From the Vault
Viager With A View Part IX
“Viager with a View” — the ongoing ‘saga’ of the apartment destined to be called “La Paris Plage” — a “viager” that I purchased in September of 2007. You may want to read Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII before you read this chapter.
You might recall that last Wednesday evening was the annual “Assemblée Générale” of the “Copropriété” of my building — meaning the general meeting of the home owners association. In 10 years of ownership, only one has been missed. Not a bad record.
Last Wednesday’s meeting was particularly important for me as I had requested several items to be addressed and added to the agenda. First, that the terrace does in fact belong to the apartment and not to the copropriété as it says in my deed, but was voted on years ago. Secondly, that I am able to purchase one small part of the “combles” (attic) in which to install the “ballon de l’eau chaude” (hot water tank) — over which there is confusion as to who owns what (this in itself has been a “grande histoire” [big story]!).
The meeting lasted more than two hours and I became the center of attention as Monsieur de L., the “Syndic,” expressed his anger at the ongoing work, the incessant dust in the stairwell and the problems with which the building has dealt resulting from the renovation work.
I couldn’t much blame him, but he chose to make every single thing my fault, regardless of whether it was or not. Even the broken window in the main entry door was attributed to me, of which I had absolutely no responsibility.
With a glass of wine and a good attitude, I chuckled my way through his insinuations and begged forgiveness and promised it would all be over soon. He wouldn’t let up and I just kept smiling…not sure that was a good tactic or not, but it’s all I could manage to muster up in French in response to the accusations.
The last item on the evening’s agenda was the letter he had received from the Notaire, which he read out loud. Part I, to confirm the ownership of the terrace was no problem whatsoever and was quickly confirmed. Part II, the question of the combles was yet another situation entirely and caused quite a ruckus.
Firstly, he proclaimed that the combles were still owned by the copropriété because Monsieur and Madame d’A. (my neighbors who own the “chambre de bonne” (maid’s quarters) on the 5th floor above mine) had never passed an “Acte de Vente” (deed of sale) for having paid 10,000 French francs for the “cagibi” (storage closet) many years earlier. The cagibi is only small part of the combles, accessible from a door on the 5th floor, of which the actual dimensions had never been fully defined. Among ourselves, Monsieur and Madame d’A. and I had agreed that they could take all the combles except for one small part on the shallowest side where the “ballon de l’eau chaude” (hot water tank) for my studio would sit, taking up no valuable space of theirs. In anticipation of this, a wall was constructed to separate the space, now hiding the water tank with access to it from within the apartment.
My offering to purchase this small space was a mere 200€ and when Monsieur de L. read this aloud, the owners became enraged. They were insulted that so little would be offered, claiming that the only right thing would be to pay current market price based on the square meters.
I tried to explain that the height was no more than 60cm at the highest point and that this space is not counted in the “loi Carrez” (official habitable space) and therefore has no value at all. They didn’t buy it and refused any consideration of it, proclaiming that the issue must be revisited in 2011, once Monsieur and Madame d’A. had gotten their true title to the cagibi.
Nothing I could say would convince them that it made sense to put this to rest once and for all, or to make a counter offer, but then walking home, I realized how the result, seemingly negative, was in fact quite advantageous. The truth is, that the people with the real problem are Monsieur and Madame d’A. who cannot lay claim to what they paid for until they go through the formal process with a Notaire to acquire an Acte de Vente. Meanwhile, my ballon de l’eau chaude rests happily in its little spot with no one really caring…or even knowing. Ultimately, Monsieur and Madame d’A. will have the combles and they will be quite pleased with what they have and make no issue of my ballon de l’eau
chaude. Still, it’s amazing how such an insignificant issue can take up so much time and energy! And should there be problems with the roof, as long as I don’t own it, the copropriété will bear the expense, not me, as it would have if they had accepted the offer.
One thing I learned just yesterday, in passing Monsieur de L., the Syndic, is now that I am full owner of the terrace, so I will own the cost of the “ravalement” (resurfacing) of the facade. This will not be cheap, but it needs to be done and at least affords the luxury of doing what I want on the terrace — add lanterns and electrical plugs, install the air conditioning unit and change the windows, all of which are in progress.
You would think that by now, the “Viager with a View” would have long ago been renovated and rented. Having signed the final documents last July and having started the renovation last August, the plan was for the apartment to be on the rental market by November. No, that certainly didn’t happen.
As it turned out, the first contractor, one that had worked with us on eleven projects, not only filed for bankruptcy, but left Paris never to be heard of again, leaving many clients in the lurch with little to show for what we had paid. My loss was small, compared to some, but substantial nonetheless — about 15% of what I anticipate the entire project will cost.
He also left the studio and the studette with a concrete foundation that was so poorly done, we had to destroy it and redo it. There was also the repair to my neighbor’s ceiling that is at my expense, now that there is no insurance coverage or recourse from the culpable contractor. Not only was there a financial loss, but a loss of valuable time as well.
The contractors to have replaced him are workers who he had used on our other projects and whom had also suffered a loss at his hands. They were happy to have the work and we were familiar with their quality and earnestness.
As I write this, the renovation has been underway now since November. What I thought would be two-to-three month project has turned into an eight month project, with the contractors estimating completion at the end of March. One would think that a small space such as this would take much less time, but a combination of massive renovation and complications has delayed the project every step of the way.
Some of the highlights include…a wild goose chase to find the glass block for the bathroom wall only to have to order it and wait weeks for delivery…our carpenter breaking his leg and landing in the hospital…the lighting supplier never returning our calls…and the fabric for the window coverings never arriving. All this is pretty par for the course in any renovation project, and typical of why we usually say “twice the time, twice the money.”
The contractor is now estimating it will be ready by the end of March, but that will be impossible, as the mosaic artist needs three weeks to hand lay all the tiny square tiles. The mural artist is waiting for it to warm up before gluing the canvas of the mural of “Paris Plage” to the wall. The carpenter is installing the new windows and preparing to install the kitchen cabinetry and closet fixture and I’m waiting for all this to happen before ordering the appliances and purchasing the light fixtures. The ravalement of the exterior of the terrace must be done and a wood deck must be laid to protect the surface of the terrace, which is much like a roof. Then, it will be planted and luckily we now have warmer weather.
The next few weeks will be intensely busy attending to all these details and then when it’s near to completion, the last item will be a trip to Ikea to purchase all the appointments — the bed linens, kitchen gadgets, household items, etc. By mid to late April, La Paris Plage nd Le Parisol will celebrate their birth and sure to be occupied with their first renters.
You bet your bottom dollar that at that moment, I will be celebrating!