Renting Abroad: France and Germany

I’ve been asked by my friend Tony to post about the process of looking for a furnished apartment, short-term rental in Europe, and the difficulties that we have encountered. It’s a good question, because over the last year we’ve moved a total of five times, and in less than a month we’ll be moving once again, although this next move will be back to the States to Agoura Hills of Los Angeles, where we won’t be faced with the same challenges. Also, this may be useful information to those from the States who are thinking about moving abroad to Europe.

The main challenge we have had moving frequently was lugging our belongings. And for me, personally, having a comfortable spot to work/write at. Also with Nick’s lower back problem, an office chair is always a must. This made it difficult to move around with. Moving from our first place in Paris to the next wasn’t so bad because the distance of both apartments weren’t too far from each other. But with most Parisian apartment buildings, there are no lifts, so that meant climbing up the stairs with our luggage and the office chair both times. When we moved to Aix-en-Provence, we had to ditch the $300 chair and buy a new one since we traveled by train. For that move, we actually got rid of (donated) a lot of clothes, as well as my yoga mat, our water filter and blender. We repurchased everything in Aix-en-Provence, and when we moved to Nice, we rented a car so luckily we didn’t have to repurchase those items again. However, moving to Berlin meant we had to get rid of more belongings because we were traveling by plane. We sent two boxes full of clothes back to Seattle which costed $350 for shipping. Shipping to the States from France is expensive and seems to increase exponentially with weight. Luckily in Berlin, the flats seem to have real work spaces with office chairs, so we made sure we picked an apartment that came with one. That meant we only had to repurchase a blender and water filter, and I am making do without a yoga mat right now.

Of all the apartments we’ve searched for, we had used different resources, but the process had been the same. The search process mainly included things that affected our decision on a place: the neighborhood and if there were any organic grocery stores nearby the apartment, the apartment itself and if there was a table/desk large enough for Nick to work at with his office chair, monitor and laptop. We didn’t worry about transportation as much, because in France and Germany, the metro is in abundance and we also didn’t mind walking.

For each place we lived in, they all have had their own pros and cons. I will run through each of them separately, and briefly, below. One huge similarity, though, is that all of the places we have lived in in France, were not worth what we paid for. Get ready to pay a lot of money for cost of living, if you’re considering a move to France from the States.

Paris, France

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Flat #1: L’appartement petite

For our first flat in Paris, we rented from a private owner, Christiana, who does only one month rentals. Christiana was referred by another couple we met through WordPress and living in Paris already. It was just what we needed since we were looking from Seattle and did not want to commit to a longer term rental without knowing which neighborhood was best suited for us. This first flat was a stepping stone for us, without commitment, which allowed us to get a sense of the city while we searched for our next apartment.

Resource: Private owner referred from acquaintances

Apartment size and cost: 240 sq. ft./~$2200 for the month and $50 cleaning fee

Neighborhood: Marais, 3rd arrondissement

Duration: 1 month

Pros: The apartment is within walking distance to three organic markets; the heating system was good for the winter; the location is in a very walkable neighborhood, and there are a plethora of shops and restaurants nearby. The flat itself was clean.

Cons: The flat was too small of a space, making it not livable for long-term. We had smoking neighbors; the area was littered with dog poop, and there were problems with the plumbing for the shower.

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Flat #2: Rue Vieille du Temple

Resource: Paristay Agency

Apartment size and cost: 366 sq. ft./~$2o00 per month, $1200 agency fee, and $80 cleaning fee

When renting through an agency in France, you will need to provide bank statements showing you have sufficient funds to pay for rent for the duration of the lease, and a letter from the bank that says you really do have that much money in your account.

Neighborhood: Marais, 4th arrondissement

Duration: 4 months

Pros: The apartment was within walking distance to four organic markets. The location is in a very walkable neighborhood, and there are a plethora of shops and restaurants nearby. The location is lively, but the building was very quiet. Great location, as it is so close to the 5th and 6th arrondissement.

Cons: The flat had limited lighting. We had smoking neighbors; there were problems with the plumbing for the shower; the walls were incredibly thin.

Aix-en-Provence, France

Flat #3: Rue des Muletiers

Flat #3: Rue des Muletiers

Resource: Airbnb

Apartment size and cost: 592 sq. ft./~$2o00 per month and $270 Airbnb fee

Neighborhood: Aix-en-Provence main center

Duration: 2 months

Pros: The apartment was within walking distance to two organic markets. The location is in a very walkable neighborhood, and there are a plethora of shops and restaurants nearby.

Cons: We had smoking neighbors; the streets were littered with dog poo; neighbors could see into the flat; it was noisy all the time from drunks, idiotic honking and construction.

Nice, France

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Flat #4: Rue de France

Resource: Private owner on Nice Craigslist; owner lives in California.

Apartment size and cost: ~450 sq. ft./~$1200 per month

Neighborhood: Golden Triangle

Duration: 3 and a half months

Pros: The apartment was within walking distance to one organic market; the location was in a very walkable neighborhood; there were a plethora of shops and restaurants nearby, and a very short walk to the beach.

Cons: We had smoking neighbors and a maintenance guy who smoked inside the building as he worked everyday. The building reeked of smoke. The streets were littered with dog poo; it was noisy from our neighbors, the constant construction in the mornings, and the incessant honking. There were problems with the plumbing for the shower.

Berlin, Germany

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Flat #5: The Bigger Apartment

Resource: Airbnb

Apartment size and cost: ~800 sq. ft./~$1400 per month, $294 Airbnb fee, and $100 cleaning fee

Neighborhood: Prenzlauer Berg

Duration: Just under 2 months

Pros: The neighborhood is great — quiet and vegan friendly. The apartment is within walking distance to five organic markets, with one being a vegan store. There are many vegan restaurants nearby. The vibe is great. The flat is spacious and comfortable. The price of the flat is reasonable.

Cons: Occasional cigarette smoke drifts into the apartment, but nothing compared to what we experienced in France. It’s 100 times better here.

Out of all the resources we used for a short-term rental, I recommend Airbnb because it’s hassle free, cheaper in fees, and has renter’s reviews on the place and the owners. Since we were limited to our needs and desires, the search process was narrow, making our selection of apartments minimal. Every place has its flaws, but you won’t know about them until you’ve moved in and living there for at least a month. Nevertheless, we learned a whole lot about becoming efficient movers on this long trip. Now our next challenge with our move from Seattle to Agoura Hills, is moving our belongings in a crossover SUV. We’ll see how that goes…

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2 thoughts on “Renting Abroad: France and Germany

  1. Thanks for this post. I was just wishing today you’d write something about renting in France.

    We’re (Me, my husband and two kids) are looking for a one year renewable lease furnished rental in France (Renting unfurnished is this other nightmare where you have to buy and install the whole kitchen, bathroom, shelves, fixtures and paint.) We’ve adjusted to the fact that 600 sq ft is big here. We could end up with much less and have the boys sleeping in the living/eating room again.

    If we’re lucky enough to find anything.

    We’re having trouble getting any rental agency to even speak to us because we only have money in the bank rather than a salary. I’m in the midst of getting a letter from our American bank saying I could provide myself with the required income level if I wanted to. Really. This is what two different agents asked for. No bank statements would do.

    Two other of the nine agencies wanted us to open special French bank accounts (besides our regular French account) payable to them to the tune of one to three YEARS of rent. No one but the agent could get the money and it couldn’t be used to pay the rent. This was for just in case I didn’t pay the rent on properties that required only one to three months notice to leave. Seems excessive. Without this account in place, they won’t even show us an apartment.

    We’ve moved six times since the spring in the process of making this move to France last June. Three of them have been in the six months we’ve lived in France. Every place I’ve lived in France every time I’ve come was TINY (there are four of us), had problems with the shower drain and the sidewalks were covered with dog poo. So far I’ve only had one of the three in France with inescapable and overwhelming cigarette smoke and thin walls. (Two of the three in America had this and much worse.) And we’ve stuck to small cities in France so it’s been quieter than your experiences.But less organic food. And vegetarian means no restaurants and I cook three meals a day.

    And there’s an loud incessant HUM from the 220 electricity that makes me a little crazy. I kill the circuits at night sometimes to sleep. But this can leave us without hot water.

    And there’s been no comfortable place to sit and relax. In any of them.

    I didn’t mean to take over your blog. It’s good to have someone who can understand what I’m struggling with. I wished I’d known. If we’re unable to find another rental when this one expires in April (someone else was already scheduled before we showed up), we’ll have to pack up and leave the country.

    Or sleep in the car again like we did in Italy.;-)
    Alice

  2. Hi Alice,

    No worries, I feel your pain about the renting process in France. We learned about the French bank account thing as well, but wanted to avoid all of that. Luckily the agency we went with settled with the bank letter. Apparently the reason why they are so uptight about the whole money situation is because as a renter in France, you have rights to live in the property even if you don’t pay rent. Despite having an owner to the place, it really is the person that lives there that have rights to the place. Crazy. It doesn’t make sense. And then as a renter, if you paid a deposit and move out, the owner has up to two months to return the deposit. We never encountered this, though. Our deposits were always returned at a reasonable time.

    We didn’t have much food options while living in South of France either, so we ate in all the time. There was only one place each in Nice and Aix-en-Provence that we could eat at…but we ended up hating going out because of the dog poo, strong sewer smell, and stagnant air of cigarette smoke.

    I really hated dealing with the shower drain as well. One of the places we stayed at had horrible sewer smell spewing out constantly. Very unpleasant.

    Have you checked out http://www.rentaplaceinfrance.com? They have both short and long-term rentals all over France. I forgot we looked there when we were looking to move down south.

    Good luck!

    Angie

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