From the Vault
Viager With A View Part V
“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 and IV before you read this chapter.
A “viager” is a life annuity property, also known as a “reverse mortgage.” It’s fairly common in France where a person would sell their property in exchange for a down payment and regular cash installments as long as they are alive and continue to live in the property. When the person dies, the purchaser assumes the rights.
The advantage can be to both parties: it allows elderly people to benefit from the sale of their homes while retaining its use and the buyer benefits by paying a minimum price for such a property. If the person dies soon after entering the arrangement, then the buyer gets the property at a bargain.
If the person lives a long life, then the cost could escalate beyond reason, as was the case with Jeanne Calment, the oldest living human, who lived to the age of 122 and outlived her Notaire, André-François Raffray, who purchased her apartment, promising to pay $500 per month until Jeanne died. He paid twice the market value for the apartment before dying himself in December of 1995.
The sad side of this arrangement, of course, is that the buyer is often ‘betting’ on the person’s death. You can imagine the jokes told by friends about my own situation, making light of all the ways to ‘do away with’ Monsieur N. who holds the rights of usage! But before you pass judgment, let me remind you that although he still holds the rights of usage, he’s been living with his nephew in the Charente-Maritime for several years, abandoning the apartment for occasional usage by his relatives, therefore it’s virtually unused. Giving up the apartment would not take the roof from over his head!
“La Paris Plage” (the name it will take upon becoming a rental apartment) took two years to acquire and now it’s almost two years in the making to obtain the rights of usage. In last July’s chapter (Part IV), I had made an offer in writing to Monsieur N. to purchase his rights of usage — a little less than 500€ per square meter.
His nephew with whom he has lived, accepted the registered letter and responded without too much delay. Yes, of course he is happy to entertain an offer, but he counter offered at more than double — or about 1000€ per square meter.
This was both good news and bad news. The good news was that a settlement was imminent and bad news that the price had just considerably increased.
Just at this time (last Fall), my daughter and I were in the process of purchasing an apartment in New York City, using up a lot of the available funds needed to come to a settlement with Monsieur N. On top of that, the economy was crashing. It was bad timing to have applied for a mortgage to recuperate the added expenses on the New York property, but it was necessary in order to buy his rights of usage and renovate the property to prepare it for rental, which would ultimately lead to valuable revenues.
Months have gone by. I chose not to respond to the nephew’s counter offer — to let him see that I wasn’t as ‘anxious’ a buyer as he might have thought…at the new double cost. Also, as Monsieur N. ages, there is a greater risk that my patience will outlive him.
Meanwhile, it’s totally reasonable to understand the risk and the odds. In order to learn more about the man, I contacted a private detective who said, “Unfortunately, we cannot provide any information related to subject’s medical records. This is illegal here.”
The next best idea was to actually visit Monsieur N. in the Charente-Maritimes…unannounced. Easter weekend was the perfect opportunity. By car, a friend accompanied me to drive through the Dordogne, onward to Bordeaux and up through the Charente-Maritime to La Rochelle. It was Easter Sunday. There was a road-side stand where I purchased a bouquet of flowers. The nephew’s house was easily plotted on a Google map and easy to find. There was a car out front in the driveway, but no one answered our knocking at the door. I phoned the house…no answer.
Then we spotted a neighbor peering at us through her window. I knocked on the neighbor’s gate and she happily came out to greet us. The neighbor, a retired Parisian now enjoying the countryside, openly informed us that Monsieur N. had been in a retirement home for over a year. She offered to give the flowers to the nephew along with my note. On a piece of scrap paper, in bad French, I penned off a simple message about having stopped by to say hello is hopes we could discuss the settlement in person and to please phone me. We took off disappointed to have missed meeting the nephew, but happy to have made a positive connection.
The next morning while loading the luggage into our rental car in La Rochelle to return to Paris, the phone rang. The nephew had received the flowers and note, most appreciatively. It was the first time we had spoken and the conversation was quite congenial. I explained that I would like to settle as quickly as possible, but that I would like to come to a more reasonable financial arrangement in order for us to proceed. He agreed to speak to his uncle and prepare himself to have a proxy to sign the documents on his uncle’s behalf next time he would be in Paris.
To transfer the rights of usage, a Notaire must prepare the formal documents and taxes and fees will be due upon the transfer based on the sum in question. These are additional expenses I am prepared to accept.
A letter was issued just yesterday to the nephew with a new offer ‘splitting the difference’ — about 700€ per square meter. Now my fingers are crossed for a positive response! As there is no chance he will ever return to the apartment, the money can go toward his retirement home expense or other necessities or luxuries and everyone will be able to have what they want. It may be hardest for the nephew who may be in the habit of using the apartment during his stays in Paris.
Now I hold my breath. Perhaps after four years of earnest effort, the “viager with a view” will finally be mine. During the course of these four years, I’ve tried to learn more about the true story of the apartment…more about Monsieur S. who purchased it before me and why it went into the hands of the state…more about Madame B. who has her belongings in one of the cellars (to which neither she nor I have the rights) and why there was a lawsuit entanglement between her and Monsieur N.
When I asked Madame B. to tell me more about the apartment, she told me the story was too ‘painful’ to relate. When I asked Monsieur de L., the “Syndic” about the history, he told me I should remain a “vierge” or “virgin” and know nothing until the apartment is fully in my possession so as not to hinder the negotiations. The story must be powerful enough to warrant all this intrigue and suspense! And I’m sure it will shed a lot of light on this very dark and mysterious subject!
Monsieur de L. has been dealing with the problems of this apartment for more than 20 years. This is the apartment that caused a flood into the window of my own apartment more than 10 years ago, simply because the rain gutters had filled with debris from the terrace, causing th water to overflow into my bedroom and forcing the homeowners association to pay for costly repairs. He will surely be very happy to have it under my safe wings once and for all, so that we can “caillebottis” the terrace to protect it (add a slatted flooring) and finally transfer the ownership of the cellar to Madame B. to which I agreed earlier. Then there is the question of the mezzanine, which exists, but which is not a part I own, much like the terrace.
And to this day, I’ve never seen the other parts of the property — the “débarras” (storage room) across the hall, the “chambre de bonne” (servant’s quarters) down the hall and the two “caves” (cellars). I anxiously await this day!
Until chapter VI…