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So-long to the Viager with a View

Yesterday I said “so-long” to my “Viager with a View.”

While it’s deeply difficult to let go of the studio apartment with a terrace I’ve owned since 2007 — like watching your first born go off to college knowing he’ll never live at home again — at least the new owner is going to live in it and love it, maybe as much as I have.

The studio apartment with a large terrace was a “viager” I discovered by chance in early 2006 located in my own building in Le Marais. It first began when the gutters on the terrace had become clogged with leaves from the jungle of plants on the terrace causing a flood of water into my bedroom on the floor below. Two years later, there was question about the legality of the two terraces adjacent to one another on that floor. I was part of a committee who visited the apartment and that’s when I seriously fell in love.

The rest is history…and a lot of it. After two years of trying to purchase the apartment from the State, then two years of pursuing the rights of usage from the “viager” (an elderly gentleman) and another full year employing four different contractors (one of which was mosaic artist Véronique Husson and one who went ‘belly up’), and with the design assistance of Martine di Mattéo, the apartment then known as “Le Saint Tropez” and “La Brigitte” was born.

A “viager” is a property transaction much like a reverse mortgage, but with two major differences. Firstly, the transaction is between individuals — there are no banks involved. Secondly, unless specified, the annuity is not for a fixed term — it is for the LIFE of the vendor.

Put very simply, a “viager” property is one where instead of asking the market value for a property, the vendor is instead paid an initial down-payment (termed the “bouquet”) averaging approximately 30% of the property market value. On top of this, the vendor is paid a monthly annuity or pension (called the “rente viagère”) for the duration of their lives and in return, the vendor retains a lien or droit d’usage (rights of usage) over the property.

This property was different. The owner of the viager died before the viager died, leaving it to his heirs who didn’t want the taxes or responsibility, so it went into the hands of the State. When I pursued it, there were additional parts to the purchase I had not seen nor could see as I had no rights to it…nor keys!: a “chambre de bonne” (servants quarters) down the hall, a “débarras” (closet) and two “caves” (cellars)….but I knew what I had and the price was seriously low, so the risk was low, too.

The ‘saga’ started with the moment I saw the apartment and ended five years later when it was ready to receive rental guests. Many waking and dreaming moments were spent conceiving of the decor, putting it all into practice and imagining my retirement hanging out on the terrace in this ‘beach house away from the ocean’ with air conditioning, skylight and elevator.

The ‘saga’ is quite a tale to tell. In fact, expect to see it told in a book that is destined to be written. The five years it took to “make a silk purse of a sow’s ear” is chronicled in 10 chapters beginning in September of 2007 when the purchase was official to 2010 when the first guests arrived to enjoy the apartment. (

Part I, Monday, September 10, 2007
Part II, Monday, September 17, 2007
Part III, Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Part IV, Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Part V, Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Part VI, Monday, July 6, 2009
Part VII, Thursday, September 24, 2009
Part VIII, Monday, November 16, 2009
Part IX, Monday, March 15, 2010
Part X, Monday, May 17, 2010

The vision of the apartment changed a couple years after it was born to better reflect its location in the City of Light by renaming the main apartment “La Paris Plage” and the adjoining chambre de bonne (what became a second bedroom), “Le Parisol.” A new mural was crafted by French trompe-l’oeil artist Pascal Amblard to bring it all home. At this point, it was more than perfect.

Now years later, after dozens of guests and plenty of enjoyment, the city of Paris took the pleasure away from all of us ‘thanks’ to the short-term rental laws that make rentals of secondary properties less than one-year illegal. Switching to long-term rental wasn’t an option — not only would I then no longer have the occasional usage, but the rents under new rent control laws wouldn’t support the costs of ownership well enough to justify keeping it until my retirement.

Sadly, I posted it on the market for sale. Within virtually moments, one of you long-standing and loyal readers called from California and said, “I will make you a full price offer and I’m paying cash.” Sellers are morally obligated to accept full price offers, so this seller did what she had to do and said, “offer accepted.”

Saturday night after the Gay Pride Parade, my niece who had once stayed in the apartment on a visit to Paris and a friend who had been a recent long-staying guest because her own apartment was under renovation, dined on the terrace with me to say ‘farewell’ to “the Plage.” We toasted with rosé wine to our final memories of the “Viager with a View.”

At one point I stretched out on the queen-size bed, reflected on the ‘eye candy’ of the space — the beautiful tile work in waves like the ocean dotted with gold; the dozens of little cacti in their white pots on the window sill that I had hand-carried from Italy; the elegant original mural on the wall depicting the Seine during the summer Paris Plage; the skylight, picture window and French doors bathing the room with light all day long every day; the aqua-colored glass blocks fixed in a particular pattern on the curved wall of the bathroom that took four trips to four stores to acquire; the hand-forged hanging lamp over the stove that I brought back from a bazaar in Egypt; the gumdrop window in the bathtub that had been discovered during the renovation of the exterior wall that had been at one time condemned; the niche in the kitchen that Véronique insisted she create and the large mirrored sliding closet doors that reflected it all back again. And I cried like a child.

What the City Hall is doing to owners like me is wrong. This property provided enjoyment to hundreds of people over the years — not just to me. It created jobs and it gave the people involved tremendous satisfaction. It would have been my oasis in my later years if it was affordable to keep and maintain. Now, it’s the pleasure of one individual who I know will treasure it as much as I have…but of course, without having the ‘sweat equity.’

For those who want to learn more about “viagers,” have fun watching two movies — a recent one titled “My Old Lady” with Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith about an American who inherits an apartment in Paris that comes with an unexpected resident; and “Le Viager” from 1972 with Michel Serrault, Michel Galabru and Claude Brasseur about Doctor Galipeau’s patient, Louis Martinet, who he believes has little time left on earth and therefore purchases his St. Tropez house as a “viager.” Martinet recovers and lives a long and healthy life much to the demise of the doctor and his family. It’s hilarious! And was very befitting my own project.

If you think you want to pursue your own viager, we can assist you to find one that’s right for investment, but remember the story about Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122, outliving the purchaser of her apartment in Arles, her Notaire Andre-Francois Raffray, when she was 90 years old. His deal cost him $184,000 more than it should have and he died long before he had an opportunity to enjoy it.

Viagers often don’t make a good deal. Fortunately, mine did…in so many more ways than one. It lives in my heart if not in my pocket.

A la prochaine,

Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

(in Paris Plage)

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P.S. For those of you in the New York City area, who would like to know more about investing in France, I will be available for private consultations on July 8th and 9th. Consultations are typically two hours, and I will be offering my usual euro fee at the same rate, but in U.S. dollars. Email me personally to make your appointment: [email protected]


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