If you’ve made the decision to stay for the long haul in Paris, you should be thinking about purchasing your primary residence. As a friend once said to me, paying rent is money thrown away. In spite of rent control, rents do keep increasing. And your landlord/lady can always ask you to leave should they want to sell the condo, house a family member, or move into the condo themselves.
Of course, finding and buying real estate in Paris is easier said than done.
Step One: Determine Your Budget
The first step of your search-and-purchase is setting a budget and deciding on an area. The latter often depends on the former, which implies possible trade-offs in comfort and size for location and price.
The size of the condo will be expressed in square meters (mètres carrés), rather than by its number of bedrooms, all rooms being considered equal. You can thus find a single-room studio condo of 30 square meters, (for a ballpark figure, I tend to multiply by ten to get the number of square feet, thus 300 square feet more or less) just as the same size condo can be divided into 2 rooms. Various sites will inform you of the average price of a square meter in the twenty arrondissements of Paris. You can start by looking here and here.
How these square meters are calculated has been regulated by the loi Carrez which was passed in 1996. It legally defines the living area (surface habitable) of a condominium apartment and must appear in the deed of sale (acte de vente).
However, the “real” living area may be greater than the living area as defined by the loi Carrez, as it does not include any floor space under 1m80. This means, for example, any sloping roof area in a top-floor apartment, does not count until it reaches 1m80, nor does the area under a staircase until it reaches a height of 1m80. Balconies are not included in this calculation, although they do bring up the price (per square meter) as they make the property more attractive. Also, as another example, my finished basement cannot be considered in the calculation of my house’s liveable surface as the ceiling is at 1m78.
You will thus find announcements that give both loi Carrez (official) living space size and general floor space which might differ, especially for condos on the top floor. The advantage in purchasing a property with such differences is that you can find a nice condo on a top floor, for example, at a lower cost per square meter as it has a sloping ceiling.
A friend of mine has a wonderful, bright, single-room studio with few square meters according to the loi Carrez, but in fact, has a second floor with a sloping ceiling which serves as a bedroom and bathroom making it into a quasi two-room apartment.
There are, of course, disadvantages. If you ever want to rent out the condo, it is only the square meters according to the loi Carrez that can be taken into account for the Paris rent-control price. Also, you cannot rent out a condo that is smaller than nine square meters according to the loi Carrez, no matter how much floor space there is.
It is to be noted, too, that normally a surveyor has calculated the exact number of square meters in a given condo and this number will be transcribed in the sales deed. You can, once you move in, call in your own surveyor if you believe there is an error in the calculation. If it is found that the condo is more than five percent smaller than the declared surface on the sales deed, you can ask to get a refund for the difference.
Step Two: Determine Where You Want To Live
Check out the average price/square meter in the area you are looking to know in advance if your budget is realistic for the size of the apartment you are looking for. If not, which is more important, location or size? A two-room apartment (i.e. one-bedroom) in the center of Paris, or a three-room apartment in the much less trendy east? Who inhabits the area? Will you be comfortable there?
An area can differ from one street to another. I was looking for a studio in the 2nd arrondissement and got a call from an agency. He asked if I knew the rue Blondel. No, I didn’t. “There are prostitutes plying their trade there; is that OK with you?” “No thanks, I won’t visit,” even though the price was right. I’m not particularly bothered by prostitutes, but the johns and pimps that accompany them make me uncomfortable.
Visit all the real estate agencies in the area. Get on their lists to be called when something that responds to your criteria comes in. Check online. Agencies advertise on SeLoger, Logic-Immo, and others.
Particulier à Particulier is a site where owners put up their real estate for sale without going through an agency. This is how I found my last purchase, un perle rare (a rare pearl), a French expression for something exceptional: a large studio at a price much lower than the average market price per square meter for the area located in the 100-meter long street that I’d fallen in love with. I badgered the poor seller every evening to get her to let me visit as soon as possible and got myself first in line. After a year of real-estate hunting (the average search time), I knew the prices, knew what I wanted, and neither hesitated nor negotiated and said I’d take it!
Step Three: Get Specific
To save time in your search, when you visit an agency or get a call, ask basic questions beyond the price:
- How many square meters is the apartment? Divide the price by the number of square meters and you will get the price/square meter.
- What floor is it on?
- Is there a lift?
- What’s the height of the ceiling? Some ceilings are particularly low; others might be comfortably high. The average is about 2m50.
- Is the toilet electric or not? Non-electric toilets are called sani-broyeur. Some toilets have been added to apartments where there are no special toilet pipes and therefore whatever goes in must be ground down. Such a toilet is fragile and always needs changing sooner or later and becomes costly in the long run.
There are various differences in condos to keep in mind. The idea of a “penthouse” is inexistent in Paris. The étage noble (the grand floor, the most opulent of old buildings) is usually the first floor (the one above the ground floor, the second floor in the US) with higher ceilings than the rest of the building, but also more expensive. Top floors, in fact, can be very hot in summer and cold in winter, and usually have sloping ceilings. Ground floors are easy for robbers to get into, tend to be noisier and dirtier from the street, but again, cheaper.
Lift or no lift? It depends on how high your floor is. 5th-floor walk-ups are not uncommon, but less expensive than other floors or apartments that have an elevator. No matter what floor you live on, later you will pay co-owners dues on the lift if there is one.
It is always recommended to ask to see the minutes of the last meeting of the co-owners association (procès-verbal d’assemblée générale) and a copy of the last year’s fees (appels de fonds et de charges). The latter documents will inform you of the approximate yearly cost you will have to pay once you acquire the property. The former will inform you if there are any difficulties within the co-owners association, whether the co-owner selling the property is up to date on their dues, and whether there are any works that have been voted on that you will have to pay for once the property is yours.
Not looking over these documents may mean you are in for some bad surprises, e.g., animosities among the co-owners making it difficult to get important works done and then paying for them. After moving in I found a wall of my house was separating from the rest of the construction and I had to take both the co-owners association and the contractors next door to court (a two-year process which I won and got everything fixed and all has been well ever since).
Friends have found an electricity bill that was never paid whereby the new owners cannot get electricity until they can come to an agreement with the utility company. Check, too, the cost of yearly real-estate tax, (taxe fonciere) which you will probably find surprisingly low as compared to US real estate taxes. As a comparison, I pay about 10% of the real estate tax for a similar property in the Chicago area. In fact, Paris real estate taxes tend to be lower than those in other parts of France, as companies pay a good proportion of Paris’ real estate tax. However, our present mayor, Anne Hidalgo has been overspending and this reflects in a yearly rise in the Paris tax bill.
On the other hand, if you find what you believe is your dream property that many others are clamoring for, it can be worth taking the chance (cf. above, my last acquisition) of not looking into these financial questions. I have friends who had seen a condo, checked all the papers, negotiated the price and just before signing the pre-sales agreement, the owner found another purchaser. They finally did buy another condo, but continued to regret the one that got away.
“Seek and Ye Shall Find”
Searching for just the right place to call your own can be exciting, frustrating, long, and time-consuming. But think of it as an adventure as you learn about all the unbelievably different types of living spaces that can be found in Paris. And until you find THE one, consider it a way of learning about this city that you have elected to become home.
In the next article we’ll discuss the financial paperwork necessary to close your real estate deal.
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