Kim Bingham, Real Estate & International Financing Professional
As the director of the international financing agency Private Rate, Kim has become a go-to person for loans to US buyers in France. Her seven years of experience in French real estate range from being Adrian’s top property search consultant in Paris to working as a real estate agent for Paris luxury apartments and French Chateaux. This before founding what is now a seven-member multilingual team of international mortgage brokers at Private Rate in 2017 — a branch of French mortgage firm La Centrale de Financement.
We have clients who have fallen in love with a six-floor walk-up and I'm having sleepless nights over it. When they asked to see the property, I told them in no uncertain terms not to even visit it because I knew that they would fall in love with it and that the reality of living up six flights of stairs wouldn't seem at the time to be as bad as it really is.
They didn't listen to me. Their curiosity got the better of them and they visited the property with our search consultant.
And what do you think happened?
You guessed it; they fell in love with it. (My crystal ball is very, very clear.)
"Will you come visit it?," they asked.
"Yes, but who will carry me up the stairs?," I wanted to know, semi-jokingly.
Of course, I said yes, and prepared myself for the climb. The apartment is in a prime location overlooking a prestigious park in the Marais. The price is 14,000€ a square meter. Normally prices on apartments up six flights of stairs are at the lowest for the location, but this one is still expensive (in my judgment).
It has vaulted ceilings, a skylight, a mezzanine, one bedroom, a large bathroom, a fully-equipped kitchen, open beams, two big windows with a view of the park...and sure the apartment is very, very nice. But, the stairway is treacherous. It's narrow, uneven, sometimes curving, sometimes straight and steep and the worst part of all is that there is no landing at the top so you fall right in or out of the door of the apartment. There is no chance for the installation of an elevator at all...it never will have one. The opportunity to install an elevator would change a lot for the decision. It would cost the most, as the higher floors pay the higher portion of the cost, but it will add the most to the value, too.
Nine of us stood in the apartment in argument: the clients, four friends, our search consultant and the agent. The agent will say anything to sell it, and did. He is also less than 30 years old and therefore a climb to the sixth floor means nothing to him. Our clients are in their mid 50's. If they were ten years younger, this decision might be different. Their friends aren't young either, but two were opposed and two were in favor. Our search consultant remained neutral, but I stood my ground on what haunts me as a huge mistake.
It's our job to ensure that our clients are making the best investment they can make on a property, and with their eyes wide open. We are not "sales people" to sell just anything, or just give our clients what they want — since they aren't usually as experienced or knowledgeable about French property as we are. That's the reason they hire us. What property they purchase is of utmost concern as we must always stand behind our advice.
So, let's take a look at the pros and cons of the ownership of a sixth-floor walk-up and then you can decide for yourself, too, if this is something you want, too:
In areas where the streets are narrow, such as Le Marais, often you have to "go up to get light" — so if you want light and views, then living third floor and higher gives you a better chance. In such old buildings, elevators can be scarce, so the trade-off is taking the stairs.
The quality of the staircase is very important. I live up 70 steps to the third floor. The staircase is wide and the risers are low, so the climb is not very difficult. The staiwell is filled with light from large windows, so the truth is that my climb up is actually quite pleasant, even if sometimes challenging the last flight. My Nice apartment is up three flights as were others I've owned. Three flights is doable and my preferred height, as you can get plenty of sky and light without having to climb too far up. Friends who live just down the block from me have six flights to their apartment. The stairs spiral up in a normal and even fashion. There are landings at every point and while it's high, it's manageable and keeping them fit. Yes, stairs do you keep you in better physical condition and that's one thing I enjoy about mine. In this case, the stairway is unmanageable, at least for me. I found it treacherous and something I hope never to do again for fear of injuring myself, even if not carrying anything up or down.
That leads me to the issue of taking things in and out of the apartment. There are services that will deliver your groceries up the stairs, so some of it can be avoided, but what about suitcases? I have learned to roll them up and down my own stairs, but on these stairs, that would be virtually impossible because of how narrow they are and the way they curve or not. What about furnishings? Those will have to forklifted into the apartment from the street at extra expense. If the washer needs replacing, it will be no simple matter! What about renovation? Contractors will charge extra for those deliveries. Personally, I can't imagine myself climbing up or down even with what I usually have with me (purse, briefcase, etc.), much less an extra bag of groceries.
Okay, so let's say you're not carrying much, but you get to the bottom and you forgot something important? Or what about after a night out on the town and you're half drunk. How are you getting up there? What if you have injured a knee or in this case, one of the buyers just injured his elbow — even that poses a problem to climbing up, holding on to the railing while holding anything else at the same time. That would be a big challenge.
If you're living up six flights of stairs, do you go down early in the morning for a fresh baguette? Likely not. In fact, you're more likely to go out and stay out so that you don't have to climb the stairs more often than necessary. It's almost worse than living outside of the city as it's not as accessible as one might think. Friends won't stop by to visit. Some friends won't or can't come at all. Their parents are never going to see the apartment unless they are particularly fit.
Forget renting it out, except at low rental rates and only to the young. And resale is less certain with all the arguments against it. Other issues have to do with the apartment being under the roof — roofs often have leak issues. The "copropriété" (homeowner association) pays for the damages, but you're at their mercy to make the repairs. And in a small building like this one, their charges will amount to 12 percent of the total — so it's a high price to pay on top of it all.
One last thing I realized while tossing and turning in my sleep over it, is that the great views can't be realized without being fairly close to the window. From most of the apartment, all you will see is sky, so a third floor vantage point would be much more enjoyable. They fell so madly in love with the apartment that it's tough to harp on the negative issues, but it's very important they understand the reality of their future life in this property, even though I know they won't blame me should they later regret it.
And you never know. They could love every minute of their beautiful views in spite of the climb up and down. I do hope they prove me wrong. Nothing would make me happier.
P.S. Next week and the week after I'll be writing from Los Angeles, the two last issues of French Property Insider of the year. While I'm there, I will be meeting with a number of clients interesting in living in France or making an investment here. I hope to gain even more insight as to what is motivating Americans to move to France and relate to you those findings, as well as how purchasing real estate in the U.S. compares to the process and price here in France. Stay tuned!
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