House Hunter: 'We're after a light-filled flat in Le Marais'

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The Independent Online

THE PROBLEM

Atul Solanki and Thomas Brooks write: "We live in London and for some time have been thinking about buying a holiday home. We thought about Barcelona, but recently have settled on Paris as it's so easy to get to, is a place we know and love, and we have friends who live there.

"Although we know the city well, apart from looking in estate agents' windows whenever we go to get a feel of what we can afford, neither of us wants to buy somewhere without taking advice from someone who speaks French fluently. We both speak a little but we wouldn't want to make such a big decision based on our language skills. We also know that the market moves very rapidly in Paris and properties do sell extremely quickly.

"It is easy to decide where we would like to buy, because whenever we go we always spend so much time in Le Marais. It's a fantastic area, very lively with lots of bars and restaurants, and there are tons of independent shops that you don't find here in London. It's got a great mixed community and is very bohemian. In contrast to most of Paris, everything is open on Sunday, which is wonderful for weekend trips. We want to be near everything but not right in the heart, as we don't want to open our door and find hordes of tourists on our doorstep.

"We both want to buy a typical period property with a central courtyard, one bedroom and we don't mind if it needs cosmetic work, but definitely don't want somewhere that needs walls knocking down. Overall, we really want somewhere that is light. In London, we live on the top floor and are used to a lot of light."

THE ADVICE

Marie-Pierre Saint- Martin replies: "This is a very typical search for us. Buyers fall into three main categories: around 40 per cent, like Thomas and Atul, simply want a pied-à-terre for their own use; around 40 per cent want a buy-to-let investment; and the remaining 20 per cent want somewhere in between, which they will use themselves and rent out for weeks here and there.

"The main reason for using a search agent is to save time. Buying in Paris is very time-consuming, as there are more than 2,000 estate agents and each deals only with a small patch around their office. You could visit at least six before finding even one property that fits your criteria. If you are busy people like Thomas and Atul, that sort of searching is very hard to fit into your life.

"Also, the market does move very quickly. If we know that someone is coming to visit we don't start work on their search until two weeks before. If we started a month earlier it would be a waste of time as by the time they arrived in the city the best properties would have sold.

"Lastly, even if their French is fluent, buyers are often not confident about the buying process itself, or they feel that they cannot ask the right questions. Even clients who speak fluent French often prefer to use someone who can negotiate on their behalf. The service can actually work out to be free, because we try to negotiate a good price so the client does not have additional costs on top.

"For this search we showed around 10 properties on two separate visits. Initially, we looked at properties a little further out that were slightly cheaper, but in the end they chose something closer to, but not right in the heart of, Le Marais because they didn't want to be somewhere too noisy. They like the traditional haussmannien buildings with carved stone exteriors and wrought-iron balustrades, and this flat was perfect for them as I saw from their initial reaction.

"The flat is in excellent condition but needs some work, which we are now sorting out. One big reason for our success is that we provide this after-sales service. Finding builders in Paris is just as difficult as it is in the UK and, even if you find one, it is hard to get them to do exactly what you want. We translate all quotations and oversee the work. This way clients aren't hassled by any renovation work."

Marie-Pierre Saint-Martin is a search agent with London Paris Dream Home (020-7820 1337, www.parisdreamhome.com)

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Rue Lacuée, 75012 Paris.

Price: €225,000 (£160,000).

Agent's details: This two-bedroom flat is just a few minutes' walk from the lively area of Bastille and lies within a quiet, traditional stone building. One bedroom overlooks a courtyard, and the smaller bedroom would be ideal as a study. There are open views from the living room.

Property two: Rue Saint-Antoine, 75004 Paris.

Price: €230,000 (£164,000).

Agent's details: This one-bedroom flat, around 43sqm, lies within a lively street in Le Marais. It is in a 17th-century building with a superb staircase, and the flat has great character including high ceiling, exposed beams and vintage floor tiles (tomettes). There is an open-plan kitchenthat overlooks a courtyard. Needs redecoration.

Property three: Rue des Bleuets, 75011 Paris.

Price: €220,000 (£157,000).

Agent's details: This one-bedroom flat is around 42sqm and is on the third floor of a newly refurbished 1930s stone and brick building. It is bright with large windows, and overlooks a small street. Close to the fashionable Rue Oberkampf.

THE VERDICT

"We gave our brief to Marie-Pierre, who arranged for us to visit several properties with her. On our first visit she took us further out to see what we could get for our money but we didn't see anything we liked. But on our second visit we saw several that were much more our sort of thing and we both fell in love with property number one, which we have now bought.

"It has the most perfect location, about five minutes from the Metro, and only takes about 20 minutes to the Gare Du Nord as we always travel by Eurostar.

"It is in a fantastic building, in a really well looked after block, and the lady who owned it had very little furniture, which is just the sort of look we like. It was a lovely sunny day when we saw it and the light pours in.

"The kitchen and bathroom need a bit of work and Marie-Pierre is getting the builders in and overseeing the work. She's been absolutely fantastic. We could never have done this without her, and we'd recommend her to anyone thinking of buying in Paris."

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to House Hunter, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail with full details: househunter@independent.co.uk

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