The hunting process.

So the past weeks of our lives have been filled with house hunting adventures. We were lucky enough to have been allocated a moving consultant who was able to sift through listings and provide us with rides to the places we need to see, but it was still a frenetic experience. 

All apartments in Sydney are shown by real estate agents, and most are shown on either Wednesday or Saturday with each open house lasting between 10 and 15 minutes. The basic way you find a house in Sydney is to look on one of two real estate listing sites, and create a short list of places that look interesting to you. Then, from your shortlist, you filter by day showing, and order by time and distance travelled (which makes for an interesting travelling salesman problem, if you’re into that sort of thing). You cut the ones that don’t fit into your schedule, and then hit as many as you can in an afternoon. If you like something, you apply within a few hours after viewing and cross your fingers. It’s a very tight market, and some viewings had 20+ other people in line for the unit.
This is where the moving consultant worked her magic. Having someone who knew the city made the list generation, and travel time way better. Also, she added an extra weight to our application – just by showing her card we got preferential treatment on our application, and were bumped to the top of the consideration list.
All in all, we saw16 places over four days, liked 12, applied for 11, and ended up having the luxury of picking between 5 offers. Our final choice ended up a three way tie between a place in the city near to my office, a 1900’s era building on a quiet street on the north shore which was nicely priced, and a place on the northern beaches literally across the street from a sandy paradise. All things considered, we opted for city living, and now have a fancy new home in Pyrmont, NSW.

House Hunting in Sydney – where the slugs will eat your brains

As part of our move package, we get 24 hours with a ‘local expert’ to help find a new place to live. Twice now we’ve spent an afternoon with Vicky – our expert – doing a drive around of the different neighbourhoods. Each time, we’ve come back only to be defeated by alternative local ‘experts’.

Here’s one example from today’s trip. After arriving back at the office, I mentioned to someone that we were considering living towards the end of the tramline near Rozelle or Leichardt. “Aaron lives out that way,” he said, “Aaron, what do you think of your area?”

“Oh, it’s great! Certainly better than the last place we lived. We do have a bit of a problem with slugs.”

“Oh, I don’t mind if there are slugs in the garden. Just a bit of salt and beer will take care of that.” said I.

“No, no, not in the garden. In the house. The houses in that area aren’t sealed very well, and it’s quite moist, so we frequently find slugs in like the living room, or crawling up the kitchen walls. They aren’t that bad.”


“Oh yeah, you gotta watch out for slugs. I knew a girl who ate a slug when she was little. She got a brain parasite and lost an eyeball.”

Then the people around me went on to warn me about the dangers of slugs, snails and other land based gastropods. Apparently the slugs around sydney can carry really nasty bacteria that will cause brain parasites, meningitis, encephalitis, etc. Because they are slow moving, occasionally crawlers and toddlers will catch/lick/eat them and run into problems. Wonderful.

So that’s a no to Leichardt and Rozelle for slug related reasons.
What else?

Pyrmont: “Jeremy lives in Pyrmont. He normally drives in, but he had his car stolen from there this morning. Don’t worry, he’ll get it back.”

Glebe: “Jon lives in Glebe.” “Didn’t he have his car stolen too?” “No, that was Tom. Jon’s car was set on fire.”

Pott’s Point: “Oh man, that’s a super nice area. Don’t walk more than a block past the metro station though; you’d likely to get stabbed by a heroin addicted transvestite” (I’m told that this is an exageration; the stabbings have lessened a great deal since the 90s, and the heroin addicts moved out to Wooloomooloo, and the Transvestites are rather upstanding.)

Wooloomooloo: This is where my recruiter suggested I live. See previous comment about Pott’s Point.

Bondi, Clovelley, Coogee: Overpriced. Low transit. 2 hours of bonus commute time during peak hour.

And the list goes on.

I think this is a chronic problem with Sydney dwellers. Everyone shares the same opinion that where they live is amazing, but the guy next to them lives in a dilapidated former whorehouse with cockroaches for curtains. I guess the real goal is to find a place where the roaches match the cushions and you’re golden.

On the move again.

A couple weeks back I quit my job and bought 2½ one way tickets to Sydney.


From the people I’ve talked to in the last few weeks, I guess this was seen as a bit of a surprise, but this was a long time coming. Sarah and I first started contemplating a variant of this plan back in October 2010 (or maybe October 2008, depending upon how far you want to dig).

You see, when we first moved to France, we made a choice to stay here for at least two years, no matter how homesick, down or lonely we may get. We didn’t set a max, but the government gave me a three year visa, expiring in November 2011, that seemed to make a pretty good upper boundary.

So, last October we hit our two year mark, and we started asking ourselves how much longer we really wanted to stay. We didn’t feel totally done in Europe, but we knew that if we stayed one more year, it would easily cascade into six – in 2011 I would renew my visa to 2014, at which time I could apply for a passport, and in 2016 I would qualify for a French pension. But were we really happy here? Well, kinda yes and kinda no. Once the consumerism withdrawal subsided, we noticed that the quality of life in France is exceptionally high and we came to really appreciate a lot of things about living here. However, not everything was rosy. There were a number of negative things in our lives at that time as well, things that I won’t get into publicly – some were due to the environment, some due to work, and some were social. And finally, we really wanted to do the kid thing, and while we were happy to raise children in France from 6 weeks to 6 years we didn’t really want them born or educated in France.

So, with all of that, we devised a plan.

  1. Leave my job via a 1 year sabbatical.
  2. Move to an English speaking country (other than Canada, USA, England, or South Africa). 
  3. Find a job.
  4. Have a kid.
  5. Find a new, better apartment in France and move back.
We did this. We just did it backwards.

Mostly Moved

On Saturday, we managed to move just about everything from Apartment A to Apartment B – with a quick pass by two intermediary apartments to relieve them of their furniture.

All in all, things worked quite well. We had two friends, and two hired hands helping us out. This is the first time that I’ve hired someone to help me move, and my back would definitely do it again; although, I’d be a little more careful with our timing… a tight timeline led to a little bit of carelessness with some pieces. For the most part we should be able to buff out the problems, and a little bit of glue or drycleaning should resolve the remaining issues.

In any case, we are just about moved. As our appliances won’t arrive until closer June, we’ve opted to continue living in the old apartment for the next few week or so, after which we will make the switch to the new place. During that first week of June, we may be a little incomunicado, depending upon how long it takes to reconnect our internet and phone lines.

Also, if anyone needs the new address, just shoot me an email.

Moving Day

Today, we are moving into the new place. Not completely, but mostly. All of our stuff will leave this apartment today (save for a suitcase of clothes, some cereal, and a cat) in a truck bound for Levallois. We managed to score a good deal on a moving sale, and will be picking up an apartment worth of furniture this afternoon. The only thing missing will be the fridge (Coming June 1) and stove. 

Once all of the appliances are in place, we’ll do the final move from here, and then schedule a day of wall scrubbing. (Truth be told, I’m probably gonna hire a maid. I hate scrubbing walls.)

House Hunting in Paris – the great news.

So, after waiting for 23 days, the landlord that we had applied to out in Levallois has FINALLY called us back. Normally, I wouldn’t have the patience to wait this long, but this place is pretty amazing.

It has rooms (two of them!), is 20% larger, and 10% cheaper than the place we have now, and it’s six blocks from both my office, and the Women’s and Children’s hospital. There’s a garden view out back, and a balcony that overlooks a park in the front. It’ll be a little costly to move into as we will have to buy new furniture and appliances, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that we can find someone who’s having a moving sale to keep our costs down there.

We haven’t signed the papers yet, but if everything goes well, we should be in a new place before the end of the month.

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!”

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.

The lease is signed.

We signed our lease on the new place this past Friday. It is an incredibly formal process compared to back home. Especially the walk-through part. There were seven of us required for the walkthrough, and the detail was intense (we counted the number of spots on the floor in the entrance way). Once it was all said and done though, the end was the same: We have a new place to call home.

One huge surprise though came the morning before the lease signing when the agent called us to tell us how much to cut the cheque for. Including the agency fees, the cost of the walkthrough, the deposit, a half months rent (actually 17/31 days rent, they counted it out by days) and, of course, taxes, our total bill was 5372 euro and change, or $9000 CDN. My union (Note: Not my company) will be reimbursing me for a good portion of the cost, but we still had to fork out up front. It’s definitely an uncomfortable sum to come as a surprise.

Our facebook profiles have been updated with our new address; feel free to drop us an email as well if need be. We take possession of the place tomorrow, but I think that we will be a little slower to actually move in. Like home, the place is just a place with no utilities. Unlike home, the utilities will take 10-21 days to set up!! Power will come soonish, but what good is power if you don’t have internet, phone or cable?

Actually, I really am super excited about the internet in the new place. France is wired for crazy fast high speed, and for crazy cheap. (They just have long wait times to get things set up.) For 30 euro a month, or $45 CDN, we are getting a 28 Mbps line (back home it was 6), 70 channels for TV, a Voip phone that is good for calling any where I could want, a Tivo and a web/file server. It’s pretty awesome. The only regret I have is that we are about 2 blocks outside of the Fiber zone (100 Mbps), which comes at no additional cost over a regular connection.

We’re crossing our fingers that things will be all set up for the Holidays. If it doesn’t work out though, know that we will be sending you all nice thoughts on Christmas morning instead of the more traditional phone call, or video conference.