Ensuring your peace of mind when booking a rental (reply by A La Carte Paris to a question posted on the Trip Advisor review site)

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.”
Nutsabouttravel

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! 🙂

44 Comments Add yours

  1. David Zweck says:

    I followed the recent posting by another Aussie on Trip Advisor re the trouble they had with an apt. which was supposedly unavailable because of some appliance problem when the reality was that you had double booked. I am glad that you have learnt from that unfortunate incident, have changed your practices and that you realise that sometimes the forums are the client’s only method of communication.
    I find that testimonials, whether they are cherry picked or not, are a great help in choosing an apartment. You don’t seem to have many for individual apartments.

  2. Thanks David for your comment.

    Yes, our double booking error that you refer to did indeed lead to a better comprehension of our clients requirement and a corresponding change in our Terms and Conditions. This update is documented here:
    https://blog.alacarte-paris-apartments.com/2011/01/31/double-bookings-terms-of-service-update/

    Fair point about the testimonials ; I agree that apartment-specific testimonials are indeed of greater value then generic “homepage-style” testimonials. I believe almost all our apartments do have specific testimonials included on the respective apartment pages. The exceptions would be apartments recently signed up (maybe 10% of our portfolio).

  3. Colin Mantell says:

    Thanks Alex….good tips.
    I know it won’t always be possible, but when things get sticky it is a huge benefit to have a staff menbers name with whom to communicate. I’m currently negotiating for an apartment with another company and there has been some issues which would be quickly solved if I new whom to contact. When I respond in the suggested way, I get a computor generated response that has nowhere to comment so I still haven’t spoken to [or communicated by email] with anybody with a name! Frustrating!!!
    Colin Mantell

    1. Thanks Colin – I have added your contribution as point #3 on the list of Ways to Minimise Risk.

  4. Terry Harrell says:

    It’s most important to do all you can to put yourselves in your customer’s shoes. Assuming they are being reasonable, just put in some time imagining planning and then going on a dream vacation. And you can only be there for a set period of time. Having significant problems with an apartment where you plan to stay can be devastating. It can be a major disappointment in your life. I have not had this experience, but I want to come back to Paris, and I want to rent an apartment next time. It is a scary thought.

    So empathy is the most important thing. Do all you can to make sure things go smoothly. And if they don’t, then do all you can to make things all right. Make sure the people are taken care of, whatever it takes. You will be successful if you do that, and whatever time, trouble and expense it takes you will be rewarded you many times over.

    1. Thanks Terry.

      Yes, I agree completely. In the past, we had an annual satisfaction rate of 99%. On the face of it, this might sound impressive, but that doesn’t cut it if you’re unlucky enough to be in the approx 3 people per year out of about 300 who left us less than happy. Because I agree with you that a short stay simply HAS to go well (either because things are smooth or because we react promptly and appropriately if not), I am now implementing a “100% Satisfied Clients” policy. Sure, this policy might sometimes take a bit of time, trouble and expense, but – as you say – it’s worth it.

  5. Hello Alex
    Thank you for this very interesting article. In fact thank you for all your articles and suggestions (like the Citroen tour etc – what a great idea!) I would point out that your point 5 (come to a realistic and balanced solution) is very important. Problems occur, mistakes happen we are all only human – its how we all deal with them that counts and what we take home with us. If something goes wrong.. say the plumbing bursts – It is important to know what it is that you want to make things right – what would appease you, make you happy (another apartment?, a discount?, a free citroen tour!?) It’s like aksing your boss for a wage rise and he says “Ok how much?” and you go dont know! All that aside Alex – for me having a contact number or address is vital – and a contact name is best. Thanks again – cant wait till my stay in november

    1. Thanks for your comment Graeme. Yes indeed, short term rentals in a historic city like Paris is an activity that is prone to the occasional “complication”. What matters is not that such issues can sometimes arise, but that a satisfactory outcome be rapidly reached.

  6. Linda Hollander says:

    I thought you might be interested in this cautionary tale.

    A couple of years ago, I spent two months in Paris researching a book. To find an apartment that I could afford for that length of time, I turned to…Craigslist! A number of people told me they’d had good luck with it, so I never thought twice.

    I found what I thought was the perfect situation: a young woman who worked in London and wanted to rent out an extra room. The apartment was described as a three bedroom, very close to Chatelet Metro, with air conditioning (so rare in Paris, and I have some serious asthma) and she sent pictures. It looked very nice and she herself would be there from late Friday to Sunday afternoon. The third room was a guest room, she said I was welcome to use it if I had guests coming over. The rent was 2500 Euros per month, which was in by budget range.

    I spoke to her on the phone twice, I spoke to her mother (who said she lived in the building). They sounded so lovely and I was elated. She asked me to wire the first month’s rent. I didn’t even blink, I thought that was fair.

    I went to Western Union, and asked to send money to an address in London. Thank God for that Western Union lady! She said, “Do you know the person to whom you are sending this money?” I said “No, I’m renting an apartment in Paris”. She said “Why are you sending money to London when the apartment is in Paris?” I explained that it was a private rental and that the owner of the apartment worked in London. She asked me if I had an address, or an email address or a bank or anything, so I gave her the email address for the young woman. The Western Union lady came back less than five minutes later and said “This email accouunt is registered to —-, whose address is given as Istanbul, Turkey.” I would advise you not to send this girl any money.”

    I was very shaken, but I was SURE there had to be some mistake, so I went back and emailed my prospective landlady, then I called and left a voicemail. Needless to say, she did not return my email,or my phone calls. Her email address was canceled when I tried to write the next day and the phone was disconnected.

    I was extremely lucky that the woman at the Western Union Office took an interest in me or I would have been out 2500 Euros. I always advise friends who are looking for apartments to go through reputable channels, and I recommend your site, as well as that of Adrian Leeds (ParlerParis) all the time. I would certainly have used one of these sites if I were not staying so long, but at $180 + per day times 60 days….it just wasn’t in my budget!

    I like your site very much and always look forward to your emails. Thanks for your help and expertise!

    1. Wow Linda, that’s very scary indeed. Thanks for contributing, and I’m glad things turned out ok for you.
      I’m sure Craig’s List represents mostly honest and genuine owners, although I should share a similar experience. About a year ago, I spotted an apartment that I personally own being fraudulently advertised on Craig’s List. This individual was not the owner (because I am) and had neither the keys nor even the address ; he had simply stolen my photos from the ALCP website! I advised Craig’s List of the scam and it was removed. Another cautionary tale…

  7. Heather says:

    I have booked through a la carte and had excellent results and, so, I had no hesitation in booking an apartment in another European city through another agency. It was a disaster. The owner of the apartment had not received the booking and was not there to let us in. But worse, the agency was only in London and had no one on the ground to sort things out. We had to book a hotel at the last minute at a huge cost. I would recommend NEVER renting unless there is an office in the same city as the apartment.

    1. Thanks Heather for your feedback. I agree, short-term rentals can often require service or assistance, so a professional on-site presence would seem to be a must.

      1. Valentina says:

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  8. Kathleen McCarthy says:

    Alex I am new to your sites and I love the info. My fiance and I will retire in three years and we have dual citizenship with Ireland—–this allows us to move around Europe ! Our first stop will be Paris for 4 to 6 months so this site is invaluable to me !

    1. Thanks Kathleen, I’m glad to be of service. 🙂
      Seeing as you have connections in Ireland and Paris, maybe you might be interested in owning a Paris home that pays for itself through rentals when you’re not using it?
      If so, have a look, as several of our investor owners are Irish!
      http://www.alacarte-paris-apartments.com/paris-apartment-investment.html
      and related blog: http://alacarteinvest.wordpress.com/

  9. Rob says:

    Mr Wagner – Thanks for these tips and ideas. My wife and I go to Paris almost once a year, and I find your ideas and suggestions helpful and informative. We have not rented apartments in the past, but will probably take the plunge the next time we go based on your comments. Meanwhile, I copy and file each in my “Paris” file.

    1. Thanks Rob for your feedback ; we would be glad to help you when the time comes for your next stay in Paris!

    1. Thanks ; glad to be of service.

  10. John Pearce says:

    The best solution I’ve found is to have a friend look personally at the apartment and meet the owner (or, I suppose, the agent). Of course, this only works if you’re returning to a destination where you have some contacts, but that’s Paris for me.

  11. Hello Mary and Al,
    Yes indeed, when you book a particular apartment then that is the apartment you will get. Garanteed. Our contract with owners gives us full authority over the booking once the renter has made a downpayment and once the rental contract has been signed. You may go ahead and book Absolute Paris in peace of mind.
    Alex

    1. Al and Mary Varelas / USA says:

      Thank you for your quick reply and assurance that we will be getting the apartment we contract for and not be switched at the last minute to another like some other companies do. Thank you also to Katy for all her help with our questions about the apartment. She has been very prompt in answering questions, and we are sure that the high quality of service you and your employees have offered so far, will continue right thru our stay in the “Absolute Paris” apartment that we will be staying in during our visit to Paris.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Alex for your valuable tips. I have become a veteran in the short rental business to the point of loathing the idea of staying in a hotel.
    Some additional points to pay attention to, in my eyes, are as follows:
    1. Shun away from agencies/owners who demand immediate prepayment of most/all of the sum, although property may be booked many months ahead of occupancy time.
    2. Make sure you ask for the cancellation policy before booking: this could save you a good deal of unpleasant surprises (including the case of valid travel insurance).
    3. Ask explicitly what IS and what IS NOT included in the rent (you’d be surprised at some of the tricks used: linen, electricity/gas consumed, final cleaning and a variety of other commodities are in certain cases paid for separately!
    4. Some renters try to trick you by omitting crucial issues: The fact that the apt is on the 7th floor and the building has no lift, that the building next door is being renovated and the dust and din around it reign 18/24 hrs, that the closest parking is about a mile away and costs a small fortune, etc., etc. Don’t be coy about discovering these “secrets” well ahead of time.
    5. Be very cautious with sudden “deals”, “sales” and similar cheapies: there often is a hidden catch to such “steals”, otherwise they probably would not be on such a list.

    BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY!

    Moshe Harell/Israel.

    1. Thanks Moshe for your input. Regarding your point n°5 about being weary of offers and promotions, I should say that when A La Carte does offers, it is almost always in the off season, in which case we pick some of our best apartments. When we do our free stay prize draw, twice per year, it is also on our most best and popular apartments (but in off season only). There are no hidden catches to our offers.

  13. I’ve recently subscribed to your newsletter and am enjoying the blogs. Your apartment listings are beautiful. My husband and I visit France every year and always rent apartments. I have a background in technology, am a freelance writer and I’ve discovered a way to search for fraudulent listings of apartments–having found many of my photos, though not for rentals, stolen from my blog.

    On Google Image Search, find a photo of an apartment of interest, then hover over that image and “Find Similar”. By doing so, I’m often able to closely identify scam sites versus real sites as the apartment is typically valid somewhere on a legitimate website.

    What would be really helpful is if all owners and agencies would watermark every photo in a way that can not be cropped out. I realize watermarks mar the beauty of the photos, but the peace of mind for everyone is worth it. We hope to rent from you in the near future.

    Thanks,
    Freda Cameron

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hi Alex, I’ve been trying to book your st German property for the last week and can’t get any replies to my emails. I have the contract filled and the credit card ready but can’t get katy to return emails. Can you please advise. Alison Howse/Mulvaney
    Ps I have sent 2 more emails to Katy this morning.

    1. Hi Alison,
      Katy had to take a few days leave with little warning ; we are standing in for her but with longer email turnaround times than usual. Don’t worry, you should get a reply today.
      Thanks,
      Alex

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  17. DW says:

    I booked an apartment with one of your competitors for 9 nights, 3 months in advance. I cancelled in writing within 72 hours due to a host of issues, among them life-safety issues. Their policy is harsh, “This rate is non-refundable and cannot be changed or cancelled – if you do choose to change or cancel this booking you will not be refunded any of the payment. If you wish to review or cancel this reservation, please go to our View/Cancel Reservation page.” They’re obviously not interested in the fairness of APLM’s approach, but do I have any recourse with them? They have plenty of time to rebook the unit. Can they legally book it twice or leave it vacant and keep my $3,200?

  18. David says:

    I booked an apartment with one of your competitors for 10 nights, 3 months in advance. I cancelled in writing within 72 hours due to a host of issues, among them life-safety concerns.
    Their policy is harsh, “This rate is non-refundable and cannot be changed or cancelled – if you do choose to change or cancel this booking you will not be refunded any of the payment. If you wish to review or cancel this reservation, please go to our View/Cancel Reservation page.”
    They’re obviously not interested in the fairness of APLM’s approach, but do I have any recourse with them? They have plenty of time to rebook the unit. Would French law allow them to legally book it twice or leave it vacant and keep my $3,200?
    Any help in this regard would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Thanks David, and sorry to hear of your difficulty. Even for APLM agencies, I think you would find that most bookings are in fact made a few months in advance, just like yours. This is because most often people travelling to Paris from abroad tend to plan in advance so that they have more choice of accommodation and more choice of flights, and cheaper flight tickets too. It is therefore probably quite unlikely that the agency will be able to rebook the apartment. It will typically have to pay the owner. Your recourse would be either 1) if perhaps you subscribed for cancellation insurance, as most serious agencies offer it – depending on your reason for cancellation or 2) a goodwill gesture from the agency in the eventuality that they do rebook the apartment. I think it would be fair that owner and agency keep their payment if the apartment is vacant (that is what cancellation insurance is for after all) but not if they rebooked. Does that sound reasonable?
      Alex

      1. Dave Waterman says:

        Alex,

        Yes, I agree and understand.

        But what vexes me is why they still show the apartment as “unavailable!”

        That is what is not “fair and reasonable!”

        Dave

        Sent from my iPhone

  19. Bill Collins says:

    Alex, do you have apt rentals in Paris for only one week? Are the apts in or near the center of Paris, i.e. Notre Dame, Louvre and other tourist attractions & museums.

  20. John Viescas says:

    We have owned a vacation rental apartment in Paris for more than five years. At first, we did most of the bookings ourselves and via an agency in the US, then signed up a couple of local agencies. After a sequence of problems with one local agency that was handling most of our business, we went looking for someone else. Thank goodness we found A La Carte Paris! They have kept our apartment 70% booked, have handled all the details – including the occasional problem, and have kept the unit spotless with their excellent cleaning team. If you’re an investor looking for a great management company, look no further. If you’re someone considering a vacation rental in Paris, they are top-notch!

    1. Thanks John for your kind words.
      Your apartment rents well because it is well designed and apreciated by our clients! 🙂

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  23. Sharon says:

    Perhaps you are right Alex, but of late I just paid a reputable agency for a unit that I found, everything went well before payment. Once I paid, no news at all until 2 days ago I was told no answer from the owner! How frustrating it is!

    1. Sharon, that sounds unusual (and frustrating!) ; owners are (should be) consulted BEFORE taking payment…

  24. Sarah Figueroa says:

    Dear Alex, I tried to read the newsletter which seems very informative but I can’t seem to get through it because I keep getting very distracted by your photo. With all due respect, you are incredibly gorgeous! Ok let me try reading it again.

  25. Grazyna says:

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