jeudi, septembre 04, 2008

Frantic Apartment-Hunting, Part II, Day 3

I had an appointment to see the apartment of Anatoly’s friend’s girlfriend at 10h00, so I got up early and headed over to place de Nation to grab a coffee and check out the neighborhood. Nation is actually a really nice neighborhood; far from most of the tourist destinations, so not overrun or overpriced, and yet close to most things and well-equipped for all your dining and shopping needs. In a gesture of final desperation, I bought another copy of the PaP (Particulier à Particulier, the private-party sales and rental magazine that comes out every Thursday morning) and sat down at a café. If it’s possible to imagine, the rents have increased even more since that last time I was here two weeks ago. There were virtually no 1BR apartments under 1000€, and most of the studios were either in the 500-600€ range for unfurnished and super-small, or 700-800€ for furnished and medium-sized. Meh.

I headed over to the apartment and met the owner, who showed me the place. It was actually in great condition and reasonably large, although there was a bit of remaining water damage on the ceiling of the kitchen that she promised would be cleaned and painted soon. The bathroom was separate from the apartment, but it was private, so at least I wasn’t sharing it with others. While not ideal, the apartment was great and a far sight better than what I was currently living in, and the price (which I can’t disclose here, since it was a “for friends only” price) was hard to refuse. However, the one stumbling block was the fact that it was unfurnished. If I was going to be living in Paris for several years, unfurnished would be just fine, since the savings in rent would make up for the purchased furniture over time. Anyway, I had to think about it; it would be a pain in the ass to furnish this thing from scratch, but then there’s always Craigslist to sell leftover stuff before leaving…

Anyway, she had run an ad in the PaP as well, so she wanted a chance to have other interested parties look at the place. So we said that we would be in touch over the weekend and I promised to send her my “dossier locataire” (with all of my housing and financial info) and left it at that.

From there, I headed over to the UofC center to put in my hours and take care of a lot of my online business. There’s no internet at the place where I’m staying (well, there’s supposed to be a free internet zone in the area, but it’s just out of range), so I had a lot of business to deal with very quickly.

In yet another gesture of desperation, I took a look at the stuff posted on Craigslist. Amid the usual scams and holiday rentals, I spotted a handful of apartments that seemed reasonable. I sent out some emails and forgot about it.

About an hour later, I get a phone call from a guy who is renting an apartment in the 15th arrondissement, near Convention métro station. He wants to show me his place right away. Yay! I tell him that I’ll be there at 17h00 and I start wrapping things up and getting ready to leave. Just as I’m stepping out the door, I get a call from another person. This is a guy renting a studio in the 11th arrondissement, near métro Parmentier. He asks me a few more details about my financial situation and how long I’m planning to stay in Pars, and then makes an appointment to see me at 19h30. Yay again!

The rest of the day was pretty fast-paced. I ran to the first apartment and checked it out. The guy showing it was a really friendly New Zealander who was moving back to NZ and wanted to rent out his place. The neighborhood was lovely and the building was in very good condition. The room itself was a chambre de bonne, that is, what would’ve been the maid’s room in a classic Hausmann-era Paris apartment building. This means that there were two potential drawbacks: it would probably be really small and it would probably be on the top floor.

Indeed, both of these were true, although at least there was an elevator in the building. But the thing was small—16m2 at best. Still, I was imagining that I could make it work, especially since he had been very smart about furnishing the place in a way that saved a lot of space. He seemed ready to pretty much sign a contract right away, so I told him that I needed to see one more apartment that night, and then I would get back to him that evening.

I ran home and swung by Monoprix to finally get some groceries for my place (although not too much, since I wasn’t sure if I would be moving tomorrow), and then borrowed my neighbor’s internet for a moment to double-check the prices for the apartments I was looking at tonight. As it turns out, I had gotten things backward. The place at Convention that I had just seen was 800€, while the place I was going to see at Parmentier was 660€. Hmm, that made me much less likely to take the first place, and much more likely to take the second.

I zipped over to Parmentier and met the other landlord, who was an (also friendly) American English teacher that was looking to rent his apartment while he moved to Ireland for a time. The apartment was on the 6th floor (European reckoning, which is like 7th floor in the US) with no elevator…but I was beginning to realize that that was not really a big drawback for me. I had lived in Berlin on the 4th floor without an elevator for the last two months and got used to it quite quickly. I can probably use the exercise anyway. Also, he wasn’t going to leave the place until September 22, but I had this other apartment in Strasbourg Saint-Denis for the month of September anyway, so no problem really.

Aside from the height of the apartment, the place was all WIN and AWESOME. It consists of a main room that is probably 25m2, a kitchen that is about 8m2, and a bathroom that is about 3-4m2. The owner doesn’t want to take anything with him, so he’ll be leaving his flat-screen LCD TV, his beautiful white leather sofa-bed, his bookshelves and fantastic telescoping coffee table / dining table (the legs are adjustable), a huge, ancient oak kitchen workspace, a GAS STOVE (you have no idea how hard this is to find in smaller apartments here), an old wardrobe, and his complete WiFi / TV / phone setup. I would pay an extra 33€ for the WiFi/TV/phone, which he would keep in his name, and I would pay a monthly advance of 40€ for the electricity, for which we would settle the difference every month when the bill comes. He had done a lot of renovations on the place, and the bathroom looked brand-new and the ceiling windows were the fancy kind that opened all the way to ventilate it during hot weather. All told, I’d be putting in 733€ for the apartment including all utilities, WiFi / TV / phone, furnishings and so on.

I was ready to take the place right away, but he had had several other visitors who were interested in the place, including a shrewd young Mexican guy that had complained that “Nobody wants to rent to a Mexican,” which is a good card to play on a college-educated white American. Despite being also Latino, I doubted that I would be able to play that particular guilt card credibly, considering that I have a Canadian passport and I’m here on a scholarship, so I just did my best to seem really friendly and very responsible. I made a point of telling him that I’ve been subletting my place back in Chicago, and having the same sorts of concerns and worries that he was having in choosing a tenant. Of course, the market was radically different between here and Chicago. In Chicago, I was desperate for anyone (well, anyone who could pass a credit check) to rent my place, whereas here this guy had the pick of 4 or more desperate tenants.

Anyway, he decided to sleep on it and call us all in the morning, so I headed home and tried to resist the temptation to tell everyone about the place. I know I’m being superstitious, but I just don’t want to jinx this thing.

On the way home from the subway station, I noticed a Chinese restaurant on rue de Strasbourg that constantly had crowds eating in there (notably, not just tourists but also other Chinese folks), and I also noticed that it was named after Chengdu, the capital of the Szechuan province. Yay, spicy Szechuan food! Maybe I can finally get something that is more than just moderately spicy. How exciting!

So I went in there and ordered a few dishes to go, telling the waiter that I wanted it very, very spicy. As I waited for my food, I took a close look at the menu and was impressed by the range of food they had available. Not just the usual “sweet and sour pork” variations, but also more adventurous things like tripe, frog’s legs, eel, kidneys, liver and so on. I may have to come back here some time and try this place again.

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