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This goes out to Nancy, one of our very first and most loyal readers who recently asked us for a few tips on real estate in Paris. Here you go, Nancy. I hope this sheds a little light on the subject for you!

Real estate in Paris (or immobilier in French) is much like real estate in any of the major capitals of the world: it’s rather expensive as demand is greater than supply; there is, after all, only so much property available within the city limits and height restrictions on the Haussmann buildings prevent an onslaught of skyscrapers (thankfully!).

Not unlike Manhattan, London, Tokyo or Toronto, Paris is one of those cities where real estate is almost a sure bet. When real estate brokers and financial advisors tell you that the number one most important consideration when investing in real estate is “location, location, location” – Paris is what they are talking about. Over the last century, save for a recession in the 1990s, Parisian real estate prices have steadily and remarkably risen. Of course, I’ve always been a firm believer that real estate is best considered as a medium term (5 years) to long-term (20 years) investment.

Having said that, everything must be viewed in light of its present circumstances. Right now, those circumstances mean the financial global crisis and the more recent European economic downturn. As harsh as it might sound, when times are tough there’s a deal to be made. I learned that lesson as a child back in the 1980s watching my mom maneuver commercial real estate deals in southern Florida.

Paris is a meager 55km in circumference (about 22 miles²) with two forests at either side and is entirely surrounded by a highway called the Peripherique. Thus, geographically, Paris can’t expand indefinitely. There has been some talk of enlarging Paris proper to include the immediate suburbs surrounding the city, to make one large metropolitan area, much like Greater Toronto. But Paris proper will always remain Paris.

Of the 20 arrondissements in Paris, which twirl around each other to form a snail-like formation, the cost of real estate per meter squared varies greatly. The most prestigious and most sought-after areas of the city are those closest to the center of the snail with two exceptions: the 16ème near the Bois de Boulogne and Montmartre.

Beginning with the 1er (the Louvre, garden Tulleries) and working your way around through the 3ème (the Marais) and 4ème (Notre Dame, Ile St Louis) over the bridge toward the Left Bank to the 6ème (St Germain des Prés) and the 7ème (the Eiffel Tower), you have the center of Paris. In addition to these areas, the 8ème (the Champs d’Elysée, Arc de Triomphe, Parc Monceau) and the 16ème (Avenue Foch, the Golden Triangle, Passy) are the posh residential areas of the city. A pocket in the 18ème directly surrounding Sacre Coeur cathedral in Montmartre is an artsy chic area which maintains significant property values. Again, there’s only so much land abutting the cathedral. However, if you go a few blocks one way or the other, the neighborhoods change drastically. Beware.

The average price per meter squared in these areas is as follows:

  • 1er         9,000€/m²
  • 6ème     9,500€/m²
  • 7ème     9,300€/m²
  • 8ème     8,600€/m²
  • 15ème   7,800€/m²
  • 16ème   9,000€/m²
  • 18ème   6,500€/m²

Keep in mind that the closer you are to Hotel de Ville (3ème), the Louvre (1er), Opera (8ème) and the Eiffel Tower (7ème), the more touristy the area, the more crowded, the more noisy. And most of these areas are packed with offices, so the residential opportunities are limited.

Given that Paris is a big city, very few houses are left in central Paris although you can stumble across a few private communities here and there which will cost you several million Euros to inhabit. Otherwise, like the rest of us on an average professional budget, you’ll have about 60m² (645 feet²) for a couple, 150m² for a family with two kids. Certainly, the further away from the center you go, the more space you can get for the same money. My first apartment in Paris was in the 3ème and, if you will believe me, was 18m² (200 feet²) for 600€/ month in rent!

In the 19th century, the 7ème and the 8ème were the most expensive areas of the city. Today, that list includes the more recent 16ème arrondissement as well.

fineartamerica.com

Other pockets of nice areas exist all around the city. Sparsely located, you’ll have to study the area, go have lunch there, go to the supermarket, watch the people in the park, get an idea of the ambiance before you settle. Paris is essentially a renter’s city in that a majority of the inhabitants do not own their lodging. This makes Paris a great place to invest as a landlord; it also makes property value high.

a-night-in-paris.com

Great outlying residential areas include the suburbs (and nearby towns) of Neuilly-sur-Seine, Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Chatou, Le Vesinet, all to the west of Paris.

If someone asked me for a respectable, responsibility priced place to live in Paris, I’d say the 15ème. Not too far away from the city center with many parks and small personal shops and trees lining the streets, this area has a homey, comfortable feel – and it’s not too expensive. If you have a little more to spend, I’d recommend the 16ème. With a view of the Eiffel Tower, you feel like you’re in a small community, French of course, and not in the middle of the most visited city in the world. Having said that, if you’re goal is to come over to be in the thick of French life then more central areas like Saint-Germain des Prés (6ème) or the Latin Quarter (5ème) might be more to your liking. For resale value and your own convenience, you’ll want to consider being close to a metro line and whether there are local necessities like schools, grocery store and marchés nearby.

In France, more generally, you can find some real steals: Huge, ancient chateaux for a few hundred thousands Euros. It’s incredible! Some are in pristine condition, others are practically ruins. The price reflects their state. When many people think of French country-side they think of Provence, the south-eastern part of France by the French Riviera. But there are so many other beautiful, less crowded parts of this country to consider! Boulogne, for instance, Normandy, Dordogne, the Loire Valley. Here are some of the clippings I collect every week from various magazines to give you some ideas.

Now here’s where the current economy comes into play. As the dollar improves against the Euro, North Americans who have always thought about buying a place in Europe have an interest in doing so now – your dollar will take you further. However, I must advice caution as the governmental situation over here is not particularly stable. France, Germany and England are okay for the time being, we hope. Greece, Italy and Spain are less so.

Also beware that heavy notary (legal) fees and taxes apply to real estate transactions in France. They can, in some cases, add up to over 25%.  Be sure you ask what the total price, everything included, will be before signing any documents (there’s the lawyer in me coming out).

I’d also advise to make the deal through a reputable professional as the laws surrounding these sorts of transactions are not the same as they are in North America. I wouldn’t want you to get trapped. Also keep in mind that the French have a slight feeling that foreigners should pay more for property in France than their native countrymen. So prices might be inflated if the seller knows you’re from somewhere else. Working with a local helps in this regard too.

But, hey, if your dream is to buy an old house in the country-side of France, something like we’ve seen in A year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun, then why not?! The timing might be prime perfect. If you’re looking for an investment property to rent out in Paris or a small place of the City of Lights to call your own, then I’d suggest going slowly, taking time to collect and review the offers in various publications and online, talk to real estate specialists here in Paris (I’ve put a list of Anglophone brokers below), and don’t forget that the asking price is just that – what someone is asking. The real price of property is what someone is willing to pay for it, not what someone is asking. Negotiating in real estate is standard practice in France.

Most of all, enjoy the search. Paris is a wonderful city to live, as a city person. Walkable, bikeable, accessible, with great public transit and no need for a car.  Paris is full of trees, parks, fabulous cafés on every corner, markets for groceries. I’m pretty much all for living your dreams, so if you’ve always wanted to live in Paris, do it. There’s always a way to work it out.

Anglophone real estate links for France:

French Property Links – based in the UK, they work with French partners all over the country.

Feau Agency – one of the biggest and best in France.

Vivre à Paris

Le Foret – one of the major agencies in France.

Emile Garcin Luxury Real Estate – I recently came across this website and love looking through the offers.

French Property – a useful porthole for French real estate searches.