I've found an apartment! Bit of a relief really, as getting everything to happen in synchronisation with everything else was more stressful than it should have been. I was either going to end up paying rent on two apartments for three months, or be homeless for god knows how long.
I'll explain in more detail, but I'll also try to explain how to actually go about getting an apartment in Paris.
My first problem was that my lease contract required 3 months notice to terminate it. This is the usual contract in France, although it does make life difficult. There's usually only a couple of clauses that allow you to get out of the contract quicker, and that's if you've either lost your job or there's someone who wants to move into the apartment.
Those three months makes life difficult because when you see an apartment, it's often either available the next month or is already empty. When a landlord or agent is faced with several people wanting to take it, and one person can take it immediately while the other can't for another three months, you can guess who's going to get it.
So you're left with the dilemma whether to keep looking in case you get a place, or wait out the three months and try and pick on up in the last couple of weeks. The risk is not finding somewhere of course.
There's three ways of finding apartments, and each method depends on how much money you've got, or how much effort you can make.
The cheapest but hardest way is through the newspaper De Particulier � Particulier - this comes out every Thursday, and has thousands of houses and apartments to buy or rent. For the rentals, you're almost exclusively dealing directly with the landlords. This means no agency fee and occasionally cheaper rent (since there's no agency to take a cut). You can also find fantastic bargains from landlords who either don't know the worth of their property, or aren't greedy.
The downside is that the competition from would-be tenants is fierce, compounded with the fact that landlords are paranoid of tenants rights. This means that an apartment is shown on Saturday afternoon say, and several tens of people turn up to see it - lots of impatient queuing, and I have been in a queue where after several hours we heard a call from the top of the stairwell (where the apartment was), that the landlord wasn't showing it to anyone else!
Each person will be clutching their dossier, which contains the following;
Photocopies of ID's
Agreements from friends or parents to be a guarant (person who'll pay your rent if you skip town)
Photocopies of the guarant's IDs
References from former landlords and/or employers
The guarant will probably have to be someone who lives in France too. These aren't rules, and a landlord doesn't always demand all of them. However, they usually do. If you're from abroad, the landlord may insist on *six* months rent in advance! My advice is don't do it - there's no law requiring this, and they don't deserve it. Move on and find a more reasonable landlord.
The second way is through estate agents. The agency fee is equal to 4 to 6 weeks rent. This reduces the competition considerably, and you'll often find yourself the only person looking at an apartment. You'll still need that dossier though. However, getting to the apartment viewing stage is a lot tougher. There is a good website called SeLoger, which is a great starting place, but you'll need to be persistant in calling up the agencies - they are often out and will never return a call, no matter how many messages are left. Personally I'd recommend this way, since the pap.fr route is fairly soul destroying.
The final method is to hire a concierge, who will do all the running around for you. They'll find the apartment, and then arrange the viewing if you need it. Expensive, but if you can afford it I'm sure they're worth the money. The trick to finding a great place to live is having someone on your side who is in the know and has great contacts.
So, my new apartment is on rue St Martin, smack in the middle of town by the Pompidou center. My former estate agent let me off the three months notice, and everything fell into place nicely. Next step is the actual move, which I'm not looking forward to at all! It's a fifth floor apartment, with a lift which is only 3 x 5 foot wide...