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My Thoughts On Booking An Apartment Safely:


Even though an agency has excellent reviews, a nice set of photos on a well designed website, great communication, and signed contracts, what happens when one runs into a problem? What is the best route to follow? 


As a company that has experience working with clients after so many years, we are sure this echoes feelings that many people have during their first Paris apartment rental. We can certainly understand these feelings of trepidation because after all that planning, when making such a large payment to a rental company you have not used before it might feel like taking a small leap of faith.  No matter how attractive the photos or how professional the company appears, the bottom line is that sending a big chunk of money half way around the world to people you don’t know can be a little scary.


That being said, as the owner and CEO of a short-term rentals company that also travels a bit myself, using the same method of renting vacation rentals, of course, the following is my inside take on the matter.


Problems are few and far between:


Although rare, it is within the nature of the short-term rental business that surprises, such as, water leaks, building work, or electrical losses, can and will occasionally happen.  When they do happen, however, it is in the agency’s best interest to make sure a satisfactory alternative solution is offered to the client.   Just to put things in perspective, at A La Carte Paris, we have a 99% satisfaction rate with our guests.


Similar to an airline disaster, although rare, when it does happen it is disproportionately reported on and therefore polarizes our imagination.  In turn, making the negative outcomes seem far more likely than they really are.  The favorable outcomes are not so newsworthy and we don’t hear much about those, do we?  This human bias is known as the ‘availability error’ and results in disproportionate number of newsworthy negative cases being available to view, compared to the far higher number of less interesting and less visible number of favorable outcomes.

8 ways to minimize your risk:


Paris, being one of the top tourist destinations, creates a high concentration of short-term rental options.  That means that there are many different kinds of agencies, practices, and standards out there today.


That's one of the reasons why the SPLM professional association was created: to help define standards and guidelines for the short-term rental sector.  The association is currently working on an official Code of Conduct, so that consumers can have some reassurance booking with the agencies that display the SPLM label.


Until the SPLM label is defined and implemented however, here are my tips for minimizing risk:


1.  Booking via an agency rather than a private owner tends to be MUCH safer, simply because an agency has a reputation to uphold via online reviews on Trip Advisor.  Also, you will avoid any con artists who do not have apartment information, who simply take apartment listings from websites (like A La Carte, for example), and stop answering emails once they receive the payment.

2.  Choosing a well-established agency is safer, because in a highly competitive marketplace, the unprofessional players tend to go out of business sooner rather than later.  A La Carte Paris has been growing since 2001 and has established a successful business helping our guests enjoy their dream vacation for over a decade, proving our professional status and reputation in the market.

 

3.  Get reassurance that an agency is legitimate by looking for prominently displayed office contact information, such mailing address and phone number.  You will be able to find our company information and contact information here.  Another way to give you confidence in the agency you’re working with and to see that they are in fact genuine, is to look for a page representing their team.  Take a look at our team here.

4.  Choose an agency with an Anglophone management culture to help avoid cultural misunderstandings because the Francophone notion of service does differ.  Also, should an issue arise, being able to communicate in English will help aid you to resolve issues quickly and seamlessly.

5.  Look for website reviews, whether they be on the website itself or on a travel forum such as TripAdvisor or Fodor’s.  Although both can be hard to analyze because website reviews tend to be cherry-picked and travel forums can be only used for negative feedback, try to find a balance.  Here on the A La Carte website, we plan on having system in which the client can upload their review without a moderator screening them.  Until then, they can be found on apartment pages.

 

6.  Give the agency a call before booking, giving you that human connection, which is sometimes lost over email.  Speaking to someone will give you reassurances and piece of mind.  Should something not sit well after speaking with someone over the phone, trust your gut and go with another agency.

7.  Paying by credit card rather than wire transfer or cash.  This way you have the possibility of ordering a charge-back from your bank, in the unlikely event of the other party not upholding their side of the deal (documented evidence is required however, and there are safeguards against unscrupulous consumers who might be tempted to order frivolous charge-backs).

8. When booking for your vacation, it is always best to take rental loss and liability insurance.  This will give you peace of mind knowing that if disruptions do occur before or during your vacation, it will be covered.  At A La Carte Paris, we offer the option to subscribe to rental loss and liability service via our partner Adar.  Click here for more information.

 

What to do if things do go wrong, despite your best precautions?


Like I said, surprises can and will occasionally happen. What matters is how the situation is handled by the agency and that a mutually satisfactory compromise be reached.

1.  Express your concerns promptly.

An agency can only help a guest if the guest voices his or her concerns. I know this might seem obvious, but sometimes we only hear of a problem after the guest has gone home, by which time it is that much harder for us to make amends.

2.  Offer a balanced view and try and stay constructive.

We are all human... Although you might be frustrated at the time, exploding at the agency and exaggerating the gravity of an issue will tend to be significantly less effective than offering a balanced and realistic view of the situation.

3.  Put it in writing.

Call the agency to ensure maximum speed of response, but also send an email, as this starts an objective paper trail.

4.  Give the agency an opportunity to put things right within a reasonable timeframe.

A La Carte Paris offers a "Triple-R" guarantee, whereby if there is a serious issue with an apartment, the agency promises is to promptly repair the issue or, failing that, offer alternative accommodation of a similar standard or a refund.

5.  Ask to speak to the agency owner.

If despite all this you still can't get satisfaction, then ask to speak to the agency owner.  Sometimes, a manager might feel constrained to act within a given framework of company policy.  He or she might not always feel that they have enough elbowroom to offer what is needed.  The owner of the company will have more leeway, might be more flexible, and might be that much more willing to ensure that a mutually satisfactory outcome is reached.  It is important to have a basic verbal conversation, in person or on the phone, as email exchanges lack the live clarification possibilities of a voice call and can easily become cause for misunderstanding due to the total absence of vocal tone.  If you want a written record, then you can always double your voice call with an email afterwards, asking for written confirmation of what was said.

6.  As a last resort, post a review of your experience on a travel forum like Trip Advisor.

Assuming you've booked with a reputable professional, then you can be sure that they will be intent on upholding their hard-earned online reputation (obviously, this tactic might not work so well if you are dealing with a private individual).  Posting your review on a major travel forum (Trip Advisor, Fodors, etc.) can be very effective because it starts a CONVERSATION which helps the management get a number of different views and insights on a given issue.  The best approach when posting a review on a travel forum is to try and remain balanced and constructive while showing that you are keen on reaching a satisfactory outcome by outlining exactly what action would be required to ensure your satisfaction. That way the agency will see that a resolution is possible and it will take some of the guesswork out of the equation.

I want to remind everyone that problems are few and far between, but sometimes reading these insider views eases the mind when making such big decisions for a dream vacation.   I do hope this helped and remember, the A La Carte staff is always happy to help and answer any questions you might have.