote a delightful email that included the names and contact information of our employers. I encouraged the agent to contact them if she had any questions about our salaries or the stability of our positions. After Romain checked my email for errors, I sent it with a PDF of the form before midnight.
Friday 10:30am A Special Call (Feb 19)
One of Romain’s friends had explained that a call from his co-signers helped him get his place. I had read the same suggestion online, and figured it was worth a try.
Our cosigners are Romain’s parents, and my mother-in-law agreed to make the call. Apparently they chatted for a while about different regions of France and the call went swimmingly. Later, the agent called my husband around 11am to verify a few details, and she asked him to email her the full dossier as a PDF.
Apparently – with the help of Romain’s mom – we had passed this initial review!
Friday 12:30pm Next up: the Dossier (Feb 19)
Our dossier looked amazing! We had a strong cover letter, a table of contents, section dividers, and more documents than required, all to provide as much evidence as possible to prove how responsible – and solvent – we are. It was not actually a very strong dossier, but from a distance it looked quite professional! haha
Since I was home for lunch, I made some final edits to the cover letter and the tables of contents and sent it to the agent attached to an ultra polite and sincere email.
Friday 3:00pm Pre-Approved (Feb 19)
The agent called Romain back to tell him that she had approved our application and ours was the only one she would send to the property manager (gestionnaire) for final approval! How we made it all the way to that point, we’ll never know, but I’m certain that following all of the advice we found online – including the call from the cosigner – definitely helped!
Honestly, though, everything had been moving so quickly, I didn’t really feel happy. I was still very skeptical that we’d be approved. Having been rejected before, I was doubtful we had the income they wanted. Something about it just didn’t seem real.
Plus, I didn’t want to get my hopes up again, so I kept going through all the motions of the search. I spent part of the weekend reading more online advice about the ultra-competitive Parisian apartment search process and tweaking our dossier.
I also started filling out another agent’s form for an apartment we planned to see on Monday.
Tuesday 3:00 YES! (Feb 23)
The gestionnaire accepted our dossier! We were approved for a sweet apartment in the heart of Paris. I was elated but also remained skeptical for some strange reason. A week later we signed the lease, and I was excited, but quite frankly it didn’t feel 100% real until we got the keys in our hands TODAY – March 11th.
It’s official, we’re renting a place in the 13th arrondissement, and it’s a sweet place. Here are a few photos for you to enjoy…
You’ll notice there are no appliances
This is totally normal. In France most apartments (for rent or for sale) don’t come with any appliances. I’ve seen a couple with fridges and hot-plates that are built into the counters, but otherwise, unless the apartment comes “furnished” you must bring all of your own appliances.
As you might know, we have NOTHING. LOL. Romain has been a student living in furnished places for a long time, and I sold everything I had back in the US. His family has helped us out with a dining room table, and other handy items, and our current landlord is selling us a few items that we like in our current apartment.
We found a fridge through one of my English students, and we’ll probably end up buying IKEA’s low-end stove and oven for rock bottom prices. Other than that, we’re trying to find as much as we can second-hand.