Sunday, August 14, 2011


So with all of the taches ménagères taken care of for the day, I can now sit down and regale you with my sad sad tale of the frantic apartment search that's been going on now for two months.  Yes, I kid you not; two months.  Now, for me, as an American, this seems unreasonable that the search would take more than maybe, two weeks.  Of course, I also haven't looked for an apartment in the US since before the housing bubble burst, so that may or may not have something to do with it.  It became a necessity though.

Now I don't know if I had already explained it, but currently I live in Ploërmel, a city of around 10,000 in the department  of Morbihan (56) located in the region of Bretagne (Brittany), where we live with my mother in law.  We have what's called a Type 2 (usually abbreviated simply as a T2) that's around 157 square meters, which works out to around 613 square feet.  Apartments and houses are always smaller in France.  It may have something do with having 90 million people in a country roughly the size of Texas.  For three people, two of them sharing a room, it works out pretty well, but it's definitely a change.Recently though, my partner got final word on his acceptance into medical school at Pontchaillou in Rennes.  So we were really happy about this, but of course, the question became, where were we going to live?

So logically, with it being a 40 minute drive to Rennes, we'd need to move to the city.  The question was still where?  The logical first thought was close to the medical campus, which is in Villejean.  It's a fairly nice part of town, and it would really cut down on the commute.  At first, we had decided that it needed to be there.  So we started looking at places around the campus.

Now, I guess I should explain a little about Rennes.  It's the capital of Brittany, located in the department of Ille-et-Vilaine (named for the rivers that run through it) [35].   It's the smallest city in the world that has a subway system.  It also has high speed rail service and an IKEA.  (IKEA makes me happy, and I believe it should make all people happy.)

There were a few problems in this search.  One: my partner worked 5 days a week, which meant no extended amounts of time to take trips to see places.  One of his days off was Sunday.  Two: the Rennes housing market is insane.  If you see something you like, you have to take it immediately, or you will never see it again.  Three:  my partner got his results exactly 5 days before the baccalaureate results came back.  Rennes has 60,000 students between two universities and about 6 écoles supérieures.  Everyone and his brother was looking for apartments.  So every Wednesday, we were furiously driving up to Rennes to look for and at places. 

We started looking in July, and we were pretty precise about it.  It needed to be in either Villejean or Beauregard.  We were looking for a real kitchen, what they call a "cuisine américaine" if possible.  (All it means is that the kitchen is open to the rest of the apartment.)  It needed to have some storage, and it would be nice to have a balcony.  A terrace would be nice too, but was unessential, just a nice bonus to have.  I wanted something a couple floors up, after remembering the horror that was living on the ground floor in our old apartment in Columbus, and the bedroom absolutely had to be separate, so that took out all the T1s, studios, and T1 bis offers.  All this and more for under 500 euros!

So as we looked, you could literally see our crests fall.  They all had kitchens open to the rest of the room, sure, but that was because the French idea of a kitchen is a sink, a refrigerator, and a hot plate.  Some only had a sink.  None of the places we saw had a cupboard, much less more than about 3 inches of counter top.  Closets, in the French mind were a luxury.  There were places for sale, and I joke not, 18 square meters (a little less than 200 square feet) for 380 euros a month!  The first few were funny, but eventually the sad reality of the situation started to sink in.  So we started to expand the search.

So that Friday, we made an appointment to see two places.  One of the two candidates we eventually decided on, was in Villejean, just a short walk from the university.  It had a separate bedroom, and a very nice bathroom.  The kitchen left something to be desired, but overall, we were pleased.  Excluding the kitchen, it seemed to have everything we wanted from the pictures we saw.  So we made an appointment to see it. 

The pictures, much like the cake, were lies!  The neighborhood was really industrial, and the building was dirty.  It had that church smell to it, like the rectory or convent at the catholic church back home.  there were closets, but the bedroom was about big enough for a bed, and that was all.  The kitchen opened into a room too small to make an actual living room, but too big to just leave as a kitchen.  So overall, the first place was just disappointing.

Now, we weren't in very high spirits coming to the next place.  The first good and bad point was that it was in the Lorient/Saint Brieuc neighborhood of Rennes, really close to what's called Les Trois Marches.  It was across the street from a motorcycle repair shop.  We were unimpressed from the building, and the staircases and elevator as well.  So we persevered.

Never judge a book by its cover!  The apartment had a separate living space and bedroom, plenty of cabinets, a fully equipped kitchen with plenty of cupboards, and it was completely redone!  After the last place we saw, we said we'd take it on the spot!  So we asked if we should sign something or what was the next step.  The realtor asked if we could come back tomorrow to fill out the forms.  My partner, having one day off that week, had to work, and couldn't make it back until Wednesday.  So she said that she would hold the place for us, and we could come back with all the paperwork and get it done.  So all proud and excited, we headed back home.

Two days later, I'm talking with a friend back home on the computer, when my mother in law opens the door and tells me that she just got a phone call.  Apparently another agency had the apartment listed, someone else saw the apartment after us, and they had all the paperwork signed on Monday....  So my mother in law and I battened down the hatches for when my partner would come back for lunch.  There was no way to properly sugar coat this, and no amount of pastry was going to make this any easier.  He took it about as well as expected....

The week after, he didn't want to look at any of the places we showed him, and when he did, he would immediately find fault with it.  We tried to tell him that we were all sad about losing the place, but it wasn't going to do any good to cry over spilled milk.  He came out of the funk in a few days, but time had been wasting.  So we started looking again.  We found two more candidates.

For those of you playing along at home, you might notice a pattern.  We saw a place in the same neighborhood as the one we liked.  It was on the way into town, right next to a bus stop, which turned out to be a bad thing really.  The neighborhood was kind of run down.  None of us were impressed with the ambiance.  It went downhill from there....

We had come to a group visit to an apartment that looked like it hadn't been cleaned since the late cretaceous.  The kitchen had a refrigerator and freezer (replete with mold, perfect for my partner to take a sample to college to identify exactly what strain was making our flesh drop off.) and hot plate.  The floors were filthy and the radiators were covered with what I hope was just grease covered in dust.  If it was anything more than that, I had no intention of finding out.  My personal favorite though, had to be the clothes line that was hung over the toilet!  I think the best French word to describe it was crade! 

The problem was that it was a group visit, so we couldn't really speak our minds.  In our case it wouldn't have been speaking so much has howls of laughter at the sad predicament we were facing.  The realtor herself was turning seven shades of red at how angry and embarrassed she was at the state of the place.  She kept apologizing, profusely for the state.  The worst part was is that there was a couple that was looking at the place and seriously considering taking it.  I have never wanted to hug two people and let them know that things get better more in my life.  No one should have been living there, and really the only way to clean that place up might have been an exorcism.  At least after we left, we had a good laugh.

Now that we'd seen the gamut, we had pretty much abandoned all hope of ever finding a place and just decided that we would go live in IKEA.  (Yes, I read "From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler" too many times as a child, but tell me who wouldn't want to live in a museum!)  At least I would have Orangina Sanguine whenever I wanted it, and Swedish meatballs galore!  We went to Columbier and distracted ourselves at Fnac until it was time for the final appointment.

We got there a bit early, so we decided to check out the neighborhood.  There was lots of open space, parks all around, Centre d'Alma was about a 15 minute walk away, 3 by car, and all the roads were named after allied countries.  I was already liking this place.  The building itself was recent construction, and after reading a little more about the information sheet, we found it was the biggest apartment we'd seen yet at 56 square meters (a little over 600 square feet.)  So things were looking up.

It wasn't as nice as the apartment we lost out on, and it was in Brequigny, so that meant about 8 stops on the metro.  There was a bus line that went up that way too, and if it really came down to it, you could probably get there in 10 minutes on the beltway.  It had a nice entry way with lots of closet space, and the bedroom was plenty big.  There were no closets in the bedroom though, and not a lot of built in arrangement in the kitchen.  Overall though, it was pretty good.  So we decided to go with it.

So we'll officially be moved in the second week of September.  I'll be more mobile, and also looking for work.  So if anyone has any suggestions for work in Rennes, I'm all ears!  I'll be posting more about this in the coming days, and actually get into the nitty gritty of the process of apartment hunting and the contracts here in France, and also give you a little more info about my background.  My 8 year old niece will be visiting this week though, and my sister in law will be coming to pick her up this Saturday, so this week is going to be complicated!


  1. wow...and I thought it was hard tpo find a place over here...

    Happy Sunday :)

  2. I think we just got caught up at a bad time. Apparently it's better than it was though. I heard about a place my sister in law looked at that when she was sitting on the toilet, she could wash her hands in the sink, and put her feet under the shower.

  3. Now I know why so many French people want to come live in Québec! ;)

    Bonne chance dans ton nouvel appart!

  4. Merci beaucoup!

    I'd love to come to Montreal sometimes. I've heard a lot of good stuff about it!