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Working with Real Estate Agents in Paris

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You have walked the streets of Paris, shopped at the open-air markets, discovered delectable shops and narrowed your search to one or two favorite arrondissements. Now you’re ready to locate your dream apartment and buy your own pied-à-terre in Paris.

If you’re lucky, you’ll stop at several real estate agencies to view the apartments they have for sale. You’ll tell them you’re looking to buy an apartment in Paris – and they will actually have something nice to show you. But in most cases, the best apartments are listed and sold within a few days, so be prepared to do your homework, make contacts and search!

Most apartments are sold via real estate agents and you’ll want to contact all who are located in your favorite neighborhood. Here are some key tips on how to get them to work for you.

Getting the First Call

Real estate agents in Paris view overseas buyers with a mix of excitement and cynicism. Yes, they know that a number of choice properties are bought by foreigners, but they also know that some of them will waste their time. In fact, most clients who walk through their doors will waste their time, so they need to filter for the most probable buyers quickly. You can help to remedy this by following these tips:

  • First impressions count

    Be professional, dress well. I love my running shoes, but first impressions are critical in Paris, and I change to nice flats when meeting real estate agents, bankers and suppliers. You want to be taken seriously and to do that you should dress business or business-casual.

  • Know what you want

    Be clear on the size of the apartment you’re looking for and your global budget. Window shop prices ahead of time, read property announcements and, if necessary, make one appointment with a single agency to learn more about the market before you start meeting other agents.

    An example: I was waiting to meet an agent in an open reception area once and overheard a conversation between a real estate agent and a potential client. The woman was from the suburbs of Paris and was looking for a pied-à-terre as an investment. She kept changing her parameters in terms of her search: “Yes, it could be a one bedroom, maybe, probably not a studio, but possibly a two bedroom depending on the price … nice view, clean building, no remodeling, etc. You know, something nice – probably a view. We want to pay about €6,000/ square meter and call us when you have something. Maybe we could go higher for something fantastic. We can drive down on the weekend to have a look.”

    It was a waste of her time and the agent’s. I’m sure he never called her back. The average sale in that particular neighborhood was €12,000/ square meter, she was not able to visit an apartment to make a quick decision – and she wasn’t even clear on what she was looking for. Agents can’t waste their time educating the customer when they have a hot property for sale – they will call the sophisticated buyer who is able to make a quick decision.

    If you need to get educated on prices, visit one agency and ask as many questions as possible about market prices. Assume they will view you as too new to the search to be a serious buyer – but use the information to set clear parameters on what you’re looking for at appropriate market prices. Then write clear and realistic parameters for your search:

    • New or old (ancien is best for reasons listed below)
    • Size in square meters
    • Elevator (YES!) or not
    • Lower or upper floors only
    • Facing courtyard or outward (courtyard views are most common but the least sought-after)
    • “Prix du Marché” & market price

Prix du Marché

Prix du Marché

If most property is selling for €16,000/ square meter in the arrondissement you’re searching in – don’t tell an agent you are willing to pay up to €10,000/ square meter. They won’t take you seriously and you’ll never get a call back. Tell them you’re willing to pay market price and don’t say more until you’ve found an apartment you love.

The selling price will be a negotiation, and, of course, you hope to pay less than full asking price – but remember that you can only start the negotiation if they view you as serious and call you when a great apartment comes available! You want the agent to call you first with a hot new listing and if you’ve put too many conditions on the price someone else will get the call and not you.

We have rarely paid the asking price for an apartment and have only done so when it was under-priced versus the market. But we only got the first call to view the apartment because we told the agent we were willing to pay market price.

The Saint Emilion Paris rental is an excellent example about not wasting time and getting that all-important first call from the agent. It had just gone on the market and we were the first to view it for Australian clients on a rainy, dark winter morning. The apartment was stuffed with old furniture, books, papers and dust. But when the agent opened the metal shutters, we saw the view of the Eiffel Tower, the gorgeous features and recognized the potential immediately. We had prepared our clients ahead of time, saying that if it had the “wow factor” we would make a bid immediately. They understood that time was of the essence and agreed to trust our judgment. We actually were able to negotiate a lower price on the spot because we learned that the sellers were eager to sell in order to settle estate taxes. We called our notaire who contacted the seller’s notaire immediately, an important step to locking in the potential deal.

We called our buyers in Australia, sent pictures and teased them that if they didn’t buy it we would buy it ourselves or contact others who were in line behind them. They agreed immediately and ten months later, stepped into their fully remodeled, dream apartment in Paris. The end of the story is that the agent called us as soon as it went on the market because she knew we were not scared by the original asking price.

Read more about the process of purchasing an apartment in Paris here.

If It's in The Agency Window, Watch Out!

One of our rules of thumb is that if an apartment has been on the market long enough for photographs of it to appear in the agent’s window, there’s usually something wrong with it. The best properties are sold shortly after the agent receives the listing and they don’t have time to be photographed and displayed or advertised. If the property looks good in the photograph and description, absolutely view it, but make sure the price and condition are in line with the market. And be sure to ask the agent why it hasn’t sold – before you make an appointment to view it. Some of them will give you an honest answer.

We know certain neighborhoods so well that I make a game of window-shopping at the local agents to guess why an apartment ad and photo is still stuck in their window. But I only learned to do it by wasting a lot of time visiting really awful apartments. For example, I viewed an apartment on a popular street that supposedly had an Eiffel Tower view and even showed a photograph of it. It turned out the view was only visible from the small window behind the bathroom toilet – not quite what we were expecting! Another apartment advertised an elevator, but it turned out the apartment could only be accessed via the elevator in a connecting older building and only to the floor below. Again – not quite!

Show You Are Serious

If we are meeting a new agent, we talk about apartments we have seen in the neighborhood or bid on – and why they worked or didn’t work. It is an excellent pre-qualifier as they immediately know we are serious.

If an apartment isn’t right, let the agent know right away and why. It is always useful to view one or two apartments to evaluate the market, but don’t waste the agents time. If they think you’re just shopping, it’s over.

Call and Call Again

Stop by time and again. Email time and again. If you’re serious about your search, they will know it if you contact them once a week to ask if they have anything new. I knew a woman who stopped by her local “agencies” once a week after dropping her children off to school, said a cheery hello to her agent and asked if they had anything new. The agents would never forget to call her the minute something nice came in.

Changing Your Mind

The Get Out of Jail Card: Between the time you sign the “Promesse de Vente” and being absolutely committed to buy, the buyer has eight days to change their mind. This is helpful for when you’ve found that to good to be true Paris apartment—and is especially handy if you have hired a search consultant to help and they have found something that they think is perfect for you—you can give the agent or your notaire the authority to sign the Promesse de Vente to lock up the sale. Then you have time to fly over if you’re overseas and make the final determination. If something is wrong, it’s an excellent protection for the consumer. However, we strongly warn against using it unless necessary, because an agency will never call you back with another apartment if you have walked away from the previous sale.

We have used this only once: we agreed to buy a Chambre de Bonne above an apartment, which we thought we could connect to make a duplex. We signed the Promesse de Vente. The next week, we had an engineer look at the structure and costs to put in beams and the price was too onerous. We regrettably walked away – and that agent has never called us again.

Know Thy Neighborhood

Get to know the neighborhood you want to live in intimately. Stay there, walk there, shop there, have coffee there and get to know the buildings, stores, markets and side streets. By knowing a neighborhood really well, you will instantly be able to judge whether an apartment is worth looking at or buying the moment you see the ad or talk to the agent. Use Google Maps to identify buildings, the best sides of the street and neighborhood or visit to view buildings. If the apartment is superb, it won’t stay on the market long. The more you know the streets and buildings the more you’ll be bale to make a quick decision, even if you’re 6,000 miles away. You will probably want to hire someone to help you find an apartment, and good ones more than justify their fees in savings on the price negotiation – but you‘ll want to help them decide whether they should run to view an apartment or not.

We purchased the Merlot vacation rental this way: I was traveling to Paris on business and waiting in the Eurostar terminal in London when I saw a copy of The Figaro newspaper. I scanned the real estate pages, a favorite activity, and saw an ad for an apartment: “Ave de la Bourdonnais, 5eme etage” plus the price. I knew the street and neighborhood well, knew that the asking price reflected approximately a 60 square meter apartment. I also knew that the fifth floor was generally the cherished floor with a balcony. The smaller apartments on Ave de la Bourdonnais tend to face west and therefore have a view of the Eiffel tower. The buildings on the other side of the street are larger and more expensive – and don’t have an Eiffel view. A 5th floor location facing west would almost guarantee an unforgettable view! These kinds of apartments sell in a matter of hours and I knew we had to hurry.

As the train was boarding I woke up the buyers and explained next steps. I called the agent who confirmed the building address, which I knew well. The price per square meter for the 61 meters was at the low end of the market. I calmly said we would buy it at full asking price and would fax through our firm offer shortly. I reached my husband in his office, who understood the desirability of the apartment immediately and faxed through the offer. He called the agent and asked to speak to his boss, because he knew it was highly irregular to buy an apartment via fax and sight unseen. Until the full price offer was formally accepted by the owner, anything could happen. He introduced himself and agreed that yes, his wife was a little crazy, but explained that we already owned an apartment in the building next door and knew the building well. Yes, we did wish to submit an offer sight unseen at full asking price. Furthermore, to establish our seriousness he had our notaire call and confirm that we were upstanding citizens who banked on the corner. Our notaire asked that the offer be reflected to the owner immediately and the owner accepted our offer.

I didn’t view the apartment until later that evening and it was exactly as we surmised: an incredible Eiffel view and balcony! The agent couldn’t believe his luck because a competing offer at full asking price from another agency arrived 15 minutes after ours. The buyer had already accepted our offer and there was no going back. As we left the apartment, two separate groups came in to view it, but there was no possibility to outbid the offer. We gutted and remodeled it with excitement, fortunate to have it featured on The Fine Living Channel as one of the most romantic apartments in the world … and it is truly that.

We hope these tips will help you find that perfect apartment in Paris! You’ll be off to a good start if you make the right impression, know what you’re looking for, don’t quibble about price until you’ve found something, get to know your neighborhood and be ready to jump when you’ve found a great apartment. Like anything, it takes time and work but it is so worth it in the end!

Click here if you have questions or are interested in buying a Paris apartment.

We can recommend several good tax accounts and attorneys in Paris for tax planning and for structuring your purchase.  We had a poor experience with an American attorney based in Paris for many years.  We would not recommend him to buyers or owners.

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