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.

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