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The DON’TS of Buying a Home in Paris
There is no MLS in Paris.
For non-US buyers, that’s real estate speak for there is no single database of all the available properties to buy in the Paris market. So if you want to buy an apartment in Paris, the key is understanding how the market does (and doesn’t) work, and being ready to put the time and effort into the right things to realize your dream without unneeded frustration along the way.
These tips can mean the difference between you finding and successfully negotiating the purchase of your new pied-a-terre in Paris, or you looking endlessly, but never landing that “perfect place”. Foreign real estate markets can be a scary place: different laws, potentially unscrupulous sellers, binding transactions taking place in another language. But avoiding these seven mistakes can help make navigating the process smooth and easy.
If you don’t want to tackle the market on your own, we are here to help. Click here to learn more about our Paris buyer services.
1. Don’t expect to see properties in the same day you contact an agent.
Smart buyers will be in contact weeks before their buying trip so that their agent has time to canvas the market thoroughly. Sometimes visitors think that it’s possible to walk into the agencies they pass on the street and potentially buy the listings they see in the windows or learn about other listings on the market. Properties in real estate windows are almost always sold already. Good properties sell quickly and it’s difficult to keep listing information current in window displays and on websites. Consider these ads more an indication of the type of property that could become available and to give you a general idea of pricing. Plus agencies in France don’t cooperate with each other or share listing information so you will only hear about the few listings that agency has, and even then it will likely day a few days to set up an appointment. Up to 40% of all properties in Paris (especially more affordably priced ones) sell direct from the seller, without ever being listed with an agency, and the other half usually sell through an agency to buyers the agency is already aware of. That is why it is critical to have a buyers agent who is in contact with listing agencies regularly and is pre-screening public listings, so that you learn about all the properties as they come available and can be assured you are seeing the best of the best.
2. Don’t assume you’ll successfully find something because you can search the internet.
These days, buyers can see everything online, and everything can look pretty good in the photos. But those online listings can leave a lot out, including whether the place is still for sale. Sometimes clients don’t realize that these listings are often out-dated because things move so quickly in Paris. The listing agents are often too busy to take the ads down promptly. Another factor is that your agent is looking for apartments that meet all of your criteria. Beyond how the pictures look: does the building have an elevator? Is it located in the right neighborhoods? Does it have the right number of bathrooms or extra space to add one? There’s nothing wrong with looking. But try to understand how your agent’s job works: We sometimes spend hours calling on listings provided by clients only to have those same buyers abandon each and every one after being let in on key details. It can waste valuable time. Conducting your search in a methodical way: contacting agencies directly that will be likely to have the right kinds of property, going through all the online databases and evaluating each property based on your stated criteria and then following up on those that make the cut will give you the most comprehensive and efficient look at what is currently available.
3. Don’t start your search until you know what you want.
It may seem obvious, but even a minor uncertainty, if left unresolved, can throw a major wrench in the works. It happens all the time, a couple provides a detailed list of wants and needs, but in reality they still disagree on some seemingly small matters: Are wood beams charming or oppressive? Do you want ornate moldings or a cleaner look? Do you want to look out at a bustling street lined with shops and restaurants or do you need absolute quiet to sleep? The problem is that once the tour of homes begins, tiny disagreements morph into giant hurdles. If you were looking at property in your home city you could just go home and try again the following weekend, but when you are on the ground in Paris for a limited amount of time, unresolved issues can mean the difference between a wasted trip and locking up the property of your dreams. How to avoid this: It’s a busy time in the weeks before a vacation, but spend some time really talking about your budget and make sure you are on the same page about what you want. Recognize that compromises often have to be made, and be sure to communicate to your agent whether you’re just looking or if you are serious about buying. Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world, so you can imagine how many visitors would like to look at property and dream. It’s not fair to monopolize an agent’s time if you aren’t ready to buy.
4. Don’t lose faith in your agent.
On one level, it’s natural to be suspicious of someone who will profit off your purchase. Won’t the agent be eager to make a sale regardless of problems? But recognize that referrals are very precious to an agent. Only by doing a great job and successfully finding wonderful properties for current clients can we hope to get recommended to future clients. Often clients are skittish about technical and legal issues that crop up: Is that electric pump toilet going to be a constant problem? Is that missing construction approval document from the renovation 20 years ago going to cause trouble? When questions like these come up we will give you our best professional judgment. We do not want you coming back after the sale and saying we mislead you. As a licensed real estate firm we have a legal obligation to represent you honestly and to the best of our ability, and we carry insurance against missteps. The upshot: Hire a licensed agent and then trust them, or find another whom you are willing to trust. One caveat: don’t mix goals. Though it can be tempting to consider working with an agent who will then continue on in the role of managing the rental of your property when you are not there, this can lead to working at cross purposes. Make sure your real estate agent is focused on what you want and need, not on finding a property that fits their renter profile. There are many rental management companies to choose from and if rental income is your goal, hire a licensed agent with no secondary agenda to help you find the right place, and THEN find a rental agency that is a good fit.
5. Don’t skip viewing properties your agent has scheduled.
Occasionally a client will look at the list of property showings we’ve arranged and decide they don’t want to see many of them. They want to cherry-pick the few that look good on paper and avoid spending time on the rest. After all, why waste valuable time looking at an apartment you don’t think is “the one”? But it is key to your market education that you view the best properties available on both the low and high side of your budget so that you can recognize the rare find when you run across it. If you only see three or four apartments from the thousands that are on the market you have no frame of reference to evaluate the few you do see. Often the best apartments have few, if any photos; this is because the listing agent knows it will sell to one of the first buyers to see it, so they don’t want to be barraged with inquiries that must be managed.
You might hope that if you just wait long enough an apartment will fall into your lap that meets every single one of your wish list criteria, AND at a bargain price too. The problem with this approach is that great apartments in Paris sell quickly and you won’t be in a position to land one if you either refuse to look at it, or hesitate, because you haven’t seen enough places yet to “know” you should seize the opportunity. And if you aren’t putting yourself in position to find and buy a property, your trip may ultimately be wasted. Unlike the US where there is one handy listing system that spits out properties meeting your criteria and listing agents return calls promptly, in France identifying properties is done by painstakingly examining each listing on a multitude of websites and databases and calling myriad small, individual real estate agencies to obtain information and set viewing appointments. The work, if done thoroughly, can take hundreds of hours and involve extensive networking with contacts in order to get you in the door first. If you refuse to look at what has taken the agent days, if not weeks, to arrange it is not only demoralizing, it strongly conveys a lack of serious intent. Furthermore, French agencies take offense easily and so last minute cancellations also damage your agent’s relationships in the market. Even if you end up not liking a property, every time you walk through one, a good agent is paying close attention. They are learning what you like and don’t like. It further narrows the scope from the mass of listings. The lesson: Never turn down time touring a home with your agent because they often have a sixth sense about which ones are hidden gems.
6. Don’t ignore your agent’s counsel.
Put yourself in this agent’s shoes: A buyer with an extremely limited budget has said she wants to buy her dream pied-a-terre, which she needs to rent for income in the short term and will eventually spend a large amount of the year living in during her upcoming retirement. But she keeps demanding to see apartments on the top floors of historic buildings with no possibility of an elevator. They’re affordable, and she loves the charm of a really ancient building and the rooftop views, but she’ll have trouble with those stairs as she gets older and potential renters won’t appreciate the lack of an elevator either. She decides she’ll come back next year with a bit more funding, but prices rise and cancel out the increased budget. This phenomenon is common: Clients will lay out their wishes, then fall in love with a place they’ve seen that meets none of them. A good agent steers buyers away from properties that don’t mesh with the client’s goals, and normally clients will laugh and say, “Oh, you’re right. Get me out of here. You’re 300% correct. I wasn’t thinking about that.” But occasionally they assume we’re trying to pour cold water on their dream. And the buyer looking for her dream pied-a-terre? She’s still looking, and she’s going to be a professional looker. If you can’t settle on realistic goals you’re doomed to always hesitate just as you approach the finish line. Best course: Be specific in your needs, then trust your agent to fulfill them.
7. Don’t think you can get a better deal — a much, much, much, better deal.
Another mistake buyers commonly make is to look at published sales figures in Paris and assume they can pay a similar amount, leading to unrealistic budget expectations. Sales figures in France are published more than three to nine months late and they reflect only the net amount the seller received; they do not include the listing fee or the approximately 7% closing fees. Furthermore average prices given for a particular arrondissement do not reflect the higher prices charged for the most special properties: those located on the best streets, with the best views, terraces or balconies, and all their historical features intact and in good condition. Once we spent two weeks showing a client properties only to have him low-ball each property by 100,000 euros or more. The client could buy in cash, and he liked several of the homes. With one, the seller dropped to within 10,000 euros of his offer. Yet, he still refused. He still would have been getting a great deal on it at that price, but he decided he was going to end on his terms or he just wasn’t going to do it. His hard-headed frugality ultimately hurt him and he missed out on the property he wanted. French sellers tend to price their properties at a level they consider to be reasonable. There isn’t a culture of protracted negotiation here and good properties tend to sell at or near asking price. For that reason negotiation tends to be more subtle and it is key to make sure the seller is able to save face in the end. Sellers frequently choose the buyer they feel most comfortable with and who they feel prize the property as they do. Bottom line: Budget realistically and then entrust your search to your agent. A good agent can find you the best properties and then help position your negotiation so that you end up with the best price possible, while successfully securing the home of your dreams.