{Un}Glamorous Paris: Finding an Apartment, part deux

The truth about Paris: it’s all a façade. Here’s why.

Over the past few weeks I’ve started looking for a new apartment in Paris. At first it’s a really exciting task, but quickly becomes daunting and painful, and just plain depressing. For instance, there are plenty of unexpected surprises along the way. You waste your time visiting places where when you sit on the toilet your feet are in the shower, or that “courtyard view” that was advertised is in fact a white wall that is 3 meters away from both windows. Sure, it reflects the light well, but in that particular place, I felt like had I been wearing heels and a ponytail my head would have hit the ceiling – it would be better fit for a hobbit. But the irony of this all, is for that particular apartment, announced the evening prior, I was the first to arrive, and by the time they started showing the place there were already two dozen people waiting (and more arrived by the time I turned around 30 seconds after seeing the place and realizing this was not my future home). And while slightly larger than my current 12m2 (129sf) shoebox, these places still ran the equivalent of $750-900 USD/mo! The depressing thing is that not only is housing pricey (and over-priced) in Paris, all too often it’s for complete crap. And people compete for it!

In Paris, even if you fall in love with the apartment of your dreams, it is still not yours – the game continues. One of the first apartments I discovered I was the first or second to call and make an appointment. The landlord’s very first question to me: “How much money do you make?” Oy vey! For that place, I was gathering my dossier – all my documents you need in France – at home when I got a call that the place was already taken. In that case, someone sneaked in and grabbed an appointment before mine and got it. In other scenarios you have upwards of 30 people visiting a place, you submit your dossier, which me feels like I’m handing over a recipe for identity theft. They then review all the dossiers and pick the one they like best. A popularity contest? Favorism? The richest? They liked your shoes the best? Who knows!

For me, I have a few factors working against me. Here’s the breakdown to start to understand how the French do business.

  1. I’m a freelancer, which to the French equates to not having a steady salary, so it also means finding a landlord willing to take the “risk.”
  2. In France, despite having much lower salaries than I’m used to in the U.S. to rent an apartment you are expected to make 3-4 times the monthly rent to even be considered for a place.
  3. Most landlords also require a “guarant” who is someone who will be responsible and pay your rent in case you don’t (which in France, I’ve heard several horror stories of people not paying – including my next door neighbor (a law student) who sneakily moved out of her apt at night after not having paid her rent for several months and never told the landlord!). The catch is the “guarant” needs to be French, and also needs to provide their identity card and last three payslips. (American friends without a guarant once had to block 4 months of rent in order to secure their place – that’s a lot when it’s for a family of 4 and that doesn’t include the 2 month deposit). [I recommend VINGTParis for mid-range stays].
  4. I am foreign = a risk to some landlords.
  5. There is such a demand for apartments that landlords can get away with just about anything. (One friend paid an entire year up front in order to secure an apartment!). The reality is that even for a super small apartment you can expect to pay 2,000 Euros up front to pay the first month rent, 1-2 months “caution” [deposit - 2 months if it is furnished], and another month’s rent in “honoraires” [agency fees]. It is not cheap to live in Paris!
  6. It seems that everyone has mastered the internet, so the highly recommended PAP.fr (avoid agency fees typically) and seloger.com (I love the app) means that everyone is using these sites and there is a ton of competition for the listings. I’ve signed up for phone and email alerts that are clogging my inbox, but you have to act fact with most of these listings, especially the more “budget friendly” ones (ha! as if they were actually budget friendly).
  7. There is not the same urgency by landlords or agencies to call you back as there is for you to find an apartment. You’d think the fact that I gave my contact info to an agency in my neighborhood last Friday I would have gotten a call by now (6 days later) – not so much. My next tactic is just to go in person to the agency if I find something that looks promising.
  8. The entire process feels like a giant waste of time (admitted, I’m working on a smaller budget than some), but I honestly don’t know how I’d do it if I didn’t have the flexible, freelancer (formerly student) schedule! My advice if you’re moving to Paris? Get sent by a company who has an entire department devoted to dealing with this crap for you, and will sponsor and deal with your paperwork as well.
So let’s lighten the mood and talk about style. It’s funny what a good reputation Paris has for being stylish because I have seen the ugliest interior design decisions in my life in this country (they have particularly poor taste when it comes to couches, and have this weird affinity for bad modernism). I’ve included a few actual images from SeLoger for your entertainment – as you can see, there is not much emphasis on even trying to make a place look remotely good.

As an aside, I recently curated some of my favorite Paris studios as part of Airbnb’s new “Wishlist” relaunch which puts an emphasis on great photography — it would seriously be a dream to find anything half as good as those listings. Great for interior inspiration and dreaming in the meantime.

Anyway, hence, Paris is all a façade…. and takes a lot of patience!

Where to go to find an apartment in Paris:

Relieved to only be visiting Paris? Here are my recommendations on where to stay in the city hotel + apartment wise!

For on the realities of finding an apartment in Paris, check out part one (my experiences two years ago) in my {Un}Glamorous Paris series, sharing the less than perfect sides to living in Paris.

Top image: my Instagram; Paris apartment screenshots via SeLoger; Paris studio graphic by Airbnb

50 comments

  • That is insane! I’m feeling very thankful to live in Dublin – where the worst problem you have is that places are rented before you get to see them. So much emigration going on that there are enough places available. I don’t know what will happen if the economy ever picks back up!
    We have similar design issues (although no reputation to heighten expectations) and the Irish have a love of hideously patterned curtains from the 80′s. Good luck!!

  • Thanks, Emily! Yes, not a fun process at all, so doing my best to find the comedic benefits. Also crossing my finger that any future landlord does not hold this post against me ;)

    A

  • I feel for you Anne! This sounds SO much like getting an apartment in Berlin—with the exception that you will end up with a larger floor plan than 12m2.
    I was incredibly lucky to find my place through a friend of a friend of a friend as well as a number of other things that fell into place to make it happen. In the end, the landlord wouldn’t sign the lease until she had met me in person—and that was only one week before I had to be out of my old apartment. I never want to move again!
    Good luck with your search!!

  • There are definitely down sides to living in these big, popular cities! A friend of mine moved from Paris to Belgium and was floored by how easy it was to find a place. She was also pleasantly surprised to discover it’s the landlord who covers all the agency fees there. Alas, the price we pay…

    All my friends conveniently travel next month (hey, it’s France) so I think I may just be a homeless nomad for a bit!

    A

  • Thanks, Lindsey! Yes, I am being stubborn and holding out until I find something “qui me fait plaisir” — even if it means being homeless ;)

    As for the Airbnb wishlist, that took some digging to curate too. Note to self: start a movement to bring simple style to Paris apartments!!

    A

  • Berlin will love you, Ditty. Come into the Fatherland’s open arms.

    This (particularly the bit about the “guarant”) sounds like my sister’s experience in New York. She still feels that was one of the most humiliating experiences of her life, having to ask our mom for her monthly pay statements. Many tears.

  • I think you’re going about this all wrong. Focus on finding a French boyfriend, not an apartment.

    But seriously, you are completely spot on. There is a false notion that everything in Paris from fashion to home decor is so stylish, but one trip to Leroy Merlin / Castorama /etc will tell you otherwise. I’ve been doing some work on my apartment, and the choices are limited and many times hideous. (My budget, like yours, is not sky high) It’s no wonder I won’t buy anything Ikea in the US, but here it’s got better design (and prix/quality rapport) than the other stores around.

    GOOD LUCK!!!

  • Tom, it’s definitely not out of the question, but Rebecca’s post did not increase my hope there either ;) At least in Berlin I’d start very short term – baby steps!

    Lynn, Oh man, that’s asking a lot – would totally have to vet the boys based on their apt style (or lack there of). Hmmm. Maybe I should start talking with Target and see if they’ll buy out Leroy Merlin et al. I actually hope I find something unfurnished – it’ll be so small anyway, it won’t take much, but excited to find hidden treasures at Emmaus (the French version of Goodwill/thrifting).

    A

  • YES, Zia Blue! And as I was just reminded on Twitter, I tried to move in January, but became so stressed I begged my landlords for another semester. Now it really is time for me to move on…

    A

  • Anne,

    I found the best luck through leboncoin.fr, not only for furnishings but also for apartments — you get more regular-style landlords who aren’t plugged in to taking advantage of hapless and helpless expats. Do keep looking at Craigslist — I found some decent leads through there, but also look under “garage sales” and contact the posters to see if their about-to-be-abandoned apartment has a new tenant yet. If you can say you’re anything other than American, everyone will take you more seriously as a potential locataire; if you can’t get around the American thing, then if asked where you’re from reply with “j’ai un garant”. If they ask again, reply with “j’ai une carte vitale.” They’ll forget they’re asking eventually but, really, they won’t care about your nationality so much once they hear that. If you don’t have all the dossiers landlords are looking for, provide supplements in the form of letters of reference from clients, colleagues, landlords, your boulangere — anyone French you can think of that will give you a glowing reference (I’ll be happy, as a German citizen in France, to write one for you as well). Provide your declarations de cotisations for two years if you have it — the more paperwork the happier they are. And be sure to try and avoid agents where possible and meet directly with landlords… and tell the landlord how much you love the apartment and what a clever job s/he did picking out that hideous clic-clack or paint color.

    And don’t dismiss Leroy Merlin — they have some really great small living space design ideas!

    Susie K

  • Oh and PS: apparently the French boyfriend solution is a popular one. From what I’ve heard, it only takes one date, a charming pout, and a few tears…

  • Awesome advice, Susie. And cannot wait to find some gems on Au Bon Coin after I find a place! (Ironically this blog post already got me a killer lead!)… I do know some Frencies that LOVE Americans so in that case it may work in my favor… So crazy that I know more people in Paris than any other city in the world, and it’s still this challenging – just goes to show what the market’s like.

    And not dissing Leroy Merlin — love the functional stuff, just some of their designs leave a bit to be desired.

    Oh, and on the French boyfriend, typically I joke that one kiss and you’re married here. (With the exception with the Frenchmen I’ve met ;) ha!)

    A

  • Anne,

    I’ll aslo keep my eyes and ears open!!!

    The apartment search really is tough in Paris. They take into account EVERYTHING and want you to be a rich lifeless snoot at times. OY. I totally know what you mean, it’s like a full time job finding one!

    I wish you all the best, STAY STRONG! You’ll stumble upon everything you need, it always turns out ok in the end!

    Bisous,

    Meg

  • ooof. It’s all coming back to me… the craziness of the Paris apartment-go-round is one of the reasons I decided to give Vancouver a whirl. The rent is cheaper than Paris & the spaces are HUGE. Don’t throw things – I am moving to a place with my very own 47m sq roof patio facing the mountains… Of course, if it doesn’t work out I’ll be Paris-bound… and yup, racing to try and find a tiny garrett of my own with everyone else! Keep holding out – you’ll be glad you did.

  • OMG, you made me laugh with your “they want you to be a rich lifeless snoot at times” comment, Meg… As a highly responsible person it really makes me wonder how those slackers ever find a home!

    A French friend the other day told me that she heard a radio program where it said last year 7,000 young French professionals moved back in with their parents (granted the French live at home longer than Americans do) because the housing market is so tough! ACK… I know there are thousands upon thousands of empty apts in this city, but landlords don’t want to have to deal with crap and their inability to kick people out. Le sigh.

    A

  • Had to share this comment my friend Alannah [in Paris] left on my FB post:

    Uuugh – it can be horrible! I think we contacted 60 places, saw 8-10 and fortunately for us, the only one we were offered was the one that we really wanted anyways. Sometimes it works out.

    As for where to look, another suggestion I’ve been told is to ask at any of the local shops you frequent. If they know you well enough to recognized you, get a little teary eyed and tell them that you’re looking.

    Oh, and YES the decor is so awful!!! Based on what we’ve seen, you were VERY kind in your photo choices.

    Btw, we had to buy rent insurance to satisfy our landlord (this, despite Omid’s employer being our guarant, him being salarié, and making well over the minimum amount). The agent actually paid it (it was something small like €30) and it basically insured against us skipping town without paying our rent.

  • I bet you’ll find a wonderful landlord/lady who is intrigued by you, loves your work, gets your sense of humor and you’ll score an awesome pad. Be the little choo choo & Keep the faith, Ditty. You can do it if you think you can, think you can!
    -D. Marie

  • ahem ahem… Berlin! I have to admit after living in San Francisco, Berlin was a walk in the park. We might have also gotten pretty lucky though. No matter how difficult it would here in Berlin though, I highly doubt it would be as bad as paris. Plus you would easily have 3x the space.

    Um that shower?!?!?! oh my word that is beyond ridiculous. I know I give you a hard time about joining me in Berlin, but I really do hope you find a fabulous little place in Paris!! fingers crossed!

  • It’s too bad you can’t buy a small place and start reading some dossiers yourself. Hang in there! It’s worth it.

  • Ashley, you get a gold star for noticing that CLEAR SHOWER in the middle of that kitchen/bedroom! Hilarious, right!?!?

    As Alannah pointed out, these pictures are actually quite mild compared to a lot of places that she visited. I have to admit, in my search online there were some way worse ones, but when I went to grab images for my post this morning these were the worst I could find. As a photographer, you’d truly appreciate some of the floor shots and creative angles that show absolutely nothing!

    Thanks for the well wishes!

    A

  • Thanks, Martin! As long as the French keep me running on these wild goose chases for my paperwork (see other UnGlam Paris posts!), it’s going to be a LOOONNNNGGGGG time before I’m buying anything. ;)

    A

  • All the best of luck to you Anne! We are french and when we decided to move back from the UK to Paris (Huge mistake!!!)-we had the worst nightmare in finding a flat to rent…it was December, hubby only had a week to come to Paris and find THE place, and even with a really good IT new job contract in his pocket, it turned out the be hell….we had to ask my dad to be our garant even though in our very late thirties and fully employed! we put together around 8 “dossiers” for flats we thought would suit us….never got any reply except for the one we finally rent now since Feb….one thing for sure, they couldn’t find anyone for it…it is a total rip off, but was the only roof we found to meet our deadline, and although we pay 1400euros for 44m2 in the 3rd district (not counting the huge amount of agency fees, deposit etc…;!), we can’t wait for the day we’ll leave this place!!!!Yessssss, Paris is such a huge facade!the flat was all freshened up, white pain and all, but living here is painful when you discover it is all fake, noisy -no double glazing on the street, and ….smelly (dead rat smell when it gets hot outside!) Just can’t wait either to go back to the UK or to just leave this horrible and so over-rated city that is Paris!!!!and yes, I am french, and I have lived there many times… Always came to the point where we couldn’t take it anymore and run away from it all…always coming back! This time, if we leave it’s for good! as lovely the buildings and history of Paris are, we can stand it anymore!or we’ll remain just visitors!!! All the very best of luck!!!!! I really really feel for you. Lily x ps-sorry I didn’t reply to your lovely facebook message-I got it too late and your account was already closed…. tweeter is best anyway and I follow you as @Lilypinkcat-still love reading your blog!

  • Wow, Lily, how do you really feel ;) haha. So awful, and thankfully we can all bond over it all. It’s really not at all easier for the French than for a foreigner. It’s a shame the French gov’t hasn’t realized the flaws in the system and done something to correct them (i.e. there are THOUSANDS of empty apts because no one – on either side – wants to deal with the crap it takes).

    For your sake, I hope you find a way to stay, and fall back in love with Paris. I think it will just be a matter of you taking over an awesome apartment that one of your friends leaves ;)

    Bon courage!
    Anne

  • oh, dear. apartment hunting is so difficult, and like getting cut or having your heart break, it’s easy to forget about the pain and suffering once you’re nicely settled. glad to hear you’re already a master a tiny apartment dwelling. sending lots of good vibes that something just right crops up for you!

  • I seriously do not understand how it would be possible for a young professional to buy an apartment in Paris,unless they take a ..40-50 year mortgage?!

    Since I’m moving to Paris to be with my bf, we will be looking for a bigger apartment and he will need to rent out his current studio in the 5e arrondissement. Maybe it will be too late for you (free in mid-august,beginning of september), but if you’re interested, it’s in a modern building on Rue Fer à Moulin right to rue Mouffetard, 25 m2 with balcony and a big bathroom, 700/month. The only downside is that it’s covered with CARPET!!

    Good luck with your apartment hunt, I hope you will find something charming without having to go to the suburbs!!

  • Oh Anne, I totally feel for you. And can relate to your pain. When I arrived fresh-faced and hopeful in Paris in 1994, landed an apartment in the trendy Montorgueil ‘hood and moved in all within a month of arriving, I had no idea that I was in for 6 months of the landlord COMING IN TO SHOWER in my (electric = very safe, not) shower when I was at work. EEEWWWW! Even the concierge told me he was mad and I didn’t believe her. Finally I had enough and was storming out of my building”to find another place to live” when the same concierge told me of an available apartment in another escalier in the building. For the same price 18m sq instead of 8s sq and no crazy landlord. Though I did spend the subsequent 4 years avoiding said crazy because he used to hang out on the bench outside my building. EVERY DAY!! I wish I had been blogging then – noone would have believed it.

    I too had a shower next to the sink in the kitchen (and a toilette sur le palier) for 4 years so I laughed at that picture up there!

    Something GOOD is coming along for you my friend. All things happen for a reason and I KNOW that soon we will be reading stories about your new fab apartment! Hugs and courage!!

  • @Erin, you’re so right on the good when you feel settled, but for now I don’t want to settle on a piece of crap ;) Patience, patience!

    @Yili, forget trying to understand how young people buy, I don’t even know how they afford to rent based on the salaries… My student loans mean I play it on the safe side when it comes to my rent, but seriously between the LOW salaries and HIGH rents, my mind is completely boggled as how they do it!

    @Mardi, I am SO disturbed just thinking about that. Happy you survived that era! I spent my first year here in 10m2 (see my diagram here: http://www.pret-a-voyager.com/2010/04/art-of-living-in-10m2.html) and this will be 2 years in 12m2 (129sf). I actually love small living, and I can legitimately say I can’t host my Million Visitors ;) … But until you live in Paris you don’t really get it!

    @Lauren, Rebecca didn’t instill much confidence in finding something in Berlin either ;) …. Striving for something that gets me best of both worlds, and did get an awesome lead thanks to this post.

    EVERYONE, You are seriously making my day with your comments. Merci mille fois! Let’s laugh about it!

    Anne

  • Ouf, this remembers me of our apartment-hunt exactly 10 years ago. We were looking for a spacious place close to Paris, not even intramuros!, and visited the most incredible overpriced places.

    One of the apartments smelled like wet dogs (the owners had 3 big dogs) and we visited with a dozen of couples at the same time. Which is rather soft, if I read from your experiences… It also had these western saloon doors in the tiny American kitchen. I wish I’d taken some pictures!

    Anyway, it made us move further away from Paris, but we did find a spacious park view apartment. And ended up buying our own place here as well. And you know how that ended ;)

    Stay strong!!!! I’m sure you’ll end up finding a great place in Paris… or Berlin…

  • July 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm // Reply

    Agh, what a nightmare. Bonne chance, the right place will come at the right time – these things always work out in the end.

  • Judith, These stories are just priceless. Wet dog smell + saloon doors – I love it! For me it’s one thing to be over-priced, but these are primarily over-priced pieces of crap!!! But yes, your story does turn out very well :)

    Susie, Thanks for the well wishes! May take a nod from you and be a nomad for a bit :)

    A

  • I feel your pain.
    When I was offered at job at Laurent Dubois a year and a half ago it was late December and they wanted me to have found a place, moved in and to start working by the middle of January. I looked and looked, but it was nearly Christmas, which meant that none of the agents were bothering to work until after the New Year and even though I had Laurent’s name to throw around, I didn’t have a Contrat de Travail yet.
    Basically, I was trying to do the impossible, and in the end had to turn down the job.

    All my fingers crossed and positive thoughts headed your way! You will find something!!!!

  • Hi Anne

    Thank you for this post. I’ll be moving to Paris next year with my husband and I’m incredibly nervous about this very same issue. I’m fortunate to be an EU citizen but neither of us will have confirmed work until arrival.

    In your research and experience will our year’s worth of rent savings and proof of other investments be sufficient to avoid a guarantor? I do have an old family friend in France but it seems a little forward to ask for all that paperwork from them!

  • Nobody believes me when I tell them I slept on a bed in the living room in one place, then had an 8×8 room at another. But you gotta do what you gotta do as an expat in Paris! I would only move back if I was sponsored by my employer. But the great thing is that experience really toughened me up!

  • Wow, so when you find an apartment you love, you should stay!!! I don’t even want to know the process for buying an apartment or home. I really would like to live in Paris at some point in my life, so I guess I should start saving up my one year’s rent in advance. :)
    -Sonya

  • Bianca, it’s definitely going to be tough without confirmed work. Think about it, if you were a landlord would your ideal tenant be unemployed? As many documents you can put together as possible will help you and make you look more legit. I carry my biz plan in French with me as well as my Prefecture binder – for whatever they may ask. Try to fudge whatever you can to make it work… See Susie K’s notes above too.

    Betsy, YES! I say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Never imagined to be in 10 & 12m2 at my age and stage, but at the same time it’s kind of awesome!

    Chic81, people who buy boggle my mind too! But with the high rents you may as well invest if you can!

    Anne

  • Sounds like finding an apartment at Berkeley! I went out with my daughter to hunt. Her father thought we were making the stories up … till he came out and tried.
    Re French sofas … that looked like “le click-clack” M Noel tried to sell us. Doubles as a bed. too ugly for a picture.

  • My fingers and toes are crossed for you, Anne. Paris or Berlin, you’ll end up with a fabulous pad. I’m sure of it! But ouf. What an incredible ordeal! It should *not* be that difficult to find a decent place to live in Paris, or any major city. Sucks that so many people buy in Paris and then only rent out for short periods to visitors, but not those actually living/working in Paris. That really is a big problem, eh?

  • @Loulou, whoops, skipped you… I have a few friends with apt agencies (rentals – short to mid term). Try Vingt Paris, Perfectly Paris or One Week Flats.

    @Pat the thing at least with Berkeley as there are many students you have a lot of people coming and going, but yes, I imagine it’s a tough market. Glad your husband got to experience it first hand – the only way to “get it” is to live it! And yes, those UGLY klick klaks — I lived on one for a year the year I was a teacher in Paris.

    @Marisa it’s not that people buy apts to just not rent them. They may be a family thing, or they just don’t want to deal with the hassle of renting, and the impossibility of kicking someone out. So many are EMPTY. Once you’re in no one wants to leave because they know it’s hell!

    Anne

  • I didn’t read all the other comments but I was curious why you don’t try out in zone 3? Things are much cheaper easily 100-400 euros cheaper for a place that is at least double the size of your current place. It takes no time at all to get into “Paris” limits on the metros and trains. With that kind of savings you might could get some breathing room as a freelancer month to month.

  • I totally feel you. I lived in Zurich for many years and the demand for apartments is so much higher than the supply. Line-ups, huge deposits, salary statements etc. I usually ended up renting from a friend that wanted to break her lease, etc.
    I also lived in Paris during my university years and rented a peach coloured shoebox, where I indeed could sit on the toilet, shower and brush my teeth at the same time. I did have a 1m deep balcony though and was able to see the top 3rd of the Eiffel Tower! Yayyy ;) Fingers crossed for you.

  • Christina, yeah, it could work, but I just feel like at my age and stage in life I need to be in the heart of the city. I love being able to walk home at night even if I miss the metro. Also, looking at the banlieu, I’d have a lot of research to do in terms of good areas.

    Guilia, yes, taking over for a friend is definitely the best way (and practically only) way to do it… Your wee balcony sounds lovely!

    Anne

  • Hey thanks for the advice, a great read just before I move to Paris. Have a question though, I’m looking at your suggested websites and all the apartments are mostly one bedroom. Is it not very common to have flatmates in Paris? I don’t want to share a bedroom but I like living with people for the company! Thanks again

    • Paris apartments are a) small and b) old so many of them were not build to house roommates. You can find shared apartments though. Le Bon Coin is probably the best bet on that front.

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