Buying an Apartment in Paris

What does 100,000 euros get you on the Paris real estate market? A dark, ten square metre hovel with leaky taps and suspect neighbours, that’s what. But for 200,000 and a little more? A beautiful, beamed ceilinged studio in the heart of the historic centre.

It was Ernest Hemingway who convinced me to buy something in Paris. His beautifully written tales of 1920s Paris captured my imagination and I saw myself in a simply decorated room on a bustling Paris street, sustaining on books, Camembert, and Cotes du Rhone. I imagined a studio with high ceilings and large french windows. If possible, with a small balcony. It should have lots of light, and I would decorate it in the style in which Hemingway would have lived. Simply and comfortably. Most important was the location. I wanted to feel like I was in Paris and nowhere else. I wanted bistros, cafes, bakeries, galleries and iconic architecture on my doorstep.

Paris is eye-wateringly, purse shatteringly expensive. Many people live in spaces of broom-cupboard proportions. The law forbids renting out apartments of under eight square metres in size, which hints at the demand for affordable accommodation in the city centre. Properties are priced per square metre according to the area they are in. Expect to pay a bit more for a renovation done to an excellent standard, for highly coveted Hausmanian features, or access to an outdoor space.

The map of Paris is laid out in arrondissements which spiral from the 1st in the very centre, to the 20th. Generally, the further out you go, the cheaper property becomes. The most expensive addresses are in the 2nd and the 6th arrondissements. The 10th, 11th and 18th seemed like good options where our budget would stretch further, but that would still give us that typical Paris feel. In the end we set our hearts on the lively and trendy 4th district, le Marais. We knew that our money wouldn’t get us many square metres in such a fashionable area, but that didn’t matter, all we needed was a room.

It can be very difficult to get an overview of what is available on the Paris property market at any given time. There is no centralised property agency and there are thousands of agencies selling properties only in their local district. The French are notoriously bureaucratic and the agents can be difficult to deal with. A property finder will do the hunt for you and deal with the tricky, elusive agents for 2 – 4% of the purchase price.

The property finder we chose was Paris Scarabee House Hunters, run by experienced navigators of the Parisian property market, Frank Van Zelst and Annemiek Wortel. They arranged for three days of viewings, where we would cram in as many visits of apartments that fit the brief, and fell within our budget, as possible. On the first day we saw twelve apartments. They each had something to lend themselves, but none was perfect. On the second day, in the second apartment, we knew. In a beautifully preserved 500 year old building was the room we had imagined. Small, but perfectly proportioned, in the ideal location and with a terrace. It was better than we had hoped for.

We made an offer straight away. The market moves very quickly and most flats are sold within days. A promesse de vente is legally binding and so while there is no time for hesitation, you also have to be absolutely sure of your decision. The contract contains a clause suspensive which gives a 45 day period to back out if there are problems with securing funding. Having a loan guarantee in place before you make an offer will allow you to sign a contract without this clause. This can give you the upper hand, as the seller is more likely to accept your offer above others. Because the pricing scale is set strictly according to the number of square metres, apartments are typically sold at asking price, without haggling or bidding.

Shortly after that, the deal was done. The property finder helped us to communicate with the seller and complete the process through a French Notaire. It felt like we had to submit a thousand papers, and sign a thousand more, but it was worth it. The feeling of opening the door to our own flat in Paris for the first time was indescribable. That was almost a year ago now, and each time I visit, I fall in love a little bit more. This blog is about my experiences buying, renovating, staying in, and renting out my own little piece of Paris.


“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Ernest Hemingway

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