Part I: How to Rent a Temporary Furnished Apartment in Buenos Aires

Lucky for you, we have rented four apartments in Buenos Aires, and several vacation rental homes throughout Argentina and Uruguay. Now we’re going to pass on what we’ve learned about the short- to mid-term furnished apartment leasing game. (For you feed readers, apologies that this went out as an incomplete draft a bit earlier today!)

FINDING THE APARTMENT. Generally, these rentals are designed to be selected while you are overseas, sight unseen. You can usually get a good sense of what an apartment looks like by perusing an agency’s Web site though. Having said that, do not give the benefit of the doubt to unclear photos, which come in two varieties: fuzzy shots or arty shots, the latter being pix that look really good, but don’t actually show you the apartment, just a cool section of a counter in the bathroom, etc. Your rule of thumb needs to be, “if it isn’t clear, move on to the next apartment.”

If you are in Argentina and want to view an apartment before renting it, you may ask the agency, and if it is not presently rented, they will sometimes accommodate you, but not always. The agencies that focus on shorter-term rentals will be less interested in showing apartments. The longer-term your potential stay, the more access to apartments you will have.

NEIGHBORHOODS. For those of you who haven’t been to Baires, here is my quick take on many of the neighborhoods in which you will find temporary furnished rentals targeted toward foreigners. San Telmo is edgy and gritty, filled with a younger crowd. Recoleta is a wealthy neighborhood where a lot of foreigners stay, but it’s rather staid and is home to a lot of retired folks. Palermo Soho is a lower-density district with tons of hip stores and loads and loads of tourists. Palermo Hollywood, see Palermo Soho, but without as much trendy shopping. Las Cañitas/La Imprenta, where we just moved, is located between Belgrano and Palermo and is close to a large park, sports tons of restaurants, and has families, retired folks, and young people. Belgrano’s tree-lined streets shelter a lot of families due to the large number of schools in the area.

AMENITIES. This is a quick and dirty list of what you will want to ask an agency about when you are communicating with them online.

  1. It is important to make sure the rental has “sommier” mattresses (proper box spring beds) because many owners will furnish their apartments with horribly uncomfortable tuck-under beds, cots, and futons.
  2. Confirm the size of the matrimonial bed (ask ahead of time since many Web sites will describe all beds as doubles, whether they be king, queen or double mattresses).
  3. With Internet access, make sure to inquire as to the availability of WiFi because a lot of apartments will have high speed Internet, but no wireless, and the modem can often be somewhere very inconvenient for computing! (We brought our own wireless router with us.)
  4. Ask about apartment security…is there a 24 hour doorman?
  5. Ask what floor the apartment is on — the lower levels can have problems with security and can also be much noisier.
  6. If you are leasing a larger apartment (more than 2 bedrooms), find out if one of the bedrooms is a habitación de servicio, which is essentially the maid’s bedroom. (Think carefully before renting an apartment with one of these because they are generally small with non-existent ventilation, no air conditioning or heat, little storage, and often only a sliver of natural light.)
  7. If you will be staying here during warmer months, find out which rooms are specifically air conditioned. The agency Web sites will often state that there is “a/c available,” but that can mean that there is air conditioning only in the living room but not in any of the bedrooms.
  8. Generally, the nicer apartments offer housekeeping services once a week (this is usually the landlord’s housekeeper who keeps an eye on the place)! If you want maid service, make sure you ask about this in advance.

PAYMENT OF RENT. If you are coming from the US, they will expect you to pay the entire amount of the rent and the deposit in US$. If you are in Argentina, they will typically allow you to pay in pesos at the exchange rate of the day. If you are going to be renting a temporary furnished apartment for longer than 3 months, you can negotiate to pay a lump sum and then the rent in monthly installments. The market is shifting a bit, and for longer rentals and more expensive rentals, I have seen the agencies more willing to negotiate than when we first arrived!

CHECK IN. You bring your cash and bags directly to the apartment to check in. Before you hand anything over, you will want a complete tour of the apartment. (In some cases, the owner may send a family member or their housekeeper to rent the apartment with the agency representative.) Make sure you get a direct contact number for the owner/representative. When you are checking in, you will want to review all of the following items.

  1. Ensure that the hot water works.
  2. Test all of the stove burners and make sure they have provided matches or a sparking device, if needed.
  3. Ask how to light/operate the oven.
  4. Flush all of the toilets to test functionality.
  5. Check that the sheets fit the bed (they often try to make king size beds with queen size flat sheets — it’s horrible because the sheet comes completely off the bed after about 5 minutes).
  6. Pull your computer out and check the WiFi/Internet connection.
  7. Take a look in the kitchen cabinets and make sure there are a good amount of basic dishes, pots, pans and silverware for your needs.
  8. Make sure there is a dish drainer since you generally won’t have a dishwasher.
  9. Double check that there is an iron and ironing board.
  10. Have them confirm the TV works and cable is hooked up.
  11. Ask for a lesson with the phone that lets you buzz people in from outside the building.
  12. Make sure they show you where to take out the trash.
  13. Check all of the locks with the keys that are given you.
  14. If there is an article of furniture that is missing that you really need, like a bookshelf, or you a need a lamp for a dark room, note it and ask for it before signing the contract.
  15. Test the ventilation system over the stove.
  16. I would ask for a plunger. There is a lot of delicate plumbing here and no apartment we have rented has ever offered a real plunger.
  17. If a room lacks ventilation, or is hot despite air conditioning, ask for a fan.
  18. Make sure there are no light bulbs that need to replaced.

This list may seem odd, but generally, you should expect that no one has checked over the apartment prior to your arriving. And remember, in Argentina, It is much easier to get things taken care of by pointing them out before you sign the contract and hand over any money. Once everyone has scattered, it will take exponentially longer to get problems addressed.

So, after you have gone through this list, sit down and read the contract. Most agencies will have a short, one-page lease in Spanish (a few have an English version). All of the contracts I have seen are pretty innocuous. Remember to add anything to the contract that results from your walk-through.

CHECK OUT. The agency may or may not show up, but the owner and/or their representative will come, give the dwelling a quick look-see, and then hand you back your deposit in the currency in which they received it. (Some people worry about counterfeit money swaps and note their deposit bill serial numbers if they are paying with US$ and then ask for these same bills in return. We have never done so.) We have not yet had an owner be ticky tacky at check out, even though we have broken a glass here and there or dinged a table. In all cases we have received 100% of our deposit back. The whole process of departing takes about 5 to 15 minutes. They don’t expect the place to be spotless when you leave either, just somewhat neat.

Tune in next week for Part II, where I review the apartment agencies we have worked with over the last 7 months.

Update: Part II is now available!

13 Responses to “Part I: How to Rent a Temporary Furnished Apartment in Buenos Aires”

  1. meg

    happy easter!
    so dan and i were talking this morning and wondering…re: your apartment searches…have you had many to choose from and your selection has been a difficult one OR have you had to search and search with only luck bringing ONE that is passable?
    we are thinking how it may be quite a challenge for us because we will need a 3 bedroom (at least-would love a 4 bedroom).
    do you ever see any houses for rent?
    ps…great advice on apartment hunting…you are a wealth of information.
    pps…front page of the washington post today…the obamas dog…named Bo. super cute portuguese water dog. story was leaked, think they are getting the dog on tuesday. guess the story couldn’t wait!
    take care-

  2. Buenos Aires Expats - Online Community of Expatriates and guide to living in Buenos Aires, Argentina

    […] that anything cooked at a parrilla must be good.After accepting the invitat… Friday, 10 April Part I: How to Rent a Temporary Furnished Apartment in Buenos Aires[] Lucky for you, we have rented four apartments in Buenos Aires, and several […]

  3. Michele

    Meg, thank you so much for the Easter wishes, igualmente a uds.!

    In our experience, we definitely had a hard time finding affordable but nice apartments that had 3 real bedrooms in nice neighborhoods. There just aren’t as many of them, and they tend to be rented by families instead of month-long visitors, so turnover is low. Because of this, they are spendier all the way around. It was nice being able to move down to a two bedroom after Ian left because we had a lot more options. Having said that, there is more availability now than when we first came, and there is more opportunity to negotiate than there once was.

    Regarding houses, you can find them. In the $3000 to $4000 USD per month range, you will generally find them in Colegialies (some really nice residential areas there), Belgrano, and Palermo Soho/Hollywood. In general though, if you are going to rent something in a nice neighborhood, fully furnished, with weekly housekeeping service, all bills paid, you will most likely be paying $2500 to $3500 USD per month.

    (Also, before everyone writes in freaking out about the prices I’m quoting, these are for houses/apartments that maintain a similar standard of living to the US and that are available through sites that cater to foreigners. I know that it’s possible to find things for less, but it’s unlikely a family is going to have the time or ability to do that from overseas. Also, for you single folks who rented an unfurnished or under furnished studio, and did some furnishing yourself, that is a very different proposition than moving your family here and trying to outfit an apartment for 4 to 6 people while also getting school and other things underway. If you are moving here for less than 2 years, I recommend the furnished rental. At the end of the day you won’t pay that much more and you will save yourself standing in line for bill paying, furniture buying, dish buying, cable set up, Internet set up, finding a housekeeper, etc. etc.)

  4. Dennis

    We have a couple furnished rentals recently (although now we’re in our own place) and one a couple of years ago. Almost all of what you said is good stuff. A few comments, additions, and points of emphasis:

    1. You mentioned the noise of lower level apartments. We moved out of one place for exactly this reason. I don’t think that a higher place on that street would have helped either. Buses during the day and motorcycles all of the time. If you are particular sensitive to noise, try to get a “contra frente” that opens into a “courtyard” between buildings, rather than to the street. It can be a little bit better. Check to see if you are on a bus route as well, or a major thoroughfare. Also don’t think think that the noise will end at 10PM, think more like 4AM.

    2. Watch for “noise rules” on your contracts and find out whether others in the building have the same (probably not). Last year (in Madrid, but could have been here) we were told we’d be thrown on the street if we made noise after something like 11pm. Unfortunately, the remaining apartments in the building had different owners. The party upstairs the first night lasted until 5AM. Asking nicely to quiet down received a door-slam-in-the-face. Not a good thing for our 2 year old who has problems sleeping as it is.

    On a previous visit to Buenos Aires, we also had neighbors that like to yell up and down the hallways at 3AM.

    Even our current place, 6th floor, contra frente, occasionally has noise problems with parties in our building or neighboring buildings echoing throughout the courtyards.

    [I can sleep in the middle of Av. Libertador, but my wife and daughter are much more sensitive.]

    3. While we’ve not had anyone give us the third degree on exit, we have had at least one place check the list fairly carefully. I wouldn’t always count of 5 or 10 minutes, particularly if you’re heading out to catch your once-per-day international flight!

  5. Michele

    Dennis! I was happy to hear that you have experienced a thorough check out, so far we have had not a one after renting 4 apartments in BA and several rental homes in Uruguay and Argentina! Regarding noise, I think it’s hard to find a quiet spot in Buenos Aires since the buses run on nearly every street. We have lived in a house on the ground floor and also in a high rise, and I have to say that I liked being high up at the end of the day. Unfortunately, you can’t tell until you move somewhere if there is a noisy bar/restaurant or bad neighbors. I think it’s wise for people who haven’t been to Buenos Aires to realize that people like their late nights here, so you will not be able to escape people on the street and your neighbor’s parties until very early in the morning in most places.

  6. Dennis

    The place where we received the thorough checkout was the same one that we made a lot of demands on the owner (for things that *should* have been there, like a toaster without frayed wiring and usable pots and pans). It might have just been their way of getting back at us. My wife just smiled as they looked around with their checklist.

  7. Dennis

    More things came to mind about renting places, more on the lines of things to be aware of:

    1) You mentioned hot water. We’ve had real fun with this. We seemed to get the extremes. Being accustomed to water heaters in the US, the places with the “hot shot” on-demand ****HHHHHOOOTTTTT***** water takes some adjusting. (For those that don’t know, these devices have very small tanks of hot water; when you need more, the gas heater kicks in, and you get nearly scalding water out, so you have to adjust the cold water very quickly.) The last two places we’ve had (including our current one) take anywhere from 20 seconds to 15 minutes to get a good flow of hot water, depending on the time of day. These buildings have centralized hot water. Since no one is using it in the middle of the day, it takes a while to draw up good hot water to our floor. In the morning (shower time) it comes up pretty fast. I’m hoping/guessing that when the steam heat is operating, this lag may change a bit.

    2. Washers and dryers. Washers are available in some units (although we had to demand that it be put in one place that was advertised to have it, but didn’t.) Dryers are almost unheard of. It’s a luxury that I miss as I trudge off to laundromats. (The BsAs humidity is not always conducive to hang-drying clothes either.)

    3. And this reminds me of another thing to note about renting an unfurnished place in Argentina (and elsewhere?): refrigerators and washers are not generally included in the rental units.

  8. Michele

    Dennis, I think you have now surpassed my advice with your comments! Well done. I could have written a much shorter post and let you do all of the work…damn, I should have thought of that before hand! Your hot water comment totally made us laugh. We lived on the upper floor of a building in Recoleta with central hot water, and it would take about 15 to 20 minutes to get hot water up to the apartment first thing in the morning. Tom took a lot of cold showers before taking the girls to school. So if you get up much earlier than everyone else in the building, that first shower is a bitch!

  9. Dennis

    No, you still have more things, but I’m glad to throw in my diez centavos (about 3 cents these days). I work better off of someone else’s structure anyway.

    Fortunately, we’re not (and don’t have to be, yet!) morning people, so that early morning cold shower is not something that I’ve dealt with, although I think that I would just skip it altogether. Or rather just delay it until after kid delivery was done and my neighbors had warmed up the water pipes.

  10. Samuel Wynn Warde

    Great checklist Michelle. I would add the following items:

    1. Check that all appliances work.
    2. Make sure they show you where all the light switches are located. I have seen some apartments where some are tucked in the midst of built in bookshelves and cabinets.
    3. I larger buildings with multiple apartments on each floor you might want to check how close the apartment is to the elevator. (It can sometimes be noisier next to them, particularly in apartments with younger persons).
    4. Make sure you have contact numbers in case anything is broken or needs repairs. In some instances it will be the landlord, in some the apartment rental company, and sometimes the building porter will be the contact for such things.

    Also, you mentioned the lower floors being noisier. Sometimes you can find apartments that are contrafrente, facing the back of the building, and those are often much quieter.

    Last but not least, be aware that the leases here are in Spanish and I have yet to see anyone give a translation. So if you are interested in knowing the particulars and do not read Spanish, take a friend along who can.

    p.s. To your Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Las Canitas descriptions, I would add that there are a lot of great nightclubs and restaurants in those areas.


  11. Michele

    Thanks for adding your experiences Samuel!

  12. Linnea

    I was wondering what you know of rentals available that allow large dogs?
    I can’t seem to find any information on this subject.

  13. Michele

    Wow…we just had to worry about apartments that would allow kids (many of the ritzier ones won’t). I would probably just try to email a bunch of agencies directly and tell them the size and neighborhood you are looking for and then ask if there are apartments that will allow dogs. Sorry that I’m not more help!

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