House Hunting in Paris – the good news.

We’ve been looking for a new place for a long time now, and we’re getting better at it. Certainly it helps having some external motivation by means of baby. I think that finding a place really just requires a more French oriented mindset than we had before. That is to say, approaching the problem with a longer view, more patience, better French languages skills and a little bit of flirtatious story telling thrown in for good measure.

So, what do you have to do to actually find an apartment in Paris?

  • Be patient. There are good apartments in Paris, but they appear rarely, and disappear quickly.
  • Be persistent. Look at the listings on various listing services every, single, day. Call when something appears as soon as possible, and don’t be shy about pressuring the agent on the other end.
  • Speak French. If you call and are obviously a foreigner you have a very high chance of being hung up on (this is true for most of the French service industry). Expats make great tenants, but they also make for frustrating conversations. Sarah has been calling the agency for every call, which is paying off in spades. Each time she calls her French is better, and she is way more confident.
  • Save up. It’s expensive, there’s no doubt about it. The French perform most large financial transactions by saving up for a long time, waiting for the right moment (and the perfect product) to come around, and then making a large one time outlay. The feeling is that it’s better to buy the right thing once, than to mess around with several bad options, and that it’s OK to save for when that right day comes.
  • Think about it as an investment – or a vacation. If you are looking for a place for a short time, like a years worth of school, then spend like it’s a vacation. Spend more on an awesome place, or spend less on a crummy place that you know you are going to leave soon anyhow. If you are sticking around, then look for a place as if you will live there for 10 years. Don’t settle for good enough; invest in something that will last.
  • Flirt a little. Maybe this means batting your eyelashes, or maybe it just means telling a joke, or a story, but no matter what, it’s critical that you make a connection. French people are taught from a young age to distrust strangers (a very broadly defined term), and you need to break that stranger barrier if you are going to have the landlords trust you enough that they will rent to you.
  • Bring your dossier. Flirting will get you only so far; you also have to prove that you’re not a deadbeat. This is where the dossier comes in. A good dossier includes photocopies of your identity cards (or passport photos), previous years income tax statements, last 3 pay stubs, utility bills, references, etc. Many people will also ask for a guarantor (which we don’t have) and bank details. It’s basically an invitation for identity theft, so it took us a little bit of getting used to before we could be this open with a total stranger. In retrospect, I’m sure that we lost some great apartments in the past because we had a substandard dossier.

I’m sure there other tips, but these have helped a bunch already. We started our hunt formally about a month ago, and we’ve already been to see three places (well, two, we forgot to bring the address to one of them, so we just had a sandwhich and went home), and put a bid in on one. That might not sound like a lot, but it feels like a big win for me.

To give you an idea on hit percentage, on the first day of searching, two friends and I hit the streets to visit a few agencies and see what they had. Six hours and more than 30 agencies later, I had one listing worth looking at. I offered to leave an information sheet with a few of the agencies, so that they would call me if something came up, but they just looked at my search terms and told me that it was impossible (French for difficult).

On the internet side, I’ve been searching, and Sarah’s been calling, each day for the last three weeks. We started out only looking on the two most popular sites (Seloger, and PAP), but since expanded our search to include a few others, most reliably La Foret and A Vendrer, A Louer. We’ve been burned a number of times by waiting too long (2 hours) to call. The best places go up and come down within 4 hours. By checking, and calling, a few times a day we are getting much further along in the process.

It’s a tough market, but we are making progress, and it’s just a matter of time before I get to write about “House Hunting in Paris – the Great news!”

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