Saturday, September 11, 2010

From the Sublime … to the Ridiculous. Paris Apartment, Part X

(Part two of a two part blog about the buying the sublime apartment in Paris)

“It sold.” Her voice sounded so drained of its usual contagious energy, I thought she just might pass out on the phone. “It sold from under us.”

I felt like I had been hit in the stomach. I couldn’t believe my ears and I kept hoping I’d heard her wrong. Of all the exciting things I had dreamed my agent would tell me in the morning, the sublime apartment selling from under me was not one that I even considered, especially after all the assurances that it was mine for the taking. “How could this happen? “ I shrieked, “I thought we were the first?”

“We were the first with Robert,” she told me, “but another agent got the keys too. He brought an offer with him and it was accepted on the spot.

And thus we plunged from the sublime to what I think of as the ridiculous way the real estate market works in Paris.

First off, the fact that there is no multiple listing service means that realtors are all competing against each other. And therefore it behooves the seller to list their apartment with more than one agent. So you never know until it happens whether another agent will undercut you in your offer. And as a result, there is no winner here: Not the buyer, the seller or the agent.

And then the whole Parisian pricing structure has completely mystified me from the very beginning. If the market is as hot as it is, and if the good properties sell for full price before they even go on the market, why don’t they just raise the prices? Instead, they group properties by “Arrondissement” and determine that all apartments in one arrondissement will sell for 10,000 euros per square meter, while another neighboring arrondissement can fetch up to 12,000 euros. But what if, like the sublime, you’re in the 3rd arrondissement, which is typically about 2,000 less than the 6th or 7th, but you’re in a great location next to the Place des Vosges, and your apartment has great bones, and is highly desirable? Wouldn’t you price it higher than the going rate, if there is more demand for that type of apartment? And what if your apartment sells to the first buyer even before it officially goes on the market, for full-price? Wouldn’t that possibly imply that it was underpriced?

I was so deflated by the loss of the sublime that I couldn’t think of anything else for days. Don’t get me wrong: I knew that this wasn’t a life sentence, or anything remotely as significant. I’ve always known that my idea of buying a pied-a-terre in Paris is a complete luxury, but it has been my dream for years, and I’ve made a lot of concessions to achieve this dream. So losing the best one that came my way was a huge loss. Nothing too serious, I realize, but still … enough hurt and sadness and loss that it has taken its toll, and a long while to recover.

And then I started wondering about the whole price thing. Perhaps I was the one who was ridiculous here, because hadn’t I agreed to pay full price for a shabby, dusty, dirty apartment that needed to be renovated from scratch and was a third floor walk up? What if, for sake of argument, I took the money I was about to throw at something sight unseen and spent it on a house that I could actually see in Atlanta? What kind of house would that buy me in Atlanta? And that led me to a very interesting comparison. Who’s being ridiculous now?


Le Sublime: Trash filled, one bedroom, needing a major facelift


And what the same dollars would buy today in Atlanta






The kitchen at Le Sublime


The kitchen at the Atlanta equivalents



The 17th century beams at Le Sublime

Sublime 6

The beams in Atlanta


The 10 foot ceilings of Le Sublime


The 20 foot ceilings in Atlanta


The “back yard” view from Le Sublime


The backyard of Atlanta


All Atlanta photos courtesy of Atlanta Fine Homes

This house, located on one of the nicest streets in the fanciest neighborhoods of Atlanta, really spoke to me (and I’ve always had a soft spot for a pool, especially onethat you can just walk out to from the main floor). And I can hear all my French friends questioning my sanity for even considering a dusty, noisy 3rd floor walkup apartment in a creaky, 17th century Parisian building in the 3rd Arrondissement, over a pristine house in perfect condition on Valley Road in Atlanta.

Here we sit in beautiful sunny Atlanta with more houses on the market than ever before and with surplus inventory for years to come. And in Paris, I can’t even be the first bid, even when I’m ready to pounce with a fulltime offer before the apartment goes on the market. Is there something wrong with this picture? Have we indeed gone from the sublime to the ridiculous?

This whole game has not been about price but about realizing a long-time dream. So no matter how beautiful a house might be in Atlanta, or Phoenix or Dallas or Boston, it’s not what I’m going after right now. In many ways, this exercise has helped me with a dose of reality. Maybe it’s time to relax a little, and let things follow their course. Le sublime wasn’t meant to be, but maybe it was meant to slow me down. Was it really worth my getting so worked up and upset over something as basic as … an apartment? Surely, there will be others. And surely, I need to get a grip on reality. Maybe even get my priorities refocused.

I think I’ll take a break for a while, to smell the coffee, consider my priorities and be appreciative of the things in life that really matter. Like my sublime family, my friends, and my gallery.



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hunting for the Paris Apartment, part IX: From the sublime …


I got a call from my agent. “I’m on to something,” she said, “and it is sublime. As soon as it comes on the market, you’ll want to act immediately.”

Sublime 4

I know, I know. Paris property is so hot that the good ones go even before they even come on the market. In fact, if it appears on the internet, it usually means that it’s overpriced or undesirable, because everything else sells to a long list of private buyers. I was lucky on this one, though. My agent assured me that she would be the first to see it as soon as the selling agent had the key.


The few photos she sent had me jumping with excitement, and I immediately googled the area, counting the steps from the chunky old front door to the sumptuous Place des Vosges. I flipped out over the high ceilings, the elegant 17th century building, the gorgeous beams and floors, the four-paned windows and the rustic wall beams that are the signature of so many buildings in the beautiful Marais. Through google, I ogled the view from the windows, measured the distance across the street, visited every storefront on the rue de Turenne, and eyeballed the angle of the sun. I imagined the dirty floors cleaned up and decorated sumptuously in the style of the Marais and in keeping with the building’s pedigree: Formal Louis XV mixed with some modern glam to reflect building’s the austere 17th century elegance and its rustic complement.

We didn’t have the key in hand but this apartment already had the key to my heart. I was falling in love with the sublime. In my mind, it was mine and I was dreaming of its facelift:

Sublime 1

Would the living room be transformed from this to the beauty, below?

sublime reno4 Courtesy Haven in Paris

Photo Haven in Paris


Would the rough hewn wall beams above morph into the elegance below?


Photo, above, Haven in Paris

Sublime 3 And would the bedroom through the doorway (look how small the door is compared to the high ceilings!), end up like this:


Photo (above) Haven in Paris

trans21_4_202_468_9820_1_4 And finally, would the sweet little kitchen gain soft sophistication, like this?

Photo Haven in Paris

“So when are you getting the keys?” I asked, barely able to contain my excitement, after decorating every imaginary room, and trying to hide my growing impatience. “Soon,” I was assured. “Don’t worry; you’ll be the first.”

When my agent called on Friday evening to say that she was getting the keys the next day, I was just about ready to burst. It’s unusual for a Parisian realtor to work on Saturdays, but mine is American and she does things a little differently. “I’ll call you from the apartment,” she said, at 11 p.m. her time. “I promise! I’ll be there when you wake up.” We agreed to a full-price offer, sight unseen, because I knew that this one was worth it, and it was the only way to secure the first bid.

When the phone rang at 8 a.m.on Saturday, I’d already been out for a walk with the dog and a workout at our clubhouse. I had eaten a full breakfast and read the entire N.Y. Times. I was starting a load of laundry and working on my taxes, just to keep myself from bursting with anticipation. One of the things that I’ve loved about my agent is that she gets it like I do. She sees the beauty in the old and knows just how to transform it. No wall is too solid and no task is too daunting for her. Every detail is important and we can spend hours on the phone discussing the door knobs, coat hooks or the shape of an oval window. I knew she’d give me a full report and I couldn’t wait for all the nitty gritty details: Were the floors all gorgeous? Were the beams aged to perfection? What about the courtyard? What were the common areas like? How high were the ceilings? Where was the bathroom? What was the angle of the sun?

And of course the question I was most anxious to have answered: When will the sublime soon be mine?

Stay tuned for next week, “From the Sublime … part deux”