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Tips for Buying A Paris Apartment

Tips for Buying A Paris Apartment

Ready to start searching for your Paris dream home? Begin here with our collection of expert tips that highlight the concerns and smart moves required to navigate the Paris real estate market.

If you’re thinking about buying an apartment in Paris, you’ll appreciated these important and hard earned tips below.
For more indepth information, click on the articles on the left:  how to find your apartment, the legal process, location, our services etc.

TIP 1: The Most Important Rule of All: If You're Not 100% Certain, Sleep On It!

If you think you‘ve found a terrific apartment but have some niggling doubts, use discipline to say thank you and leave. Have dinner and sleep on it before making a decision the following morning. This is hard! I know, because I have the worst discipline of all - I always see improvement potential in even the most mediocre apartment. It takes enormous willpower to force myself to rein in my enthusiasm, to leave and think about it overnight. I’m proud ot say that over the years I’ve learned to listen to that nagging voice and … wait. Sure enough, I realize the apartment doesn’t have everything we demand.

My husband Philippe is the best judge–he never compromises on the most important points–and his radar never steers him wrong. When he views that ideal apartment, there is no hesitation at all and he moves straight on to Negotiation Mode. But if there is something wrong, he turns it down and leaves quicker than you can say Jack Sprat. He was the first to walk into this one and told the client if they didn’t submit an offer on the spot, then he’d do it himself:

I recently viewed an apartment with a client that had almost everything: two balconies, spacious one bedroom, Eiffel view, upper floor and great potential after a remodel. But … the apartment was located in a 1940s building, which lacked charm – and was located on a drab street surrounded by other large apartment and office buildings. No trees, no petits commerces or shops to liven up the area.

Checked the building management fees (something eager buyers forget) and they were on the high side, about €500/ month. This may be low for a city like New York, but high for Paris. I walked back in the evening, waited 24 hours and still didn’t like the feel of the street. While it might have rented well, we want an apartment to offer the whole package: rentability, good capital appreciation and resale potential. This one failed on two out of three.

Apartments with views and balconies are extremely difficult to find and it was hard to walk away, but we made the right decision for the client. Shortly afterwards we found a beautiful apartment with balcony in a gorgeous location – and with very low maintenance charges!

TIP 2: If You Had to Sell, Would a Parisian Buy Your Apartment In a Flash?

A continuing theme of ours in every aspect of purchasing an apartment is to buy defensively. You want to be sure you can afford the mortgage and expenses in good times and bad. And you want to have a good chance of selling if the markets turn south. The best way to do so is if you have an apartment that even Parisians will fight over to purchase if you decide to sell. How do you know for sure?

  1. Location, location, location:  the obvious mantra applies
    If you have a choice between a fabulous apartment in a great neighbourhood – or a larger one in a less popular neighbourhood: go for the smaller one in the best location. Yes, there are emerging neighborhoods in Paris, mostly the double digit arrondissements such as the 10th to the 18th.  But they were also the quartiers that lost value in 2008 and 2009.  On the opposite end, the 6th and 7th arrondissements declined slightly – the smaller apartments by 10%. These apartments (less than 100m2) have now caught back up and even exceeded 2008 valuations.   
  2. Can you afford it?
    As my Finance Professor used to say: "Crunch the numbers and run two scenarios: best and worst case." If there’s a downturn, make sure you are all right financially and can cover expenses. This sounds very pessimistic and we’ve never had a buyer of ours make a foolish purchase.  But a certain search agent in Paris has spent the past decade telling her clients that her own Paris purchases went up astronomically (and made an error in IRR calculations which accidentally inflated the returns) and so would theirs.  Boasted about her own rental renturns and how they provided her retirement nest egg. It grated on us for years that she was risking other people’s money with these boasts.
  3. Factors everyone wants, anywhere
    Parisians want the same factors we have listed above and if they have a choice of viewing “just another nice apartment” and one with something special, you know which one they’ll go for. Parisians are tuned into the market and when real estate transactions have fallen to a trickle, you want your apartment to be in a location sought-after by Parisians so agents can make appointments with buyers to view. If you can’t get buyers to your front door, then you won’t get your sale.
  4. Apartment just listed, how do you tell?
    The agent looks at his watch and hurries you out. To see if it’s really in demand, stand in a doorway across the street and watch for more viewings.  If you love it, so will they – make the offer.

Over the years, we’ve sold a dozen apartments for our owners, most of whom found a larger one they wanted to purchase. We are proud to say they sold quickly for a premium to the the average market price – and within hours or days. Many were sold to knowledgeable French buyers, who realized how special each property was and saw a safe long term investment.


TIP 3: Remodeling Costs are the Same

Buy the nicest apartment in the best neighborhood you can afford, because transaction fees (about 7%) and the remodelling costs are significant and the same. Remodeling costs average about €2,500/ m2 for a quality remodel so compare:

6th or 7th arrondissement remodel
Buy a gorgeous 50m2 apartment.  Assume € 17,000/m2 to purchase = €850,000 + remodel €125,000 = €975,000. You’ll get a spacious one bedroom/one bathroom apartment with excellent investment value in the most sought after neighbourhoods on the Left Bank of Paris.

Same investment in the 10th arrondissement, an emerging neighbourhood
The same investment buys you a larger apartment (80m2 or 880 square feet instead of 50m2 instead of 550 square feet) in the 10th arrondissement. Purchase:  € 800,000 + € 200,000 remodel = € 1,000,000

The tradeoff is the buyer’s choice:

  • If you never plan to sell and love the 10th arrondissement, you’ll get more for your money in the 10th:  2 bedrooms, vs 1 large bedroom in the 7th.
  • If you may sell one day; the story is the same in any city in the world. The less desirable areas won’t have the same eager buying interest nor the same capital appreciation as the most desirable.


TIP 4: 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.


TIP 5: Pay For Good Advice

Whether it’s expert French tax and legal advice, a thorough Notaire, or a good search agent, take the time to find the best advisor for your needs.  Interview and speak with experts in Paris until you find one you’re comfortable with. Speak with search agencies until you find one whose input you trust.  Recently, friends who live in Paris and speak fluent French bought a beautiful apartment in Paris. They are a busy couple and didn’t have time to get into the nitty gritty of the paperwork. We would have happily taken a look at the rules and tests – but it didn’t occur to them there could be a problem.

After spending a fortune to renovate it, they asked us to rent and management it for them. But, after reading the building rules we discovered short term rentals are forbidden. There is little possibility to change the rules and the only advice we can offer is to sell and look for another.  It isn’t pleasant to hear, but if they’d taken the time to read the rules or have an expert read them, they would save themselves a lot of hassle and money.

Another buyer spent a year in Paris and didn’t feel he needed any assistance to find and purchase apartment. Not a problem; when you know a neighbourhood, you can identify the qualities you want and hopefully find them quickly. We received a note saying he’d found something while on vacation. Then he started to email questions about ownership structure, how his wife could be a part owner if she wasn’t in Paris for the final signature and other. We were surprised, as most of these questions are easily answered by a good Notaire. We recommended he consult our trusted advisor, but he had his own and was "very happy with him." More questions arose about structure, and the purchaser confused the legality of rentals with the holding structure. We recommended he consult a good tax advisor and introduced him to one. Advisor offered a consultation to answer his many questions and to form the right structure – buyer said he didn’t need the service. He may get it 100% right, but the cost of making a mistake will be many more times the value of their services.


For more in depth information on buying property in Paris, click on the articles below

Finding Your Perfect Apartment

The Purchase Process for French Property

Location: Where to Buy a Paris Apartment

Working with Paris Real Estate Agents

Our Property Search Services

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