Archive for February, 2010

Square Gaston Baty

February 28, 2010

Oh, this address had it all!  When the realtor called me in the middle of lunch to tell me she had a listing overlooking Square Gaston Baty, within spitting distance of Boulevard Edgar Quinet (and some of the “dream” streets I mentioned in this post), my only response was “when can I visit.”  Because look. at. this. square.

I die.

Wait, you want to see the real thing?  Oh, I guess I can handle that. =)

So I’ve established that the location was PERFECT – in Montparnasse, our current neighborhood which I love so dearly, and the apartment really did look directly onto this cute square.  Of course, if the location was the only plus…you know what that means.

2nd floor, no elevator, no concierge, no cellar.  These were all things we were willing to sacrifice for this address if the apartment was great.  I was crossing my fingers that it was 2nd floor of a Haussmann building which would mean balcony, but it was just a dinky 1900s building in limestone stucco.  The inside and outside of the building have to be redone but the works are not yet voted on nor paid for by the homeowner’s association.  And the real dealbreaker?  The realtor warned me when we entered the building “Well, the layout is not great.”  Translation: if you’re really tired when you come home, you can jump straight into bed as soon as you open the front door!  You have to walk through the bedroom to get to the living room with kitchenette.  I’m sure you could flip the layout, it would just take money and time.  But money + time + no elevator + no concierge + no cellar + all the work the building needs = Next!

Depressing realization: To this day, I have not seen anything that holds a candle to the Gobelins apartment.  Even the Ecole Militaire one, while in a more posh neighborhood, was not as nice a building and did not have two balconies!

On a positive note, realtors have my contact info and are actually calling me when they get a listing.  I think I’ve done the groundwork in terms of meeting realtors in the neighborhoods we like and now it is just about popping in and reminding them that we exist and are still looking.  And I still have to go spam the concieges on the aforementioned dream streets with my contact info in case they ever hear of anything.  I’m on top of my email alerts and following up, hopefully now it is just a matter of crossing my fingers and waiting for that magical phone call?

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I love listings like this

February 26, 2010

From PAP:

Rue Oberkampf. 1er étage sur cour. Sombre et vis à vis proche. 2 pièces 40 m², refait à neuf : parquet, électricité, plomberie, fenêtres double vitrage. Pièce à vivre avec cuisine américaine, chambre, salle de bains, chauffage électrique individuel. Taxe foncière : 60 euros/an. Charges 80 euros/mois. Gardienne. Digicode. 224.000 €.

Sometimes listings are so brutally honest they make me smile.  Here the third sentence reads “Dark with no view (vis-a-vis).”  And there’s no contact number!  Yeah, I guess they really want to sell this place.

Rue de Lyon

February 23, 2010

An agency called me up as soon as they got this listing last week and I went to go see it practically immediately, but it was not a coup de coeur and there is not much to say.  While it was in old stone building in between Bastille and Gare de Lyon and would not need any work, the building smelled weird (humid), there is no concierge, and the elevator only goes to the 5th floor so you have to climb one more flight up the crickety service staircase to get to the apartment.  The realtor wasn’t even sure of the loi carrez size so I can’t tell you if it is a fair price or not.  Listing available here – I bet it will take a week or two to sell and maybe for a slightly reduced price.  Next!

Things have been pretty quiet on the housing front lately – it’s the official winter holidays period so many Parisians are out of town.  I’ve been meeting with tons of realtors comme d’hab and scoping out all my dream addresses but the actual apartment visits have slowed to a dribble.  Currently jonesing for Rue Delambre (75014), Rue du Montparnasse (in the 14th – the 6th side will be too expensive) and Rue d’Alençon (75015).  See a pattern here?  They’re all practically within 50 meters of the Montparnasse Tour.  Yep, I’ve gotten quite attached to that eyesore.

As usual, fingers crossed and looking forward to whatever listings the week brings!

He that can have patience can have what he will.

February 18, 2010

Good news.  No, we haven’t found an apartment.  Yet.  YET!

But we did find out that we have more time to benefit from the prêt à taux zéro – until the end of May,* to be exact.  We initially thought we only had until mid-March to benefit from this sweet 0% loan for first time buyers, so this is really GREAT news since it means that I can continue to be as picky as I have been.  I am even playing with making balcon impératif a new requirement.

This also means that my darling can stop complaining that my expectations are unrealistic, which isn’t helped by anecdotes from his friends.

“But it only took Céline one week to find her apartment!  And it was the only one she visited!”

Details that make the difference:  Céline bought the first and only apartment she visited, a 6th floor walk-up in the 17th.

“Timothée just made an offer on a one-bedroom apartment in the Marais!  Why didn’t you hear about that one?”

Details that make the difference: although it has an elevator, it looks on the interior courtyard and would be out of our budget with the work it needs.

I’m sure they both love their new homes, but those little details are the reasons we’ve yet to find ours.

Anyways, commence happy dance.  I have no doubt that we will find our pearl before the end of May.

~~~~~~~

Hilarious sidebar: yesterday a new agent had a “great” listing for me – “OK, I just got something in that might be perfect, it looks on the interior courtyard, but it has vue dégagée.”

Je vous écoute.”

“Old building, 3rd floor with elevator, duplex, [names road].”

“Oh, we already visited that apartment a few weeks ago.  It doesn’t have any view!”

“From the skylight it does!”

LOLOLOLOLOL.  Riiiiight, I forgot about the skylight in the bathroom.  Smacks head.

You see, the Hotel de Ville duplex we rejected weeks ago is still on the market.  I didn’t hold back when I outlined the apartment’s shortcomings and why he would have to reduce the price even further if he wanted to sell it – the lack of view and light, the interior staircases, the passageway to the apartment – but I couldn’t help myself.  Somehow I doubt I’ll ever hear from him again.

*fine print: until May 31 to have the loan finalized.  The bank said it will take 10 days to finalize the paperwork, which seems awfully fast for France, making the deadline for the promesse de vente somewhere around May 15 just to be safe.  Which is still gives us at least an extra two months, during months where there is typically more activity than January or February.  Besides money, time is the ultimate luxury in this search – next time we look for an apartment in Paris I will start years before we need to move!  And start by giving our contact info to the concierges of those addresses that I ADORE – 8 blvd de la madeleine, 21 blvd st germain, the former convent in the 5th…just to wait until something becomes available.

Rue de la lappe haiku

February 16, 2010

No elevator

Crappy building, noisy street

No concierge, Next!

But I am now kicking myself for not taking photos.  A previous owner was from Savoy (a mountain region near the Alps) and walking into this apartment was like stepping into a chalet high in the mountains.  Everything was artisinal wood – from the corner kitchen in the living area to the bathroom sink and cabinets!  Yes, the bathroom sink!  It was incredible.  But since I had absolutely no intention of making an offer on the apartment, and it was by-owner (and the owner was rude), I didn’t feel comfortable asking to take a photo.

~~~~~~~~

My pick of the day:

LOOK at that balcony.  Is that not the stuff dreams are made of?  Sadly it’s too expensive for us and this is not the type of apartment you can really negotiate, this is the type that is most likely SOLD by the time you are reading this (for full asking price of course).

Catch it while it’s still available here.

Rue du Ponceau

February 14, 2010

I called within minutes of getting this ad in my inbox, and made an appointment to see the apartment just a few hours later.

Sdntier. Rue Saint-Denis. Appartement 2 pièces 34 m², charmant, au 5e ascenseur. Salle de bains. Tommettes anciennes au sol. Double-vitrage. Très clair, calme. Refait en 2008. Immeuble en cours de ravalement extérieur (payé), ravalement intérieur prévu en 2011. Chauffage électrique. 310.000 €.

Highlights:  Near the Montorgueil pedestrian neighborhood in the 2nd, 350 sq ft one bedroom on US 6th floor with elevator.  Renovated in 2008.

We arrived about 20 minutes early and had some time to mosey around the neighborhood, which we didn’t know very well.  As soon as we turned round the corner onto the street where the apartment was located I noticed three older women with wigs and hot-tranny-mess makeup standing in the doorway.

“Umm, those are prostitutes. I don’t want to live on a street where there are prostitutes out on a Saturday afternoon on the coldest day of the year.*  Do you want to live on a street with prostitutes?”

“Those aren’t prostitutes,” my delightfully clueless companion replied. “They’re too old.”

Right then, out of the next building came an even older woman with very large breasts only barely covered by a strappy tank top.

“OK, now do you believe me?”

When we stopped giggling over that woman’s unintentionally perfect comic timing I called the owner to cancel the visit.  The owner is out of her mind to be asking 9100/m2 for that location.  In the 2nd prices range from 6k-9k/m2 depending on all the usual factors, and that location does not merit 9k/m2 even if the fixtures are platinum and the floors are paved with gold.

I guess I should have paid more attention to the google street view!

See those women clustered on the sidewalk on the left? Yep, prostitutes.

Later on I googled the street again and was surprised to find a few vacation rentals advertised there. I loved this euphemistic description from one of them:

This is “old Paris” and the centuries old tradition of “women of easy virtue” may shock the more sensitive eye, however it must be stressed that the 2nd remains one of the city’s safest areas.

That is some misleading advertising right there.

Next!

*Seriously, it was freeeeeezing Saturday.  and Friday.  and Thursday.  Which really puts a damper on my whole walking-around-to-meet-as-many-realtors-as-possible plan.

Rue Groupama…err…Rue Littré

February 11, 2010

It’s amazing how much six weeks of “experience” apartment hunting has changed my perspective and my ability to chit chat about real estate with realtors, neighbors, and basically anyone who will listen.  My pharmacist, baker, the owner of the corner cafe, bankers, and obviously our concierge all know that we’re looking for an apartment.  When I pop into agencies it is no longer a 5-minute exchange of information but a 10, 20 minute conversation about “the market,” where we are in the search, interesting properties we’ve seen but missed, past sales, gossip, etc.

My bakery on Rue Littre.

Anyways, last week I was talking with my baker* about a listing I had seen on her street, Rue Littré, for a 5 m2 (yes, that’s right, 50 sq ft) apartment for 87k.  WTF?!  This morning when I went to get my daily pain au chocolat the baker excitedly greeted me and said, “You know what, I was thinking about you, I forgot that Rue Littré is owned by Groupama.”  I told her I didn’t understand, because I didn’t.

“Groupama is a company that owns practically every building on Rue Littré, they’re our landlords.”

“Ah, so you mean everyone who lives on Rue Littré is renting from Groupama?”

Exact.  But check with the concierge across the street, she’ll know more.”

Well, I haven’t checked with the concierge yet because I’m lazy.  But a quick google search brought me to the Groupama website, a commercial real estate company that owns 244,447 m2 of residential property, 80% of which is in Paris (as of Dec 2008).  DAY-UM.  This really shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does, since institutional investors are not exclusive to the US.  Although they don’t offer any residential properties for sale,** I did browse their rental listings (including one on, yes, Rue Littré).  The prices are pretty darn reasonable, the properties look GREAT (most are Hausmannien buildings with elevators in nice neighborhoods), and I’m assuming there would be no agency fee.  If I ever have to rent again in Paris this would be the first place I would check.

Later on, I brought up “Rue Groupama” with a realtor in the 6th and he shot right back that many streets around Jardin de Luxembourg are owned by the Vatican.  “The Vatican?” I repeated incredulously.  “Yeah, you know, like the Pope!”  You don’t say.  I’m almost starting to enjoy this search, and the encounters with the realtors, because I’ve learned so much about Parisian history and architecture in the process.  And not necessarily the stuff you can read in history books!

*18 Rue Littré, 75006, M: Montparnasse.  Phenomenal bread (try their multigrain “boules” if you’re feeling granola-ey, or special order some chestnut bread), melt in your mouth crossaints, and the owner is a really sweet young girl.  Plus they are cheaper and nicer than any other bakery in the neighborhood.

**There goes my dream of living on Rue Littré!  Rue Littré, along with Rue Vavin and Rue du Cherche-Midi, is one of my favorite streets in the 6th.  It’s a tiny, quiet street with a bakery, fruit stall, tabac, and a bar or restaurant or two, but just steps away from the shopping on Rue de Rennes, the cinemas and cafes at Montparnasse, and within walking distance to the Jardin de Luxembourg.  And on top of that, apparently a smart investment!

Ecole Militaire

February 10, 2010

Oh, the emotional roller coaster of househunting!

On Friday I went to visit an apartment that was in a location we never in our wildest dreams thought we could afford.  Rue Cler, in the 7th.  Here’s a map for those of you non-Parisians:

Rue Cler is an adorable, pedestrian, cobblestone market street smack dab between Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, walking distance to the Musee Rodin and the Musee Branly, and in the partie vivante of the very tony 7th.

The apt itself: 5th floor with elevator, concierge, cave, absolutely no work needed.  Wouldn’t you know it, they’d already received an offer at full asking price by the time I arrived.  But not to worry, the young agent reassured me.  “We manage an apartment across the hall for the same owner, I can show it to you if you like.  It’s smaller but it has a better view, you can even see the Eiffel Tower.  We haven’t listed it yet but we’ll probably list it soon.”  I asked if it would be listed at the same price/m2 as the one that already sold and she said it would be a bit more expensive per m2, but still less expensive overall (which was good because the agency had raised the asking price on the now-sold one by 20k between the time I got the email and the time I went to see it!  This should have been my first red flag*).  A few telephone calls were made to see about getting the keys and working around the current tenant, and we agreed to come back to check it out on Monday.

Over the weekend the agent emailed me photos of the apartment and raised the asking price by about 20k, to a price that was fair but the very top of our budget. On Monday off we went to check out the apartment – we had already decided that whether or not we would take the apartment at that price would depend on the view.

Ignore the clouds and imagine the sun!

We could sacrifice 50 sq feet or so and a proper kitchen for that view and the location.  When we outgrew the apartment we would always be able to rent it out, whether short-term or long-term, and the 7th is a valeur sure.  We made an offer on the spot for the full asking price (the new, higher, asking price).

Later that afternoon my companion gets an irate phonecall from the director of the agency.  “What’s this I hear about you making on offer on the apartment at Rue Cler?  That apartment’s not even for sale!  I don’t know what [agent] was thinking showing it to you!  The tenant isn’t supposed to move out until the fall!”

Not a good sign.

Today we receive a phone message from the director.  The owner might consider selling the apartment, but only for the right price.  Which is not the new, higher price the agent quoted us, but the price of the apartment across the hall.  That is 45 sq ft larger and that sold for a price that was already 20k over our budget (so 40k higher than the figure mentioned on Friday).

I don’t feel as bad about losing this apartment as I did the Gobelins one because here we did the most we could as quickly as possible; it was the agency who wasn’t very transparent, to say the least.  “Mais c’est scandaleux!” my concierge exclaimed when I told her the story.  While I like the motivation of the young go-getter agent who took the initiative to show us something not even on the market, I’m not really sure I could trust her or her agency, and I would not recommend them.

I now realize that this whole search is as much about luck as anything else, it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time talking to the right realtor.  We will never have the opportunity to compare two apartments, nor will we have time to think it over before making an offer – as soon as we find one that fits we just have to cross our fingers and take the plunge.  Off I go to meet more realtors to increase our chances and hopefully improve our luck!

*When an agency signs a mandat with an owner, the sale price is fixed, and as soon as the agency receives an offer for the asking price a contract is formed.  As I mentioned before, agencies are not allowed to start a bidding war and go beyond the asking price fixed in the mandate.  But that doesn’t stop unscrupulous agents from doing so.  I’ll have to do some research but our notaire mentioned that buyers who make an offer at full asking price, but who are passed over in favor of buyers who go beyond the price of the mandate, have a right to recourse.

Passage from hell

February 9, 2010

Though an accurate description of the current (non)status of the apartment hunt, I’m actually just referring to a listing for an apartment located at the Passage d’enfer.

It looks charming, it really does.  But I am superstitious enough to refuse to visit it based on the street name alone.  Read more about the street’s fascinating artistic heritage here and here.

Next!

Paris Notary Property Auctions

February 9, 2010

After our experience with the notary and discussion with the in-laws about the role of notaries in real estate transactions (apparently in the “olden days” there were no real estate agents, only notaries), we checked out the website of the notaries of Paris.  While notaries are always involved in real estate transactions in a role similar to a title agent, they sometimes act as real estate agents when handling successions or foreclosure auctions.  There was one property we were interested in that was put up on the auction block last week.

Highlights: great location in the heart of the Latin Quarter (the 5th) on a pedestrian only road, 440 sq ft one-bedroom on 5th US floor with elevator.  No concierge, but it did have a cellar.  It needed to be gutted.  Unfortunately I never got a chance to go to any of the open houses and I was pretty sure the final price would be out of our budget anyways.

Starting price was €225k, and to bid you had to bring a cashier’s check for €45k.  It would probably need around €40-50k of work (you can guesstimate €1k/m2 when ballparking renovation costs in Paris, with some contractors offering rates as low as 700€/m2 going up to 1500€/m2 for high-end materials).  I thought it would go for around €400k, and I wasn’t far off – it went for €385k.  With the work (and I can’t remember if the notary’s fee is included in the hammer price or not), that comes out to over €10k/m2 which seems a smidge pricey for the 5th without something special like a view or a balcony.  At the very least not a bargain, and more importantly out of our budget.

There was also this drool-worthy one that I actually did try to go to visit because I was curious about the open houses and had questions about how the auctions are run generally.

But first the notary gave me the wrong address, then the wrong digicode, and by then I was so freezing cold and frustrated I just couldn’t be bothered.  I am dying of curiosity to see this apartment that went for €18,000/m2!*  I guess the view must be worth it:

*that’s about 2400USD/sq ft and well above the average – average prices in the 7th are €10-12k/m2.  The most exclusive properties in Paris (the Quais of the Seine, Île de la Cite, the Triangle d’Or in the 8th) are €20k/m2!  Of course, the apartment did have 2 balconies with a total of 14 m2 in balcony space, and one parking spot (which runs from €20k-50k in that neighborhood).