In part one of the apartment discussion, I talked about some of the benefits of renting an apartment versus staying in a hotel when traveling to Europe. I don’t claim to be a pro at this, but neither am I a clueless dolt (at least about this). I’ve done quite a bit of research and have rented different apartments four times in Rome and once in Paris.
In this post, it is my goal to share the things I’ve learned with you and help you make the best decision possible if you end up deciding that renting an apartment is the right choice for you.
On a side note, if you happen to have an extra 1.67 million Euros burning a hole in your pocket, you can always just go ahead and buy an apartment! Buuuut..if you’d rather stick to renting, then read on.
First off, you can either rent an apartment directly from the owner, or you can go through an agency that rents out the apartments on behalf of the owner. I have done both and had good experiences each time.
Renting from the Owner: Popular sites where you can rent apartments directly from the owner include VRBO.com and Airbnb.com. Apartment owners can list their properties on these sites and (hopefully) provide lots of details such as what area the apartment is in, how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are, what utilities are included, what floor the apartment is on (Americans and Canadians – don’t forget that in Europe, what they call the “first floor” is actually what we consider the second floor). Most often, they will include photos. Personally, I would strongly suggest not renting an apartment if photos are not included. You have to wonder what it is they don’t want you to see!
These sites (and others) will let you search the city you are interested and the dates you are looking for. Then you will need to filter through a ton of results to find the ones that best meet your needs. Once you find a few that you like, you can contact the owner (lots of sites will have a contact form to fill out) to discuss price, your needs, availability, etc. The owner should get back to you within a couple of days (don’t forget to take the time difference into consideration).
Renting from an Agency: This is the method I prefer. I find the websites to be easier to filter and navigate, and the apartments should have been pre-screened by the agency (if they are a reputable one), so you can rest a bit easier that what you are seeing online is what you will actually be getting when you arrive. Additionally, you will likely be provided a local contact that can help you if any problems arise. You may pay a bit more working with an agency rather than directly with the owner, but I find the convenience and assistance the agency provides well worth it.
My go-to agency for apartment rental in Rome is ItalyPerfect.com. The company is run by two sisters, and their site is incredibly easy to navigate to find exactly what you are looking for. They are responsive, happy to answer questions and make suggestions, and they are based in the U.S., which I really like as well. Even though they are based in the U.S., they have personally visited and inspected every apartment they have listed. In addition to Rome, they also offer rental properties in Florence, Venice, Tuscany and Amalfi. I highly recommend this company for Italy rentals. When in Paris the last time, we used their sister company (literally run by their sister), ParisPerfect.com, and had a good experience working with them as well.
You can search sites like TripAdvisor.com and slowtrav.com to find a lot of user reviews for apartments available by owner and from apartment rental agencies. Or, just give good ol’ Google a try to find some other options.
Things to keep in mind when looking for and selecting an apartment:
- In the past several years, with the arrival of sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc., I have begun to rely heavily on reviews when making a decision for almost everything – from vacation rentals to where I get my nails done (don’t judge…there’s nothing worse than a crappy mani/pedi). So, therefore, my first recommendation is to look for an apartment that has a decent number of reviews, and make sure they are mostly good ones. If an apartment has no reviews – or even just a few – (especially if it is being rented directly by the owner), I, personally, would not rent it.
- Make sure you do research and figure out what location/neighborhood you want your apartment to be in. Is it close enough to the major sites you want to see? Is it convenient for public transportation? Is it considered to be a noisy area? Is it considered to be a safe area? These are just a few things to contemplate.
- If you or anyone traveling with you has mobility issues, make sure there is an elevator in the building or that you get an apartment on the ground floor or first floor, if that’s doable for you. Keep in mind that most of the apartment buildings were not originally outfitted with elevators, and sometimes they break down. If that should happen and you can’t hike up five flights of stairs – rent a different apartment. We have been lucky so far (knock on wood), but better to be safe than sorry.
- When an apartment says “Sleeps 4 (or 5, or 6, etc.)” make sure you know EXACTLY what that means. Some apartments have a tiny bed in a loft or closet-sized area that nobody but a four-year-old would fit in. If there is a pull-out couch, that’s considered a place for two people to sleep. Make sure that the sleeping arrangement in the apartment truly fits your needs.
- Same goes for bathrooms. If you require a bathtub or shower stall, make absolutely sure the apartment has one. An apartment that lists “2 bathrooms” doesn’t necessarily have two bathtubs or two showers (or any, as a matter of fact). Some have a bathtub with a hand-held sprayer and consider that a shower (I do not). If you are unsure what the apartment has in it, ask!!
- Pay attention to the photos of the apartment. If they don’t really show much, there’s probably a reason. If the apartment says it has “gorgeous views of such and such”, but don’t show a picture of the view, I would question why. If the photos make the place appear dark and dingy, it’s probably worse in real life.
- Make sure you know what amenities are included. Some apartments require you to pay for utilities, some include them all. If wi-fi is a requirement for you, make sure you ask about it.
- Most often, you will have to provide at least a partial deposit prior to your arrival. Sometimes, you may have to pay the entire amount (as is the case with Italy Perfect). Some people do not feel comfortable with that, but since I did my homework and felt comfortable with the company, I had no issue with it. Make sure you understand what is required of you – for instance, a lot of times the owner will require cash payment upon arrival, so you better be sure to have it!
- Make sure you understand the cancellation policy. They are generally a lot stricter than hotels.
- Trust your gut. If something feels not right to you in your initial interactions with the owner or agency, or if you are not comfortable with the method of payment they are asking for (like a wire transfer to an offshore account), find another apartment. There are plenty out there, and you should always feel completely comfortable with what you are doing.
- This next piece of advice is extremely important, especially if you are renting an apartment that requires a hefty deposit or 100% payment in advance: GET TRAVEL INSURANCE. Even if you are not renting an apartment, this is such an important thing to have. You never think that you will have to cancel your trip of a lifetime, or that anything bad/unexpected will happen while traveling, but the fact is that sometimes things don’t go as planned. So any tours or day-trips you paid for in advance, if you got a lower rate on your hotel room because it is pre-paid and non-refundable…you stand to lose all that money if you don’t have travel insurance. There are several companies that offer travel insurance at a reasonable price and it is easy to get online. Chances are that you won’t need it, but it’s a hard lesson to learn if you don’t have it.
Renting an apartment can be such a great experience. Just do your homework and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Then sit back, relax and be prepared to feel like a local…at least for a little while!