On the Trip Advisor review site, I was recently asked an interesting question by one of the posters.
“Alex, many of us on Trip Advisor have some trepidations about our apartment rentals despite excellent reviews, nice websites and photos, good communications, signed contracts, etc. In the event that someone does run into a problem, can you suggest the best route to follow ? Thank you.”
I thought this subject would make a good blog post because this question probably echos a feeling that many people can entertain when they first book a Paris apartment rental.
I can certainly understand these feelings of trepidation, because when I travel abroad I too like to book an apartment rental, whether via Trip Advisor, A La Carte Paris or any other source.
Sometimes, when we go to make a payment to a rental company we haven’t used before, we might feel that we have to take a small leap of faith. It can be an uncomfortable feeling.
See, however attractive the photos are and however professional the company appears, however good the reviews are, the bottom line is that we’re sending a big chunk of money half way around the world to people we don’t know…
That being said, here is my insider take on the matter:
Problems are few and far between
The nature of the Paris short term rental business means that surprises can and will occasionally happen (water leaks, building works, etc.). These problems are rare, and when they do happen, it’s in an agencies best interests to make sure a satisfactory alternative is offered to the client.
To be honest, A La Carte Paris had a 99% satisfaction rate in 2010. This figure helps put things into perspective.
I guess it’s a bit like with airline disasters or terror attacks: both are very rare events indeed, compared to corresponding happy outcomes. Yet when they do happen they are disproportionately reported on and they therefore polarise our imagination. These negative outcomes can therefore seem far more likely than they really are, because favorable outcomes are not so newsworthy. (This human bias is known as the “availability error”, because it results from a disproportionate number of newsworthy negative cases being “available” to view, compared to the far higher number of less interesting and less visible number of favorable outcomes).
9 ways to minimise your risk
Although it is maturing nicely, the Paris short term rental market is still quite young. That means that there are many different kinds of agencies, practises and standards out there today.
That’s one of the reasons why the APLM professional association was created: to help define standards and guidelines for the short-term rental sector.
The association is currently working on an official Code of Conduct, so that consummers can have some reassurance booking with the agencies that display the APLM label.
Until the APLM label is defined and implemented however, here are my tips for minimising risk:
1] Booking via an agency rather than a private owner tends to be MUCH safer, simply because an agency has a reputation to uphold via online reviews on Trip Advisor (not to mention the fact I have seen no less than 3 of our apartments appear without permission on owner-direct websites, posted by con artists who have neither the address nor the keys and who simply stop answering emails once they receive the rent…).
2] Choosing a well established (i.e. older) agency is safer still, because in a highly competitive marketplace, the unprofessional players probably tend to go out of business sooner rather than later.
3] To get a reassuring and tangible feel that an agency is legitimate, look for a prominently displayed office street address. Also look for a page that presents the team – this will give you confidence that they are real people and give you a feel for who you’re dealing with (here is an example). Finally, make sure you have a contact email address, a phone number, and the name of who to contact in case of a problem (here is an example), as rigid “contact forms” can be frustrating (thank you Colin Mantell for submitting this suggestion).
4] Choosing an agency with an anglo-saxon management culture can help avoid some cultural misunderstandings, as the French notion of service can sometimes differ from the anglo-saxon one. What’s more, mastery of the subtleties of the English language will always help communication in case of a problem to resolve.
5] Agency website reviews can be quite hard to analyse, as they tend to be cherry-picked. Look for reviews that can be uploaded without a moderator screening them, or of course independant feedback on travel forums like Trip Advisor or Fodors (although this too can sometimes be hard to analyse).
6] Look for signs of objective credibility, such press write-ups, partnerships, quality charters, etc. Here’s an example from our own website.
7] Look for a solid garantee that protects your interests in case of a problem. Here’s an example from our own website.
8] Give the agency a call before booking, because tone of voice tends to communicate far more than the mere written words in an email message. As humans, we are very good at subconsciously picking up on little clues in speech tone, so trust your gut feeling on this – if you don’t like their tone, click away.
9] Paying by credit card rather than wire transfer or cash means that you have the possibility of ordering a charge-back from your bank, in the unlikely event of the other party not upholding their side of the deal (documented evidence is required however, and there are safeguards against unscrupulous consumers who might be tempted to order frivolous charge-backs).
What to do if things do go wrong, despite your best precautions?
Like I said, surprises can and will occasionally happen. What matters is how the situation is handled by the agency and that a mutually satisfactory compromise be reached.
1) Express your concerns promptly:
An agency can only help a guest if the guest voices his or her concerns. I know this might seem obvious, but sometimes we only hear of a problem after the guest has gone home, by which time it is that much harder for us to make amends.
2) Offer a balanced view and try and stay constructive:
We are all just humans… Although you might be frustrated at the time, exploding at the agency and exaggerating the gravity of an issue will tend to be significantly less effective than offering a balanced and realistic upraisal of the situation.
3) Put it in writing:
By all means call the agency to ensure maximum speed of response, but also send an email, as this starts an objective paper trail.
4) Give the agency an opportunity to put things right within a reasonable timeframe:
A La Carte Paris offers a “Triple-R” garantee, whereby if there is a serious issue with an apartment, the agency promises to promptly repair the issue or, failing that, offer alternative accommodation of a similar standard or a refund.
5) Ask to speak to the agency owner:
If despite all this you still can’t get satisfaction, then ask to speak to the agency owner.
Sometimes, a manager might feel constrained to act within a given framework of company policy. He or she might not always feel that they have enough elbow room to offer what is needed.
The owner of the company will have more leeway, might be more flexible and might be that much more willing to ensure that a mutually satisfactory outcome is reached.
It is important to have a basic verbal conversation, in person or on the phone, as email exchanges lack the live clarification possibilities of a voice call and can easily become cause for misunderstanding due to the total absence of voice tone. If you want a written record, then you can always double your voice call with an email afterwards, asking for written confirmation of what was said.
6) As a last resort, post a review of your experience on a travel forum like Trip Advisor:
Assuming you’ve booked with a reputable professional, then you can be sure that they will be intent on upholding their hard-earned online reputation (obviously, this tactic might not work so well if you are dealing with a private individual).
Posting your review on a major travel forum (tripadvisor, fodors, etc.) can be very effective because it starts a CONVERSATION which helps the management get a number of different views and insights on a given issue.
Again, the best approach when posting a review on Trip Advisor would be to try and remain realistic, balanced, reasonable and constructive.
Also, try and show that you are keen on reaching a satisfactory outcome by outlining exactly what action would be required to ensure your satisfaction. That way the agency will see that a resolution is possible and it will take some of the guesswork out of the equation.
I hope this helps.
And remember : problems are few and far between! 😉
PS : I’d like to hear your comments and insights, because I might not have thought of everything first time around. To voice your opinion, click the “Leave a comment” link or “Post comment” button just below. Thanks! 🙂