AMA: “How did you find your Parisian apartment?”

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As of March 1, we will have a permanent place to live in Paris! Our temporary housing ends at the end of March, and we started searching in January.

I love touring homes. I actually used to visit Open Houses in San Francisco with my mom and grandma just for fun. Finding a place in the US was pretty straight-forward: search on Craigslist or contact the apartment complex’s leasing office, schedule a tour, sign the papers, and you’re good to go.

In Paris, the process is more complicated. French law greatly favors the tenant, so landlords can be very strict and often make you go through an agency (which adds an additional fee). By “favoring the tenant”, here’s what I mean:

  • It is nearly impossible to kick someone out of an apartment. In the US, once you fail to pay rent on time… you’re out. In Paris, I’ve heard of people staying for an entire year without paying. The owner must fight a long legal battle to evict someone and also give the tenant an extra 2 months so they can find new housing.
  • It is illegal to evict a tenant during the winter. No joke. Someone once froze to death in Paris because he was kicked out, so now we have this law.

Due to all this, perspective tenants must prove to owners that they are trustworthy and will pay on time. Before touring a flat, you must present a valid “dossier”, which is a collection of paperwork proving your income and reliability. Most places even ask you to supply a “garant”, a friend or family member who can cover your expenses in case you cannot. Most expats (like us) unfortunately don’t have a rich benefactor in France, so that limits the selection.

On top of the paperwork, there is extra stress to make a quick decision if you find a good apartment. Nice flats in popular areas don’t stay on the market for long. As soon as one is listed, you must call the agency, schedule a tour (preferably on that day), and make up your mind quickly.

Our very first Parisian apartment tour was… interesting. I found what seemed to be the perfect loft apartment- high ceilings, exposed wooden beams, big kitchen, spectacular price, the works… but when we went to visit, we realized it was on top of this little shop:

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It didn’t stop there. The entire street was lined with sex shops, and the living room view peeked into a Love Hotel. Nope, don’t think I want to wake up to that every morning. From then on, we stayed clear away from any listing on Rue Saint Denis.

When we finally found the apartment of our dreams, we started negotiating right away and signed a week later. Whew! I can’t wait to move in and just feel settled here. We’ll do an apartment tour once we’re settled in and decorated (off to the chandelier antique shops)!

If you’re an expat (and only fluent in English), here are a few tips:

  1. If you can only communicate in English, then communicate in English
    You can still use popular French housing sites (like seloger.com), but message in English if you need to (I apologize first :)) My fellow expat found it too difficult to talk about housing terms in French and still got a ~33% response rate speaking English. We found ours through an agency that provides corporate housing for expats.
  2. Figure out what you can live without
    French flats aren’t going to have all the features you want. Unfurnished apartments come completely empty (not even a washing machine or fridge). Furnished ones won’t have everything you need. I decided I couldn’t live without an elevator or good lighting, but I could live without a dryer.
  3. Negotiate!
    A friend told me, “‘No’ in French really just means, ‘Convince me otherwise.'” I was able to get 200 EUR/month off our rent without a guarantor. Leverage anything you have to prove you’d make a stellar tenant (reference letters from your employer, cute photos of your godson who is actually a Beagle…).
  4. Research. A lot.
    Look into the agency, the owners, and listed references (good thing I’m a pro at internet stalking ;)). There are stories of inexperienced tenants being scammed because they don’t know what to expect. My co-workers and friends were extremely helpful at reviewing the listings I was interested in and giving advice on which ones to go for. The other day, I had 4 of my devs surrounding my computer saying, “Nooo ne la louez pas!” It was kind of cute.
  5. Manage expectations
    You can’t compare what you’ll get in countries like the US with what you’ll get in France. Parisian apartments are small, old, and expensive. But they’re also charmant 🙂 While I miss all the luxuries of my high-rise Seattle studio, I’m trading that for the priceless experience of living in Paris.

 

Have a question of your own? Ask it here.