Each year in order to renew our Carte de Sejour (visa) the first document we must obtain is a lease. The lease must be for a minimum of one year. Our first three years in France we found apartments online through rentaplaceinfrance.com. It’s a great site that has the added benefit of owners who speak English as either a primary or secondary language.
But our current landlord is planning to sell the house this coming year so we needed to find a new place to live. We very much wanted to stay in the Pyrenees-Orientales region for access to the 1€ Bus and the benefits of a large city like Perpignan close by for culture, entertainment, travel, shopping, etc.
Before this year we didn’t much care where we ended up and felt that anywhere would be perfect as we seem to assimilate easily into whatever town or city we live. But a few things happened this year. One | Sami decided that she loved the beach and the ability to run leash-free. Two | We adopted a second dog, who also loves the beach (though he has currently lost his right to run leash-free, see Renaming the Dog for details). Three | We fell in love with this area. Four | We have friends living nearby. Five | We are already treated like locals.
So starting in June of 2015 we began looking for a new place in this region. We looked at AirBnB and found several options that were close to the beach but the first few we saw were just too small for year-round living. Next we looked at St. Cyprien, just 7 kilometers north of us as they have lovely biking paths and beach access, a larger Saturday market, and more restaurants that are open year-round. The two places we tried to rent didn’t pan out. In both instances the owner or property manager no-showed on the day we were supposed to view the apartment. We decided that it wasn’t really where we wanted to be anyway as they do not allow dogs on the beach or even on the promenade (which is asphalt and not dog-friendly in the heat of summer).
So we moved on to Plan B and stopped into a realty office here in Argeles, Foncia is a large chain of realty offices that can be found throughout France. We talked to an English-speaking realtor and told her that we were interested in a one-year lease somewhere on the Plage (Beach area) and gave her a price range that we would be willing to pay. She asked when we needed the rental and we told her April 1 of 2016. She asked for our e-mail address and promised to let us know if anything came up. We never heard from her.
We lost traction in our new home search August through October as we had returned to Spain to hike the Camino de Santiago a second time, but picked back up the search just after Thanksgiving. We had decided that the stress of finding an annual rental was beginning to be too much and thought we might try the Bail de Trois, a three-year lease.
We considered the pluses and minuses of a three-year lease:
- + less stress while trying to get the coveted rental contract in time to renew our visas
- + the lease automatically renews unless one party gives notice
- + a power bill (a very important document for visa holders, proving that we actually live somewhere)
- + a fixed address for a while
- – apartments are not furnished, so we would need to adapt our minimalist lifestyle
- + we can buy furnishings that we actually like and not have to live with someone else’s design choices
- – there will be a huge financial obligation right at the outset for a bed, fridge, living room furniture, etc.
- – if we decide to move we would need to give the owner three months notice instead of the 30 days that are required for a furnished apartment
- – moving our furniture could be a hassle if we move as we do not own a car
- – we would have to purchase rental insurance, and have an annual expense for maintenance on the large building for stuff like the water heater, furnace, etc.
- – we would have to pay the taxe d’habilitation ourselves
In the end, we decided that the benefits far out-weighed the risks. So we started a new search by picking up all the “for rent” listings from local realtors, looking at their online offerings and checking all the rentals posted in their windows. Once we found one that seemed like a perfect match, we headed back to Foncia Realty as that was where it was listed.
Marita, the English-speaking realtor, was very helpful. We showed her the listing of the place we wanted to see and she immediately set up a viewing appointment for 10 am the very next day. We went to the apartment the following day and took a look around, it was PERFECT.
Just a block away from where we currently live, right behind our favorite boulangerie, a two-bedroom with a loft storage area, small (but equipped) kitchen and living room, and even a small terrace for the dogs. The price was great too, just 450€ per month. It would allow us to stay near the dog beach where we walk the dogs everyday and we could still stop for coffee and croissant each morning on our way back home. We put in our application, excited with anticipation of hearing a positive response in a day or two . . .
One month later, we still hadn’t heard anything from the owner. We had been checking in with Marita once a week to see if she had heard anything. Then after the first of the year, we finally got an answer. “The proprietor does not wish to rent to foreigners.”
We left the realty office quite dejected. It was an awfully long wait to get a negative answer. Concerned that we might not have a contract in time for our visa renewal if each time we looked at a place it took a month to get a response, we devised a new plan.
The rental process works a bit differently here. You find a place you’re interested in, you make an appointment to view it, if you like it you put in an application, then you wait. They do not show you multiple places and allow you to put in multiple applications. So we found our own work-around. We researched all of the local realty offices, went online to see if there was something listed online that wasn’t in their brochure, we went to the online “classifieds” (leboncoin.fr) as a friend suggested, then we compiled a list of our top choices and the list of realty agencies that each apartment was listed with, selecting a different realty office for each listing.
The following Monday we went to the agency that held the listing of our first choice. There we met Camille. Camille speaks a little English, she isn’t afraid to use a translation program when she isn’t sure of the English word, she was welcoming, warm, and charming. She immediately made us an appointment to view the apartment the following morning.
At 10 am Tuesday morning, we met her at the agency and she drove us a few blocks up the street to the apartment. The previous tenant was still in the process of moving out, which she apologized for, though it wasn’t necessary, we can imagine a space empty even when filled with houseplants.
When we said that we really liked it, she asked to make sure that it wasn’t too small a space. At just 38 m2, (approx. 410 square feet) it is a small space, but for just the two of us it was perfect.
It has a nice sized bathroom with room for the washing machine; a small, funky shaped kitchen — but with a nice big pantry; a small living room and bedroom — with the most amazing french doors; a balcony; a private entrance and staircase; and our own private terrace with a gate and room to park a car (for visitors as we are still sans car). But the nicest benefit is that we are just one block from Centre Plage where all the events happen in the summer, only 50 meters (150-ish feet) from the beach, 1/2 block from a year-round grocery store, and 1/2 block from the bus stop. And the price was amazing too, just 495€ and that includes water. (We normally use about 80€ of power each month, so that with our renter’s insurance which is 15€/month, plus €50 for Internet service and we will still save quite a bit from our current rent of 900€.)
Imagine our surprise when we finished our application and she said that she should have the answer the NEXT day! After waiting more than a month for an answer from our first attempt, 24 hours was a great improvement. We stopped back at her office the following day and were told that the owner had not called her back yet, and could we please come back on Friday thus giving him time to respond to her phone call.
Friday came and when we arrived at Camille’s office she smiled, shook our hands and offered us each a “Ça Va” and asked us to please sit down. She told us that she had heard back from the owner, who lives in Paris and only comes to Argeles two weeks each year, and that he had accepted our application. “When would you like to move in?”
I almost fell out of my chair. Just a few days earlier I had been chatting with my friend, Lisa, who told me that it was very hard to get a three-year lease as not too many French people want to rent to foreigners. It had me really worried about finding a lease in time to renew our visas. We had even put in place a back up plan if we weren’t able to secure a lease in time for our renewal appointment.
When would we like to move in??? “Well, since it’s nearly empty now, how about February 1st?” I told her. She said, “No problem. I will go by the apartment in a few more days and check to see if everything is out and then I will make up the contract. No worries.”
And she was right. No worries. We signed the lease on January 25. We picked up the keys on Monday, February 1. We have the electric now turned over in our name, Internet service is being installed on Feb. 8th, the couch should arrive in a week, the bed in about two weeks. The rest of our furniture will have to wait until we get the two large pieces into the space to see what else may fit. We’re planning to outfit the kitchen after we make the final move over there. Even the dogs have given their approval, met the neighbor and his dog, checked out the balcony and all of the rooms, and successfully navigated the stairs a few times.
We’re moving stuff over a bit at a time, one backpack each per day on our morning walk. We should have everything over there in a few days and we’re ready to settle in once the furniture arrives.
Et Voila! We have a long-term lease in France. Now who’s coming for a visit?