Some do’s and don’t of vacation rentals – will you fall in love?

Having written extensively about vacation rentals, I’ve learned quite a lot since I took the plunge and rented an apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After years of advising Bonjour Paris readers to stay in apartments rather than hotels, in order to experience a place as a quasi-local, it was my turn.

Never having been to the Paris of South America (and speaking no Spanish), B.A. had been on my must-visit list. An acquaintance decided she wanted to perfect her tango so an apartment was the best solution. Eating every meal out is expensive and two people (who’ve never traveled together) confined to one room could spell disaster.

The Internet is a wonderful thing when selecting a temporary home. Enter vacation rentals or short-term rental apartments plus the name of the destination in the search function and you’ll be inundated by choices. Too many. The selection process is challenging, especially in this economic market, when people might opt to rent out properties rather than sell them.

Renting an apartment site unseen is akin to a blind date. Will you fall in love even if you’ve looked at lots of photos?  Wide angle lenses and photo-shop can do wonders.

Tips I’ve learned from being on the buyer’s end:

– Do initial research about the city. Decide what you want to see and study the transportation system. Opting to rent a less expensive apartment a bit out of town, may ultimately end up costing you more money if you’re wedded to taking taxis or are locked into spending time commuting to see what you’ve come to see and do. Surf the web and if you like paper, buy a guide book or two. The DK-Eyewitness Travel “Top 10 Buenos Aires” book with its pull out map was my bible.

– If you’re a woman alone – or traveling with another – evaluate your comfort level if you want to return home late from dinner, or in the case of B.A., a milonga (a tango hall) that doesn’t get started until 11 p.m.

– Reality check: if you’re going to be somewhere for only two or three days, it’s probably not worth renting digs. You’ll need to hit the grocery store and buy essentials such as soap, etc.  Consider whether or not you want or need a concierge or someone to set up tours, make suggestions and/or dinner reservations for you.

How to evaluate a property:

Make certain there’s a high-speed Internet connection if you’re off to a city. Even if you’re not taking your computer and have no need to be on-line, it signifies the landlord caters to business travelers and usually, a more upscale market. Take a careful look at the photos of the kitchen and the bathroom facilities. Living rooms and bedrooms can look charming. Photos of them can be deceptive but they can’t hide an antiquated kitchen or circa 1942 bathroom plumbing fixtures.

How soon and how thoroughly is your rental request answered? People who are professionals are very responsive because there’s so much competition.

Always ask the size of the apartment. A two-bedroom apartment isn’t necessarily spacious when it comes to Americans’ expectations. Forty-square meters is tiny (440-square-feet) and believe it or not, some apartments with those dimensions are intended to accommodate four people.

Do you want to stay in someone’s apartment or are you more comfortable staying in one that’s used exclusively for rentals? A just-rental apartment tends to be less personal. On the other hand, you may not be tripping over the owner’s belongings.

Is the apartment’s owner (or rental agency) willing to have you speak with previous tenants? Is there a manual to the property and a 24-hour-contact number in the event there’s a serious problem with the apartment?

We rented a renovated two-bedroom apartment on the 17th floor that was ideal for sharing. Its American owner emailed a response within one hour of the inquiry and his support staff was excellent. There was a car waiting for us at the airport and someone who met us when we checked in and explained everything in perfect English. There were even cards for us that included the apartment’s address and all of the telephone numbers including the cell phone that was there for our use. We had no complaints. Judy and I were able to share an apartment without getting in each others way since we kept very different schedules.

Another group of apartments that intrigued me were Apartments in a Recoleta Mansion that have been developed by a 38-year-old San Francisco native. Brent Federighi decided to restore the facade  rather than tearing down the building, which so many builders have done in B.A. since it’s easier and less costly. The 18 apartments have the  feel of a boutique hotel. There’s a lobby and a concierge on the ground floor office plus a small pool on the building’s roof.

These apartments are being sold to individuals who want to own a pied-à-terre but want to defray its cost. It’s better than a time-share for those who have money to invest and want an occasional home in Buenos Aires.

Even though where you stay for a short vacation isn’t a life or death matter, it can impact your feeling about a place. Prospective tenants need to read between the lines of rental ads. It’s not always obvious.

Do you have additional tips?  Or have you rented a place to find out it’s a dive upon arrival? If so, what did you do?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

  • Elaine

    Before you arrive ask for a local map and the hours and directions to the nearest grocer, laundry facility (if not in the building), and cafe. It helps to know if you arrive on Saturday that all the shops are closed on Sunday so you can buy some food for the next day.

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  • Jack Norell

    Elaine, that’s spot on. The more organized owners also have a book / folder of local info so you can get oriented right away. Some also have this as a document or webpage and you should definitely ask about it during the booking process!

  • Karen Fawcett

    Elaine and Jack are 1000% correct. We received an extensive manual that explained everything about the apartment including how each appliance worked. It included stores and more.

    I’ve written an apartment manual that includes the names of doctors and medical services.

    When people arrive, there should be a printed copy in the event you’ve forgotten the one you received via email.

  • Lyngengr

    Also ask about any construction going on nearby. I booked a condo in Cabo which was lovely, but the adjacent property was under construction and the hammering and banging went on from 7 AM to 10 PM. Not what I would call relaxing.

  • Heather

    Hold on…you’ve been pushing travelers to rent while you had never
    stayed in one??? How could you write “extensively”, without any experience? To me, as a kinda-travel agent that makes you not qualified to do that. A GOOD travel agent makes recommendations on their own experiences. Yikes…a mental note to self – don’t read any travel articles by said columnist!

  • Charlie Leocha

    Karen has been renting out her own place in Paris for years. She knows the ropes.
    This was her first time renting in B.A.

  • Daryle Ann

    We sent in deposit for rental of condo in France. Nothing was said until after that I would need towels and linens – other sites had these provided so I did not think about it. They are heavy and bulky to take and I sure didn’t want to spend my vacation shopping. The family refused to return my deposit. so be very careful to ask before hand what is included.

  • Karen Fawcett

    Charlie: Yes, I have rented my Paris apartment and we rented our home in Provence for numerous years. Being on the “sell” side gives you another perspective.

    Daryle Ann: Your experience is not unique. Some Europeans don’t supply linens. That’s OK if you’re driving but not fine if you’re flying to your destination.


    To clarify, has numerous apartment rental agencies advertising on the site or individuals. BonjourParis has never accepted an ad UNLESS I (or a member of my staff) has vetted the apartment.

    I’ve had the pleasure (or frequently NOT) of seeing hundreds of rental properties in France. Some are wonderful and others are terrible.

    Sorry if the article was not clear. In the process of renting an apartment in BA, I “looked” at more than 500 apartments before wiring funds. There may be surprises upon check-in but it’s important to minimize them.

  • Marsha

    3 friends and I rented an apartment in Quebec City last spring. It was the best thing we ever did!

  • Anne Winnig

    Stayed at the above mentioned Recoleta Mansion…. Me & my husband LOVED it. Thanks Karen!

  • Max Gotz

    One very important thing to bear in mind when renting an apartment in BA or anywhere for that matter, is having a manager on-call 24/7 if possible (which, hey! is what we do) for anything from silly questions (no such thing exists) right down to recommendations for those wonderful steak restaurants which are off the beaten path.

  • Manrique Molina

    Nice article. Just came from BA from renting an apt on Corrientes. Some tips we learned as first time renters:
    1. Do research your nearest supermarket and hours of operation before arriving. If you arrive late you will need to dine out which is no issue in this city. Take the dining opportunity and also buy some empanadas, alfajores or cakes to go for your first breakfast. You will be tired to get out so early on your second day to look for supplies.
    2. Related to 1. do bring from home necessary sundries for your first morning: small shampoo packets, instant coffee, etc.
    3. Do ask about where to get 220V adapters if needed or ask the owner of your apartment to leave one and charge you for it. We were disconnected from the world 3 days as we arrived on a Saturday and Monday was a holiday . We could not find any place to buy them (there are electrical stores in Talcahuano).
    4. Make sure you have emergency numbers for both the rental agency and the owner.
    5. Ask for 2 sets of keys.
    6. Ask beforehand where the nearest lavadero (to wash your clothes) is.
    7. Ask the owner how to connect to the Internet (password for wireless).
    8. Do check all the inventory and note missing/damaged stuff or scratched furniture. Most owners are honest but a few might try to keep some of your deposit money.
    9. Arrange departing check out times beforehand.
    10. If your building does not have 24hr security, do not allow anyone to piggy back behind/in front of you when you are entering/leaving the building. If it really is a tenant he/she will appreciate your precaution.

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  • Kris Allien

    You have provider me a good tip and overview on having vacations.. Your a good author, thanks for sharing this information..

  • estate agent cheltenham

    true. Safety first before anything else.

  • tel aviv apartment rentals

    nice information to the travelers likewise to the renters its good to stay in an apartment instead to a hotel in apartment you can cook just like your own house

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