Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cherchez La Ferme, Part 1.

Warning and Disclaimer: The first few paragraphs are really tedious.

     We’ve been here nearly a month and it looks like we finally found a place to live. It hasn’t been easy. As it turns out we perfectly timed our move to coincide with an unusual shortage of available rentals. Further complicating this is that we have no credit or taxpaying history here so our options were really limited.

     As it’s been explained to us, the French take a dim view of putting someone into the street, especially in winter or a bad economy, so they’ve have made it nigh on impossible to get rid of deadbeat renters. Preventive measures include insurance policies that guarantee rent payments, but you can only get this if you have a tax history in France. This stymies even some of the French since young people just starting out can’t qualify either.

     The term of the typical lease here is three years, so another solution requires the renter to deposit 36 months of rent into an escrow account. You can’t just pay rent in advance because leases can be legally broken with sufficient notice so both sides are saved the hassle of recovering unpaid funds.
So the places we can rent are limited to those being let by the owners themselves or by smaller rental agencies that presumably need the business and so are a bit more lax. The U.S. economy was ruined because the only question asked of people buying million-dollar houses was, “You got the money, right?” That we might have a problem renting a place to live just never occurred to us.  Plus things in the States are more landlord friendly and in fact a lot of Americans have taken the attitude that if you’ve lost your job and can’t pay the rent it’s your own damned fault anyway for not being rich in the first place. Not only that, but if you’ve been really successful at chucking people into the street, we think you’d make a damn good President. I digress.

     For at least a year, Cynthia has been scanning rental ads from Bordeaux. There is no such thing as a multiple listing, so each property is advertised by the owner or a specific agency with no sharing of information. The closest you get to a multi-list are websites like and, the latter being a sort of French craigslist. It’s apparent that the philosophy here, as far as what makes an ad effective, is, well, the standards are a bit less stringent than in the US. Before we rented our house in St. Petersburg, the rental agent explained how we were going “stage” the place. First of all, there should be no empty rooms, so we had to shift a bunch of stuff around to give every room some purpose. Also, flowers are good, so we bought a couple of bouquets that were strategically moved around during the photo shoot. I think we even bought new towels so the bathroom would look like the perfect place to linger over the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle.
The best you can say for most French ads is they at least create a more realistic picture of what life could be like in your new home. Trying to find a good illustration, I checked exactly three ads before finding this.

And Cynthia also noted that, time after time, ads would have just one picture that didn’t seem to have any relationship to the apartment listed, like these two:
Still others left you wondering whether it showed some feature only the French understood or the camera had gone off by accident.
 You can check this yourself by logging on to any of the sites like, or

     While I was writing this, we entered into what can charitably be called negotiations for what turned out to be the best place we saw. When we were presented with a contract, including fees and deposits, that would have left about 8 Euros in our bank account, my wife showed what she’s made of by guarding what’s left of our money like a lioness does her cubs.


  1. WOO HOO! But you have a place to live!!! That's terrific!!! And i love reading your posts - -thanks so much for writing them -- they are just what those of us stuck over here need!!!

    1. I see now that I was supposed to click the reply button. See below

  2. Thanks, Claire but I'll feel a whole lot better when we've actually signed a lease. And I have to tell you, if you were the only person reading this, I'd still write it just for the strokes. Thanks a million.