Apartment rental tips

This item appears on page 46 of the April 2011 issue.

This month, we’re wrapping up our five-part series on renting apartments outside of the US. We’ve got a few more tips from subscribers followed by recommendations of specific apartments. Anyone with something helpful to add may write to Apartment Rental Tips, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com (include the address at which you receive ITN).

Tips for when you get there —

In advance, tell the apartment owner when your plane is due and ask if the apartment will be ready. Occasionally, when my flight was due really early, I have rented for an extra night so that I could settle in immediately.

Ideally, the owner has provided detailed written instructions on how to use all the appliances. Even if there is such a list, go through each item with the owner before he/she leaves you. It’s likely that nothing will work the way you expect it to.

Since you’re likely to be a bit jet lagged when you arrive, before you leave home you might want to make a list of the appliances you may need to be shown how to use: stove top, oven, microwave, toaster, TV, audio system, washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher and vacuum cleaner. And what should you do with the garbage?

Several times, we have found landlords willing to make small adjustments to equipment and furnishings when asked.

It’s strange: upon arrival, most often I have found a kitchen with a few things left behind (some salt and sugar, a jar of vinegar or olive oil, a box of pasta, some cleaning supplies), while in other cases the cupboards are bare. Some owners routinely leave a welcoming bottle of wine.

To avoid investing in larger quantities of some things than I will need, I usually bring a full saltshaker, a baggie of sugar cubes and an assortment of plastic storage bags.

I have learnt from experience to also bring some coffee, if I am arriving on a Sunday or holiday. (If you get stuck, most cities have some kind of 24/7 grocery store in the railroad station.)

Relax! Explore! Enjoy!

Marilyn Lutzker
Sunnyside, NY

My wife and I have been renting apartments in London and Paris since the ’80s.

After finding a suitable apartment online, before actually booking the rental I go to Google Earth and take a virtual tour of the neighborhood. Panning around, I can see where the supermarket is located, how far the apartment is from the Métro or bus stop and whether or not the apartment is situated above a restaurant or across the street from a noisy nightclub.

This extra step doesn’t guarantee that you will book a quiet apartment, however.

We once booked a first-floor Paris apartment (“second floor” in the USA) that was on busy Avenue Victor-Hugo and directly above stores and a bus stop. Fortunately, the French windows were double paned and the bedroom was in the rear, so we didn’t hear any noise.

Another time we booked an apartment on a residential street across from a lycée. The students gathered outside every day, including Saturdays, talking loudly before and after school, and the school bells rang constantly.

We were unable to sleep in the master bedroom in the front of the apartment and were forced to sleep in the small bedroom in the rear. If the broker hadn’t rented us a two-bedroom apartment for the price of a one-bedroom, I’m sure we would have spent many sleepless nights during our monthlong vacation.

Thomas W. Collins
Sea Cliff, NY

I must recommend Untours (Media, PA; 888/868-6871), since 1975 offering independent travel with support. They take care of ALL the details of apartment rentals plus air (if you want them to) and railpasses. There is food provided (for example, bread, cheese and cold cuts) for the first-needed meal.

My husband, John, and I took great independent trips with Untours beginning with Bacharach, Germany, in 1993. They have over 50 apartments to choose from in Switzerland though not that many in other countries.

We last used them for a stay in Lungern, Switzerland, May 6-June 5, 2002; my husband was 84 then. Our apartment was the whole ground-level floor of a house, with airfare, a one-month railpass and food furnished for two meals upon our arrival.

On Untours’ website are multiple apartment choices in a dozen countries, with complete details of each apartment’s location, its nearness to transportation, amenities, number of steps, etc. We found them to be a very dependable company.

John and I never said, ‘Someday we’ll do this or that.’ We just DID it! Therefore, no regrets and a multitude of marvelous memories.

We went to German-language schools in both Germany and Austria. Such a treat to have another language when one travels!

Marilyn Scofield
Sequim, WA

Apartment Appraisals

Living room in an apartment in Lenno, Italy. Photo: Cajka

Our last apartment rental was in Lenno, Italy, in 2009. Overlooking Lake Como, it was a beautiful facility with a modern kitchen, two bedrooms and a nice balcony. With the lift to the second floor (“first floor” in Europe), it was perfect for my wife, who has problems climbing stairs. The parking was excellent — in a small courtyard out front.

On the main road around the lake, the apartment was right in the main part of Lenno, a very small town. A gas station, restaurant and large grocery store were about a block away.

In 2009 we paid around €600 (now near $840) per week plus a cleaning fee of €60. Considering meals and services, there is no way we could have stayed in a hotel for a week in the Lake Como area for anywhere near that price.

The apartment is still listed on the website of Owners Direct (Epsom, Surrey, UK; phone +44 [0] 1372 734555, ). Its reference code is “it1073.”

Our rental dates were Sept. 19-26, but the owner has shifted the peak season to end on Sept. 30 (June 1-Sept. 30) and the rental price has gone up considerably. Starting on Oct. 1, they now charge 695 UK pounds (near $1,130) per week. (These rentals are considerably cheaper in the shoulder season: April-May and October-November.)

We would definitely rent the apartment again, but, given the new prices, we would go in October. October is a terrific month at Lake Como; the weather is still very pleasant.

Rudy Cajka
Denton, TX

For a week in Barcelona, Spain, in April 2009, my partner and I wanted to be in the Gothic section of the city, near the Ramblas and the Boqueria, that great open market. We decided on Casa Betta, which is in a building built in the 18th century but which has been thoroughly modernized.

The owner, Betta, said the Gothic Quarter had such a maze of streets, it would be better if we met at the Opera House. She told us to call her when we got ready to get in a cab at the airport. She met us, and we all walked the two blocks from the Opera House to the apartment.

Betta, originally from Australia, was marvelous and could not have been a better host. She had created a notebook with vital information the tour books don’t always include. It had cards for good restaurants in it; she said she had been to all of them. The rest of the notebook had bus route information.

Betta showed us how to operate the washing machine and told us where we could shop and some things to do. She told us that if we needed anything, we should call her or stop by the bar that she and her husband ran. As she was leaving, she handed us a bottle of wine.

The apartment was much better than we expected. Public transportation was two blocks away. Right around the corner were great restaurants, and the Boqueria was about three blocks away — a great place to get that fresh-squeezed orange juice plus a pastry and coffee in the morning.

We stayed a week at Casa Betta, and the rate at that time was €100 a night. I cannot recommend this place enough. We found it at VRBO, but Betta has since left that website and has her own site. They now have three apartments.

I think the most important thing to note is how an owner connects. From Betta, we got immediate e-mail responses to questions. She wanted a deposit using a credit card or PayPal, with the balance to be paid in cash, which has been the case with most places. And she gave us a lot of information on shopping and restaurants. By the time we left for Europe, we felt like old friends.

In contrast, with an apartment we rented in Amsterdam in May 2010, the owner wanted no deposit, which made us nervous; we were afraid that if he got a better offer, the apartment would be taken when we arrived. Also, it took the owner longer to answer questions, and sometimes we got no answers. We never felt like we knew who we were dealing with.

While its location was fine, it turned out that the apartment lacked any common amenities. For instance, all the tables were orange crates, which don’t work well for nightstands, as things fall through. And there was no reading lamp in the living room or bedroom, just an overhead in each.

When we actually arrived, the owner was not there, just a friend of his; we never met the owner. We surmised the owner was in it only for the money, as the furnishings indicated.

Both apartments’ online sites had shown great pictures, so that was no clue. From now on I would go with my gut feeling, from dealing with the owner, regardless of how great the deal was.

We are going to continue renting apartments. It’s so nice to have the extra space and the opportunity to cook, if you so decide.

Jack Lowell
Asheville, NC

Through ByT Argentina, my wife and I rented two apartments in different areas of Buenos Aires, Argentina, for 10 days each in February 2010.

For the two apartments, the agency insisted on two completely separate transactions. To reserve our dates, payment of a 45-dollar administration fee for each apartment needed to be made by credit card. The balance of the rent for each plus each security deposit had to be paid upon arrival in exact change in US dollars cash; they would not accept a credit card or travelers’ check.

We know this would make some travelers in our plastic-oriented country shudder, but this was not a problem for us, as we have been traveling internationally for 30 years and are used to carrying large sums of cash. We’ve never had any trouble.

The Wilkersons ’ second apartment in Buenos Aires overlooked Recoleta Cemetery.

To make things more complicated, we had to have different e-mail contacts (same agency) and two different reps to meet us at each apartment to collect our money and sign the lease.

The landlords and reps did not reside near the rental properties, so we made sure we understood how money was to be handled, the directions to the apartment and when we would meet the landlord and ByT rep.

For our first apartment (Carlos Calvo 448, first floor, Apt. 1 [cross street, Defensa 1]), in the San Telmo district, rent was $43 a day ($429 total) and the security deposit, $300. For the second apartment (Vicente Lopez 2240, fifth floor, Apt. B [cross street, Azcuenaga XVI]), in the Recoleta district, rent was $49 a day ($486 total) and the deposit, $340.

The landlords returned our deposit as we left each apartment. This was the only time we ever saw either landlord, which was just as well as neither spoke English. A housekeeper came once during each 10-day stay, but they spoke no English either.

Both apartments included utilities and were air-conditioned. They were completely furnished, including pots and pans, cooking utensils and silverware. We did a lot of our own cooking. Going to the grocery is a challenge when one does not speak Spanish and all the labels are in Spanish. We loved it!

Phil Wilkerson
Lincoln, KS

Townhouse rental and personal tour guides all wrapped up into one package: that’s what we had on a vacation in Spain in September ’07 with Spanish Detours, S.C. (Calle Hospital 18, Riogordo, 29180, Málaga, Spain; phone 0034 952 732 682).

We had one week’s rental, with driver/guide and SUV included, and we planned where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, allowing for down time to be on our own.

Shane and Jess Lewis own just the one townhouse, a beautiful restored Spanish townhouse in Riogordo, a market town in southern Spain — all you would hope for in a white village in Andalusia.

Situated on the local square opposite the church, the townhouse consists of, on two floors, two double bedrooms, each with bathroom en suite; full kitchen; lounge with TV and DVD and CD players; a washing machine, and a rooftop terrace.

Current sample price — four persons for seven days and six nights pay approximately €699 (near $980) per person, including airport pickup and dropoff, guided tours and 18% tax.

I highly recommend this type of rental/vacation. ITN readers may contact me for more info; e-mail us c/o ITN.

Camille Alden
Ridgecrest, CA