So You Want to Buy a Place in Paris?

 cayre balcony-arrow

Think you’re ready to buy an apartment in Paris? Before you take the plunge, you might want to take this quiz:

Am I Ready for a Pied-à-Terre in Paris?
Respond to the following statements with either “Hell, yeah!” or, “Well…no.”

  1. I believe with every fiber of my being that Paris is my fate, and if I do not have an apartment there, I consider my entire life a failure.
  2. Exchange rate—who cares? So what if a sudden shift in the value of the euro makes me lose 1/3 of my hard-earned savings in the transfer to France. You can’t put a price on a dream.
  3. Sure, I’ll fly to Paris on a moment’s notice to look at a dozen apartments. And I won’t go home without one!
  4. I’d love nothing more than to renovate from 3000 miles away. Sounds like fun!
  5. I don’t expect to find an American-sized apartment in a European city. I accept the “quirks” of Parisian spaces as part of the charm. Bathroom off the kitchen? No problem.
  6. I’m realistic about what’s available in my budget. If I can’t afford the Marais, I’m fine with that. Paris is Paris. Show me what you got!

If you replied, “Hell, yeah!” to all the above, congratulations!—you’re ready to live the dream. Because here’s the thing: unless you can afford to drop a few million euros on move-in-ready-Haussmann-perfection in the 7th, you’re going to have to be made of hardy stuff as you embark on this journey. Hardy, and a little nuts, because let’s face it, if you’re from the States, there’s no logical reason to buy property in Paris given the state of the economy, and the current tax and short-term rental laws. You do it because of Statement #1 in our quiz. Statement #1 is what will propel you through the rest of it.

Myself, I didn’t need to take the quiz because I was already in the Hell, Yeah! mental state when I started my search, precipitated by my mother’s death the year before. I became convinced an apartment in Paris would fill the hole in my life. At that time, I was standing squarely at the crossroads of Depression, Despair and Desperation, and like a quarterback about to throw a Hail Mary, I found this precise combination of emotions trumped any fear—and reason. I didn’t think, I just acted on the desire to save myself. I became ultra-focused (read: monomanic), undaunted (i.e., obsessed) and intrepid (probably crazy)—exactly the way I needed to be to get the job done.

I was serious! After months of searching online, I'd compiled quite an organized database.

I was serious! After months of searching online, I’d compiled quite an organized database.

But for the rest of you “Hell, Yeah!” folks, I do have some sane advice before you begin your search:

Know that there is no MLS (Multiple Listing Service) in France, only individual agencies who represent the seller—not the buyer. What you don’t want to do is drop by real estate agencies (agences immobilières) during a vacation in Paris. You’ll pound a lot of pavement and see a lot of crap, believe me, and it will be a profound waste of time.

If you want to shop online, do it only as an exercise—window shopping if you will—to familiarize yourself with the Paris real estate market, and learn what’s out there and at what price. Sites like seloger.com and pap.fr are as close as you’ll get to an MLS—but by no means are they an exhaustive list of what’s out there.

Get a Reality Check: Using the sites above, start with your dream apartment in your dream neighborhood, if you know it. Then if budget begs, widen your net, expand your search area while playing with different apartment sizes. Again, this is not a practical exercise, especially if you don’t know Paris very well. It’s merely an experiment to see how serious you are about owning in France. Me, I spent months doing this—as is evidenced by my search files, which include the 13th, 15th, 19th and even the 20th arrondissements.

If you’re not familiar with Paris, use your next vacation to discover the various neighborhoods around the city and see what feels good to you, especially if you plan to live here several months of the year. What’s the right area for you?

  • If you have a small budget but want real space: Consider something outside the center of Paris, especially if you want a taste of real Paris life, and plan to live in the apartment for several months of the year. Areas like the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 17th, and 19th can often be thriving, vital neighborhoods—but they can also be less desirable for short-term rentals* depending on the area.
  • If value is important to you: Better to buy in an up-and-coming area rather than a quartier that’s maxed out, like Saint-Germain-des-Près or the Marais. Risky? Possibly. But if you’re looking for safe, don’t buy in France.
  • If the apartment is an investment, or you want to rent it short-term*: Central locations, like the Marais, will have a higher real estate value, and hold that value, but know that you’ll get less apartment for your dollar. Still, you can’t go wrong.

Learn about the average prices around town: To better familiarize yourself with the average price per arrondissement, you can play with sites like meilleursagents.com. They have an incredible value calculator that gives you the average price per square meter—by district, street, or even for a specific building. Good to know when you’re bargaining with a seller, but also to get a snapshot of more affordable areas in Paris.

Don’t go it alone! Once you’ve done your research and have real expectations of what to expect in your budget, you are now ready to hire an expert. Yes, that’s what I said: get help! Because you still don’t know anything.

I can’t say this enough: do not buy property in Paris or France unaided. It won’t save you money; in fact, it could cost you. You’re plunking down major cash in a foreign land, Lord love you, and you will need the hand-holding. Especially if you don’t speak French, know nothing of the legal or banking system, or think you might be renovating. Even if you have friends in Paris as I did, how much can you impose on them?

Enlist the services of a reputable real estate agency that serves expat clients. It is seriously worth the fee. They will work for you, not for the seller as is the case with Parisian real estate agents. An expat agency will line up apartments for you based on your criteria and make the most of your time in Paris—and most importantly, they will navigate you through the convoluted legal system, and help you understand your financing options.

Don’t do as I did: I was crazy enough to do this on my own, but luckily, the apartment I chose was represented by an agency that catered to foreign buyers. They shepherded me through the entire closing process and helped me find a reputable architect and contractor for the renovation. They even set up my utilities for a small fee. When I think of the stress they saved me, I understand why people hire agencies like this in the first place. And so should you.

So, you still want to buy a place in Paris? Can I get a “Hell, yeah!”?

*NOTE: Rent short-term in Paris at your own risk. Owing to a recent enforcement of an old rental law in Paris, secondary properties in Paris can no longer be rented legally for a period of less than 9 months (student), or one year (other tenants). If you want to do this legally, you must turn your property into a commercial space, then buy a commercial property and turn that it into a residential space. Logical? No. Welcome to Paris. Please, also be sure to research recent tax laws in Paris and France regarding secondary homes, particularly those owned by foreigners. Just one more reason to hire an expert. Good luck!

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SOME LINKS TO GET YOU STARTED
Disclaimer: I do not represent these companies and cannot vouch for them. I can only advise based on personal experience, where applicable. Otherwise, you’re on your own.

A Few Real Estate Sites I’ve Visited (In French)
There are no multiple listing service (MLS) sites in France, so you have to visit several independent sites. Again, this is just to get you warmed up.

A Few Expat Agency Sites (In English)
This is where to go when you’re really ready to buy.

A Few Apartment Rental Sites (In English)
Try out the life and a few neighborhoods before you settle down. Note: I don’t recommend AirBnB in Paris. Owners know what their properties are worth and there are no breaks—no matter how dumpy the place is. And, as you are dealing direct with owners, many of whom don’t speak English, if there is a problem, you might not get the level of service for the price.

  • Adrian Leeds Group: Quality rentals and really great service. I’ve used them.
  • Guest Apartments: High-end properties.
  • Haven in Paris: Lovely properties; good service. Cheap? Nope.
  • Paris Perfect: I have rented from them; great properties, mostly in the 7th arr. Impeccable service.
  • Special Apartments: Friends have used them and recommend them highly. Good service, lovely properties.
  • Lodgis: A large site with many properties; service is not as personal.
  • Paris Autrement: Unique properties in the Marais. Not cheap.
  • Book-a-Flat: Nearly 2000 properties for every taste and area. Very nice properties. Good service but mostly longer term rentals. There are fees.
  • VRBO.com: Apartments for rent by owner. Like AirBnB, I don’t find them a very good value, and you take your chances with service.

NOTE: Please do not use this blog to solicit business. You will be blocked.

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My-Part-Time-Paris-Life-Book-ShotLearn more about the journey that led to My (Part-Time) Paris Life in my memoir of the same name ON SALE NOW!

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32 responses to “So You Want to Buy a Place in Paris?

    • K+K Hotel Cayre, 4 Boulevard Raspail, in the 7th (but really on the cusp of St. Germain des Pres). I love those guys and I recommend it fully. Not super cheap, though. But incredible, personal service.

  1. Lisa, I am a new owner of a family apartment in Paris that needs work. Any insight you have to offer on supervising renovations from thousands of miles away is exactly the advice I am after. Please email me? Thank you, Sonya.

  2. So is there any way to purchase an apartment in Paris and rent it out while you aren’t there, coming maybe once or twice a year? Or do the new city ordinances prohibit that? Unfortunately, this would likely be the only way an apartment in Paris is not completely financial suicide for me.

    • Hi, Patrick. The laws are still prohibiting rentals for shorter than 1 yr (9 mos for students), BUT there is news of some changes that may be taking place, which would rectify this ridiculous law. So, if you are serious about it, I say hire an expat real estate expert to walk you through it all. They know all the laws and all the changes/workarounds. There is always a way.

      • I, too, have thought about doing what Patrick said. Do you know when the 9 months of school is for the students? I’d be interested in renting to them and coming for the holidays each year with my wife (at least until it’s paid off). We’ve been to Paris a few times and absolutely love it. I just don’t know if spending $150k on a small 11sq meter apartment is worth it?

      • I’m not sure of the details of this. If you’re serious about investing abroad, I would speak to an expat real estate expert. This is not something you want to do on your own, especially in Paris, where the laws (particularly tax laws) are changing by the day. Contact Adrian Leeds.com or other agency. That’s the best advice I can give you.

      • Lisa we have rented at least 8-9 apartments for 2 -4 weeks in Paris over a 20 year period in fact we have rented 3 apartments for this Christmas for us and our kids. How could this be if apartments can not be rented for less than 9 months?

  3. Hi Lisa,
    Thanks so much for this post it is extremely helpful! May I ask did you have a specific arrondissement in mind when you were hunting? We have lived in Paris for a year and a half renting and are looking to buy. We are trying to make the decision of 10th with more space vs 16th, 6th, 7th etc for future resale purposes. Did you receive any good advice on which to choose? I love all areas of Paris and frequently eat out in the 10th and 11th but I do not for foreigners it’s not usually the first place they choose to buy. Thanks so much!

  4. Pingback: My Paris Apartment—4 Years Later | My (Parttime) Paris Life·

    • I have never claimed to offer any service. I am not a real estate professional. I’m a layperson who is just sharing what I’ve learned. This is an editorial blog for those who love Paris, and who want to take a chance to change their life. I take in no advertising, and my content is not paid for by any 3rd party. I hope this clears things up for you.

  5. Thanks for the explanation Lisa. OK so here is what we need to know. We are seniors from Florida who have spent several vacations in Paris. To say we love Paris is an understatement! We would like to buy a 1 bedroom apartment in the 6th or 7 arr. What do we need to know besides cost of property tax and rental history? because we would rent it. Is there a charge for a USA resident to buy, rent it out?Would we need a Lawyer to represent us or would a real estate firm do that? What would be our biggest expense in buying other than cost? We would appreciate any help you could give us.

    • The best and only advice I have for you is what I said in my post: DO NOT try to do this on your own. It’s not only not smart from an investment standpoint, but it’s suicide for your sanity. You will save money—and time—if you hire an expat real estate agency. It’s the only smart way. There is no MLS (multiple listing service) in France so you would have to do it all on your own, go agency to agency, and the real estate agencies in Paris do not care about the buyer—only the seller. They won’t help you at all. You need a full-service expat agency for this purpose: to cull through the market and find properties that suit YOU. They line them up and you come for a week or so and see them. They would also guide you through the labyrinthine process that is Paris property, the bureaucracy, translate documents for you, etc. Plus, they will help you find a notaire (for the closing), architect, etc. for renovation if needed. They can help you get financing if you need, advise about taxes, etc., even set up your utilities for you, get your homeowners insurance, etc. You do not need a lawyer—in fact, that will just create a hostile situation for you in Paris as the French are averse to dealing with Americans who are “lawyered up.” The expat agency will be your guide and your legal/negotiating muscle. Contact someone like Adrian Leeds. Pay for a consultation, at least. It is SO worth it, I cannot tell you. I did not do this and I am still paying for it. You would also need to be well apprised on the rental laws in Paris. Short-term rentals are illegal. And if you want to be in the 6th or 7th, I can tell you your swanky neighbors will not appreciate you using your pied-à-terre as a vacation rental, because it is very disturbing to their lives. Neighbors are famous for denouncing their neighbors who do this. The Marais has already had 2 city-sponsored raids on vacation rentals. It’s ridiculous, and probably just pressure from the hotel lobby, but it’s a reality to be dealt with. There are ways to rent legally, and an expat agency can help find those workarounds. For example, a ground-floor property that is zoned for commercial use is ok since it’s already commercial. (Short-term rentals are considered commercial units.) If buying the property as a rental is the only way you can do this, maybe Paris isn’t the place. Maybe somewhere else in France, like Nice, where these laws are not as strict. Just a thought.

  6. Lisa Thanks for all the info. Mite you have an e-mail address for Adrian Leeds? Your book should be in my mail today we look forward to it.

  7. Pingback: How to buy an apartment in Paris | Getaway Guru·

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