You have walked the streets of Paris, shopped at the Open 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 a 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 great apartments listed and sold within a few days, so be prepared to do your homework, make contacts and search!
Real Estate Agents:
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.
• You won’t get the first call:
Real Estate Agents view overseas buyers with excitement and with cynicism. Yes, they know that a number of choice properties are being 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 the following:
• 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 you should dress ‘business/businss-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 a 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 2 bedroom depending on the price….nice view, clean building, no remodeling, etc 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 was being achieved at over € 9,000/square meter in that particular neighborhood; she was not able to visit an apartment
to make a quick decision — and she wasn’t 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 market price’. 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 Marche’ – market price
• ‘Prix du Marche’: If most property is selling for € 9,000/square meter in the arrondissement you’re searching in – don’t tell an agent you are willing to pay up to € 6,500/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.
OF COURSE the price will be a negotiation and of course you hope to pay less than full asking price — but 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.
We have rarely paid the asking price for an apartment and have only done so when it was mis-priced versus the market. But we only got the first viewings because we told the agent we were willing to pay market price. St Emilion is a great example; it had just gone on the market and we he first to view it on a miserable winter morning. The apartment was stuffed with old furniture, books, papers and dust. We saw the beauty and potential immediately and negotiated a significantly lower price because we learned that the sellers were eager to sell in order to settle estate taxes.
More on The Negotiation later, but the agent called us as soon as it went on the market because she knew we were not scared by the original asking price.
• 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 is 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 some 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 which said it had an Eiffel 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 which advertised an elevator – but accessed via the elevator in a connecting old building and only to the floor below.
• 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; they 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 ‘agences’ 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 8 days to change their mind. This means that if you have found an apartment which seems ideal — especially if you have hired a search consultant to help and they have found something that they think is perfect for you. You can give them or your Notaire the authority to sign the Promesse de Vente to lock up the sale — and you have time to fly over 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 and 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 the 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 and buying the moment you see the ad or talk to the agent. Google maps means you can identify the building, the side of the street and neighborhood. And www.pagesjaunes.fr allows you to view the building. If the apartment is superb, it won’t stay on the market long. The more you know the streets and buildings you can 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 bought our Merlot apartment this way. I was waiting in the Eurostar terminal in London, on my way to Paris for a banking deal. I happened to pick up the Figaro and saw an ad for an apartment that simply said: ‘Ave de la Bourdonnais, 5eme etage’ and 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. 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.
I called the agent as the train was boarding who confirmed the building address which I knew well. The price/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 Philippe in his office, who recognized the desirability of the apartment immediately and who 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 offer was formally accepted by the owner, anything could happen. Philippe introduced himself and agreed that yes, his wife was a little crazy, but explained that we already owned an apartment 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 offer was accepted. I didn’t view the apartment until later that evening – the agent couldn’t believe his luck because an offer via a competing agency for full asking price came in 20 minutes after ours, but the buyer had already accepted our offer.
We gutted and remodeled it and were fortunate to have it appear on The Fine Living Channel as one of the most romantic apartments in the world…and it is truly that.
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.
Madelyn Byrne and husband Philippe are passionate about Paris. They own www.ParisPerfect.com, a vacation apartment rental company that specializes in beautiful apartments in Paris with unforgettable views. Their apartments have been featured on The Fine Living Channel, have recently been recommended by Rick Steve’s France 2006 and were recognized by BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal for Paris vacation rentals.
Before starting their business, Philippe practiced as a Cardiac Surgeon in the leading hospital in France; Madelyn, an MBA from Stanford Business School, spent most of her career as an investment banker in London and Paris before she turned her interests to their Paris business, allowing her a chance to work from home and spend more time with their two children.