Our Blog - Apartment Hunting Blog

There were a few questions on Facebook about our apartment hunting, so I thought that may be a good blog topic.

The idea for our apartments was this:

  • First, we start with a Gite, which is a furnished holiday house in France ... a fully furnished small apartment that includes all utilities, linens, dishes, etc. Think of it as a Suite Hotel but without maid service. One price gets you all utilities, TV, internet. It has sheets, towels, dishes, and even some small appliances like a hot water kettle for tea and a Nespresso machine. We got this one sight-unseen off the web and it has worked out quite well, although really small. The details of this first one are on our First Day blog.
  • Next, we move to a more long-term rental for 1 year. During this year, we get acclimated to the city, its' vibe, the things to do and see, transportation, etc. We get to experience the city through all 4 seasons, night and day, holidays and all. Our initial thought was that this would be an unfurnished, 2-bedroom apartment (so that we have a guest room for visitors) within the city center. This is our current apartment hunt, which I'll detail more below.
  • After that year, we'll make a decision .... Stay in Toulouse or find another city (Bordeaux or Lyon). If we like Toulouse and want to make this our "home", then we'll search for an apartment to purchase (renting for 30 years isn't financially advantageous!). For this apartment, space and location will be key, and less about what is in it (like we won't care about the appliances, since we'll replace them anyway). If we don't like Toulouse, we'll move and start the cycle over again.

There are no "apartment complexes" in the city center ... the main way that you find an apartment is you walk around the city and look at the windows of the real estate agencies (called Immobliers) that have things posted. Or you see a sign that shows an apartment is for rent and a phone number. There are websites now for the various agencies, as well as a few that agencies post on in addition to their own (Seloger, LaFigero, LeBonCoin, and BienIci). Then you contact them (in person, phone, email) and set up a visit to the apartment. In addition, once you get in contact with an agent, if they have others that fit your requirements, they may contact you (or may not). But in general, you end up working with 10 or 15 agents in different agencies. And yes, I would imagine you could hire someone to do all of the legwork for you, but this is actually how the French do it (we confirmed by talking to our French tutor back in Cary).

So we started looking for our long-term rental, and we've looked at a set of them, some better than others, none being absolutely perfect. I've done a page for each one that you can peek at .. they won't be all that long but will give you a good view of the Pros and Cons. I'll also list them in the order that we saw them, so that you can see them "as we did". As well, I'll include our thoughts after each day of apartment-seeing .. note that if as we refer to the apartments, we normally "name" them by street name.

Rue de Metz

A really good start ... we were hopeful .. while the price was a bit high, there wasn't parking, and we would have to purchase a second refrigerator and a small washing machine ... it was possible.

Rue de Remusat

We talked over and over about this one and by the end of the weekend, we were debating going ahead to see if we could get this apartment. However, we decided to wait one week since we were looking at additional apartments. Plus, we were still in May and we didn't really think that the owner would go ahead and rent us the apartment starting in July and basically have it stay empty (not getting any rent) during the entire month of June.

Rue Montelieu-Velane

So we ditched this one as we walked out ... it was just too weird!

Rue de Tourneurs

Now we were really torn between Rue Remusat and this one ... this one had more of those original character details although it had more oddities than Remusat.

Rue Pharon

Umm... no :-)

Rue Filatiers

Rue Couteliers

So at this point, we told the agent that we were interested in renting the apartment at Rue Filatiers for one year, and we would send her our dossier information later. We basically dropped Remusat off the list and Filatiers was what we were going to go with. Mind you, the next day we saw the next apartment. Now, the dossier is a bit interesting ... you have to basically provide a file with paperwork to try to prove that you are worthy tenants. Normally, you would have 3 months pay statements from your employer as well as other identity paperwork and, in some cases, letters of reference. For us, we don't have pay statements since we are retired. So then the agents normally ask about our pension and we have to attempt to explain that most American's do have a "pension" per se, and our retirement benefits (monthly payments) don't really start until we are 65 or so (depending on what it is). But that we have the money to pay for the year's rent in the bank here in France. Except that they can't actually (by law) ask for a bank statement. So we included letters that we got from both previous employers that had our salaries at the time that we quit. Mind you ... then she said "they are in English" :-)

Rue Pargaminiers

So as we walked out of this one, we both knew that this was better than Filatiers. We sent our dossier to the agent and then tried to basically "tread water" with the agent at Filatiers. We were trying to basically keep that "door" open while negotiating for this apartment. But we also didn't want to string her along for too long in case we got this apartment, so that they could make sure they got Filatiers rented. But if this apartment fell through, we didn't want to basically not have either. About 4 days later, we got a phone call that the number was from Russia ... we almost didn't answer it but we did, and good thing. It was the actual owner of the apartment who wanted to chat with us since he spoke better English than the agent ... who really spoke no English. He sounded French, so not sure if he was working in Russia or if he was just there on a business trip or what. But anyway, we spoke to him for about 10 minutes, explained our situation (retired after working almost 28 years, saving and saving so we could retire early, etc) and he indicated that he would tell the agent that it was okay to rent to us.

So, sweet! Seems we have this one, so then we tell the agent for Filatiers that we no longer are interested in that apartment, since she has been calling/emailing us daily for about a week now asking if we are still interested and for us to come in and do the paperwork. The agent for Pargaminiers tells us that she has passed our information to another part of the agency that does the paperwork, and they will contact us, probably early the following week. Well .... Then we start looking at where we would park ... we can rent space monthly in the public parking area at Place du Capitole (half-off as residents of the city in an area without parking) ... but then we start doing Google Maps of how to get from there to the apartment to get the golf clubs. The apartment is 350 meters from the parking garage, a 4 minute walk. However, to drive it is another story ... 12 minutes, 2.3 km by car, which takes you out of the parking garage, down to the river, across the bridge to St Cyprien, back over the river and down to the apartment. So then we started even looking at ... if we carried the clubs a little ways, and then someone went to get the car, we could kinda get nearer the apartment. Hmmm.... So now we are having a bit of remorse about going with this apartment vs Filatiers, although we had almost the same issue since that apartment is on a pedestrian road and we would have to carry the clubs down to a different public parking garage. However, these issues went away about a week later when they contacted us to say that, oh, you can't wait until July to rent the apartment. Either you rent it starting June 1st, or they will have to show it again. If nobody rents it in June, then they would contact us to see if we still wanted it.

So, we were back to having no apartment, although we could still go back to Remusat, since we could see the For Rent sign still in the window. However, no parking, semi-pedestrian street, and unfurnished.

Then we were paying our rent for month #2 at our temporary apartment and started talking to the agent/manager that we deal with (Sebastien). He said that he had other apartments that he was talking to the owners about handing as short-term rentals that we could see, that would fit into our July 15th date, and we would have no dossier issues. So the next apartment was one of his ...

Rue Agathoise

This was a little further out than we wanted (a bit closer to the train station) but it was on a quiet side road, and so, it went to the top of the list. We had to wait, however, to find out what kind of price Sebastien would be able to work out with the owner. Again, really nice apartment although a smaller footprint than we really wanted. They had used the space really well, however, and it came with parking. Because it is a bit further out, the driving situation would not have been any issues.

In the meantime, I had been continuing to look on the various websites for apartments and contacting agents to schedule visits. I got very frustrated when an agent told me on the phone that she wouldn't even show us the apartment without seeing our dossier, and it had to include a set of things, including a French income tax form. I tried to explain that we had only been here for a month, so it there was no way we would have a French tax form, and so she wouldn't show us the apartment. AAARRRGGGG! In fact, I had been talking to a couple of French ladies (I join them for coffee once a week to work on my French comprehension and they are really nice!) and they were telling me similar stories about how agents wouldn't work with them, or issues they had in France getting apartments ... and they are FRENCH! So I remembered that an American couple that we had met mention Le Bon Coin, which is like CraigsList here, and that they had had similar issues (even though he was working here on contract) and had found an owner that would rent to them directly. So we went through and found what seemed to be a nice apartment 2 streets over from where we are, and we set up a visit with the owner.

Rue Roqulaine

Okay, so we now were comparing this one to the one on Agathoise .... About the same size, similar small guest room. This one had a washer/dryer combination, although a smaller machine than Agathoise. Third floor vs first floor, but better location. No parking (we would have to rent parking separately) but price-wise, we had to assume that this one would come in a couple hundred cheaper per month, even after adding in the parking. So we sent the owner our dossier, which he said was fine. He seemed to understand our situation better than anyone else, since he had told us that he had lived in South Carolina for a few years (he worked at the Michelin plant there, which we had seen driving through on our way from Texas back to Raleigh in March). He sent us an example of the lease, in French, that we could read through. And we started looking at available parking nearby.

We had still been trying to get Sebastien to show us a couple other apartments that he had. One he seemed very reluctant to show us, and he finally told us why. Because of the way that it was configured, it was ideal to rent to pilots that were here from AirBus for short-term visits, since each of the 2 bedrooms had an ensuite. We understood, and so then he *finally* was able to show us another 2 bedroom/2 bath apartment in the Chalets area, which extends basically from where we are today, up through the previous apartment on Roqulaine, and up to right where our gym is. There was a tenant still there and so it took a bit to find an agreeable time, which we did on a Sunday afternoon. I call it "Chalets" instead of the street because the street name is just too long :-)

Chalets

So ... we took this one! The parking situation and driving was really ideal. It was setup really well for guests (so you'all who are reading this need to come visit!!) and was much bigger than most of the other apartments. It is a bit further away from the markets and Centre Ville than Roqulaine (maybe 5-10 minutes depending on where you are going) but closer to the gym. We do markets 2x per week and gym 4x per week, so that seemed to work out okay. We also thought a little bit about my mom, as we are trying to convince her to come visit us this fall. The 3-4 flights of stairs up and down every day may not have been really very easy for her, so this is only 1 flight into the main part, and 1 additional flight up to the bedroom. The 2 main negatives were that this had no air conditioning and the price. The lack of air conditioning is not that odd ... the apartments we looked at were 50/50 when it came to air conditioning, and I don't even think the apartment we are in now has it. They had 3 or 4 fans already in the apartment for use, and if we really felt that and AC was needed, there are small room-sized portable ones that you can buy here for under 100 euros in some cases. The price .. well ... we were getting a larger place, more bathrooms, more storage areas, and the parking that is right there. We gave up the balcony but the windows open and we could just put a little table and chairs there ... we'd be almost outside :-). Since everything in within a courtyard, we believe it will be a bit quieter as well. Sebastien even was able to negotiate a little bit of a discount on the rent since we were going to stay the year. There was one small condition with respect to the utilities since we were getting a lower price. Since in general, utilities are included in these apartments, the owners do not think that the tenants really think about (or care about) their consumption. So for example, they crank up the heat to full blast and leave all the lights on all the time. So we have a yearly "limit" on the gas and electric that is included in the rent. At the end of the year, if we have exceeded that, then we pay the difference. Seemed reasonable to us.

So ... we will move in there around July 15th (which is our last day here) .. he's pretty flexible on letting us in a few days early. Our shipment should arrive shortly thereafter and then I'll put up new pictures with all of our stuff!