On the meaning of vis-a-vis

In my many French classes over the years, I never learned about the particular dialect spoken by real estate agents.  This week, five months into the search, I finally learned the official definition of vis-a-vis.  I always thought that vis-a-vis meant anytime there was no view (i.e., a view of a wall), but actually, vis-a-vis only refers to lack of privacy when other windows look onto your apartment.  Moreover, looking on a stone wall does not technically count as vis-a-vis, and even street-facing apartments can have vis-a-vis with the apartment buildings across the street.  What I should be asking realtors is not whether there is vis-a-vis, but whether there is a vue dégagée – a view.  The more you know!

Let’s go through the visits that illustrate this vocab lesson.  When I saw this listing for a 2nd floor walkup one-bedroom just steps away from Canal Saint-Martin, I called immediately.

Killer location?  Check.  Beautiful building?  Check.  As to the rest . . . well, not so much.  The realtor was upfront about the condition of the apartment, as it needed major updating, but she sidestepped the issue of view.  When she said it was over the courtyard I asked if it received light or if there was any vis-a-vis.*  Her response?  That it was a huge courtyard and there was nothing choquant about the view.  I should have followed up right then and there to ask her to clarify what she meant by “shocking.”  Because we clearly have different ideas of view:

"View" from the living room

Moreover, the apartment didn’t even look on the “huge” courtyard, but a little courette.  I apologized and said that it wouldn’t work and the visit was over about thirty seconds in.

Later in the week, an agent called me about a US 4th-floor walkup near Cambronne in the 15th.  I couldn’t really talk at the time so I agreed to the visit without asking many questions.  I don’t think I even asked the price!  We met at the agency beforehand to go over things and I told him straight up, if there is any vis-a-vis or wall it’s not even worth going over to see it, I don’t want to waste your time or mine.  He smiled and said that there was un petit peu of a wall and a little bit of vis-a-vis.  Which amounted to this:

Ok, so technically there is no vis-a-vis, and I suppose the “view” is an improvement over the Canal Saint-Martin one.  But we need a real view of the street or the rooftops, not just a partial view of the building next door!  Next!**

The final visit of the week was in the 5th one block away from the Pantheon, at a teeny studio apartment with no work needed and a very nice view (SouthEastern exposure!):

Now here's a view!

It was priced at 12k/m2 – 10-20k/m2 is the average on that street, the view and light is worth it, and the neighborhood is great even if the apartment is probably a 7-8 minute walk from the nearest metro.  This apartment would be a smart investment for anyone looking for a pied-a-terre or a seasonal rental, and it is probably one of our overall favorites.  But we really need about 5-10 m2/more and a separate bedroom (or at least sleeping area) so we had to regretfully pass.

Here’s to learning new vocab…and hopefully finding an apartment along the way!

*At the beginning of the search, courtyard-only apartments were an automatic dealbreaker for us.  However, courtyard-only is not necessarily mutually exclusive with view; it just depends on the building, what floor the apartment is on, the courtyard, and the surroundings.  We are now open to visiting courtyard-only apartments but I clearly have a long ways to go before I will be able to efficiently screen apartments based on the realtor’s description alone.

**Adding salt to the wound, this was a third-floor walkup with no view in an boring lime stucco building without concierge in a less desirable neighborhood than the Gobelins one from the very beginning, plus it was in worse condition and 7 m2 smaller, and yet the Cambronne one was more expensive!


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