House Hunting in France: A Soaring Paris Loft With Gustave Eiffel Ceilings

This renovated industrial loft, built in 1900 in the Charonne Quarter of Paris’s eastern 20th arrondissement, served as truck garage and an acoustic speaker factory before being fully renovated and converted to a residence in 2011 by its current owner. The two-bedroom, 2,530-square-foot space is headlined by its soaring glass roof by Gustave Eiffel, which bathes the vast living room in sunlight.

“This is really what takes your breath away when you enter the loft and gives the whole place a natural lighting, which is truly extraordinary,” said Margot Royer-Boquillon, an agent with Paris Marais Sotheby’s Realty, which has the listing. “It feels like you are entering an art piece.”

The building’s front door leads to an entrance hall with a modern Murano chandelier by Venini. Straight ahead is the 1,065-square-foot great room, with 23-foot ceilings vaulted across a living area, dining area, library, and a corner devoted to a grand piano. (The seller is a composer, Ms. Royer-Boquillon said.) A half-bath and a closet are nearby, and a doorway to the right leads to the kitchen, with oak countertops and Smeg appliances.

On the opposite end of the great room is the primary suite, with a glass wall built from doors repurposed from a military school in Versailles. “To convert those doors into a wall appeared to have been a real headache,” Ms. Royer-Boquillon said.

From the main room, a broad opening leads to several rooms at the rear of the home, including a study, a second bedroom with en suite bath, a half-bath, and a large lofted second living room that was once a greenhouse, topped by a newer glass roof. A large cellar is also included.

The home is full of art, Ms. Royer-Boquillon said, including works by Salvador Dalí, Joseph Beuys, Jean-Charles Blais, Maynard Dixon and Pierre Alechinsky, all of which can be included upon negotiation.

The property is in the Charonne neighborhood of Paris, on the eastern edge of the city, which retains a village charm despite being in a densely urban area. Père-Lachaise Cemetery and Place de la Nation are within walking distance, and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is about 30 minutes north.

While the Covid-19 crisis has plunged France into recession, its housing market has stayed afloat as supply shrinks and transactions fall.

According to a Dec. 17 report by the Notaries of Greater Paris, 41,000 existing homes were sold in Paris from August through October of 2020, a 13 percent dip from the same period in 2019, with apartment sales falling more than house sales.

As nervous sellers took their homes off the market, the reduction in activity pushed prices upward. The French Notaries Association reports that, in late October, prices for apartments more than five years old were up 6.6 percent year over year, averaged across the city. The median price was $1,230 a square foot.

After two strict nationwide lockdowns, the definition of desirable housing has expanded to include areas outside the city, where homes with gardens and terraces are more plentiful, agents said. As prices dipped slightly in the centrally located third and eighth arrondissements, for instance, they rose in the eastern and western suburbs.

The stalwart “blue chips” in Paris’s central and western arrondissements — 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 16 — are always in demand, said Alexander Kraft, the chairman and chief executive of Sotheby’s International Realty France. But the region west of the city has seen “a renaissance” amid the pandemic thanks to its bigger spaces and homes with open, outdoor space.

An expansion of the Paris metro, currently underway, will broaden commuting options from outlying areas, further encouraging buyers to consider leaving the city center, said Kathryn Brown, the director of operations with Paris Property Group, a luxury agency. “So you can live outside of Paris and have a house and a yard,” she said. “And the price per square meter is like half of what it is inside Paris.”

France’s rigid lockdowns have accelerated that trend. “I think Americans don’t really understand what it feels like to be confined to your dwelling for two straight months, for eight solid weeks, 23 hours a day,” Ms. Brown said. “We had to have timed and dated permission slips.”

Smaller and less expensive properties in Paris — those priced under about 750,000 euros ($915,000) — are selling “immediately and at full price,” while larger, higher-priced properties “more typically bought by wealthy, foreign buyers, have become more negotiable.”

Even so, agents for luxury properties said 2020 was a robust year despite the reduced sales volume. Charles-Marie Jottras, CEO of the Daniel Féau Group, a luxury real estate agency, said that sales of homes listed at around 1 million to 1.5 million euros ($1.2 million to $1.8 million) fell roughly 10 percent in 2020, while prices rose about 5 percent, with most of that growth occurring in the first half of the year.

“We sold less, but what we see is as soon as the confinement stops, there is a big increase of sales,” Mr. Jottras said. “That means people want to buy. They couldn’t materially do it during the stay-at-home, but now they can do it, and we have a very, very big increase of sales after the second confinement.”

Mr. Kraft said the market has performed “much better than expected” given the circumstances. Paris is still a seller’s market, he said, “provided prices are realistic.” High-end properties in good condition, especially those with outdoor space, are in demand, while homes in need of renovation or in less desirable areas won’t sell. “In the end, our 2020 results will be equal to those of 2019 (a record year), and this despite 3 months of enforced inactivity during the lockdowns!” he wrote in an email.

Pierre-Alain Conil, a partner with Morel d’Arleux, a Paris notary firm, said he worked with many fewer foreign buyers in 2020 than in previous years, and close to none for pieds-à-terre. “I know that some are still considering it for when the pandemic will be over because of how strong the market has proved to be, which makes it a very safe and conservative investment,” he said.

Mr. Kraft saw a similar trend in Paris and throughout France. “Normally, foreign buyers represent at least 50 percent of our clientele,” he said. “In 2020, this number was down to a mere 7 percent.” The agency had many inquiries from abroad, but “only a few international buyers have pulled the trigger due to the inability to visit properties in person.”

According to a July 2019 report by personal finance firm BNP Paribas, the most recent available, most foreign buyers in France came from Britain, followed by Belgium. In the Paris region, “Algerians (9 percent) led the way in 2018, followed by the Americans and the Chinese that are level pegging with the Italians (8percent for each).”

Foreigners can buy real estate in France without restrictions. By law, transactions are handled by notaries. Lawyers are often hired for expensive transactions, which can present more complex tax issues, Mr. Conil said.

Foreigners can get mortgages for around 60 to 70 percent of the purchase price, he said. Americans who borrow with French banks can deduct the loan amount from the value of the property for wealth-tax purposes. Real estate financing loans, he added, are always covered by a death insurance, which may be harder to get or more costly for older clients.

Mr. Kraft said that getting a mortgage as a foreigner “tends to be more complicated than for domestic buyers,” but noted that there are “specialized mortgage brokers available for foreign buyers.” He added that the agent’s commission is typically paid by the seller and included in the sales price.

Closing costs are around 7 to 7.5 percent of the purchase price, including stamp duty, purchase taxes and the notary’s fee, which is set by law. For newly constructed properties or new homes sold off-plan, closing costs are lower: up to 3 percent of the purchase price, Mr. Conil said.

French; euro (1 euro = $1.22)

Annual property taxes on this home are approximately $1,340 (1,100 euros). Condominium fees are around 2,200 euros ($2,700) a year.

Margot Royer-Boquillon, Paris Marais Sotheby’s Realty, 011-33-(0)6-31-63-90-34; sothebysrealty.com

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