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7 Lessons Learned From 183 Paris Apartment Visits in One Year

Posted by Malindi Pender on April 13, 2017
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Allow me to explain the differences between buying property in Paris and the U.S for example. Paris apartment visits are different from anywhere else.

On average as a buyer’s broker, I visit 10-15 Paris apartments a month. This last year was exceptional with 183, and I learned a lot. I feel obliged to pass on what I discovered.

Many of these lessons learned are the usual suspects but thanks to 2016, I’ll reveal the top lessons to look out for in 2017.


1. Don’t believe everything a real estate agent tells you

In the U.S. realtors and brokers must pass exams on property law knowledge as you would expect. In France, only brokers need meet the requirements.

Also, realtors in France are known to be economical with the truth. Principally because there is little recourse in the non-litigious environment of French real estate.

Because the agent’s main duty is to the seller, the best advice is ‘buyer beware’. Verify all essential information or find an advocate on your behalf such as a buyer’s broker.

Ask important questions by email and insist on the response in the same medium. In that way, at least you have proof if there are misunderstandings at a later date.


2. Watch out for false advertising

Remember what we just talked about?

“France isn’t litigious!” you respond.


I learned my lesson the hard way when I first rented 14 years ago. Less than honest apartment descriptions plague the industry. False advertising is hard to detect but as always ask your agent upfront when suspicious.

Let me translate a few classic examples first into English and then into reality.


“Au pied du métro” in English – ‘Extremely close to the Metro’. Really means ‘Up to 10 minute’s walk’.

“Bon rafraichissement” in English – ‘Needs a good lick of paint’. Really means ‘Total renovation needed’.

“Dans un immeuble d’architecte” in English – ‘A fancy architect made this’. Really means ‘Ugly’.

“Style loft” in English – ‘Great loft features’. Really means ‘Nothing like a loft’.

“Pas de vis-à-vis” in English – ‘No neighbors can see in’. Could mean ‘Brick wall view’.

“Cosy” in English – ‘Comfortable’. Really means ‘Tiny’.

“Calme” in English – ‘Not noisy’. Really means ‘Dark’.

“Cuisine américaine” in English – ‘American kitchen’. Really means ‘Open kitchen’.


There are of course many more terms that you probably should learn for your Paris apartment visits. I made a bigger glossary of French property buying terms you can learn from quickly with images free to download here.


3. Do your homework before your Paris apartment visits

Have a think about this…

You just traveled four thousand miles to spend a week looking at apartments. At most you can visit 5 apartments per day if you are lucky.

You’d better choose well!

Out of 183 Paris apartment visits last year I would say I walked in and then straight back out of at least 60. Sure, the photos were deceptive but there are other signs to look out for.

Always start your research online and ask these questions on the phone. Then visit these properties last or not at all:

  • Right of first refusal properties (you aren’t first in line)
  • Divorce properties (a couple who are forced to sell and unlikely to agree on a price)
  • For Sale By Owner properties (avoiding agency fees and likely to inflate the price)
  • Properties with commerce on the ground floor (noise and unwanted smells and lower property value)
  • Higher floor walk-ups without an elevator (unless you want the exercise)

For detailed property search instructions, read our step-by-step guide on how to search for a Paris apartment.


4. Make sure a property isn’t listed by more than one agency

Ever bought something on Amazon only to find it cheaper the next day?

In France, a seller can list their property with as many agencies as they wish.

And they often do.

They may even try and hock it on the French Craigslist to avoid the agency fees if possible. The problem for potential buyers is that your power to negotiate down just got harder. More important, if you don’t know the price is inflated, you presume that’s the real value.

Before your Paris apartment visits, ask the agency if the property is exclusive or not.


5. Fall in love with an apartment! (But always document the visit)

Remember how you felt the first time you fell in love?

Who could forget.

Now try and remember if there were cracks in the ceiling.

The lesson here is that emotion clouds reality. We tend to project ourselves living there in the future based on our gut feelings. Love at first sight or ‘coup de coeur’ in French, impairs our focus. Analyzing decent photos back home weeks later will save you heartache and time.

Take a whole heap of photos during your Paris apartment visits and even make voice notes on your phone dictaphone.

You can’t legally record what the agent says but you can record your own observations. These of course can include what the realtor just told you.


6. You are buying the good with the bad.

I see this all the time.

Over the decades and even centuries in Paris, owners have made renovations without authorization.

Perhaps they annexed part of the landing. They may have installed a toilet with no waste line (don’t ask). Maybe they merged two or more units into one without following the proper protocol.

I even saw one flat where the owner had “created” an extra room by extending the apartment into the air shaft.

All need to be authorized by the homeowner’s association and/or approved by an architect.

Often they are not.

For ten years or so, notaries who would have overlooked these things before are no longer so blasé. Often the issues need to be resolved before transacting the sale. If a notary does overlook some irregularities, it’s still an issue.

Even if you buy in good faith, unaware of dodgy changes, you will inherit responsibility for them. And when it comes to resale, you will have to deal with it.

I came up with a concise list of 20 questions YOU MUST ask the seller before purchasing. Paris is a very different market to others, and these pertinent questions will help you avoid buyer’s regret. Just click here to download for free.


7. Yes, you can get a French mortgage as a foreigner, and you should.

Last year I started recommending that my clients take a home loan when purchasing in France.

Most foreigners are surprised to find out that they can get a French mortgage. There are mortgage brokers here who specialize in just that.

What changed is that interest rates are historically low at 3% on average. The majority of home loans in France offer the option of fixed term rates. That means if you get a loan now at 2%-3%, you will never have a higher rate until the home loan has been paid off.

Paris is indeed still a buyer’s market.



Buying property in Paris or France in general presents unique concerns and issues. Things we wouldn’t expect due to tighter regulation in anglophone countries.

Unscrupulous agents and sellers have no fear of legal recourse. Advertising stretches the limits of truth and properties can have many prices. And of course buyers must be vigilant against unexpected structure changes.

But there are favorable idiosyncrasies in France such as low fixed mortgage rates. And of course you would be living in the most beautiful city in the world.

At least, I think so.

These weren’t easy lessons to learn, but it was a pleasure to pass them on. Hopefully you won’t need to visit 183 apartments to find your piece of Paris. Keep these lessons in mind and you can avoid these pitfalls.

If any of these seems daunting, feel free to ask me anything. I would be happy to pass on more of what I have learned over the years.


How can I help?

Feel free to call now on 1 (888) 533-1884, send me a text message at +33 6 77 79 11 52 and I’ll get straight back to you. Or just email me at We also make Paris apartment visits for clients.



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