Coup de coeur is a favorite expression of French real estate sites. It literally means a blow to the heart, which sounds like a bad thing, but it refers to the emotion you feel when something grabs you and you just have to have it. Something that makes your heart sing.
In the months after my mother’s death, my heart needed something to make it sing. I was in the grips of a deep depression when I starting poking around on Seloger.com, a French real estate site. A frequent visitor to Paris over the years, I’d cultivated another life there, and began to toy with the idea of a pied-à-terre. I didn’t really intend to buy anything, but dreaming about it brought me some small joy.
I had no idea it would become a lifeline.
The search itself grabbed my heart, and I rode that high, searching almost every day—from a few minutes to a few hours. Months later, I’d become an expert in Parisian real estate: price per square meter by neighborhood; fees and taxes; French real estate terms (Refrait à neuf!; Lumineux!; Sans perte de place!), and had developed a specific criteria list for my virtual hunt: classic Haussmann-style building; herringbone parquet floor; ornate moldings; fireplace; high floor with balcony—the Parisian ideal. A ridiculous ideal, but it didn’t matter; I didn’t really believe I’d buy something. That wasn’t the point anyway. Right?
On the first anniversary of my mom’s death I ran away to my favorite city, and in the dead of February as I walked along Paris’s Coulée Verte with a friend, I confessed my pastime, dreaming on Seloger. He responded by walking me into a real estate office. I saw three apartments that week, but still, I wasn’t seriously going to buy any of them; I was just amusing myself.
So why did I book a weekend trip to Paris to visit apartments? Sure, it helped that a friend was more serious than I, and booked six apartments for me to visit in one day. Accountability is a huge motivator. But I confess now, while I paid large sums of money for the last-minute flight to spend literally one day in Paris, I know a part of me didn’t seriously believe I was going to go through with it. Buying an apartment in Paris was for other people. Richer people, braver people.
Two apartments into the day of visits, it became clear what my money could buy—and it wasn’t pretty, not compared to my Parisian ideal. If an apartment was large for the price, it needed at least $100,000 in renovations just to be livable. Or if the building was impeccable, the apartment was a 3rd-floor walk-up. One was directly over a Renault garage. Another came close: a good-sized, well-laid-out apartment with a fireplace, on a high floor with an elevator, and in a great location. I could deal with the linoleum on the floor, but there was that brown carpeting in the hallways of the building I couldn’t make peace with. Not a big deal, you say? The carpeting was on the walls. And one pass of the hand over that carpeting revealed the crumbling surface underneath. “Bad co-prop’,” my friend told me. A co-op not financially sound. We moved on. And that was fine, I mean, I wasn’t going to buy it anyway. This was just a fun one-day trip to Paris.
Then we saw it, the coup de coeur.
The apartment was only 24 square meters, or 258 square feet—about the size of a hotel room. Much smaller than I had wanted. It was located two flights up without an elevator. There wasn’t a fireplace; the floor was new parquet overlay in light pine, not the dark oak herringbone I longed for. In fact, it ticked few of the boxes on my wish list. But it was housed in a beautifully-maintained 19th century building full of true Parisian charm, and the apartment was recently renovated—new windows, new heating, new bathroom, modern kitchen unit. For a second-floor apartment, it was flooded with light thanks to two floor-to-ceiling windows. Coup de coeur is something you can’t explain but you know it when you feel it, even when you don’t know why you feel it. Maybe it was because we were at the end of a long day and the apartment was comparatively the nicest of the six we’d seen. Maybe it was the high ceilings, or my friend whispering in my ear that the place needed “absolutely no work.” Maybe it was the price: a cool $100,000 cheaper than anything we’d seen that day. Or that it came with a private storage room across the hall and a huge cave, in the basement. It could have been all those things, or just that the kitchenette was blue, and my mother always had a blue kitchen.
Coup de coeur. I told the agent I’d think about it, but seconds later we were chasing him down the street and making an offer. I’d started the journey just trying to escape my grief, but ended up finding my heart’s desire.
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