I want to start this post with a heavy sigh. Because... we are going to be moving. Again.
Why are we moving? Lots of reasons, but mainly because we have outgrown this apartment. We now have a teenager who is growing rapidly and who now requires more privacy than his current room (really half our double living room, curtained off) provides. And all of us would enjoy a few more meters of living space; we have too many books and things in storage, which is costly, and I'm hoping to find a real 2-bedroom with enough space around the apartment (and hopefully a reasonably dry cave in the basement) that we can give up the rented storage and Georges can get his library back again. We intend to stay within a certain radius of where we are now, because we generally like this area (some neighborhoods more than others) and because we don't want the boy's school trip to be too long. He's old enough now to get around by himself on public transport, but we don't want him commuting for more than 15-20 minutes maximum.
So, as much as we all hate packing/unpacking boxes and moving, the time is right for us to do it, and now I'm actively on the hunt. I thought it would be fun to blog about our search and how it's going, because I know a lot of people are interested in how the Parisian real estate market works. I'm mainly going to focus on the rental market and terminology, but much of what I'll talk about will apply when purchasing an apartment as well, although when buying there are many, many other issues and legalities to deal with, that I won't be going into here.
The first thing to know about it is: there is NO formal multiple listing service for either sales or rentals of apartments or homes in France. Ça n'existe pas! Owners can and usually do list with multiple agencies when selling or renting a space. Which means if you're the prospective buyer or tenant, you must do the legwork of either going online (saving yourself the ACTUAL legwork) or actually walking around a neighborhood you want to live in, going door-to-door to every real estate office personally. If you think this sounds crazy-making, you're right. But wait... because it gets worse.
Now, if you search online, you might think it's easier (especially if your telephone French isn't very good) to click the boxes on the little online form when you find a listing you like, and email the agency for more details or to request a visite. You'd be wrong about that. Most of the agencies in Paris are so inundated with telephone calls about apartments for sale or rent that they don't even bother responding to email inquiries. In my personal experience, I'd estimate that maybe 1 in 10 agencies would actually call me to answer my questions or schedule a visit if I initiate contact via the online email form. And if I don't provide a phone number, only an email address, they won't contact me at all. You are going to have to call them if you don't want to miss out on a good property. Available apartments go quickly here; this afternoon, I tried to print out a listing I wanted to call about, but had a printer malfunction. When I got back onto the web site to reprint that same listing minutes later - the listing was GONE from the web site! (Stupid printer.)
I'm a huge fan of the internet search as a big time-saver. Nowadays, all agencies should have their own web sites or at least be listing apartments on shared immobilier (real estate) sites, such as SeLoger.com (one of my favorites, I found our last two rental apartments and our vacation apartment in Montmartre via this site), that many different agencies can subscribe to; it's the closest thing to an MLS you'll find here. You can select your search criteria: Are you interested in buying (acheter) or renting (louer)? How many main rooms (pièces) do you require? In France, apartments are first listed by how many main rooms there are, not by how many bedrooms (chambres). And they don't count kitchens, bathrooms or separate toilets (WC) are "rooms", so a "2 pc" is a 1-bedroom (1 ch) apartment with a living area; there will still be a kitchen, bathroom or shower room, and a toilet that will most often be separate from the bathing facilities. Get used to the separate toilet thing, they're hard to avoid.
Here's an example of a search on SeLoger.com where you can specify your criteria:
In this search, I'm looking for a location (which means rental, NOT the actual location) of either an apartment or a separate house/villa, in the 8th, 9th, 17th or 18th arrondissements of Paris, with a maximum monthly rent of 2100€ (we'll talk money in a moment), 3 or more general rooms (not including kitchen, bath, toilet), 2 or more actual bedrooms, and between 58 and 85 square meters. Under the drop-down for caractéristiques I could select cave (or parking, if you have a car and want to pay extra for garage space, which some buildings do offer) and also whether I want the apartment meublé (furnished) or vide/non-meublé (empty/unfurnished). I can also sort the results by clicking the box marked "TRI" and select prix (croissant) to sort by price from cheapest to most expensive.
Here's an example of a listing for an apartment (which may or may not include photos of the living space). I actually found the same apartment listed twice on this site by the same agency (or perhaps it's two different offices of the same agency) and one listing showed photos with the previous tenant's furniture and stuff everywhere, while the other showed an empty apartment. This happens more than you might think, and sometimes it's actually helpful because the different listings may show different photos; in this case, the "furnished" version showed me that there is space in the bathroom for both a washing machine AND a dryer, stacked on top of one another, which is not easy to find and which I would just LOVE.
OK, first thing you want to check is the price. At the top left, see that "1 590€ CC +TTC"? This means that the rent is 1 590€ per month INCLUDING "charges" (building maintenance fees), and the +TTC means the agency fees. Here, the tenant pays the agency fees, not the owner. If you look at the rest of the example, in the lower left you'll see how much the fee is, where it says "Honoraires ttc: 1152.00€".
Charges will vary greatly from building to building. Low charges generally mean there is no elevator and probably no gardien(ne) or concierge (the building superintendent or caretaker) living on-site; the presence of either or both of those will raise the charges substantially. In this example, the charges are a whopping 230€ per month - but they are already included in the monthly fee so this means the actual rent is 1590 - 230 = 1370€/month. For a 77m2 apartment, this is very affordable. For all listings, make sure you verify with the agency whether charges are "compris" (included) or not (no matter what the listing says), so you can figure out precisely what you will be paying each month. Another thing that might elevate charges are if the building has communal heat and hot water, which should be show in the listing, but make sure to ask about that as well, especially if the charges seem unreasonably high to you. It may be worth it to have the fixed expense of the heat and hot water; a lot of Paris apartments offer only individual electric heat which will really jack up your electric bill in winter.
What else does this listing tell us? Well, this one gives us the street name (which doesn't always happen) but not the building number, and I happen to know that Rue Damremont is a VERY long street and part of it goes all the way to the périphérique (the official Paris city limit), and we don't want to live too near the edge even though prices are much more reasonable. The price for this apartment, at 77m2, is so great that I am dubious about its exact location. So if I were going to call about this listing, that's the first thing I would ask for - the exact address, to know if it will be worth my time to do a look-see.
The listing says that the apartment is big (anything over 70m2 in Paris is really a pretty good size, so that's not a lie), on the 2nd floor (2 étage) and comes with a cave for storage and the option of parking (the parking will be extra). It is refait à neuf (refinished like new, meaning recent repainting and possibly some new fixtures in the bathroom or kitchen). There is both a gardien (caretaker) and an ascenseur (elevator) which explains the 230€ charges. There are 3 main rooms and 2 bedrooms. A word of advice about the number of bedrooms. Watch for listings that claim to have a certain number of bedrooms, but when you read more closely, it will say 1/2 chambres or 2/3 chambres ou "1 chambre, possibility of a 2nd" -- which usually means there is NOT an actual additional bedroom, but more likely a situation like we have in our current place - a double séjour or double living space where you can split the space and make an extra room (either with a curtain or by doing actual building work, which some owners will agree to even in a rental situation, if you're willing to pay for the work).
A salle de bains should mean there is an actual bathtub (which may or may not have a wall-mounted shower but it should at least have a hand-held shower - welcome to France). A salle d'eau or salle de douche means there is only a stand-up shower and no bathtub.
This one has chauffage central which means central heating, usually it's gas/radiator heat with a single thermostat that you'd control (and pay for) in the apartment. Chauffage collectif is when the heat (and hot water, since they go together) are controlled by the building and you pay for it as part of your monthly charges.
Let's talk kitchens. In France, a fully outfitted kitchen is NOT a given, even in a rental. If you are very very lucky, like we were in our current place, there will at least be full kitchen cabinets and a cook-top (either gas or electric depending on the building) with space for you to install your own refrigerator, dishwasher and/or clothes washer, and oven. If you're not lucky, all you will get is literally the kitchen sink with a base cabinet for it to rest upon; everything else will be at your choice and expense, so off to Ikea or Conforama or Castorama you will have to go. Whether or not you are someone who has all the kitchen fixings, including cabinets you want to relocate from your current residence -- yes, in France people often take their entire kitchen with them when they move! -- will be a huge factor in choosing a new living space. Georges' daughter and her boyfriend are also in the process of moving, and they wanted a cuisine vide (empty except for the sink) because they already have everything they need. We want one where we can install our own washing machine(s) and fridge, and we'd prefer the cook-top be already installed but would buy one if necessary. However we do NOT really want to pay to install cabinets or buy any new appliances (in our last place, we had to buy a stove/oven combo, and then were forced to leave it behind at the last minute because we couldn't use it in this apartment and hadn't been able to sell it; fortunately we'd bought the cheapest one possible with this in mind, so it didn't hurt that much to walk away from it - but we don't want to repeat that again! So this is definitely something to think about when you're looking at listings and visiting apartments. Sometimes the listing is not clear about what comes with the kitchen, and you won't know unless you go and see for yourself. The above listing says the kitchen is equipée so it ought to come with some cabinets and at least the cook-top; it probably will NOT include major appliances, but you won't know until you look or ask over the phone.
Other things specified in this listing: a digicode which means a secure door code (that, plus either an interphone or gardien provides a reasonable level of building security), parquet (wood floors, though in a newer building they will not be the same quality as the old floors in a historic building), a view of some kind, and the claim that the apartment is calme -- that could mean the apartment is off the street, on the court, in a reasonably quiet building, but again you won't know until you go.
Other terms you might see (or will hope to see) on a listing:
- terrasse or balcon meaning a bit of outdoor space, though whether or not it is large enough to be usable for more than putting a few plants will require a visit
- dressing (walk-in closet) or placards (regular closets but not walk-in) or buanderie (usually some sort of kitchen or pantry storage space or shelving units. Any of these are nice bonuses - closets are NOT standard in Parisian apartments, and you may end up having to buy armoires or commodes (dressers) to store your clothing and other belongings like sheets and towels or food stuffs. We ended up buying an Ikea china cabinet with drawers to store our dishes and wine glasses to make more space in the kitchen for food, pots and pans, etc. I also keep some sheets and assorted other 'junk' in the drawers.
Before you go on a visit, make sure to measure any of your large existing furniture, closets, bookshelves and appliances, and bring the tape measure with you in case you find a place you love, so you can verify that everything will fit BEFORE you get excited and ask to rent the place.
Another thing to watch for: if price seems too good to be true for a certain neighborhood, there is usually a reason - and it might be that it's a 6 or 7-story walk-up with no elevator. If the listing says the apartment is on the 6th floor (which is the 7th floor in an American building) and doesn't mention an elevator, make sure you ask about that if walking up 6 flights of stairs every day is going to be a problem for you.
So this is a good place to stop. There is so much more to say about apartment-shopping in Paris, but I'll save that for future posts. I have to go on a visite now, anyway, and it's my second one today; the first one had a lot about it that I loved, and the price was good for the neighborhood, but it won't work for our family for several reasons; I'll save that story for next time.