Story by Michael Herrman, written for the HIP Paris Blog
Michael Herrman, a successful American expat architect and veteran Parisian real estate savant, has helped more than one star-eyed owner convert their Paris pied-à-terre into a dream home. We’ve invited him to help educate us on the traps to sidestep on the way to purchasing your ideal Paris apartment, from the (apparently sometimes pajama-clad) hunt all the way through until you are “Home at Last”. In this installment: The Hunt.
Buying a little piece of the City of Light is a rite of passage in and of itself. Before becoming the owner of a beautiful 19th century apartment in the heart of Paris with original oak floors and marble fireplaces, or converting a floor of maids’ rooms into a penthouse haven, you must first begin with an apartment hunt and all of its uniquely Parisian idiosyncrasies.
The first thing to understand is that like few other cities in the world, there is always intense competition to buy an apartment in Paris. At the worst of the recent financial crisis, Parisian real estate prices didn’t even make a small dip. The crisis actually increased the demand for apartments as people took their money out of bank accounts with nose-diving interest rates and invested in the ever-reliable Paris housing market. Another good thing to know is that the average cost of real estate in Paris is still below the average price in London, Rome and numerous other European cities, making Paris an even more attractive place to invest.
What this means for your apartment hunt is that good properties are sold within a few days and the best ones within just a few hours. Apartments advertised at 9:00am may have an offer accepted by lunchtime …
Once the hunt is on, the first obstacle is finding an honest, reliable real estate agent. Although this may hold true internationally, fanciful exaggerations are especially commonplace in Paris. After finding the perfect apartment, for example you might be worried about the fact that it is on the 7th floor with no elevator. Your agent may reassure you that an elevator is going to be installed next year, guaranteed. This, however, may have been in the works for over 10 years and it may be another 10 until it actually happens.
I once visited a former warehouse in the heart of the Marais being divided up and sold as enormous apartments. The agent claimed it was an incredibly rare opportunity. However, upon visiting the space one major fault became clear: there were no windows. The agent claimed it wasn’t a problem because one could ask the city for permission to create as many windows as desired. However, they failed to mention that the Marais is a protected historic district where ever since 1963 – when the famous Malraux preservation laws went into effect – it is forbidden to change any façade in the neighborhood…
Despite the competitiveness, exhaustion and potential disappointments of the hunt, somehow there always comes a moment when you find yourself standing in an incredible apartment, on the perfect street, in the heart of the city, in a beautifully maintained building… Whether it is the 200-year-old limestone wall, wooden beams, the postcard-like views on to the city or into the garden of an adjacent palace, or the fact that you are a few meters away from the best restaurants or galleries in Paris, you realize that you have just fallen in love with your little piece of the City of Light. Apartments are actually advertised as “coup de coeur” (love at first sight) and I can testify that it really does happen.
However, the most incredible part about the moment you find the perfect apartment is that skipping breakfast, running across town in your most elegant overcoat thrown over your pajamas, pushing through a busload of tourists on the sidewalk finally paid off because you are the first person to visit this apartment and you are about to make sure you are the last…
Stay tuned for Michael’s next installment, The Find: from an informal offer to signing the “promesse de vente”, securing a hold on that ideal apartment is the next step in the adventure.