Buying an Apartment in Paris

At dinner with friends last night, talk turned to the process of buying an apartment in Paris. I think the internet has opened up more ways to do research and search for possible properties, but the old fashioned way was to go to the neighborhood that you were interested in, wander the streets, and look at the listings in the windows of local agencies.

When we were looking nine years ago, there was no MLS (multiple listing service- I don’t know if there is now), and the problem for us was that we wanted to look at a variety of neighborhoods before deciding where to focus. Wandering the streets was not going to work. In doing some research, it turned out that we had a friend who had a friend who had found a solution to this problem. She had hired Ghislaine, a native Parisian, who, for a flat fee (rather than a brokerage commission), was willing to show properties in several different arrondisements. Having that opportunity to experience a wide variety of apartment styles and neighborhoods helped enormously in making our decision. (The internet also played a role, but more on that later).

My girlfriend, Pat, and I went over to do the initial search (leaving hubby home with the kids) and after visiting several great neighborhoods, we focused on the Marais area, which is very centrally located. We found a place I liked and I made an offer on it. I didn’t get it, but I learned a valuable lesson, which was that the first offer that comes in has the last right of refusal.

At home once again, I found the “For Sale by Owners” website at www.pap.fr and happily daydreamed about a life in Paris. Now that I knew the general neighborhood I wanted, I could focus on just those apartments that became available in that area. When I found one I liked, I immediately called Ghislaine with the instructions to “go and take a look as my friend.”

I told her that if she thought it was comparable to the one I had liked when I was there that she should make an offer on my behalf. She thought I was a crazy American but she did it. I followed up with a call to the owner the next day to explain that I was NOT a crazy American, that I was familiar with, and loved, his neighborhood, and that my friend knew very well what I liked. The long and short of it was that when he called me back on Monday to say there had been another, slightly higher, offer that weekend as well, I had the right to match it because mine had been the first offer he received, and that was all it took. The apartment was ours for that price. No bidding wars like in the States.

Next came the first set of paperwork, the “Promesse de Vente” that had to be created (once that is signed, there is another, more in depth, set of final purchase documents that are then prepared). In France, there is a special kind of attorney called a “notaire” who handle all real estate transactions. Again, I found myself explaining, to the notaire this time, that I was NOT a crazy American and that I needed him to go ahead and prepare the papers for us, EVEN though we had not yet physically seen the apartment, so we could sign when we came over three weeks later. We simply couldn’t afford to come once to look at the place and then return a second time to sign this first set of papers (remember I had already been to Paris once for the initial tours and I would have to return YET AGAIN to sign the full, final documents several months later). He reluctantly agreed and three weeks later, my husband and I flew over and when we saw the apartment, we knew it was the right decision. We signed the papers and three months after that, I went over one more time to sign the final, official documentation and VOILA! It was ours!

There are lots of fun and quirky stories related to the apartment which I will share over time, but I will close with one specifically related to the purchase process. When you buy an apartment in Paris, NOTHING conveys- not even the kitchen cabinets (!) unless you’ve specified that in the documentation. Luckily, our consultant advised us about that. The cabinetry was a big reason we were buying that place– it had all just been re-done. What we did NOT know to write in was the light fixtures so we arrived the first day to find just wires hanging from the ceiling in each room!

A bit of a shock, but an excuse for our first trip to BHV, our wonderful department store, to find new ones!IMG_0772

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