Paris Journal #5: The Hunt for the Paris Flat

Not far from my prized Parisian flat.

Apartment-hunting in Paris should be a registered sport. It certainly takes a lot of stamina to train for it, and few people emerge victorious. I have rarely been so exhausted as I have over the past week and a half. However, the effort was worth it; I have achieved the Holy Grail of finding an affordable and livable Paris apartment. Not only is it livable, but it even has a view of the Eiffel Tower! That only happens in movies, right?

The French, being French, have a serious aversion to anything that might resemble efficiency. Thus, if you are trying to find an apartment through an estate agent, you need to personally visit every agent who represents the arrondissement (area) where you are looking to find an apartment. So if you happen to want to live in this beautiful city, be sure to pack sturdy walking shoes and infinite protein bars. Without exaggeration, I must have walked at least 20 miles in search of a place to live.

Parisian estate agents are generally even worse than their American counterparts, if that can be believed. At least in the U.S. there is some concept of customer service, where the agent actually calls you back every now and then. No such thing here. It is expected that, because everyone and their mother want to live here (and as a friend put it, “People would kill their own parents for a good apartment in Paris”), all they have to do is sit back and watch the desperate expatriates grovel for a living space that you can barely turn around in. I’ve seen people whose SUVs had more room than the typical Paris apartment.

So, prepared to perform my proper amount of groveling, I began my apartment search. The first agent I encountered was actually quite nice. A handsome, young agent who, in typical Parisian fashion, flirted with me outrageously the entire time. It was not in a creepy way, however; he was really quite charming. I imagine it goes with the territory. Flirting with customers must be one of the perks of being an estate agent. The most amusing aspect of this particular agent was that the dashboard of his car was piled so high with philosophy books — from Descartes to Zen Buddhism — that he could barely see where he was driving. Unfortunately, he didn’t show me anything worth renting, although I did get his phone number.

Then you have the agent who never answers the phone; who, when you finally get hold of him, tells you he has to arrange with the present tenant a convenient time to see the place and that he will call you back; then two days later when you manage to get through to him again he tells you it has already been rented.

There’s also the type to whom you specify what you’re looking for in terms of space and price, who shows you a spectacular apartment right across from Notre Dame that you believe is only 950 euros a month (as it was listed on the sign in the agency window). Then, when you sit down to fill out the paperwork, it turns out that it’s really 1,850 euros a month, and that’s before his 13 percent commission!

If you manage to get lucky, like I did, you can even find the rare estate agent who is friendly, listens, and seems genuinely interested in renting you a livable place. He took me up to an apartment that another realtor told me could not be seen until the following week, and it was perfect. Needless to say, this realtor earned his commission, and I’m happy to pay it to someone who actually made some effort to earn it.

I have to say, however, that in the relatively wide range of apartments I looked at, both in terms of size and cost, I didn’t encounter any so bad that I would never consider living in it, the way I had in Santa Fe. For the price you pay here, you actually get decent accommodations, if not a lot of space. I’ve seen $1,000 per month apartments in Santa Fe that I wouldn’t let a dog live in.

So my agent is going to help me set up an account with the electric company, an even more coveted thing for foreigners here than having an account with France Telecom. Apparently, everything here hinges on having an account with the electric company. After I get the coveted account I can get a mobile phone, internet service, and probably run for President.

Now the real kicker is that, while the apartment is on the 7th floor of the building, with a lovely view of the top of the Eiffel Tower, I actually have an ascenseur (elevator) up to the 6th floor! A friend has told me that, unless I’m Scarlett Johansson, I would have more luck with men here if I didn’t live in a 6th floor walk-up. Most amusing.

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