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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.)
- Ask about apartment security…is there a 24 hour doorman?
- Ask what floor the apartment is on — the lower levels can have problems with security and can also be much noisier.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Ensure that the hot water works.
- Test all of the stove burners and make sure they have provided matches or a sparking device, if needed.
- Ask how to light/operate the oven.
- Flush all of the toilets to test functionality.
- 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).
- Pull your computer out and check the WiFi/Internet connection.
- 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.
- Make sure there is a dish drainer since you generally won’t have a dishwasher.
- Double check that there is an iron and ironing board.
- Have them confirm the TV works and cable is hooked up.
- Ask for a lesson with the phone that lets you buzz people in from outside the building.
- Make sure they show you where to take out the trash.
- Check all of the locks with the keys that are given you.
- 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.
- Test the ventilation system over the stove.
- 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.
- If a room lacks ventilation, or is hot despite air conditioning, ask for a fan.
- 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!