Finding the Perfect Renter
For years my Austrian-born husband and I, a native of Germany, wondered how it would feel to be back in Europe after living in California for almost 20 years. Would we still fit in? Would our “American habits” drive everybody around us crazy? Would we feel disconnected and strange or would it be like coming home? The answers to those questions, we knew, could only be obtained one way: we had to move back for a year and see for ourselves. As an added advantage this would give us the chance to expose our 11-year-old son to a serious dose of German and fix the problem of his slowly vanishing language skills for good.
The decision to go was easy, the logistics not so much. We faced two big and related issues: finding a place to live in Konstanz, my home town, an incredibly popular destination not only for retirees but also for students flocking to the young but prestigious university. Add a large lake, the close proximity to the Swiss Alps, a lot of tourists, low turnover in the rental market and you have the perfect storm for a family looking for an apartment. We managed, but it was touch and go.
Here in California, we faced the challenge of finding the perfect renter for our beloved home in Sunnyvale. We weighed the advantages of the short-term rental through one of the big services vs. finding renters for the entire year. After some reflection and a bit of calculating we decided to try and rent for the entire year.
Given our location in the middle of Silicon Valley, renting short term would have probably netted us more money, but the idea of having stranger after stranger rotating through in our home, sleeping in our bed, cooking in our kitchen, swimming in our pool, and sitting on our couch filled me with unease. I wanted renters who viewed our home as their home and treated it accordingly. I wanted to know that somebody was there all the time caring for the place, somebody who would contact us right away if the water tank leaked or the lock in the front door broke, somebody who took responsibility.
This is when I listed our home on Sabbaticalhomes.com in the hopes of finding the perfect renters. It was a tall order: we had a bit of flexibility regarding moving out and in dates but not much. Our son needed to finish school here and be back with at least a week to spare before the next school year started. We wanted to rent furnished to avoid expensive storage, we couldn’t have a renter with a cat because I am allergic, and – the most intangible of all – we wanted to like the people.
In the end, after a few showings and discussions, I am happy to say that we found the perfect renters: a young couple with one child and another on the way, he a doctor on a one-year rotation and she a stay at home mom. It was a win-win: given his salary, their only other option in Silicon Valley would have been to rent a small condo. A house with a garden and a (secured) pool in a quiet cul-de-sac with parks close by was a vast improvement. We agreed to lower the price to a level they could afford. In return, they were flexible around our preferred moving dates and we got to keep the garage where we stored all our personal belongings that otherwise would have to be stored in spare bedrooms and garages of friends and neighbors.
The biggest upside for me was the peace of mind. I spent a year in Germany never once worried about the house. I didn’t have to hire a manager to deal with possible issues nor somebody to change linens, clean and restock and I enjoyed knowing that we had found an arrangement that had made life a little better for everybody.
After a year we returned to our house and life in Silicon Valley. I would do it all again, including renting, and I have a date in mind: 2022 – once our son is done with high school.
Tina Baumgartner is a writer and blogger who lives in California. Her family did not only spent a year in Germany but also undertook a six-month traveling sabbatical when her son was a pre-schooler. She is the author of the website Sabbaticalplanner.com, a resource for families with kids helping them planning long-term travel.