Buying an apartment in Paris, or any city, is one of the most important investments you can make. As we say in our Top Tips for Buying a Paris Apartment, take your time, buy the best you can afford, be prepared to walk away from dozens of apartments until you find that perfect one. It’s especially difficult in Paris and France, because there is no Multiple Listing Service (MLS). In Paris alone, there are over 3,200 agencies each advertising different apartments throughout Paris – and they do not share listings. Even branches of the same Real Estate Agency hate to share their listings with a colleague! This means you have to be on top of the search every day, hour and even minute. Our advice is consider using a good search agency – there are many options, including the Paris Perfect Property Search Services. By all means, check out Paris listings yourself and visit as many agencies as possible on your own when you’re next in Paris. That experience will help you refine your search, judge more quickly and you may even get lucky and find your perfect home.
If the process of searching through 3,200 agencies and thousands of listings begins to overwhelm you (and it does for Parisians as well), interview several search agencies and see if one fits your needs best. Make sure the agent understands your tastes and priorities; evaluate several apartments so they refine the search. And know that most good search agents save you the price of their fee (about 3% of the cost of the apartment) several times over in negotiating the best price, in finding an under-priced jewel or in helping you afterwards with the building works. Finally, be prepared to hop over to Paris at a moment’s notice, because great apartments do not sit around for long.
Find Your Neighborhood
As a good friend who lives in Paris said: "It doesn’t matter where within the snail you live because you can explore every arrondissement and enjoy the special magic features each one offers." Of course, you need to narrow your search to one or two locations and favorite neighborhoods that you love. Stay there, walk, shop there, have coffee there and get to know the buildings, stores, markets and side streets. By knowing an arrondissement 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. If the apartment is superb, it won’t stay on the market long. The more you know the streets and buildings the more you can make a quick decision, even if you’re 6,000 miles away.
It’s a very personal choice, but as conservative buyers, we do not personally invest in "up and coming" neighborhoods, which are not central and not yet safe enough for our children to walk around at night.
Image courtesy of The Promenader
Outward Views Are Best
When you live in an apartment with an outward view, you have the gift of Paris – watching the city change through the seasons, or simply watching the daily life of Parisians, all special things that we don’t experience at home. It is part of the magic of being here … as spring turns into summer, then fall and winter, to watch children walking to school with their parents, the first cold day, a brilliant sunset, a spring morning or a foggy day. You miss all of this if your view is of a static inner courtyard or the building across the street. The difference in price may be marginally more for outward views, but it’s worth every single penny. Be patient, keep looking and hold out for the best. We tell our clients that it may take months for us to find something special for them, but if they hear us shout: “We’ve found something; here are the pictures of the apartment and building; please get over here now!” then they know it’s got that unique combination of view, location and features … and it won’t last long!
Sophisticated buyers agree on outward views because those apartments sell first and at the highest prices. Notice the agency windows: only a few photos show apartments with beautiful outward views or views of a special monument, church or park – and they generally have “Sold” notices stamped over them. There are simply fewer of these special apartments and they sell quickly.
Some people talk about “quiet courtyards” as though it were an advantage. We disagree; a quiet courtyard may have an advantage if the building is located on an enormous boulevard such as Ave de Tourville, Rue de Rivoli or Rue du Louvre, but who wants to live on a courtyard when you’re in Paris? Try staying in an apartment on a courtyard for a few weeks and find out for yourselves. After several days of staring out the windows to the same flat view of another wall and neighbor’s windows is not only dull, but could be taking place in any anonymous city in the world, not Paris. "Apartments sur cour" absolutely dominate the classified ads and you will soon recognize and be wary of the standard phrases: "Calme sur cour; Calme et très agréable; Très calme, Idéal pied-à-terre (which means not your main home but just a temporary stopping point)."
I often ask why buying a second rate apartment that is “calme” would make an ideal pied-à-terre, when you could get a GREAT pied-a’-terre with a view. I’ve never gotten a good answer. You’ll see loads of interior apartments for sale in agent’s windows, and, as we’ve already noted, if they have time to appear in the window, it’s often because they have been on the market for a while.
You’ll also notice that quiet courtyards have their own noises: whether from a noisy family, a party, a baby, someone emptying their garbage or loud music playing. We go for the view and install the best quality double glazed windows. Importantly, the technology of sound-proofed glass has advanced so greatly that you can have those views and a peaceful night of rest at the same time.
South or West Facing
On sunny spring and summer days, when the sun doesn’t set until nearly 10pm, we can forget that Paris is in northern Europe. But you will be quickly reminded of this if you spend time in Paris during the winter, when the sun sets at 3:30 and rises at 8:30 am.
Light and views are why so many Parisians spend hours in their local cafés, as close to the windows as possible. I often look at the courtyards from the back of our apartments and notice how many neighbors switch on their lamps in the middle of the day during the winter – and they are more parsimonious about lighting than Americans are!
You will want whatever sunlight is available to come streaming into your living room for as long as possible during those winter months. Go for a southern or western aspect. On the lovely wide avenues you’ll often get that feeling of light and see Paris skies even on the first floor, but often you'll need to go higher. Just make sure to keep natural lighting in mind when viewing apartments, because you'll be much happier if you can capture it! This may sound picky, but you are making a substantial investment and should focus on buying the best that you can afford. Our advice will ring a bell when an agent or classified ad stresses that an apartment faces West or South – because it matters to the sophisticated buyer.
A friend asked us to view an apartment on the fourth floor that overlooked a pretty courtyard before they made an offer. It had beautiful beams, fireplace, good layout and was located in a charming part of the 6th arrondissement. But even on the sunny day that we viewed it, it felt somber and we could only imagine how cooped up we would feel on a gray morning. We advised against it and they found a smaller third floor apartment on a wide street that faced west on the same street and they love it.
New vs. Old Building
We are big proponents of buying ancien, or turn-of-the-century (1880s to 1910) apartments. We will stretch to 1930s, but rarely beyond. Talk to French friends and agents who will tell you why: it’s harder to re-sell a modern apartment because they lack that classic Parisian charm. Importantly, the quality of workmanship—particularly from the 1950s to the 1980—is perceived to be much lower compared to old buildings, meaning more repairs, less insulation, etc. As much as you like a certain view or feature in a new building, remember it’s going to be harder to sell down the road and it will not acquire the same premium as the best apartments anciens.
Elevator or Not
We believe you should look for apartments that have an elevator. Yes, there are some fabulous apartments on lower floors without an elevator. And, in one sought-after quartier, the Marais, many apartments are located in small buildings where installing an elevator is impossible. But if you’re going above the 2nd floor, and care about resale and rental values – you must have an elevator.
Our view remains defensive and long term because we have lived through cycles where real estate transactions fall to a trickle – except for a few outstanding apartments. In a bad market, the lack of an elevator is a deal-breaker. As tempting as the apartment and price may be to you, you will have more trouble renting it without an elevator and you will have more trouble selling it in a down market. Finally, remember the tip that the cost to remodel an apartment is the same throughout Paris, whether there is an elevator or not. Since remodeling and furnishings represent a significant part of your overall investment, don’t “cheap out” on the elevator. One exception is certain apartments on the Piano Nobile, or first floor. In the days before elevators, these were the most cherished apartments in a building, featuring 12 foot+ ceilings and fabulous original features. While it’s still a negative if there isn’t an elevator (and that they don’t feature the stellar views upper floor apartments offer), sometimes the other features can compensate for it.
We Love Higher Floors
Of course, all of these factors will vary according to the apartment and street! We’ve located wonderful apartments on lower floors when they’re facing south and aren’t on a crowded street. Of course if the apartment is on the 2nd floor and faces west without a building directly "en face," you’ll get your light as soon as you open your door. But in general, keep in mind that you get more natural light the higher the floor.