As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the kitchen of notre beau nouvel appartement! At some points Steve and I thought this would never happen. This story began when we found an apartment to rent for one month in Grenoble way back in March while still in the U.S.. How do you commit to a year’s lease of a place when you are just viewing pictures online? We thought, “We’ll just find something when we get there that will be less expensive than this equivalent of the extended stay accommodations in the US.” How hard could that be? Incredibly hard for two Yanks that had no idea how the system works here!
We gave ourselves a couple of days to chill after we arrived. “No Hurry”, we thought. We needed to get a permanent address here to fill out the OFII, a document that we had started when we applied for our visa, but that needed to be completed and submitted with info about our residence, telephone (fixed and mobile) and our assigned visa # after arrival. It was suggested that you do that within the first few days of arrival. We’ll admit we procrastinated some, but we were not prepared at all for how long getting it all together could take. We started looking at fenêtres des immobiliers and jotting down addresses of apartments. We’d walk by them and cross them off the list. Sometimes we would enter an office to find that the apt. in the window was already taken. They didn’t always take down the paper once it wasn’t available. Finally, we found a place that looked okay. We walked into the immobilier and managed to convey our interest in the apartment. The guy looked at us, took a key off a hook and handed it to us! He asked for a form of ID and told us to bring the key back before 6 p.m.! I know it’s been a long time since we’ve rented an apartment, but when we did, someone always accompanied us to the apartment. We trudged off and walked up the 4 flights of stairs (sans ascenseur!) and tried to figure out which of the ancient keys would open the door. Steve finally got it open, and we entered. It was awful! Paint was peeling off the ceiling, there was a 1930s toilet, no stove, no refrigerator ( most apts. have just a sink), and it was filthy. They were asking €900 ($1125) a month not including utilities plus the immobilier gets one month’s rent for handing us the key. In our situation (non-working, non-french citizens), they said we might have to give them 6 months rent up front. Steve and I just looked at each other and started laughing! We returned the keys and thanked Monsieur profusely. We didn’t give an explanation; he probably thought our french wasn’t good enough to say anything about the apt.
We saw a few more apts. with equal “success”. We were trying to find a quiet street close to a tram stop since we don’t want to get a car. One agent did accompany us to a place that might have worked, telling us it is not on a main street and is very quiet. Still sans ascenseur. As we were looking at the 4th floor apt., we heard all this shouting below in the street. All of a sudden a crane outside swung a load of lumber in front of the window. I ducked! They have gutted the building next door and will be working on it for about the same amount of time we will be here. Again, we thanked her and shook our heads.
Getting down to the wire, on a whim we stopped at L’Interparticuliers, an immobilier around the corner from the apt. we were renting. Their business model was different. Instead of posting their properties on the outside window, a client pays an up front fee depending on the size apt. they want, and they provide you with an updated daily on-line list. You call them, they give you the apt. address and the phone number of the owner of the property, and you arrange to meet the owner at the apt. to see it. For the size apt. we were looking for, it was €160 ($200), far less than a month’s rent.We decided we would have to go with un meublé. We didn’t want to have to buy furniture, a stove, refrigerator, dishes, linens, and all of the other things necessary to setting up an apt. There were two possibilities that we saw. We contacted the first. We reached the owner on holiday in Italy by mobile, and she said her daughter would come up from Provence about 2 hrs. away from Grenoble the next day and show us the apt. That would work. Meanwhile, the immobilier owner, a dear man named Cyril with excellent english, called us. He had just had a listing come in that he thought we might like – very nice, he said. We immediately called and spoke to a woman whose english was more limited than our french. Uh-oh. I hoped she understood us, but she hung up, and I wasn’t sure what actually had happened. About an hour later another woman called. I had no idea who she was or how she had gotten our number. She asked if we could meet in an hour after lunch. (It turns out she was the owner who had been out of town, and the first madame was a friend helping her out by being a contact for the apt.) We had nothing to lose. She met us and showed us her beautiful apartment. What did we think? We told her we liked it very much, but asked if we could call her the next day with our decision. Bien sûr!
The next day we met the first apt. owner’s daughter at the apt. They were used to renting to students. There were 2 twin beds, some particle board dressers and desks. Cracked vinyl flooring. A half-step up from the entrance which I promptly stumbled up and almost fell. 2nd floor, sans ascenseur encore. There was a two burner cooktop, no oven. We went for un café. There was no real decision to be made. At our age living like 20-somethings was not what we wanted to do. Both apts. were almost identical rent. We called Madame Pellissier back and prayed the beau apt. had not been rented. It hadn’t. It was ours. We called the other apt. contact back and were told that as soon as we had left some students came and on-the-spot rented the apt. He who hesitates is lost (sometimes!)
We met with Madame Pellissier at her office and drew up the bail. She explained everything about the legalities of the documents in wonderful english! There are documents that must by french law be signed that we have never seen for an american apt. lease. There is a diagnostic de performance énergétique, risque d’exposition au plomb, a plat and many more. We’ve closed on houses that have required less documentation. Then Madame asked about utilities. Did we want to contract with the utility companies ourselves, or would we just want her to continue them in her name and pay her? What do you think we said?
Two days later we met with Madame to sign the paperwork for the rental. Can you imagine signing a legal document written in a foreign language? We were putting our trust in Madame, and my woman’s intuition told me we had nothing to fear. After the signing was done, she said she and her husband thought that since Steve is so tall, she would order a new bed that would fit him better. We protested, but it was delivered the morning we moved in. Her husband also wanted to buy a new t.v. since the one in the apt. is old. We protested that it is not necessary, but Madame insisted we tell her if we want a new one. When we opened the refrigerator later that day, there was a bottle of champagne that she had put there to welcome us.
The apartment is hard for me to date since there has been some renovation. There is what looks like 1930s tile in the la entrée, la cuisine and wc. The salle de bain has been updated and it also houses the machine à laver (no dryer, but that’s okay). The chambre, le séjour, and alcove all have hardwood floors. There is a circa 1940s chrome dinette set with a matching buffet in a beautiful shade of reddish-orange in mint condition. We are on the 5th floor, but avec un ascenseur!!!!! There are terraces outside of the kitchen and the bedroom. We can get a small table and 2 chairs and dine dehors.
In another blog entry I will recount the saga of getting a phone. Suffice it to say, Madame took time out of her very busy day (at her own immobilier business) at work yesterday to arrange for our t.v., internet and landline service. We must have a landline for our visa . We were getting nowhere at the Orange store, the equivalent of Time Warner Cable. She even got them to issue us the much-needed phone # so we can put it on the OFII form mentioned earlier( that we thankfully mailed this morning). They had told us it would take 10-15 days to get that! Madame can move mountains.
So, it will come as no surprise that we have renamed Madame Pellissier, Notre Ange Gardien!
notre beau nouvel appartement: our beautiful new apartment
fenêtres des immobiliers: realtor’s windows
sans ascenseur: no elevator
diagnostic de performance énergétique: energy audit
risque d’exposition au plomb:lead exposure risk
Notre Ange Gardien: Our Guardian Angel
P.S. Be sure to look for Wolfgang in the photos!