Saturday, December 26, 2009

Visit to Paris 2

The next day we got to work on the details of the apartment.  The most important business was meeting our architect, Monsieur P.  In fact his role in the project is more a combination of the roles of architect and contractor in the building jobs I have experienced in the US.  He drew up the plans like one would expect from an architect, but he is also our main contact person for the job, the person we sat down with to pick out the tiles and the flooring and the handles on the cabinets, things that on previous jobs we had done with the contractor. 

We had never met Monsieur P.  When we asked Sandy to describe him, her reply was that he, “looked like us.”  When we met him at the apartment I guess I could see what she meant.  Monsieur P. could easily be a professor.  He is about my age, taller than me, blue eyes, graying hair cut a little long.  He was wearing a corduroy sports coat over a vest that looked like it must have been designed for architects, covered with pockets for pens and tape measures.

We stood in the bedroom going over a few things that needed to be decided while we were there.  One big question was about placement of the toilet.  Like most French apartments, ours was constructed with a salle d’eau, a bathroom that is just that, a room with a sink and a bath/shower, but no toilet.  Then there is a little room with a toilet, in our case it’s the first door when you walk into the apartment.  The two rooms back into each other, so we had the possibility of taking down the wall between them and creating an American-style  bathroom.  It would be that much bigger, and to me anyway, the idea of having to walk out in the hallway to go to the bathroom after I take a shower seems a little strange.  On the other hand, if two couple were ever staying in the apartment, I guess it would be convenient to have a toilet available while someone else was showering, and of course this configuration is more authentically French.

Well, whatever you replied to that poll, it doesn’t matter, because Monsieur P. was very firm about it.  If we want to rent the apartment to more than one couple at a time, we simply have to have a separate toilet.  I guess he is right as a practical matter, but really it’s one of those cultural things.  Toilets in the bathroom just seem strange to French people.  I am holding out, by the way, for one of the few American comforts that I actually care about:  a fixed shower head, attached to the wall, as opposed to one of those hand-held things that wind up spraying water from one end of the bathroom to the other, and never actually stay in the little holders that are supposed to hold it while you do something else, like actually wash yourself.  We’ll see if I get my way on that one.

We had emailed Monsieur P. that we would like to take him to lunch, so around 1:00 or so we headed out with him, Sandy and Philippe to find someplace to eat.  right around the corner we found a cafe called Cafe Le Pierrot and randomly walked in.  It was one of those amazing experiences you only have in France.  The place was full, and CAM and I were the only Americans in there.


It is still decorated in the original  Art Deco style, tiffany lamps, brass and glass.  And as though it were nothing at all, everyone sat down to an enormous lunch.  The special of the day was pork ribs in sauce “barbecue,” Philippe had that, M. P.  had an enormous, mostly raw steak hache.  CAM had skate wing in caper sauce, the most I have seen her eat for lunch in about five years.  I had a wonderful omelette paysan, layered with sliced potatoes, gruyere cheese and ham.  The men all had beers first, Sandy had wine, all this in the middle of a work day.  It took about two hours, but we still had a lot to do.  So when lunch was over, we said goodbye to Sandy and Moulan (who had come to the restaurant, of course).  Monsieur P. had a meeting for an hour or so, so we went with Philippe to look at convertible couches at Maison Convertible.  

Friday, December 25, 2009

Paris Visit I


Blogging confirms the first law of writing, which is that if you sit down and write a little bit every day, or even most days, before you know it you have a whole lot written without a great effort.  Most of it is terrible, of course, but even if a quarter of it is any good you are way ahead of the game.  Speaking of writing every day, I have also found lately that it is much easier to get motivated to blog when I am unhappy; now that things are going smoothly it’s easier to let it slide.  I suspect this phenomenon explains a lot of the negative tone you see on the internet.

That, and it’s hard to resist handing out little pearls of wisdom once you feel like you have a platform.

Anyway, we got to Paris… when was it?  A week ago last Sunday.  Exhausted like you always are.  We were staying at the rental apartment owned by our friends Sandy and Philippe, a beautiful little one-bedroom/studio that has to be the best deal in the city.  They had picked up the keys from our Monsieur P., our architect, so we headed over to Rue d’Ouessant to meet them.  They showed up with Moulan in tow, as always.  Once we got into the apartment we realized that pictures had not done justice to how completely demolished it was.  Where the tiles had been ripped off the floor there was just concrete rubble in between the floor joists.  Wires were sticking out of the walls everywhere, and grooves had been cut in all the walls where the new wires are going to go.  There were workers everywhere, mostly Polish, though they spoke French, ripping down wallpaper and smashing old ugly shelves with crowbars.

We hung around for a while, and took some pictures.  Here are some familiar ones of the kitchen and bathroom, or what’s left of them.

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Oh, and the view is still there, as is all the beautiful light that streams in.

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Afterwords we had lunch at a little Cafe on the Place Contrescarpe, near Sandy and Philippe’s apartment where we were staying.  Contrescarpe has to be one of the most scenic little squares in Paris, perfect Bohemian 5eme.   it was late by then and we knew we had dinner reservations, so we were trying to eat light.  I had onion soup, which was good not great, and CAM had an omelette fromage, which was perfect, soft just to the point of a little runny at the center.  As these cafes always are, the place was full of French people eating real meals, drinking wine.

We then went back and rested for a while, and headed back out to see the beautiful little place that Sandy and Philippe just purchased in the same wonderful neighborhood.  More wine and cheese, and by the time we left we wondered if it was really worth going out to eat.  We were tired, we had basically been eating all day, we had to get back on the metro to get to the restaurant.  But what the Hell, so we set out to Le Marcab (If you follow these links, you will find that French restaurants have very fancy websites, too fancy if you ask me.  tons of flash animation.  Usually I just want to look at te menu.), on Rue Vaugirard, in the 15eme close to our new apartment.  Carol had found a review of the place at John Talbott’s excellent blog.

As it turned out, we had the best meal we were served all week.  Like most French restaurants, along with individual selections they offer a “menu” with a shorter list of items at a better price.  Entree (appetizer in French), main course and dessert.  Sometimes for lunch you can choose a main course and either an entree or a dessert.  Anyway we almost always order from the prix fixe menu.  The one that night had only a single set of offerings:  a cold course, creamy pumpkin soup topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, a hot appetizer, smoked salmon mi-cuit (half cooked, smoky on the outside and still cool in the center) surrounded by a wild mushroom puree, and then roast pork with an emulsion of foie gras and a pile of french fry sized sticks of baked polenta with cheese.   Dessert was a pear crumble with a layer of hot fundge and homemade cinnamon ice cream.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The French Banking System (cont’d)

We received the first request for payment from the contractor who is doing the work, so we have to get the mortgage bank to issue a payment.  Our instructions arrived from the indispensible L. at French Home Finance.
Dear et and cam,
As discussed, please find below instructions on having your renovation contractor’s invoice paid by the bank:
· You should write “bon pour paiement” on the invoice, date it, and then both sign the invoice in full
· E-mail a copy of the signed invoice to Mr. D at the bank, which will be handling your file (he is out of the office until next Monday) at the following address: xxx.  Technically, the bank will only need a copy of the invoice, however, do keep the signed original available, in case the bank comes back and asks you for it.
· As for whether payment to the contractor is done by cheque or by bank transfer, it seems both methods are possible.  Obviously, the bank would need the bank account details of the contractor in order to arrange the transfer (R.I.B.) – do discuss this with Mr. D when you e-mail him on Monday.
I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
Best regards, L
OK, so I scan the invoice and send it off, and receive the following reply....
Cette notification d'+AOk-tat de remise est g+AOk-n+AOk-r+AOk-e automatiquement.
+AMk-chec de la remise aux destinataires suivants.

What this is a French email bounce notice.  I tried it again and it happened again, so I sent the whole business on to L.  Here is the reply....
I checked with the bank and they confirmed that this is Mr. D’s correct e-mail address. 
Their explanation for the rejection of your e-mail was that it is due to Mr. Ds’ mail box being too full, given that he was on holiday.  Please try sending your e-mail again, and if this is rejected too, I will let the bank know and they’ll try to fix the problem at that stage.
Please let me know…
Best regards,
I sent it off again, and so far haven’t received either a confirmation or another failure to deliver, so we’ll see.  As of now, the contractor hasn’t been paid….

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Back in US, Just Barely

So much for blogging live from Paris.  We were just so busy, and by the end of the day I didn’t feel like dragging out my laptop.  Everything went great, more on that soon.
In the meantime the issue was getting home.  By the time our plane landed in Atlanta, there were two feet (maybe 60 centimeters) of snow on the ground in Cville, and there was no way we were getting in.  The first word from Delta was that they could get one of us out on Monday, the other on Tuesday, this coming on the cell phone while we waited in the customs line.  Rent a car, they said, but there wasn’t a single rental in Atlanta.  But we talked our way onto a flight into Greensboro, got in at 1100, rented a car, spent the night at my sister in law's, got out and on the road by 9:00.  What is normally a three and a half hour drive took five hours.  Once we got past Lynchburg the road was lined with abandoned cars and trucks, and by the time we got into Cville things were barely moving, 24 hours after the snow had stopped falling.  I have never seen so much snow here, it is past my knees.  We made it into our street, skidded down the hill and came to rest in a snowbank.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Very quick post from Paris

We have been too busy, or having too good a time, to post while we are here.  Everything is going great, though, we are now on our way to Madrid to do some actual work for a couple of days.  Quick story:  we needed to see our banker today, we called all morning but no one picked up the phone (this is Barclays, a huge downtown branch).  Was it a  bank holiday we didn't know about?  We really needed to see her, so we decided to stop by, and sure enough they were open for business.  Do you have an appointment, the receptionist asked?  No, we replied, we tried to call but no one answered the phone.  She shrugged:  Oh, she said, we must have been out.

On the other hand, our friend Sandy brought her dog.  No questions asked, Moulan just trotted in to the conference room, the bankers all stopped by and fussed over her.

And I should add that unlike in the US, we actually have a banker who knows us by name and couldn't be any more gracious when she sees us.

More soon.  I have pictures, etc.  I just need a little time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Good News! Our Apartment is Demolished.

Good news, present tense:  we sent Monsieur P, an email making plans for our visit next week, and he wrote back to let us know that the demolition was well underway.  What's more, he sent pictures, and they look great.  My expectation was pretty much that we would get to Paris and be greeted with a bunch of excuses about delays, and work that had just barely gotten started.  But it looks as though pretty much everything has been ripped up, the ugly wallpaper, the ugly tile in the kitchen, the ugly shower, the ugly tile floor in the living room, all gone.  It makes you think that it is going to be a very different place when they are all done.    


We leave for Paris on Saturday.  It will be fun to blog from there.  I hope CAM gets into restaurant reporting.

<===== Bathroom



<=== Larger bedroom

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dropping like flies

Once the Promesse de Vente was finally signed, and the closing scheduled for October, there was still a lot to do, and none of it proceeded linearly. We still had to secure a loan, find someone to renovate the apartment and come up with a plan and a budget, and settle on a notaire, the fancy French bureaucrat who plays a role combining a notary, a lawyer, and a million of those mysterious and expensive little jobs that occur in the background of American real estate transactions, like escrow and title search. Then it was still Flathunter's job to tie all this together, to act as our agent in Paris, recommend people for the jobs, and coordinate all the arrangements. C's job was supposed to be done… she was the chasseur, the apartment hunter, and we presumed that the management tasks would revert to H., the British-American supervisor with whom we had signed the original contract.

We soon had a mini-crisis to cope with, pretty much all the players involved. In order to get our mortgage improved, we needed to submit a devis, basically a formal estimate from a contractor. We had two obvious contacts for contractors, the first, C, had been recommended by Flathunter. [This pretentious first-letter system I have been using to anonymize people must have worked better for nineteenth century novelists who had control over their character's initials. Most everyone involved in this story turns out to be a C. I should probably just make up names.] Anyway, this C was a very nice young woman who actually visited the Bellechasse apartment with is, as well as another one I haven't mentioned. I think we pretty much assumed we would use her. The other option was Monsieur P (first initial C), an architect associated with the company that we hope will wind up handling our rentals. We got estimates from both of them. The one from C was 30% lower than the one from Monsieur P. We submitted both to our mortgage broker, assuming we would be going with the cheaper system, but we got a surprise… the broker wrote back that the bank had rejected Mlle. C, because her company had a bad credit rating.

Now what? Turn to Flathunter, they can help us figure it out. But emails to H quickly started to go unanswered, leading to a familiar feeling of being disconnected from any guidance. What exactly were we supposed to do? Finally we sent a sterner email pleading for some kind of response. The response: she was sorry, she had been meaning to tell us, but she had left Flathunter to go to business school in Barcelona. We were upset and worried, but Carol managed to get her on the phone, had a long conversation, and was reassured. H said that she would certainly follow our case through to conclusion, she felt responsible for us and would make sure everything went OK. We never heard from her again.

So with H. gone we turned to Maitre L, our Notaire. We had to arrange to put 10% of the purchase price down in escrow with the Notaire, and to sign papers for power of attorney so we would not have to be there at the closing. At first, everything went fine, if you don't count the endless Fed Ex fees. But then, Maitre L.'s emails started to tail off as well. At first this wasn't unusual, of course, Notaires are never very reliable emailers. But as communication started to get rarer and rarer, we got that familiar feeling: Is anyone home? Then the same pattern occurred, we got anxious, sent a demanding email, and after several days received a reply from Maitre L's firm that Maitre L was no longer employed there. This was a blow. Maitre L had been specifically recommended to us, in fact by H, now of Barcelona. It had been emphasized over and over that we absolutely needed to have a English-speaking Notaire. Now we had no Notaire, and no one at Flathunter to recommend a new one. After several emails to Maitre L's firm, we finally got a brief email back, in French, from some new Notaire who said our case had been assigned to him. He seemed to know nothing at all about us. The power of attorney that we had worked on for weeks would have to be done all over again. As usual, no apologies, no mention of how sorry they were to make us start all over. In fact, the emails had a slightly annoyed tone, like we had neglected to provide him with the power of attorney. Even worse, he said that even with a power of attorney we would have to travel to the French Embassy in Washington to complete the signing. I once spent two days at the French Embassy trying to get a visa for my daughter, so this was a truly horrifying possibility.

More emails ensued, and as turned out to often be the case, our mortgage broker, L., finally stepped in, writing a stern email to Maitre F, the chief of the firm, telling him that we absolutely had to be assigned an English-speaking Notaire. Maitre F speaks a little English himself, so it was up to him and he agreed. It is now late September, the closing was scheduled in something like three weeks. We still had no devis, no loan. I'll take up there next time.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

We find an apartment

The time after we returned from our unsuccessful trip to Paris was an intense period of hunting.  We were both pretty good at the websites by then, knew what was available and what it should cost, knew where we should look.  We would sit side by side in bed, laptops out, passing apartments back and forth, then sending them off to Christine, who would visit, write most of them off, take pictures of a few.  We were focusing more and more on the 17th and the 15th.  then, on May 15th, we received this email...

Good morning !

Yes, the night have been a little short ... but it's ok !
Yesterday two of the visits I did were really good, and worth an offer.
The 2nd one I really liked, is the last one I saw : 3 rue d'Ouessant in the 15th, 5mns walking distance to rue du Commerce. It is a very lovely apt at the 5th and last floor, bright and quiet, giving on rue d'Ouessant on one side, and having a cute view of the top of the Eiffel tower and top of St Leon church from the kitchen + main bedroom.
It has very nice old tiles, and oakwood floor in the bedrooms. The good point is that it has 2 separate bedrooms. Of course the living room is not big, but everything is very well proportionate. Very good feeling about that one !
They have an offer, but think it's too low. She is not willing to negociate, because they put it at a very reasonable price, which is true.
I send the photos I took yesterday in a following mail ...
At what time do you want me to call you today ?? (if possible, not on a cell phone, the cost is much higher ...)


She sent a couple of pictures we have already posted... here is another one.  We liked what we saw, and our friends Sandy and Philippe agreed to go take a look.  They liked it to, and within 24 hours we had decided to put a offer down on it.  That meant we had to go see it, needless to say, but our son had a baseball tournament and there was no way that we were both going to be able to disappear for three days on such short notice.  So that meant CAM was going to have to make the trip on her own.  Looking back over the emails from this time, there was a lot of confusion about what was going on.  The owners didn't want the offer to be considered final until one of us had flown over and seen it, they were worried that we would hold it with an offer, then just withdraw it once we had seen it.  [As an aside, this plan meant that of three major real estate purchases I have made in my life, two were sight unseen.  We bought our current house while we were on sabbatical in tucson, and I hadn't seen it.]  So we Fed Exed a signed "Promesse de Vente" which the owner then delayed signing for a few days, without explanation.  (A sign of things to come) Then, we he finally got around to signing it, he scrawled a "Clause Suspensive" across the bottom saying the deal was off if he was unable to secure financing on the place he was buying.  But wait a minute.  First of all, what made him think he could add a clause to an agreement AFTER we had signed it?  And why would we agree to such a thing, anwyay?  It meant that at any point in the process he could just pull out and leave us high and dry.  So we refused, he was offended and perplexed, but finaly agreed to remove the clause.  They wanted to delay the closing until October so they could settle their purchase, which was fine with us.

So CAM made the trip, and though she was very nervous about spending all that time by herself, conducting such important business on her own, and going away only a week before our son's Bar Mitzvah, once she got there her love of Paris took over and she had a wonderful time.  And she loved the apartment, so we moved forward.  Here is an email she sent back...

Gorgeous day.  love this city!  This affirms the decision to buy here whether it is this apartment or another.  I took a wonderful run in the Champs de Mars this morning.  There are more runners every time I come.  The running loop is shaded in the summer and clear when the leaves are gone in the winter.  I had a delicious croissant aux amandes.  I guess you've gathered that they are my new breakfast passion.  After showering went out for a cafe creme.  I'm off to walk around our potential neighborhood before I meet C.  More later. Glad you are home safely.
love and miss you,

Friday, December 4, 2009

Different Moods- CAM

After reading E's most recent post, I must say that I am feeling much more optimistic than he is. I guess I'm finding it more fun. True I don't enjoy the prospect of telephoning M. P, recall that I've never met him, but he is always so pleasantly surprised to hear from me. I came away from the phone call this morning buoyed by how lucky we are to have le demarrage commence. And if we get there and find that something is actually happening in the apartment I'll feel all the luckier.
Why worry about those details when I can plan the restaurants that we'll eat in? My focus is on restaurants in our new neighborhood. We won't actually be staying there this time. How could we with all the construction that will be taking place? Anyway, the neighborhood is full of intriguing bistros and small restaurants with chefs creating innovative dishes at reasonable prices. My biggest problem is which to try during the 3 dinners that we'll have in our upcoming trip. I can't wait to report back.

Realtime Update: Le Demarrage

So we have now owned the apartment for something like a week and a half.  The architect/contractor, Monsieur P. (whom we have never met, he was recommended by M., who runs the rental agency we are presumably going to use) had told us he was ready to begin the renovation back at the time of our first scheduled closing three weeks ago, and we know he got a key after we did close, so we have been hoping that by now things were now getting underway.  The place is costing us money daily, and every day that nothing happens is another day before we can rent it and get some income coming the other way.  But three different emails to Monsieur P. went unanswered this week.  So finally this morning we got out Skype, hooked up the microphone, and called.  CAM hates making calls in French, it puts all the pressure on her because my French isn't good enough to cope with it.  But we really had to get in touch, and what do you know, he answered his cell phone.  His tone was very nice but sort of surprised... ah, oui, Carol, why are you calling?  We aren't quite at the point yet where we are comfortable saying, well, how about the three emails we sent?  One of them had photos of doors we liked attached, etc., etc.  But no mention of the emails, just the usual smooth insouciance.  Yes, yes, the demarrage (demolition) is going to start this afternoon.  Everything is fine, oui, oui.  So that's it, we told him we would see him in a couple of weeks (We are going to Paris the week after next.)

We felt relieved when we hung up the phone, but for me at least the relief passed quickly.  You know that old joke about how do you know when your contractor is lying?  Look and see if his lips are moving, and that's when you can stand with him in your kitchen and ask him questions in person, in English.  We can't even see his lips.  Who knows if the demarrage is really starting today?  I have the queasy feeling that when we get there in two weeks, then the demarrage will have just started.  How in the world are we going to manage a renovation from this far away?  I have a fantasy of installing a web cam in there.  Well, at least we will be there in a couple of weeks.  We have a plan to try and convince our friends Sandy and Philippe to act as our agents, stopping by to see how things are coming.  And maybe Monsieur P is going to be an ace.  Unfortunately for CAM he is obviously a cell phone guy.  Skype it is.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


As CAM says, we were on the internet for hours looking at apartments.  Find the new apartments, send them off to C., wait (and wait) for her to reply, try to figure out the correspondence between the ones she saw and the ones we had identified.  More and more, our search concentrated in a couple of areas.  Paris is divided into arrondissements that spiral out from the center.  The inner ring of the spiral, 1-8, the ones that border on the Seine, were generally out of our price range.  Anything we would see there would either have some obvious flaw, seven-foot ceilings or no light or something, or be in an obviously less desirable part of the area, on a major thoroughfare or something.  That meant we were almost certainly going to have to go out a ring, and as time went by we looked more and more at the 15th and the 17th.  The 17th is on the right bank, in the northwest part of the city.  It is residential, with a mix of grand old fashioned boulevards and quiet little crooked streets.  It borders on a beautiful park, Park Monceau, on one side and the outside ring of Paris on the other.  The fifteenth is on the left bank, on the far side of the Eiffel Tower.  It is the largest of the arrondissements, busy and lively with a mix of commercial and residential neighborhoods.  An advantage of both of them is that they are outside the usual tourist domain, you can spend the better part of a day in either and not hear any English at all.

As May approached, we had a chance to visit, and we started to coordinate with Christine.  As I mentioned before, there is something fundamentally dysfunctional about looking for real estate this way.  Apartments are coming on and off the market continuously, and all you can do in three days is get a random cross section at an arbitrarily selected point in time, but so be it.  And of course one of the days that we planned to be there turned out to be a holiday, I think it was Ascension.  Every single Catholic holiday is carefully taken off, even though no one seems to actually practice Catholicism anymore.  The odds of seeing an apartment on Ascension are zero.  For that matter most of the museums and restaurants are closed too.  That meant two days of apartment looking.

A little long story short here.  C. drove us from one end of Paris to the other and back again looking at apartments.  The experience was like any other experience of looking at real estate.  Forty percent of them could be rejected from the curb or the stairway, but you have to trod through anyway.  Another forty percent are OK, but have some obvious flaw that ultimately eliminates them from contention.  The remaining 20%, and in the course of two days this means maybe two or three places, are at least tempting.  There were the usual problems with people being less than businesslike, sellers or agents didn't show up when they said they would.  Some agents refuse to deal with chasseurs.  Like any real estate search, one of the fun parts is all the little slices of life you get to see as you wander in and out of people's homes. Mostly we saw young families crammed into little apartments, plus a few old people.  We saw the apartment of an old lady who used to be Brigitte Bardot's stand-in.

The last apartment we were scheduled to see wasn't in the 15th or 17th, but in the 7th, the fanciest arrondissement in Paris.  It seemed too good to be true, it was on the Rue Bellechasse, a little street just of the Boulevard Saint Germain, two blocks from the Musee d'Orsay.  The fatal flaw, or what should have been the fatal flaw, was the price:  it was 20% more than we had budgeted.  And it was basically trashed, it looked as though squatters had been living there for a couple of years.  The place we ended up buying needs renovation, but it was basically livable, it is like one of seventies houses you look at in the US with linoleum floors and an avocado refrigerator.  But in the Bellechasse appartment the toilets didn't work, it was filthy.... but still, it had promise, and it would be a dream to rent.  Right near the museum, across the river from the Tuileries, right in the heart of left-bank tourist Paris.  But then again maybe too touristy.

When we got back in the car C. said she thought we should put an offer on it. Really?  It seemed pretty hasty.  It's going to go quickly, she said, you should grab it while you can, and you can always withdraw the offer within seven days.  About that time the phone rang... it was the real estate agent for the apartment, they were especting another offer to come in, did we want to make an offer now?  It all seemed a little contrived, this dramatic need-it-now bidding.  I thought we were being set up.  The place had been on the market for a couple of weeks, why would the deadline happen to come at 430 on our last business day in Paris?  But funny thing, we got talked into making the offer.  OK, the agent told Christine, I'll see if they got the offer in before the other people.

The next morning was Sunday, and we walked over to see "our" new neighborhood.  Had coffee in an elegant little cafe, marveled at the possibility of owning in such a fancy neighborhood.  The funny thing was, as we walked around and explored, it slowly dawned on both of us:  we weren't going to get it.  And we didn't.  It took a few days, in typical fashion the phones stopped ringing at the crucial moment, and we had been back in the US for a week before we finally heard that the owner had accepted the other offer.  We were kind of disappointed, it meant our visit hadn't borne fruit and now it was back to the drawing board with the websites and the emails to C, but in the long run it worked out for the best.  It was too much money, it needed too much renovation, and though the neighborhood would have been a magnet for rentals, it wouldn't actually have been such a fun place to live.  Anyway we'll never know.

Virtual Hunting - CAM

Looking at apartments even from across the ocean can become a full-time obsession, take it from me- I know. You can get good at determining things like how much light an apartment gets, if there is an elevator, what it will look like to get rid of the ugly furnishings and what the street is like, all from a tiny photograph. It is amazing how many sellers don't do simple things like put away food encrusted dirty dishes or make the bed before taking the photo to sell their largest asset. We discovered that you can look at a photograph of the front of any building in the city on pagejaunes and can navigate up and down the street using google maps. Who actually needs to be there? Searching pap and se loger became as routine as brushing my teeth. Truth is, I think that we drove C. a little crazy with our zealous searching.
Even though the market had softened and there was more on the market than I had ever seen, it was clear that desirable apartments still went fast. Given that we could not move to Paris and spend months looking, it was going to take concerted diligence to find something and a willingness to move fast once we found it. I am not a risk taker so this whole venture went against the grain but definitely had and continues to have the feel of taking a giant step towards taking my life in an excellent direction. Eric is right; Seriously formative years were spent in Paris and though it is cliche, I do feel more alive there than other places.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Chasseur

Sorry if there have been multiple postings on Twitter or Facebook, I have been messing around with Twitterfeed.  I should say that just in case anyone is actually reading this, I know it's kind of boring... I'm not sure, but I guess the idea of blogs is that you write something because it interests you, and other people either read it or they don't; mostly they don't.  The virtue of internet information is that it is easy to ignore.

Last Spring we decided to start looking again.  We had a trip to Paris scheduled because Carol was giving a talk in Prague, so I looked around on the internet and came up with a new chasseur outfit, called Flathunter.  The email contact person, H., was an American raised in Britain, she seemed nice enough, so we set up an interview. 

I started talking about chasseurs in my last post.  It is very difficult to buy real estate overseas.  Aside from the cultural problems and the oddities of the French real estate system, the simple fact that you are 3000 miles and six time zones away makes it almost impossible.  Unless you somehow have a way to spend a couple of months in Paris, it's just not possible to go see enough apartments in a couple of days to make a decision.  In Paris, nice apartments come and go quickly, so unless you have some way to grab onto something when it comes on the market, it will be gone by the time you get there.   In addition the official French real estate system is very formal and hard to navigate.  Unlike in the US, real estate companies only list the properties that have been specifically contracted to them; there is no equivalent of the MLS.  So every apartment is connected with a different agent, who has no interest in showing anything else.  The most familiar fixture of the American system, the ever cheerful eager-beaver, show you a million houses, take you around on Sunday morning, anything I can do to sell you a house real estate agent, is completely absent.  It's back to a familiar theme:  most French real estate agents, and for that matter the sellers themselves, act as though they are going to a whole lot of trouble to show you their apartment.  Real estate agents don't answer calls, and many of them won't deal with Americans at all.  Even sellers, when you get in touch with them via one of the for sale by owner websites, don't answer emails.  I think it would be very very frustrating to try and undertake it on your own, even if you lived in Paris and spoke very good French.

So that is what chasseurs do, for a considerable fee.  We set up a meeting with H., went to see her and got the story.  For 1,000 euros down and 4% of the eventual sale (serious money) you are assigned a chasseur whose job it is to hit the real estate market, giving you updates via email or phone so you can eventually schedule a visit and come see whatever apartments are there at the time.  Then they are supposed to help with the process all the way through closing, which in our case turned out to be a problem.  Anyway we signed a contract.

Of course, the process is hard even with a chasseur, because apartments come and go quickly enough that even if the chasseur finds something, if you can't get over there within a week it's likely to be gone by the time you do.  Our Chasseur was C., the person who was still helping at the end of the story  Our first contacts with her were by email and phone, as we described to her what we were looking for:  price range, at least 50 square meters, something big enough to hold four people, five in a pinch, with an elevator, in an older building, not on the ground floor.  At the beginning we were less sure of location, but we knew we wanted something in an area where we could rent.  We could eliminate some neighborhoods because they were sure to be too expensive.  Over a period of a couple of weeks she made a few suggestions.  The level of communication was not particularly intense.

Fortunately, it turns out that you do not have to rely exclusively on your chasseur, because there are a couple of pretty good websites that you can use to search for apartments. is the for sale by owner site, and is run by the real estate agencies.  They both have fair but not wonderful front ends that allow you to search by location and price.  As time went by we spent a lot of time on these sites, especially CAM, and as time went by we came more and more to do the identification of possibilities ourselves.  We would email them to C., who would head off to see them.  There were the typical frustrations, there are many Spring holidays in France, and C. was not always great about following-up on our suggestions.  She would go to some of them and ignore others.  We'd email reminders and she wouldn't answer.  It was the usual thing.... she was nice, when she got around to things she was fine, but the whole thing was lacking in that good old let's-get-a-deal-done real estate agent energy.  We kept making tables of apartment we had found, checking off when she had seen them and reported back to us.