The rooster, the emblem of France, as a door knocker and a friendly neighborhood dog keeping watch (mksfca, Ian T. McFarland)
This time last year, I was packing up my life to move to Paris for three months. I remember the butterflies spinning inside me as I made my way to my first Paris apartment in the hours just before sunrise. I was nervous, but delighted to finally live the French life.
Navigating the maze of cozy streets, shopping for my basic necessities (mainly cheese) daily, and assembling effortless meals in my tiny kitchen, I can understand why living in your very own Paris apartment is the quintessential American girl dream. There’s really no other drug better than living in Paris (except for maybe living in New York City, but that can be battled out over here.)
However, renting just the right apartment for you can be quite a process and one with its share of potholes, especially if you do what I did for part of my stay abroad: I rented one of my flats online, sight unseen.
Now I may approach this with some bias, as I do work for Haven in Paris (a boutique vacation rental company) and we recently discovered that someone, pretending to be the owner of one of our flats on Craig’s List, very nearly scammed a couple people who by chance found us before putting down any sort of deposit. But I want to write this with as much objectivity as I can muster. And since I always rent apartments when I travel, I felt compelled to share some of the wisdom I’ve gained from first-hand experience.
Even Parisian window latches are beautiful (artistfriendship)
First, you should take note that there are anywhere between one and four sometimes-lovely people involved with an apartment rental. There’s the renter – that’s you. There’s the owner who actually owns the apartment, but they often hire the agent to do all the nitty gritty. The agent typically manages the rental process and greets you at the flat. Sometimes agents also list their flats on vacation rental sites or Craigslist and sometimes they have their own web sites. (For your information, Haven in Paris is actually an agent, with exclusive rights to rent our owner’s properties and we’ve used all the previously mentioned venues to match renters with our apartments.)
Finally, there’s the most dreaded member of this process, and one I hope you never encounter, the scammer. They pretend to be an agent or an owner, but really lie by attempting to rent you the most amazing Paris pied-à-terre for just a few Euros. Oh, glorious Craigslist, please forgive me but scammers usually hang out on you.
Unfortunately, scammers are rampant these days. They’re showing phony apartments on vacation rental sites, classified sites and on made-up agency sites. In fact, scammers tend to steal photos from legitimate agent sites only to showcase them elsewhere, usually for an unbelievable price.
Fortunately, a scammer never tricked me, but they’ve hoodwinked too many people, including a dear friend who contacted me moments before she sent off hundreds of Euros. Luckily I got to her in time, so here are a few bits of advice to consider before getting tricked:
A particularly grand staircase (Natalia Osiatynska)
- Talk to your agent before renting: if you have an ounce of doubt, get a phone number and talk to a real person. You can always reach the Haven in Paris ladies directly any time, so you should expect that from any other agent.
- Ask for official accreditation: this could be a government agency, like the Better Business Bureau, or a site they have to pay big bucks to join, like a vacation rental site.
- Read client reviews on your chosen flat: it’s 2011, folks, and agents should have renter reviews up on their sites.
- Get references: if your agent can’t provide reviews, please demand references. Make sure you speak to someone who has rented the flat you’ve chosen; it’s really the best way to get the inside scoop (beyond reviews).
- Pretty contracts do not make an agent legit: just because they give you what looks like an official contract, your agent may not be official. Every scammer can pull a sample contract off of the Web these days; so don’t rely solely on that.
- Never pay by Western Union: ah, poor Western Union has been demonized due to scammers of all kinds. If an agent asks for payment via this method, well, it’s likely a reason to be skeptical. Most agents prefer payment via wire transfers, checks or credit cards.
- Search for echoes on the Web: when in doubt, just conduct a few simple Web searches on Google or Trip Advisor. It’s virtually impossible for both scammers and legitimate agents or owners to not leave some sort of trace.
It’s so sad that this little industry I’ve joined (and so love!) has a few people in it that can make the entire process so unpleasant for some renters. But if you do your homework and follow these bits of advice, you’ll be delighted with your results.
There really is no better way to enjoy Paris or any other city than from your own private kitchen or, even better, terrace. When you’re sipping your glass of wine with your roast chicken staring out over the sparkling city, you’ll know all the extra work was worth it.
A roast chicken from the neighbor market is all you need for a feast (Lisa Weatherbee)
- Haven in Paris, Vacation Rental Agency with properties in Paris, Provence and Tuscany
- Learn lessons from the New York Time’s Frugal Traveler