This is an interview with location-independent designers Ryan and Angela – expert apartment finders!
1. Please tell us about your apartment, the location, when and how long you rented it for?
First off, thanks for the opportunity! Our apartment was in Herceg Novi, Montenegro. It’s less than an hour south of Dubrovnik, Croatia, on the Bay of Kotor. We were originally going to rent it for three months, but ended up staying five. Ha! Our rental period was from the beginning of September 2012 through January 2013.
2. How did you find your apartment rental?
We spent a lot of time researching this and talking to a lot of owners. We ended up contacting an owner through a local vacation apartment rental site based in Montenegro. I found that site by searching on the country-specific Google page. It’s easier said than done, as finding an apartment in this manner takes a lot of time, creativity, and due diligence. While we do use standard apartment rental sites that everyone knows, we find that, oftentimes, it’s better to go through a local site. Not only can prices be better, but availability is almost always greater. There’s also more of a personal connection to the owners and the area (no matter the country), which we value.
3. How much did you pay and did you negotiate? What are your negotiating strategies when renting short-term apartments?
As is the case with most locations, apartments in this region are priced quite high during high season, and lower in the low season. As we almost always stay for three months or longer, I always let an owner know what we do, what we’re looking for, and ask what prices would be available for such a stay. I also make sure to do proper research regarding local rental pricing in each area we look into. This goes for every single site, including ones like Airbnb.
We like to have a personal connection with our landlords (if they’re into that sort of thing), and we think it’s important that they know about us, our desires, and our goals. This includes why we want to stay with them and what we’re hoping to achieve when we’re there. A lot of owners don’t care about that, but a lot are also intrigued. This may or may not help with the price, but it does help to let them know that we’re not typical tourists – we’re interested in more than a place to crash while we go see the top ten sites of any given city.
For this particular apartment, the daily price in the low season was still a good deal over the course of a month. We didn’t argue with it and booked it with the price they gave us, which came out to €600/month. Our rate included all utilities, Wi-Fi, satellite TV, and a cleaning every week or two.
I’d say that this is on the high end for a mid-term apartment stay in Montenegro. However, it was reasonable for us at the time. The location was right, the amenities were right, and the people were nice. And as you can see if you read our blog, we stumbled into way more than we negotiated or dreamed. The value of the experiences we shared with our landlords was much more than we could ever have paid in cash. You just can’t put a price on things like that.
4. Did you try any strategies for finding a rental that didn’t work ?
One thing Angela and I were discussing the other day is how apartment owners really need to think about the rates they give people for stays over one month. Oftentimes, we find that prices are simply too high. It’s fine if an owner wants X for a night, or Y for a week. When you go over a month, though, you need to start thinking about getting things more in line with the local market.
We understand that short- to mid-term stays will always be more expensive than long-term rentals. We understand that these types of apartments almost always include utilities, etc. However, owners should really consider pricing their spaces in a range that is near or just above what a flat would cost a normal renter (not forgetting to include all utilities). It’s simple math, really. Would you rather have one or two stays per month at a high rate, or one stay for a few months of guaranteed income for a reasonable rate? Places like Airbnb allow owners to offer weekly and monthly rates. That’s all well and good, but owners tend not to expect renters for those periods, and are frankly terrible at calculating and offering rates that fit into such periods.
Owners can certainly offer lower rates after being contacted, but it often feels like pulling teeth just to get a rate that’s not extravagantly high. And still, it won’t fit into any range that we’d consider “reasonable” for a few months of guaranteed income. No one should have to negotiate from a level of gouging to get to still-quite-overpriced-but-not-as-overpriced-as-it-was.
When pricing monthly rates, owners should realize that anyone who’s staying a few months is going to do some research. People like us will have a decent idea of what apartments cost in any given location. We’re making a mid-term investment, and we’re not simply going to Airbnb with a wad of cash to waste on someone who has no concept of rental reality. If you’re a traveler who stays a few months in a location, you’re going to know that most renters in the area are paying half, even a quarter of that €2000/month apartment you just found. We’re not independently wealthy, and we’re not going to pay it. We also know that you’re probably not going to come close to offering even a reasonable, if still overpriced, rate for that apartment. So, why should we even bother?
This is one reason I like to use local sites and contact owners directly. Not only are prices often lower, but owners are more personable and easier to talk to. On the flipside, it takes much more work, and things aren’t as “guaranteed” as they are when you book through a site like Airbnb.
Airbnb sent us a survey the other day – about stays longer than one month. I was hoping that it would have a comments section (which it did not). We were going to wax not-so-poetically about how Airbnb reps should coach owners on pricing for stays of a month or longer.
We have spent a lot of time talking to owners on sites like Airbnb, and find that most don’t want to offer better prices – or reasonable ones, anyway – for longer stays. That’s fine. They can do whatever they want. But it’s the off-season, and they’re now dealing with a trickle of many different guests, and less overall income. They could have offered us reasonable prices and sat around counting their guaranteed cash while we lived for three months in the comfort of knowing we weren’t ripped off. Instead, they’re spending a lot of time with empty apartments, dealing with few-day stays of various guests, cleaning more often, and fixing problems more often. Frankly, wasting time. For what?
Shameless plug: We wrote a post on strategies for finding apartments when you’re staying a few months or longer. It’s certainly not perfect, and I would add to it these days. However, it gives a lot of ideas and food for thought when one is looking for a mid-term rental. It can be found here.
5. Did you experience any unanticipated problems, either with your rental or the location?
We contacted a variety of owners before we settled on an apartment. We finally decided on one that ticked all the right boxes, and were happy with our decision. This was three months before we left for Montenegro. A couple weeks before our flight, the landlord sent us an email saying she was raising the prices, even though we’d already negotiated the entirety of our stay. Classy, right?
Our flat was to be all-inclusive, but she now decided to tack on utilities. Not just utilities, but utilities plus whatever extra profit she wanted. It basically amounted to a 25-30% increase in rent with no real justification. We immediately started contacting other owners we’d already talked to, and ended up with a great place, a great family, and a time we’ll never forget. Not only that, but we’d come to find that the location of our new place was about 10x better than our original decision. Considering it was the off-season, our original owner most likely ended up with zero income for three to five months.
At the apartment in which we ended up, we didn’t run into any problems that were out of the norm for the area, or that couldn’t be fixed. We’re pretty easy-going when it comes to issues that arise, and understand that problems or annoyances can and will happen anywhere. We’re not going to complain about a busy street if we booked a place in the middle of a bustling city. We’re going to understand if there’s a leak, as long as it gets fixed. I go completely bonkers when guests complain about things like this in their reviews. I mean, really?
I can’t think of any out-of-the-norm issues that we had during this particular stay. It was wonderful, and any little problems were easily remedied by us or by the landlord.
6. Now that you’ve done your rental, what would you do differently? What would you do the same? Would you recommend where you went as a good place to spend a month?
We were staying in a place that doesn’t have a culture of being always-connected. Not everyone has a website. Not every location has Google Street View. After doing research, we were able to work within the parameters that were given to us and it was fine. We’re open people and more than willing to accept the cultural restrictions of where we choose to go. I’d have preferred the rental process to be a bit more convenient, but it is what it is and that’s how things are where we went.
I would highly recommend the place we stayed, and the city we stayed. It was a dream experience for us and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. After all, we stayed an extra two months!
7. What advice would you give to other travelers looking for a reasonably priced apartment in the same location?
Research, research, research. Read what you can find online and try to get a good idea of what you want. When looking at reviews, it’s important to focus on people who talk about things that matter to you. We don’t care if a place doesn’t have 460 channels on TV, so someone who complains about it in a review doesn’t matter to our desires. The same goes for amenities.
If people are specifically coming to Herceg Novi, the first thing I’d ask is what they want. Do they want to be in the center of town? On the beach? In a quiet area? Everyone is different. I’d need to know what someone wants or likes before I start recommending specific locations in Herceg Novi, or for that matter, any other city or country. What I will say is that our owners were wonderful, the location was fantastic for us, and come on…the view.
8. Other than the rental we’ve focused on, if you’ve done apartment rentals in other places, what were some of the best ones?
We don’t particularly have a “best one.” Compare and contrast is utterly pointless for us. Every location has is entirely new and different. There are things that are wonderful about each place, and things that are not. We just arrived in Seville, Spain. We love it. We loved Herceg Novi. Both places are entirely different from one another. There are different things to love about each of these cities, and I’d never dare say, “Well this one has this, and that one doesn’t! Ugh!”
In addition to that, price is relative – even within a city. It all depends on what amenities you want, where you want to be, and overall, what’s important to you. Even within a specific neighborhood, two streets can be entirely different. Prices, culture, noise, etc.
We loved staying in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin for quite a long time, in the small town of Staufen in southwest Germany (to which we will return after Seville), in the intrinsic natural beauty of Montenegro, and now in the center of the bustling Andalusian city of Seville. We’ve loved and hated things about cities that came before these, and we’ll love and hate things about cities that come after. What matters most is that there are countless things to love about each of them. And that’s how it is.
About the interviewee
Angela and Ryan – along with their little dog Louis – are designers who travel full-time and blog about their experiences as Jets Like Taxis. You are invited to join them at the below links: