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The Torture and Fascination of Parisian Home Ownership

Last night was our annual “Assemblée Générale” (general meeting) of our “copropriété” (homeowners association) which is both torturous and fascinating at the same time. In the last eight years of ownership, only one has been missed — last year’s when it coincided with the Miami Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conference.

This one was held, for the first time, upstairs at La Pierre du Marais, only two hours after the “Parler Paris Après Midi” gathering (visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html to read all about yesterday’s event). This corner of Le Marais has become home to so many of our meetings, that the waitress, when taking drink orders, just assumed I was the “résponsable” and asked who should receive the check, then realizing she had erred, turning then to M. de L., our volunteer “syndic” (association manager). He also volunteered to pay for the drinks, which of course, we all share in the expense of, since its our association fees which will cover the cost.

As it turns out, we have also all shared in one owner not having paid his fees since 2003, amounting to a ‘small’ sum of 5000€. All owners’ fees are “prélevé” (automatically deducted) from their checking accounts twice a year, but this particular owner’s deduction had been rejected by the bank every time.

This of course, angered the group of about 15, and lively discussion ensued on how to proceed. Naturally, if the money cannot be acquired simply by confronting the owner, a lawsuit will be filed, although no one wants to go to the trouble and expense, especially M. de L., who exclaimed, “Je ne suis pas la banque!” (“I am not the bank!”) He also reminded us that our fees average only about 9€ per square meter of property space per year compared to the city’s average of 25€ per square meter…so he should readily pay his fees without complaint!

Usually I remain fairly quiet throughout the meeting, normally a minimum of two hours. That’s because in the past, my level of French hasn’t been good enough to understand it all or interject intelligent comments. With each year, that improves, so this year was the most vocal, which in turn ended up making a big fool out of me.

It all started when one owner remarked that he had heard I didn’t li

ke the color of the newly renovated stairwell. I suppose that the news had spread among many of the owners, along with the rebellious repainting of the molding on my front door to black. “Quel horror!” No question, I had anxiety in advance of coming that they would turn the ‘violent act’ of changing the color into a big issue and force a repainting of the molding back to the drab “greige” (gray/beige) like all the rest.

Would you believe they all LOVE the industrial, sad color!? Have they all gone color blind? Or are the ‘smoky’ tones of the Parisian stone building facades lulled them into an unconsciousness of color? I wondered how they had come to accept such drabness in their lives.

And when I complained that the buzzers now were anonymously written with an apartment number rather then each owner’s name, further industrializing our once friendly abode, they argued how much more esthetically appealing it was that the panel looked uniformed and untouched by all those “locataires” (tenants, with a tone of disdain) who move in and move out so often and who invariable stick on their own names in such a helter-skelter and amateurish way! “Quel horror!”

There were no other foreign owners to attend the meeting, although I believe there is an American couple who owns an apartment in another part of the building. They weren’t there to help defend our different cultural viewpoints on color and style. So, there I was, all alone, behaving boldly foolish in bad French, but at least having a voice, if nothing else.

Unfortunately, it didn’t do much good. The stairwell is still “greige” and will be so for many more years to come, the buzzer will no longer say “Leeds” but have a number which corresponds to the mailbox number yet bears no relation to us as a family and I can count on next year having the same torturous but fascinating two-hour-plus experience.

A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. By complete coincidence, John Harris commented on my Facebook.com page that he had seen yesterday’s House Hunters International episode reminding him of a photo he had taken of a typical Paris stairwell. Notice how both stairwells are classic red burgundy! Oh, how I long to have it back! (Visit hgtv.com to learn when the episode is scheduled to air again and then scroll down to mark your calendars for watching our newest episode, “Vacation Home in Paris,” debuting later this month.

P.P.S. This Friday I head west for the “Big Apple” before flying south the following week to the “Big Easy” for the Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conference March 21-22 (it’s not too late to register…visit frenchpropertyconference/LIF_NOLA_2009/ for more information). I hope to learn, first hand, what it’s like for Americans living with today’s economic woes and the hopes they have for a speedy recovery. It will be the first time to see my daughter’s newly-renovated West Village apartment, with her big poster of the Eiffel Tower over the bed and a perfect view of the Empire State Building out the 6th-floor windows. Tune in Monday for first hand impressions.

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