That sound you just heard was my plans, hopes, and dreams all landing in an untidy heap, smashed and ruined. No biggie; I've been there before. But I'm a bit concerned.
For the past month, I've scoured websites at least once a day. seeing how much space goes for how much rent and learning the vocabulary of French real estate. I haven't wanted to, but I've had to learn which real estate agencies might be able to help me find an apartment of the size I want in the part of town I want. Rental-by-owner is a rare commodity in France. Before I left Berlin, I sent e-mails in rotten French to a couple of agencies which were representing properties I thought looked good. Funky, without a doubt, but good.
Then, when I got in last night and a fairly violent thunderstorm put paid to my plans to hit the legendary Bar Vert Anglais to meet some folks to see if they'd come up with anything, I checked again, just to make sure the properties were still listed. They were.
I got up this morning and headed out to look at some of them. The two I liked best I couldn't find. I mean, not even the street. Of course, I'd accidentally left my street map back at the hotel. But thanks to a remarkable web-site operated by the French Yellow Pages, I'd already "walked" some of these streets and knew what was there. (I eliminated one looks-good possibility when I found it was right over a business called Euro Kebab, for instance. Pfew!) What I did find was a lot of what seemed to be mom-and-pop agencies specializing in various neighborhoods. None of them had what seemed to be a lot of places, but I only need one, I told myself.
Finally, I went to a big agency that had a place listed that seemed quite nice. It was in an old building, near the place where I stayed when I first visited here, and it seemed perfect, at least as a place to start. I was sent to the second floor, where an offiious East Asian woman sat behind a computer. In halting French, I told her the address of the place I wanted. "Well, first," she said, "how long have you been employed by your current employer?" About 40 years, I told her; I'm self-employed. She was shocked. "You'll need to put down some money, you know." Yes, I was prepared for that. I knew I had to put down two months' rent, plus something close to it for the agency's fee. I had that. She asked me what I wanted and I told her. I also mentioned that I had a specific property in mind and gave her the address. She clicked some buttons and shook her head. "When did you see that on our website?" she asked. I looked at my watch. "About 45 minutes ago." Which was true: everything closes for lunch here and I'd gone back to the hotel to check once more.
It wasn't in her list. "Look," she said. "Do you realize that you have to have financial security before we'll rent to you? You need a guarantor who is French. You also need to put a year's rent in escrow." Whaaat? That's insane! Even the Germans aren't that crazy. I wondered: did this have anything to do with my being American? With being self-employed? Both? Or was it just the agency not wanting to deal with the small change of rental?
But it took a lot of wind out of my sails, I have to say. I've subsequently learned that the guarantor thing is real. The year's escrow, on the other hand...I wonder. I've lost a day's apartment hunting, and I've got another place I'd like to look at, but I'm going to talk to some folks tonight so I'll be a bit more confident when I start out in the morning.
There is one place whose landlord, a British guy, I've been corresponding with. The building seems filthy from the outside, and is on a main street that's choked with traffic. The company representing it wants way more than he quoted to me, too. It's right behind the Préfecture, the mayor's office, but when I went back there it looked like every cop in Montpellier was outside, and traffic was being diverted. Maybe Mme Sarkozy was paying a visit.
I've got tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday to find something. Tomorrow, Thursday, Friday and a miracle.