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DYI or Professional Help?: How to Mix Diamonds with Zircons!

Volume IX, Issue 42

The latest report from the Chambre de Notaires de Paris calls the Paris market “less tense” with sales down by 5% for the period of June through August 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. Prices are still rising, but not quite as dramatically as in the past — 0.8% for June through August 2011 compared with 1.5% for the same period in 2010. The peak was reached this past March with prices having risen 2.5% in one month. Based on pre-sale agreements now on file, the prediction is that the rise in prices will soon come to a stop.
Editor’s Comments: We expect a short period of price reduction while the market is flooded with apartments for sale to fall before the February 1st deadline to benefit from old capital gains tax laws. But our prediction is that prices will rise sharply after that as sellers remove their properties from the market and hold on for longer and higher prices.
Renovating from a Distance
I now know what it’s like to be an absentee owner while renovation is taking place in a distant location. When the Acte de Vente on my Nice apartment was signed and the contractor I had chosen began to put to use the 30% advance payment I had made to begin the work, I woke in a sweat worried that he would abscond with my money and do nothing in the apartment, or worse, make a mess of it. That’s when I realized that most of our clients likely go through the same kind of anxiety attack being so far away and having so little control over the work being done.
Our clients normally hire an Interior Architect who oversees the whole process – our favorite and most trusted being Martine di Mattéo who is responsible for almost all the beautiful luxury apartments on the Parler Paris Apartments Web site. Because I am here in Paris, I’ve always contracted my own, but work with Martine closely to choose the furnishings and finishing materials. (Martine is THE BEST and we are very fortunate to have her loyalty so that all our clients can benefit from her talent.)
In the case of Nice, I am doing the same – contracting the work and hiring Martine to help me with décor.
The contractor I chose in Nice was recommended to our “Mosaïste,” Véronique Husson, but she had not personally worked with him. The signs were good – he came to every rendez-vous on time, spoke intelligently about the work and presented a very fair estimate. We all liked him, plain and simple, and without knowing much about him, felt confident hiring him.
As self-appointed interior designer, with Martine’s guidance and acceptance, it has been I who has organized the general schedule, purchased the materials and scheduled the deliveries. Performing these tasks has given me even greater appreciation for what Martine does for our clients. For those of you who attempt to renovate a property in France, absentee or not, here’s what you can expect on your “to-do” list (with a few comments about what I’ve experienced along the way):

3-11-11edf-energy1.  UTILITIES: Change the utilities contract from the seller’s name to yours. Make every attempt at acquiring a copy of the seller’s last invoice so that it’s easy for EDF-GDF or other utility provider to locate the contract. Be sure to get the “count” of usage on the counter to tell them. You will also need your “RIB” or “Relevé d’Identité Bancaire” from your French bank account so that monthly charges can be automatically deducted. (In Nice, this has been an arduous task because the apartment was once one, now divided into two, and EDF can’t seem to get this worked out, even though the one counter has been changed to two!)

2.  PLANS: If you intend to change any structure of the property or upgrade the electrical scheme, you will need an architect to draw up the floor and electrical plans. An Interior Architect can often provide this, but a licensed architect is even better. Your contractor will be working from these plans, so please don’t try to DIY unless you yourself really have the necessary skills. The electrical plans are crucial, because I will tell you now that the French don’t design for functionality, but for esthetics…so if you want the outlets and switches where they make sense, rather than where they look best, pay a lot of attention to this!

3.  CONTRUCTION: Choose a qualified contractor who can hire quality plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Get references, look at other projects they have done, ask for estimates. Assume any estimate one provides will increase with surprises you were least expecting and changes you make to the plans, or items which were impossible to estimate from the beginning. Contractors usually ask for 30% payment in advance, 30% mid-stream, 30% nearing the end and 10% upon total completion of all details.

3-11-11leroymerlin4.  MATERIALS AND FIXTURES: Choose the materials and fixtures with which you will decorate, such as the bathroom and kitchen fixtures, flooring, tiles, etc. Stores such as Leroy Merlin, Mr. Bricolage and Castorama can supply these items inexpensively. Nothing about working with these stores is simple – their systems are not (yet) designed to make it easy for the customer! Expect to have complications in ease of delivery, delays on items not in stock and difficulties ordering in one city with delivery to another city. My experience has been dastardly! If you do not speak French, then you may find this virtually impossible. And even if you do, you won’t find it to be a smooth process. This is where you will be very relieved to have someone managing this aspect on your behalf. So, if you’re brave and you’re doing this on your own, as I have done with the Nice apartment, be forewarned!

3-11-11ikea5.  FURNISHINGS: Nothing beats IKEA for one-stop shopping for furniture, but everything beats IKEA for a quality look. This is where one must use the “diamonds with Zircons” approach to décor. I recommend IKEA bedding for comfort and price, IKEA kitchens for engineering coupled with good looks and practical things that have smart design such as lighting, desks and cabinetry/closets. But when it comes to the furnishings that will make an apartment look rich and tasteful, IKEA isn’t where you’ll find these things. Use a mix and save money on one side to spend it on the other so that the bottom line is a well-furnished and decorated apartment. IKEA will deliver the furnishings, but not the accessory items, so when you go there to purchase your items, be prepared to take the accessories home on your own.

3-11-11darty6.  APPLIANCES: My personal preference is Darty for all appliances. No other retailer in France can match Darty service, and it’s the “Après Vente” service that counts when the washing machine breaks down or the TV goes on the blink. You can purchase online or in one store and have it delivered to another city. They sell most major brands at reasonable prices. Darty provides a one-year warranty on everything you purchase there, but on washers/dryers and other major appliances, it’s smart to take a maintenance contract. (Marketing Director, Lynda Sydney, claims it was actually FUN to be with me in Nice less than two weeks ago when in as little as one hour I ordered all the appliances for two apartments!)

7.  ACCESSORIES: Here’s where you will want to make another trip to IKEA for the least expensive accessories possible to purchase anywhere in France! Absolutely no other store can out-price IKEA for linens, comforters, kitchen and tableware, lamps, etc. You can furnish the property with all the basic items by making one trip to IKEA. Plan on being there all day! The store offers solutions to delivery, but they don’t provide it themselves, so be sure to plan this in advance. (I will be making this important trip in two weeks time and have rented a mini-van to accommodate all the goods…and you can bet it will take every inch of space!

3-11-11matisse8.  DÉCOR: What I mean by décor is the real coordination of “one story” as Martine calls it – the cohesiveness of the colors, textures, fabrics, styles, decorative objects, etc. that is the difference between a professional look and a hodge-podge. Professionals who have an acute sense of color, design and proportion coupled with good resources know how to do this and this alone can ‘make or break’ a luxurious look. I cannot stress the importance enough of this one aspect of your job as DIY decorator, particularly when you’re working long distance or in a place where you are not familiar with the available resources. (Martine and Véronique are working with me to turn Le Matisse into the Matissien marvel it deserves to be!)

Have a look at http://www.parlerparisapartments.com and tell me if you can spot the handful of apartments that were NOT decorated by Martine di Mattéo or myself. And those that weren’t still passed our test to meet our rigorous standards…so clearly, it is possible to do yourself, as long as you know what you’re doing!
Bon courage!
A bientôt,
31-8-11ablsigAdrian Leeds
Editor, French Property Insider
Email: [email protected]

 
 
P.S. There will be no French Property Insider published on Than
ksgiving Day, November 24th, 2011. This is one of the two weeks per year we take off. Instead, I’ll be at IKEA with the mini-van purchasing the accessories for “Le Matisse” – my new apartment in Nice on rue Massena, to prepare it for rental at the first of the year (and Schuyler will be in Ohio with his family).

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