The winter months is the classic time to be thinking of the coming summer holiday season. In particular those who plan to rent a house, apartment or gîte are busily making inquiries or finalising their choice. And rightly so: not only is it fun during the dark months to think of spending time next to a swimming pool at the villa you have spotted on the internet or on a roof terrace in a village house, it is also a good idea to start searching for the perfect place while the choice is at its greatest.
If you are looking to rent a property in Provence, you may find something useful in the pointers that we give below.
The internet has changed the property market completely. While a few agencies or owners still advertise in print, a presence on the Net is indispensable. There you find that properties are offered through different channels. Some local real estate agencies deal with rentals (though most prefer just sales). There are agencies specializing in just holiday rentals. Then there are sites like ours who offer you a one-stop-shop. We aim to give you all the local information you need in order to decide where you want to spend your vacation so that you can then search our villa rentals page to find your prefect property.
All these channels have their pro's and con's. Renting through an agency may give a level of comfort: when things go wrong, it's easier to turn to the agency than to a home owner who suddenly doesn't speak a word of English or has moved to Guadeloupe. However, the agencies take a cut (up to 30% or sometimes more) from the owner, which is often reflected in the rental price.
Renting directly from a home owner involves a level of trust that needs some work. When you find an attractive property on an agents site, you can at least email them and ask if they have visited the rental in question. The agents visit each property, suggesting improvements or adjustments, even rejecting a property now and then.
In general, renting directly from the owner requires a bit of investigation. It's always good to contact them by phone. Speaking with someone often reveals more than by exchanging emails. You can ask for references, inquire about details not mentioned on the site, such as sheets and towels included (see also below) or shaded areas around the house (important in summer).
There is however a yardstick that provides an independent level of security. Home owners can have their property classified. Each French department has its group of discerning inspectors who visit the homes. They award from 1 to 5 stars. The number of stars indicates a level of luxury rather than basic quality, as is the case with hotels. A charming, clean, but simple house may just get one star, because it lacks a micro wave oven, or the toilet is in the bathroom, not separate.
Does this mean that you should avoid any property that is not classified? Absolutely not. There are various reasons why a home owner does not let her property be visited by inspectors. First of all, it is a great deal of hassle, requiring a lot of preparation, time and money. Then, the list of required items has some strange elements. One of the reasons why I never had my home classified was because I needed to buy a pressure cooker (many years ago I had a few major mishaps with such a cooker and vowed never to have one enter my house again) as well as French pillow rolls, the ones that send you to the chiropractor.
Another reason might be that the owner has rented out nicely without stars. Thus, why go the extra step? And finally, some home owners do not want officials (especially the tax kind) to know that they are renting out their house or apartment.
Therefore, a home without stars might nevertheless be the palace you are looking for.
In selecting a house, apartment or gîte, you may also consider one or more of the following tips:
- the closer to the coast, the higher the rental price.
- a swimming pool just about doubles the rental price. So, if you want to economize and can do without a pool, or prefer the sea in any case, you may consider a pool-less abode.
- many of the French properties come without sheets and towels. Make sure what the situation is and see if you can rent a package (generally around 10 € pp/pw). You want to avoid a trip to the local Hypermarché your first evening to stock up on linens.
- off-season rental prices are much lower. Be aware though, that heating costs are most of the time not included, which can add up, especially in cold winters. A house in Provence (depending on the location) needs to be heated from mid to late October until April or sometimes May. Many homes have electric radiators, not very economical.
- inquire about after-rental cleaning cost, if any. And if you want to have the house cleaned while you're staying there, make sure to establish that beforehand. With most houses changing over on Saturday, cleaners in the high season are very much in demand.
- the high season is July & August. Especially along the coast, Provence is people-packed. The best months, weatherwise and to an extent trafficwise, are May/June and September.