29 September 2011

Une pendaison de crémaillère

We had a lovely crémaillère (housewarming party) last weekend, and we decided that we would stay in this elegant apartment on rue Papassaudi at least through June.  The apartment is very comfortable and is beginning to feel like a home.  (A pendaison is the chain that holds the crémaillère over the fire, and cooking dinner over a fire like that warms up the house, doesn't it?)  Much of the comfort stems from the fact that we can control the heat inside the apartment, during the summer and even now, as we have air conditioning, which is quite a luxury here. 

Unfortunately, our propriétaire (landlady) has other plans for our appartement (apartment), and we must be out by January at the latest!  This means I am now having to plunge into the world of real estate, something I was able to avoid because this furnished apartment was recommended to us by an acquaintance and we made the agreement privately.   Without personal connections though, finding an apartment is a challenging and expensive endeavor in France.  Real estate agencies work for the landlord, so the renter must pay the agency a finder's fee (usually one month's rent or more) and the renter's deposit also is often held by the agency (and not easily refunded).  The agencies post their listing together on the Internet, but are slow to respond to email queries (they don't really work for the renter!).  Phone calls work much better, but require a little more fortitude especially with one's poor French skills.  I THINK I have an appointment to view one apartment à vendredi à quatorze heure (Friday at 2 pm), and we'll see tomorrow if I got that right.  Today, I came upon a service that connects landlords to potential renters directly for a much lower fee and visited the spartan office and found no suitable listings at the moment.  Even with this organization, you get shafted as the renter, because the fee is not contingent on whether you find a suitable property and sign an agreement, but merely gives you the right to connect with the landlords of properties you are interested in over a six month period. 

Renters also have many upfront costs.  Many apartments do not come with the fully-equipped kitchens.  Renters may have to buy refrigerators, stoves, ovens, dishwashers and microwaves.  Likewise, laundry is not a given.  So, those items add to the cost for renters significantly, as does the renter's tax that we just found out about, that must be paid if one is renting at the end or beginning of a calendar year.

Then there are the considerations about where to live.  We are in an elegant apartment on the deuxième étage (3rd floor, but the French call it the second floor because the ground floor is not the first floor but the ground floor), with 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, high ceilings, a nice floor plan, a full kitchen and laundry, and even a tiny balcony in the center of the building where the sky is visible if one looks upward.  And we are right in the middle of the old town.  Our street is quaintly narrow so we can easily see into the apartments of the college students across the street (if my neighbor in Seattle lived here, we wouldn't even need a phone to call each other to wave from our respective living rooms.  We could just open the windows and say bonjour!)  I wouldn't want to drive up in my car, although delivery cars use this street every morning.  Allen parks our car in one of the nearby city parking garages, of which there are several around the périphérique (the ring road that circles Aix).  Monoprix, my grocery store, is just around the corner, the barber is in the other direction, the boys' school is 5 minutes away, and at least 5 bakeries, 2 wine shops, and as many lingerie shops are all within a very short walking distance, for those last minute hankerings.   There are some lovely and affordable villas and maisons à la campagne (in the countryside) surrounding Aix, but this shifts the lifestyle considerably.  Some come with piscines (pools), but may require more furnishings, and would almost certainly require an additional car, and more time management.  And, I do so enjoy the foodie M.F.K. Fisher's chronicle of her time in old Aix many years ago (see Two Towns in Provence), living not far from where we do now.  She too was captivated by the energy here.  

So, while I have now completed most of the boys' school and sports-related paperwork, and my fall quarter community college course is underway, a new fall project is upon me, one that will surely expand my French skills, as I deal with agents, and potential landlords, and who knows who else.  In addition, we think our shipping container has or is about to arrive in port, so we will have to deal with local moving agents here, to pay storage of the contents for a few months or arrange to have our 39 boxes sent here, and then schlep them all ourselves to wherever we end up living.  All of this is beginning to make the atmosphere in our current home feel a little warm!

(ps. Aixoise friends, let us know if you hear of any apartments in the vicinity, T4, 3 chambres, 95-100 m2 minimum!)

picture credit: http://prunelle.skynetblogs.be/archive/2004/08/18/pendaison-de-cremaillere.html

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