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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- I’d love nothing more than to renovate from several thousand miles away. Sounds like fun!
- 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.
- 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.
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 e.g., 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 money. 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 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. There are some changes to the short-term rental limitations in France proposed by President Macron, permitting rentals of 10 months, which will be voted on this fall (2018). For details, go here.
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!
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.
- Daniel Féau: If you can afford these apartments, God bless you.
- De Particulier à Particuliers: Apartments for sale by owner.
- LogicImmo: Real estate agency
- Meilleurs Agents: A real estate agency. The site is chock full of information, including the price calculator I mentioned.
- Orpi: Real estate agency
- Seloger: Not a multiple listing service, per se, but close.
A Few Expat Agency Sites (In English)
This is where to go when you’re really ready to buy. Most provide full service, from helping you get financing to property management.
- Adrian Leeds Group: If you’ve seen House Hunters International, you know who she is
- French-Property.com: Properties for sale, tons of info on buying in France, and more
- Paris Property Group: Information, properties
- Vingt Paris: This is the agency that fell into my lap—very knowledgeable
- 56 Paris: Many upscale apartments in desirable areas
A Few Apartment Rental Sites (In English)
Try out the life and a few neighborhoods before you settle down. (Some of these sites only rent by the month.) 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.
- Book-a-Flat: Nearly 2000 properties for every taste and area. Very nice properties. Good service but mostly longer term rentals. There are fees.
- Guest Apartments: High-end properties.
- Haven In: Lovely properties; good service. Cheap? Nope.
- Paris Autrement: Unique properties in the Marais. Not cheap.
- Paris Perfect: I have rented from them; great properties, mostly in the 7th arr. Impeccable service.
- 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.
This article was updated 4 September 2018.
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Learn more about the journey that led to My (Part-Time) Paris Life in my memoir of the same name ON SALE NOW!