Our travels have now taken us to apartments in Rennes, Brussels, Montpellier, Lyon, Rome, and now again in Lyon. This has given us a good bit of experience picking out an apartment online, and then actually living in it.
Most of our rentals are for longer stays, so we only look for furnished apartments. The shortest stays were in Brussels and Rome, and the longest is currently where we are here in Lyon.
We search for apartments using primarily two companies Airbnb and HomeAway . The former has better features for communication, using both email and texts, so there is easy contact with the apartment owner/manager. Airbnb also makes payment quite easy, and could mediate with disputes if needed, though we have not had a need.
In Lyon, the options using Airbnb and HomeAway seemed limited, then we discovered an apartment rental agency, Urban Sejour, that only served the Lyon area. They have been a pleasure to work with, and have been every bit as responsive as the larger companies. So it may be a good idea to check out the local options in addition to the “chain” agencies.
So how do we decide on an apartment? What do we look for? It’s not easy when you need to balance comfort, location and budget. It can be pretty easy to find a place that meets two of these, but adding the third can really reduce the options.
For comfort, we look for at least 50m2 (~540ft2). Our current apartment here in Lyon is 78m2 (~840ft2), and the little place we had in Montpellier was only 45m2 (~485ft2). Quite a change from the home we downsized from.
What floor is it on? Even though we take the stairs 90% of the time, a lift (elevator) is nice when arriving or departing with luggage. Even when we were on the 7th floor in Rennes we took the stairs. Also keep in mind that in most of Europe (and maybe most of the world), the ground floor is 0, and the floor above it is the first floor and so on.
One essential feature is that it have a separate bedroom, no studio for us. Some places consider the living room to be the bedroom once the fold-a-bed is pulled out. We don’t agree. Since we spend 24×7 together, we sometimes need a little separate space. In the morning, I prefer to lounge in bed sipping my coffee, while Chris is in the main room on the computer. Oh, and if you haven’t guessed, one of the most important requirements is reasonably fast, reliable internet access.
A real shower is necessary. While reviewing the photos of a potential apartment, if I see a picture of the bathroom with the shower nozzle wrapped around the faucet in the tub, I move on to the next selection.
The kitchen must have a cooktop, oven, microwave, coffee pot or electric kettle; a dishwasher is nice but not a requirement, (we do wash all the dishes and utensils before settling in, just to make sure all are clean.) And we must have a washing machine as well. Trudging to the laverie (laundromat) is not the city tour we look for! A clothes dryer is nice, but a good drying rack is a must (we also bring a good length of cord for a make-shift clothesline if needed).
Windows with good light and a view of sky and trees make our indoor time much more restful. Staring out to a wall or another tiny balcony is not the view we want. Most of the apartments have been fairly modern in design and décor. We look for spaces that are not cluttered. Sometimes the owner lives in the apartment and vacates it when rented; we prefer places that are rental properties and are appointed only for that purpose.
Once I have a selection of apartments that look like livable choices and meet the budget, Chris begins the location evaluation. Google “Street View” is a great way to explore the neighborhood without being there. He checks proximity to transportation (bus and metro), grocery stores and restaurants, and looks for graffiti on buildings and trash on the street. Though not a deal breaker, as this can be quite common – graffiti can inversely correlate with the desirability of the neighborhood. Street View can also give a feel of how much pedestrian and vehicle traffic is in the area.
Once it passes this inspection, we are down to the final details and we read all the reviews posted online. I hate it when the apartment appears to pass all requirements and then buried in the comments we are told that the bars in the area make for loud late night noise. When the weather is nice and the windows are open, the noise of late-nite carousing can carry quite far. This most recent phase of travel involved booking apartments in Lyon (an excellent choice, and though we did exceed the budget, it is proving to be money well spent), Strasbourg France where we will be in the busy city center but facing a, hopefully, quiet courtyard. Choosing apartments in Madrid and Barcelona Spain required more research to select an area of the city before we began looking at apartments. These are slightly below budget so we expect they will serve as good bases for our explorations in Spain.
Most of the long-term contracts for apartments are not easily amended if there things that we missed, and locating appropriate lodging if things have gone wrong would be difficult, at best. So it pays to do the research and homework before committing to a long stay place. Between the two of us, it often requires several hours before we find the right place, and so far, and with a bit of luck, we have done pretty well. While stays greater than28 days provide the greatest discount on the rent, there usually is a very strict cancellation policy. They charge the first month’s rent upon booking and this is non-refundable so we have to pretty sure with our travel plans.
There are some other considerations in choosing our apartments but these are some of the most important. It really is not hard to find and book an apartment as we travel, but like most other aspects of living anywhere, good research is required, and pays off.
For more photos and info on the apartments we have lived, see Our Homes.