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Apartment Hunting Zen

photo: bottle depot
Substitute for refrigerator box.

Paris Life - No 27

by Laurel Avery

Paris:- December 2003:- Apartment-hunting in Paris should be a registered sport. It certainly takes a lot of stamina to train for and to emerge victorious.

I have rarely been so exhausted as I was for a week and a half last spring. However, the effort was worth it and I 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!

The French, being French, have a serious aversion to anything which might resemble efficiency. Thus, if you are trying to find an apartment through a realtor, you need to personallyphoto: mag, particular a particular visit every realtor who may represent the arrondissement - or even particle of a quartier - where you are looking for an apartment. If you happen to want to live in this beautiful city, be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes and bring infinite protein bars.

Without exaggeration, I must have walked at least 30 kilometres in search of a place to live. A 'kilometre' in Paris is a kilo of metres and 30 of them add up to about 20 miles.

The paper to get for private-to-private apartment offers.

Parisian realtors are generally even worse than their American counterparts, if it can be believed. At least in the U.S. there is some concept of customer service, where the realtor actually calls you back every now and then. No such thing here.

It is expected that, since everyone and their mother wants to live here - and as a friend put it, "People would kill their own parents for a good apartment in Paris" - all a realtor has to do is sit back and watch the desperate homeless grovel for a space that you can barely turn around in. I've seen Twingos - a sub-car with a cute name - that have more space than a typical Paris apartment.

So, prepared to do my proper amount of grovelling, I began my apartment search. The first realtor Iphoto: realty shop encountered was actually quite nice, though in typical Parisian fashion, flirted with me outrageously the entire time. It goes with the territory and if you don't like flirty realtors, don't try to move here.

There are four of these in every block.

It must be one of the perks of being a male realtor. The most amusing aspect of this particular realtor 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. 'Soyez zen!' is an essential motto for apartment seekers.

Then you have the realtors who never answer the phone. When you finally get one, he tells you he has to arrange with the present tenant to see the place and will call you back. Two days later when you manage to get through to him again he tells you it has already been rented.

There's another type who you tell what you're looking for in terms of space and price. He shows you a spectacular apartment right across from Notre-Dame that you believe is only 950€ a month - as it was posted on the sign in the agency window - and when you sit down to fill out the paperwork, you see that it's really 1,850€ a month. This is not counting his 13 percent commission! Zen wears thin.

If you do manage to get lucky - like I did - you can even find the rare realtor who is friendly, listens, and seems genuinely interested in renting you a livable place. My 'find' took me up to an actual apartment that another realtor told me could not be seen until the following week. Needless to say, 'my' realtor was worth every one of the thousands of euros of his commission.

I looked at relatively wide range of apartments. Both in terms of size and cost, I didn't encounter any that I would never consider living in, the way I have in Santa Fe. For the price you pay here, you actually get decent accommodations, if you don't mind small spaces. I've seen $1,000-a-month apartments in Santa Fe that I wouldn't let a dog live in.

'My' realtor helped me set up an account with the electric company - EDF - an even more coveted prize for foreignersphoto: twinkle tour eiffel here than having an account with France Télécom. Apparently, everything here hinges on having an account with the electric company. After I got it I could get a cell phone, Internet service, a Bon Marché credit card and could probably run for President on the zen platform.

My apartment is on the 7th floor of a building, with a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower. Now the real kicker is that I actually have an elevator - ascenseur - that goes up to the 6th floor!

Few apartments have a good view of the Tour Eiffel.

A friend told me that, unless I'm Julia Roberts, I would have more luck with men here if I didn't live in a 7th floor walk-up. Most amusing. Not at all zen.

Text & photos, Laurel Avery © 2003

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