Tips for Working With Real Estate Agents in Paris
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 before they hit the market, so do your homework, consider hiring a good search agency after you’ve checked out the search for yourselves.
Real Estate Agencies: There are over 3,600 real estate agencies in Paris and there is no multiple listing service! Unless you are prepared to devote days, weeks and months to walking the streets, going into and returning to dozens of agencies, to searching all the listings on the classifieds and at the agencies themselves, you’ll find that it’s difficult to find the perfect apartment. In fact, after being involved in the purchase and sale of dozens of apartments, we have yet to walk into an agency or introduce ourselves to an agent and find anything worth buying. Over the years, a select few have gotten to know us and call when they have something special on the market. But most of the properties we’ve found we hear about before they hit the market.
Should you decide to try the real estate agency route, get a comfortable pair of shoes and follow these tips on how to get the most out of them.
Getting the First Call - First Impressions Count!
In short, you won’t get the first call. Real estate agents in Paris view overseas buyers with cynicism. Yes, a number of choice properties are bought by foreigners, but they know that most of the people who walk in their agency don’t know the market prices, have unrealistic expectations, will waste their time and can’t make up their minds on the spot. In fact, most clients who walk through their doors will waste their time, so they need to filter for the most probable buyers quickly.
Long term clients who have bought previously and sold through the agency will always get the first call. It’s sad but true. Be professional and dress well. I love my running shoes, but first impressions are critical in Paris, and I change to nice flats when meeting with 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)
- Size in square meters
- Elevator or not
- Lower or upper floors only
- Facing courtyard or outward (courtyard views are most common but the least sought-after)
- "Prix du Marché" and market price
Prix du Marché - Do Your Research
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.
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 the agency so they get to know you. 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 stop by our local “agencies” once every few weeks to say hello and ask if they had anything new. The agents would never forget to call me 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 too 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 a 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
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 60 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.
Can We Be Of Further Assistance?
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.