Adulting in France
After a stressful couple of weeks, this girl officially has signed a lease and will be moving into her first apartment in France! This year as a lectrice in Perpignan, was the first time I have really been challenged with looking for housing, both in France and in the US. When I moved away from home for college, I lived in a dorm for the first two years and after that I lived in off-campus housing marketed specifically for students. As an English teaching assistant in a lycée in the académie de Besançon, I lived in the internat, the on-campus cheap housing with other language assistants (80€ rent). Last year as a Master’s student in Paris, I had my own room (615€ rent) in an all female international student foyer (kinda like a dorm). This year, I knew I wanted my own place, or at least only have to share with one other roommate. I ended up choosing to live with a roommate, my boyfriend who was finishing a CDD (temporary work contract) in Paris and wanted to start fresh in a new place.
Studio vs T3
The first thing we decided was what kind of apartment we wanted. Both used to studio type living spaces, we wanted to have a more spacious option this time around, especially since housing in the south is a lot more affordable! For example, a decent sized studio in Paris might cost around 750-900 € per month, whereas one in Perpignan might cost 350-400 € per month. We agreed upon a T3 (500-600 € rent), a 3 room apartment (2 bedrooms and 1 living room/kitchen, so we could have plenty of space for just the two of us the first time we will live together. We will probably turn the second bedroom into a multipurpose nook to be used for reading, yoga, grading student work, and as a guest room.
Furniture or nah?
The next decision was furnished vs. unfurnished (meublé vs non meublé). I was leaning towards a furnished place becuase I was already stressed about starting a new job and didn’t want to think about buying furniture while lesson planning at the same time. However, the bf’s logic swayed me over as he thought it would be better to choose our own style of furniture, our security deposit would be smaller, we could sell the furniture later, and it would be a fun project for him after finishing his job.
Next up : location, location, location.
Where we were going to live was one of the most important decisions when choosing a place. Did we want to live close to the university where I work ? In the city center? Or somewhere in between? We ended up choosing a place in the city center becuase it seemed livelier and more convenient since we do not have a car. Unlike Paris, Perpignan only has buses and they stop running after 9 pm. I’d rather walk 30 minutes or cycle for 15 to get to work during the week than have to take a taxi to get back home after having dinner or a drink with friends downtown.
Where to search
So how did we find our new place? On a website called leboncoin.fr, or on another similar site. The internet is a great place to find listings for apartments. Another helpful way is by asking people you know. The lectrice I replaced who was moving out of her apartment put me into contact with her landlord and some colleagues at the university also sent an email about a faculty member who was renting out a place. Unfortunately, those apartments didn’t fit what we were looking for so we used websites.
To set up an apartment visit, we just called the phone number of the landlord or apartment agency to schedule a visit. We had a total of five visits within the first week of being here. In that week, we found a place we liked and sent in our dossier (more about that soon). The visits were usually 10-15 minutes long depending on how big the place was, how many questions we asked, and how chatty the landlord was. Visits are very important because you can’t get the feel for a place just from a picture. You get to see what the neighborhood is like as well as the quality of the housing. One place I thought I was going to love, actually wasn’t as great in person becuase it was in a very old building and it seemed like the renovations were never-ending. Don’t be hesitate to ask lots of questions like : are the windows double-paned? Or what types of locks do the doors have? Are utility charges included with the rent? And can I install and oven and a washing machine? After the visit, if you are really interested in the place, make it clear to the person showing you around and ask how they would like you to send your dossier.
The dreaded dossier
Like anything in France, applying for housing requires lots of documents. Usually the landlord or the agency will provide you a list of the kind of documents they are looking for like your ID/passport, work contract, proof of current address, etc. Another thing they usually require is a French guarantor (garant), which I did not have as an American. However, there are services like VISALE which act as a governmental guarantor. It’s free and you just have to submit the proper documents to be approved. Send in your dossier as soon as you can in case lots of people have been looking at the apartment you want. Luckily in Perpignan, the housing market is not as competitive as it is in Paris.
Signing the contract and move-in fees
Once your dossier is accepted you can sign the contract! If you are unsure about signing a contract in French, even if your French level is good, I would still recommend asking if a French friend or colleague can read it for you. This way you can know what you are signing up for and so you can request something be changed. After the contract is signed by all parties you can pay the rent, security deposit, and agency fee (usually the same price as one month’s rent) if you went with an agency. After that you do the état des lieux, an inventory of what the place looks like before you move in so if something was damaged before they won’t fine you when you move out.
I’m still at my air bnb because I need to figure out how to buy a bed for the apartment, but I’m looking forward to filling my new place with plants and being close to the action in the city center! Stay tuned for a blog post about furnishing an apartment as a millennial expat on a budget!