House Hunting in Paris – the bad news.

Looking for a place to live in the City of Light is, like most things, just a little bit more difficult than in Canada. I should stress the ‘little bit more’ part of that. It’s not that anything is dramatically different, but there are several things that are just that teeny bit more painful than back home, and they start to add up. Here’s a few of the more obnoxious things.

  • It’s a hot market. Most listings are just up for a few days so you have to act fast.
  • It’s expensive. When you move into a new place, you typically pay something between three and five and a half times the monthly rent in fees and charges. Add to this the cost of new furniture and appliances (even if you have your own, you’ll almost always need to buy one new piece to fit the new space), movers (another months rent), and change-of-account fees for the utility company.
  • Most of the apartments are privately owned. This, combined with the fact that people don’t move often (see above on cost) mean that you are usually dealing with an inexperienced owner. Someone who has had maybe 6 tenants, ever. To their benefit, most of the hard work is contracted out to an professional agency, so this helps a bit.
  • There’s no central listing service. Real estate listings are entirely privatized; if you want good coverage, you have to watch multiple places.
  • Landlords are very, very risk averse with new tenants. There are a lot of laws in France designed to protect tenants from bad landlords. Probably too many laws. A friend-of-a-friend offered me a place when we first moved here in 2008, “Just as soon as I can evict my tenants. They’ve stopped paying rent.” That apartment hit the market in October last year.
  • There’s a shortage of apartments of a certain size. Most of the apartments in Paris are either small studios for week-day commuters and students, or they are lavish luxury apartments for people with much larger salaries than me. 
  • There’s a shortage of apartments of a certain quality. At least 50% of all of the listings I see, or places I look at, have some major flaw. A lot of it has to do with the fact that these buildings are very old. A friend of ours lives in an apartment built around 1740. The building code was less strict back then.
  • You are limited in how much you can pay. By law, you are not allowed to pay more than one third of your net earnings for your housing. Having that hard cap on your upper rent limit is a little annoying; a few euro more might brighten the apartment landscape a lot. On the other side, from experience, I wouldn’t really want to pay much more than this amount.

We’ve gone apartment hunting a couple times since arriving. Once assisted, and three times since then on our own. It’s a pain, that’s all there is to it. We are also discovering that there’s a reason that most of my colleagues don’t live in Paris. There are a lot of commuters in Paris, most coming from the outlying communities where it’s quieter, cheaper, newer, and bigger. Although, also further from Paris. A few people have started recommending these places to us, but really, we moved to France to live in Paris. If I wanted to commute to work, I’d move to Central London and buy a Eurostar pass.

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