Archive for January, 2010

Oh the joys of Parisian real estate agents

January 30, 2010

My current mantra: the perfect apartment is out there somewhere waiting for you to find it.*  The only catch is finding it by the end of February. =)

Looking at bonapart consulting archives, I came across this gem that made me feel much better about the current state of affairs (or lack thereof, having no prospects):

When is a realtor not a realtor?

…………When he’s in Paris.

Glad to know it’s not personal.  My family was at first concerned with the way we were conducting the search, “so you’re not working exclusively with one broker?”, but that’s just not the way it works here.  Instead I pop into every realtor’s office I see and make dozens of phone calls daily.  But the fun doesn’t stop there:

Even when you do call up they’ll be dismissive on the phone and very rarely call you back to follow your search (if you even suceed in getting them to register the details in the first place). You have to usually physically plant yourself in their office and threaten to squat there before you can get them to discuss that. Inevitably they apply the most repellent Parisian sarcasm when you give the budget, it is NEVER enough for what you want, (especially if you know very well the price per m² and are not prepared to pay over the odds). Sometimes they give a nasty little smirk and laugh at this point.

Oh hai me.  This sums up the past month, except for those rare occasions when I meet an optimistic agent who takes me and my requests seriously.  Note to self: follow up with those rare angels!

Finally, I had a funny 1-minute conversation with a realtor about a 500 sq ft one-bedroom in the 8th (another unexpected neighborhood, very posh), in an old building, on 5th US floor, with elevator.  I did the usual, “hi I’m calling about a listing I saw for X apartment for Y euros, I have a few questions” and before I could even get to my questions the realtor jumped the gun and said “oh this is a very *particular* apartment, it doesn’t get any light at all.”  I followed up, “ah so there is a vis-a-vis, or it looks on the courtyard?”  “en fait vous verriez même pas un rayon de soleil dans cet appartement.”  hmmm, I would never even see one ray of sunlight you say?   Sounds perfect. . .for a rabid twilight fan.  NEXT.

p.s.  just confirmed that the bedroom of our current rental only has one outlet.  and one FRENCH outlet at that – so literally ONE socket.  I wanted to put a reading lamp on my side of the bed but we have a power strip plugged into the one socket and already supplying other lights and electronics on the other side of the bed.  Our living room, on the other hand, has a whopping 4 (sarcasm; when we were getting quotes for electricity on the Gobelins apartment, apparently 4 outlets is the bare minimum per room).  I’m an American, get me outta here!

*this is hard because I was so so sure that the Gobelins one was the one the minute I stepped through the doorway.  That I forget about it and stop imagining scenarios where the first bidder drops out!


Now here’s a record – not even 24 hours?

January 28, 2010

Got the email for this one late last night, by the time I looked again this morning the listing was already pulled.

Dans un quartier animé bordé par le boulevard Voltaire, la rue de la
Roquette, la rue de Charonne et proche de toutes commodités, beau 2
pièces dans un immeuble en pierre de taille, donnant sur rue calme et
cour. Au 6ème et dernier étage avec ascenseur d’un bel immeuble
bourgeois, dans une copropriété bien entretenue, beau 2 pièces de 41m²
avec séjour, chambre, cuisine indépendante, salle de bain, WC.
Appartement traversant, parquet, moulures, vue dégagée. Appartement
en bon état général dans un quartier agréable ! Beaucoup de potentiel
!! A visiter sans tarder !!

Highlights:  Paris 11th (not sure where exactly since the listing names a lot of roads but the short description in the email said Bastille), 440 sq ft one-bedroom on 7th US floor of old stone building with elevator and balcony, view over road and interior courtyard.  From what I remember of the photos, the floors were in good condition, and there was ornate molding, but the bathroom and kitchen would have needed to be redone.  It was on the website so briefly there’s not even a google cache for it!

Also, just realized I might have made a really really stupid mistake by not giving my email address to the first dozen or so agencies I visited.  I didn’t think anything of it because I am already signed up for email alerts from the bigger agencies and websites (Century 21, Laforet, FNAIM, Seloger, PAP)*, most of the smaller agencies don’t have their own website, and I thought the smaller ones would just contact me by phone if they had anything.  But I was just on the phone with a very nice lady from a small independent agency who convinced me to give her my email address because they prefer sending out email alerts to calling people, and often such listings don’t even make it up on seloger.

*but not Foncia because they actually have the nerve to CHARGE for email alerts.  Like, really?  Only in France, I suppose.

On the latest episode of sold in under 24 hrs

January 26, 2010

This apartment was listed today and by the time I called around 5 pm it was already sold:

Vintimille/Ballu. Dans un immeuble Pierre de Taille de standing avec ascenseur, 2 pièces de 39m² au 2ème étage avec balconnet. Plan sans perte de place avec séjour, cuisine dînatoire et salle de bains. Traversant plein Sud. –

Highlights: Stone building from the 1900s with elevator, 39m2 (about 400 sq ft) one bedroom, 3rd US floor with little balcony, southern exposure.  In the 9th. 7666€/m2.  Absolutely nothing notable about the interior except what looks like a marble bathroom with a bay window?  and the horrid yellow paint, of course:

Is that a compass on the floor?

Listing here before it’s deleted.

Some thoughts on the Paris housing market

January 24, 2010

Since I have no visits lined up next week (not for lack of trying!), I thought I’d repeat some very sound advice from Paris Real Estate Finders.  Consider this my plea to the housing gods to get another chance at something incredible this week!

Top 10 Tips When Buying an Apartment in Paris

  1. Compromise is the name of the game in buying a Parisian apartment. No matter what your budget, neighborhood or criteria, you will have to make compromises. Prices are higher than you might expect, and often apartments need work–at a minimum “freshening up” and at maximum, major renovations.
  2. Be prepared! The market is very competitive and requires active engagement and rapid decision-making. The best properties sell within 1 to 72 hours of coming on the market. You need to be able to evaluate quickly, and on the spot if a property appeals to you and if you wish to make an offer.
  3. Price negotiation is almost non-existent in the Parisian market. French sellers are very aware of the value of their property, which is calibrated by euros/m2, depending on the neighborhood, charm and amenities. If the price is negotiable, the seller will state this directly when asked. Do not expect the back and forth bargaining that is a characteristic of the American market.
  4. It is essential to have your financial picture clear before you start searching. You are competing with French buyers who have a “leg up” with French sellers, who feel more secure that an “all French” transaction will go more straightforwardly forward. You need to be pre-approved for a mortgage, if you plan on using financing for your purchase.
  5. The Parisian market is closely tied to certain periods of the year. It is strong from mid-September to early December and from late February to the end of June, excepting French holidays (of which there are many.) While property is sold all year, to optimize your time, you need to coordinate your search to those periods when most sellers are available to show their properties.
  6. Choose people to help you who you trust, and then, trust them. Use your skills to conduct reasonable “due diligence” on the persons or companies who you plan to use to assist you in your search. If possible, get recommendations from former clients or professional sources. Once you have decided to go with a company or agent, trust it/him/her and avoid double guessing them or yourself.
  7. Don’t buy a property in Paris unless you are truly committed to Paris. If you are really only looking for an investment property, buy close to home in a market that you know. Owning Parisian real estate is a challenge–both linguistic and managerial. Most buildings are old (historic, if you wish) and have management problems. A Parisian apartment is not care-free; you need to love Paris and have a genuine emotional attachment to the city, or it’s not worth your trouble.
  8. Some people say, “Location, location, location.” We say, “Intuition, intuition, intuition.” You need to have a feeling for the apartment you buy–even if it’s not in the area you originally thought you wanted, or it doesn’t look like what you thought you wanted. If it strongly appeals to you, that’s one of the best indicators you can have, and you should trust your instincts (the “coup de coeur” at the doorsill)…
  9. Commit yourself to your search. Come to Paris with comfortable shoes, a good umbrella, a rational map, your sense of humor and energy. The search should take 3-7 intense days beginning on a Thursday. You need to be available at a moment’s notice to charge off to see another apartment. Avoid social or other appointments that detract in any way from your ability to focus on finding your apartment.
  10. Have fun! Apartment hunting in Paris is work, stressful, emotionally and physically challenging. But it should be fun too! If you’re not enjoying yourself, rethink your approach. Either you’re in the wrong neighborhood, working with the wrong people or not drinking enough champagne in the evening! It’s a wonderful, exhilarating undertaking. You will see some dreadful things and perhaps, something that will steal your heart. But above all, be prepared to have fun, laugh and turn the page for the next one.

I agree 100% with everything they’ve written here.  I also feel better knowing that January and February are particularly slow times for the Paris real estate market, especially right now since prices have slightly declined over the past year and sellers are trying to wait it out.  Slim pickins indeed.  A 3-7 day search seems a bit optimistic; heck realtors seem surprised when I tell them we only have two months!

I was, however, surprised by their assessment of the different neighborhoods:

Walking Neighborhoods in Paris That Still Have Good Values:

  • Avoid the arrondissements that touch the Seine if you want value for your money
  • 8eme — Europe the triangle at the very North end of the arrondissement
  • 9eme — all of it
  • 10eme — Southern portion only near the elbow of the Canal St. Martin; not West of Magenta and not East of the canal; avoid all Gare
  • 11eme — inner 1/3 only
  • 12eme — inner 1/3 only
  • 17eme — western 2/3’s only; avoid Avenue Clichy
  • 18eme — SW quadrant of the arrondissement only; varies street by street — get expert advice
  • Right now, the good areas of the 10th and the 11th are mostly out of our budget.*  Prices have increased 40-50% in the past 5 years in those neighborhoods!   We have a few friends who have bought in the 9th recently and are loving it, but I don’t think it is such a “bargain” anymore – one paid 210k for a ground floor studio on interior courtyard that had to be completely gutted.  On the other hand, it seems like the 5th, a neighborhood that borders the Seine, is actually within our budget – real estate agents quoted me average prices of 7000 – 9000€/m2.

    The 18th is one area I am completely staying away from for the reasons they mentioned, and also because we both kinda hate it.  I know I know, but Amelie, it feels like a village, it offers some of the best views of Paris and has notable private streets/villas that have outstanding properties, yada yada yada.  But dude, Pigalle and Barbès-Rochechouart are scummy neighborhoods.  Prostitutes, drug dealers, pickpocketers – not my cup of tea.  And to get to the cute parts or those chic private villas you have to go through the dangerous parts!

    The 17th is another area we are avoiding, even though there are definitely chic parts of it near Parc Monceau, Rome, etc because we don’t really know it and don’t have the time or desire to get to know it to the level needed to look at property in that area.  It is definitely cheaper than other neighborhoods though so come February if we’re still looking I might just have to eat my words.

    *for the apartment we are looking for: 1 bd around 35 m2, with elevator, old building, high floor with view and preferably balcony.  Ground floor, 1st floor, and walkup interior view 1-bd apartments are a dime a dozen and well within our budget in the 9th, 10th, and 11th.

    Why view matters

    January 22, 2010

    Let me take you through a little refresher of why view matters and why I will no longer visit apartments that only face the inside courtyard or are only on lower floors.

    This was the Hotel de Ville “loft” with a view of the rest of the building a few feet away.  Our families counseled that we would hate this view as soon as we moved in until the day we moved out.  Not to mention the complete lack of privacy.  And the same discount we paid for such a view (the apartment has already been on the market a few months and reduced by 65k) would be the same discount we would get when we eventually tried to sell it.

    This was the “view” from the first floor Marais apartment I went to visit.  While the interior was immaculate, like nothing I have seen to this day, that couldn’t make up for the rest of it – first floor over a restaurant with this to look at every day.

    Finally, the first floor Madeleine apartment was overlooking Rue de Seze, an anomaly in the posh neighborhood because it is known for its “adult” boutiques and marcheurs.  The view was definitely PG-13 or R-rated, Starbucks excluded!  The third floor studio in the same building overlooked Boulevard de la Madeleine, and had a much better view, but I don’t think I took any photos.

    This was taken at street level, but you get the idea.

    So when I finally saw this at the Gobelins apartment,

    The tippity top of Notre Dame spires are on the left, and that cluster of white buildings near by is the Sacre Coeur. And this is on a cloudy foggy day - can you imagine how beautiful it must be on a clear sunny day?!

    I breathlessly called my darling to come visit immediately because I knew it would go quickly.  And it did.  Too quickly for us to pounce on it.

    So this is what disappointment feels like

    January 20, 2010

    Well, we finally took the plunge and made an offer on an apartment near Les Gobelins.  It had everything we were looking for: gorgeous well-maintained building from the 1900s, concierge, cellar, elevator, high floor, balcony (and great view!), and even though it needed significant renovations it was within our budget with the work estimate included.  But – the lower bidders were given an opportunity to meet our bid, which was full asking price, and they did.  Bidding beyond full asking price is not permitted.  So unless something unforeseen happens and they drop out, we lost out on our first coup de coeur.

    Back to pounding the pavement.

    Well that was a wasted 10 euros…

    January 19, 2010

    One of the most frustrating aspects of searching for an apartment in Paris is the lack of transparency.  There is no Zillo, real estate agents are reluctant to share past sales data, and there is no public database or records search available.  The website of the notaries of Paris (who act as title agents) does offer averages, but no specific data.  How are you supposed to know when you’re getting a good deal and when you’re getting ripped off?

    When I found a link to, which boasted historic data on past sales, for a mere (ha!) 10€, I thought I had found the holy grail.  A few keystrokes later and I had a list of past comp sales for one part of the 13th, where we’re seriously considering an apartment.  Oh but minor problem.  The list only provides the size, selling price, and floor – it doesn’t say what year the building dates from, if there is an elevator, and what work (if any) was needed.  Factors that are just as relevant as the ones listed and make the list almost, but not totally, useless.  At the very least NOT WORTH 10 EUROS!  So don’t make my mistake, unless you really have 10€ to chuck away on this:

    Edgar Quinet, Daumesnil, and Hotel de Ville

    January 16, 2010

    The pace of visits has picked up so much I’m almost losing track of it all.

    -went to see the “Boulevard Edgar Quinet” apt.  Not overlooking the market, at the very end of the blvd (near Raspail), scary 1970s building.  Pass.

    -didn’t end up going to see the 2-bedroom near Daumesnil because after speaking with the realtor he decided not to waste our time – it had already been on the market 2 months and had several price reductions (even though it is 4th floor with elevator, guardien, etc), because it has a splendid view of . . . the building 3 meters away.  This guy was nice though and said he’d call me if he found anything.

    -did end up stumbling into a WONDERFUL mom and pop agency on my way back from the Daumesnil agency and they just happened to receive a new listing that week, hadn’t even made it up in the window yet, of a one-bedroom with two balconies with no vis-a-vis on the top (US 8th) floor.  The catch?  It’s a 1930 brick building.  Went to visit it, and the apartment is  decent.  The pink bathroom with bidet is stuck in the 60’s and would have to be redone, but the kitchen is fine and the only other work that would be need is wallpaper/painting and possibly replacing the windows.  We might go back to visit it during the day.  The only reason I hesitate is because 1)I don’t really know the neighborhood and though it is convenient for the work commute it seems a bit far from the rest of Paris 2) I don’t know if we should hold out for a 2-bedroom.

    -went to see a “loft” around the corner from where I live – it wouldn’t need any work, is rather large (45 m2), BUT rez de chaussee, very dark.  Doubt we’ll return to look at it together.

    -went to see another “loft” near Hotel de Ville.  This is the first apartment where we both thought, wow we could actually live here, it could be great, we love the neighborhood.  4th US floor with elevator, 45 m2.  But, it looks on the interior court, and we would have to redo the kitchen, knock down a wall between the kitchen and the living room, and replace the wierd rope carpet (underneath is concrete and right now we are arguing about it – I am in favor of leaving concrete in the living room at least but my darling thinks concrete is “dusty” and wants to put tile down).  Trying to figure out if we could afford it with the work. Thought about it, discussed with our families, and decided that we will never waste our time visiting courtyard view-only apartments again.  There’s a reason this particular one had been on the market for a few months and already been reduced by 65k.

    -and then crossing my fingers for 2 apartments my concierge mentioned.  Actually, dreaming about one of them – in the amazing Haussmann building next door, US 5th floor with elevator, cave, and most importantly a GREAT (if noisy) view, but I don’t know the size and I don’t know the asking price or even range.  Scratch that.  Just got more details from the concierge – it’s a 2-bedroom, she already tried to arrange something between the owner and one of her friends and the owner wouldn’t settle for less than 500k.  Ah, well.

    Starting to get apartment fatigue.  Also wish we had started seriously talking to agencies months earlier because they always seem suprised when I tell them we would ideally like to have signed a compromis de vente by the end of February.  According to most realtors I’ve met with (I think that now makes a grand total of 10?), expecting to find an apartment within two months makes us tres presses.

    Mo’ real estate agents, mo’ problems

    January 14, 2010

    No visits today, but I did meet with three new real estate agents.  The first was very concerned with our wishlist, telling me it would be a difficult find (at our budget, in the Montparnasse neighborhood).  He also made a very bizarre remark.  I had my dog with me, and he did the standard, oh is it a girl or a boy, what’s its name, etc.  And when I replied that it was a une fifi (little girl), he exclaimed Oh la la je ne touche jamais les filles and wouldn’t pet her.

    The second woman was insupportable but stupidly I agreed to let her show me an apartment because I was so drawn by the address – Boulevard Edgar Quinet, overlooking the market, I die I die I die.  And within our budget!  But she wouldn’t discuss prior comps (“je ne reviens jamais en arrière” – “I never look back”), and when I asked her how long this particular apartment had been on the market she got very defensive and replied “ça ne change rien.”  Yes, she actually had the nerve to tell me, with a straight face, that it doesn’t matter how long an apartment has been for sale.  And then she wouldn’t even tell me the FULL ADDRESS of the apartment I’m looking at “je ne partage jamais mes adresses.”  When I asked her to specify at least which part of the blvd it’s on, since the blvd is pretty long, she just waved her hand and said within walking distance of the metro.  Regretting getting involved with her but the more apartments I visit, the more I learn, that’s my mantra.

    The final agent, a darling elderly gentleman at an agency in the Marais, told me that I was searching for une perle rare but that he would contact me as soon as something came in and if I was lucky that would be within the next three weeks.

    Back to Madeleine (and more)

    January 12, 2010

    Very, very interesting day today.  Early this morning I was indulging in what some have called real estate porn, on one of those websites where the prices are given not in actual numbers but by castles,* and I happened to see a listing for a studio in art deco building near Madeleine.  Thinking that there must not be that many landmark art deco buildings at Madeleine, I called up, and sure enough the apartment was in the same stunning building as I visited last week.  But smaller, only a studio, on the 3rd floor, decent kitchen and bathrooms, and oh one last detail, one hundred thousand euros MORE than the first-floor one-bedroom I looked at last week.  Even though this was out of our budget, I was curious to see what an additional one hundred thousand euros could buy.  Was being two floors higher, overlooking Boulevard de la Madeleine instead of Rue de Seze, and decent kitchen and bathrooms really worth one hundred thousand euros more?

    I guess only time will tell.  The studio has already been on the market two months, also telling.  I was expecting to be blown away by the interior but it was just meh, quite dated and basic, I won’t even bore you with photos.  However, the time spent with the realtor was invaluable – I learned that he sold a penthouse in this building, a 90 m2 apartment with 70 m2 terrace (hello!), for 1.5 M EUR (full asking price) a few months ago, and it was one the market for all of one day.  Unfortunately, as he so politely put it, his agency doesn’t usually sell “smaller” apartments and he was only selling this one because of his prior sale of the penthouse, so it is unlikely I will work with him in the future.

    Encouraged by my positive experience with the realtor, I popped into a few agencies on the way home.  The first realtor was awesome and I will definitely follow up with her.  She didn’t blink at our wishlist and showed me some of her recent comparable sales, and I was shocked to learn that we might be able to afford a one-bedroom in the 7th.  The second one was rude – when I stepped in to talk about buying an apartment she barked “just look in the window.”  I thanked her and left, and will not be following up with her.  The third was out, and the fourth was a young kid who didn’t take my requirements seriously – he offered to show me a three-bedroom in a modern building that was one hundred and fifty thousand euros over budget.  And most promising, I finally spoke with my concierge about our search.  I think this will be the real jackpot as they own quite a few apartments in our neighborhood and they often hear of things before they are even put on the market – heck we are in our current apartment thanks to them.  So I am feeling much more hopeful today than I was a few days ago.  On y go . . .

    *one castle = under 800k EUR, two castles = between 800k-1.2M, and so on.