Archive for April, 2009

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

Welcome to the second part of what must be a fascinating series for those of you who have no intention of ever renting an apartment in Buenos Aires!

(In case you missed it, here’s Part I.)


I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: the real estate agents who list apartments for rent are often middlemen with little to no knowledge of the actual apartment or its owner. It is important to understand this when you are attempting to rent an apartment and when you have problems that must be rectified once you are in a flat.

Also, the majority of owners list their apartments with multiple agencies, none of which know what the others are doing. So, even if an agency Web site says an apartment is available, it still may not be. What does this mean for you, the lessee? It means that until a reservation deposit has been sent and accepted for an apartment, it could become “unavailable” at any point in the rental process. For this reason, when communicating with a real estate firm, you want to ask the direct question, “Have you talked to the owner and confirmed the apartment is available?” If they have not spoken to the owner, their promises of availability are meaningless.


  • Buenos Aires Habitat. This is probably the most professional firm with which we have dealt in Buenos Aires. They actually had an inventory list, gave us a complete tour prior to bringing out the contract, and the apartment was very nice and was accurately reflected in the Web photos.
  • By T Argentina. This is the agency for our current apartment rental. They have a good assortment of nice properties, were responsive and easy to deal with, and I like the way that they handle reserving the unit — you use a credit card, which they only charge if you cancel the reservation, so there are no weird wire transfers or Western Union experiences to put your home-away-from-home on hold.
  • Apartments Express. The gentleman who owns this firm is very nice, but the apartment we rented from him was truly awful — the Tiki lounge, which we posted about several times, here, here, and here was an out-of-date apartment with myriad problems.
  • Welcome2Ba. We were very unhappy with the service we received from this agency. They put us into a very expensive rental that was completely falling apart (it took us 3 weeks to get a functioning telephone). When the “owner” came to supposedly take care of things, it turns out it was the owner’s nephew and the agency didn’t even know. They tried to show the apartment to prospective buyers during our rental contract, but no one had mentioned that the place was for sale. They also screwed up the lease and didn’t indicate a departure time, and then right before we left, started sweating us to leave early for a new tenant. Horrible experience.


Disclaimer. This is by no means an exhaustive list and is meant only to impart information on the firms with which we have worked and/or searched. We make no warranties or representations about what your experience will be!

Zoe and Zelda Say Hi to #15

[Here’s a change…Tom writes a short post!]

The girls started tennis lessons this last week. On our first day at the club, the girls’ instructor was late (as in, had to be called to be reminded about our lesson), so we sat outside and watched a young guy practicing, hitting forehands and backhands. No, not just hitting them. Crushing them. The pace he put on the ball was astounding. And, every shot, shot after shot, was hit with deadly accuracy.

As I watched, my estimation of his game grew and grew. In about 10 minutes, I went from “Hey, he’s pretty good” to “Wow, I don’t know what he’s doing here, but this guy’s good enough to go pro.”

Then, César, the girls’ new coach, shows up, and asks me if I saw the gentleman hitting balls on the front court. César tells me he used to be his coach when the guy was just a young kid.

Obviously, Cesár must have done something right, because it turns out the player in question was David Nalbandian, whose current ATP ranking is #15 in the world.

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!

Tomboy Update

I thought I would give everyone a quick update on Zoe’s progress as the resident Tomboy at her school.

She has implemented a new strategy: bringing a small all-purpose ball to school that she can break out when on the playground.

I’m happy to report the new strategy is working!! In order to have the right to play with the ball, the boys let Zoe join in on their soccer games. It goes something like this: the boys and Zoe play a keep away-style fútbol game (which is very dribble intensive) until the head of the primary school comes out, yells at them, and takes the ball away. The children collectively clamor for the ball to be returned, and when it is, they practice penalty kicks. (For some reason they aren’t supposed to play soccer, but they can practice penalty kicks…who knows?)

Tom took the girls out to the park the other day and commented that Zoe’s dribbling has really improved from having to play with the harder-to-control smaller bouncy balls.

For her part, Zoe says that some of the boys have amazing ball control and she really relates to their moves in a way she can’t from watching the adult players on television. Sort of an “if these boys my age can do it, then I can too” kind of thing.

(P.S. Still no Internet access at our apartment, but I’m working on a two-part guide to renting a temporary apartment in Buenos Aires, which I’ll hopefully be posting soon from home!)

Excuses, Excuses…

The good news: 1) We have moved. 2) Our deposit was returned at the old place. 3) We’re still talking to each other.

The bad news: The high-speed Internet access that I was assured was functioning at the apartment…well, it’s not actually functioning. That means I may not post so much in the coming days, unless I can break away to a WiFi cafe (like I’m doing now.)

“No Internet” is a great excuse to go out for helado and WiFi!

Would this Happen in New York?

This last Wednesday, Zelda left her wool school blazer (expensive) in the back seat of the cab we took home, a victim of the taxi-as-clown-car operation we run every afternoon. By the time I had realized it, the black-and-yellow car was several blocks away, driving off into the sunset.

Fast forward a day. The owners of the kiosko across the street rang our doorbell and presented us with Zelda’s blazer. The cab driver, knowing roughly where he dropped us off, had brought it back last night and left it with the kiosk owners, who said they knew where the little blond school girls lived.

I had tears in my eyes! I wanted to be able to thank the taxi driver, but our neighbors across the street didn’t have any contact information for him.

This is one of things I love about Buenos Aires! The people.

Malvinas Day & Maradona’s Revenge

Hand of God goal

[Tom talks history…and World Cup fútbol highlights on YouTube.]

It may not feel like a holiday in the US, but, in Argentina, today is Malvinas Day. Schools are out, banks are closed, and all of Argentina honors the 649 fallen soldiers who died 27 years ago in what the English-speaking world calls the Falkland Islands War, but is referred to here as la Guerra de las Malvinas.

The girls didn’t know anything about the war, so it was off to the Internet to cover some of the basics for a special worldschool lesson. The question we studied was “If the islands are so close to Argentina and so far from Great Britain, why do they belong to the British? (It’s complicated. Both countries have claimed sovereignty over the islands since the early 1800s.) What language do the islanders speak? (English.) Why did the Argentine military junta leaders attack the islands after decades of stalled negotiations? (They were trying to boost their flagging popularity.)

Ironically, the invasion of the Falkland Islands led to the end of military junta rule in Argentina and ushered in the return of democracy. However, Argentines still strongly believe in their sovereignty over las Islas Malvinas and continue to press for their return.

In addition to covering some political history, Malvinas Day also gave me a great opportunity to pull up a couple of YouTube videos and fill the girls in on another important figure in Argentina history:

Diego Maradona.

Greatest Argentine fútbol player ever. A larger-than-life figure who has had his share of larger-than-life problems, but who has battled back, and is now the head coach of the Argentina national team.

But, what does Diego Maradona have to do with Malvinas Day?

Well, I hadn’t realized it until recently, but two of Maradona’s most legendary goals occurred in a 1986 World Cup quarterfinal match against England. Just four years after England defeated Argentina in la Guerra de las Malvinas, Maradona achieved a bit of revenge.

In fact, these two goals are so famous, they are referred to by name.

First, “The Hand of God” goal.

It’s hard to tell from the video, but as the photo at the top of this post makes perfectly clear, Maradona’s goal was the result of an uncalled handball. After the game, Maradona explained that the the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.”

My daughters didn’t really buy his poetic explanation. “But, that’s cheating!” they protested.

Next, just four minutes later, “The Goal of the Century.” No assistance from Dios on this one–just pure Maradona magic.

No News Is Good News

One of the fabulous side benefits of living overseas, submersed in a language that I have to concentrate in order to understand: I get no ancillary media information. (I feel rather like George Bush!)

I tune out the news on the radio when I’m vegging in the back of a cab. I don’t try and piece together meaning from the news feed on the ubiquitous televisions located in nearly every restaurant. I refrain from scanning the Spanish headlines when I walk by the newsstand. (Even though we didn’t watch the news in the US, I didn’t really realize how much external media I was inadvertently exposed to, and how depressing it was, until we escaped it and moved to Argentina.)

So, as I dive into headlines from around the world, at my leisure, on the Internet, I happen upon myriad “news” stories that I am utterly relieved to skip, secure in the knowledge that I won’t have to hear another word about them!

I can impose my own media blackout on issues such as exposed arms, teleprompter presidents, bowling jokes…