Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Living in a Shoebox (or Why You Should Have Moved to Paris Ten Years Ago)

If ever in Paris you tire of gazing at the window displays of designer boutiques and gasping at the prices, there is another alternative: the estate agents.  Ever since the Paris vs Suburbia debate first arose in my mind a couple of years ago, property shop windows have been just like luxury clothes shops to me: I am initally attracted by the beauty of what's on offer, then realise how completely unaffordable it all is and reassure myself with the thought that even if I did have the cash to spare, none of the options would really fit my lifestyle anyway.

As "a couple of years in France" continues to stretch out indefinitely in front of me, though, and I start to consider things more seriously, I find myself in need of some hard numbers and actual statistics. If four bedrooms and a roof terrace in the 6th isn't affordable, something is going to have to be. A quick look at one of the online maps like this one soon rules out a few possibilities:

The stats on that map relate to September 2011, but the long-predicted fall in prices hasn't happened yet. For those of you who haven't spent months practising square metre calculations in your heads, at the prices shown on the map, buying a1-bedroom flat is around 600 000 euros in the 6th and 7th, while in the "affordable" 19th it falls to 300 000 euros. Rental prices follow the same pattern: 1750 euros per month in the expensive areas, falling to 900 for the cheapest of the cheap.
You might think that higher salaries in Paris would make up for this, but because France has a law that you cannot spend more than one third of your income (net of social charges) on rent or mortgage repayments, the difference in salary would have to be enormous to cover the difference. So if you're not taking home at least 2700 euros per month (almost double the median salary), if you're single, that 1 bedroom flat is out of your price range. And because so many people are in the same (cramped)boat, there's even more pressure on the bottom end of the market, pushing the prices proportionally even higher for smaller accommodation.
So how does anyone afford to live in Paris? Well plenty just put up with occupying a very small space (and optimise what they have - there's a reason for all those Espace Loggia adverts on the metro). Most people move out when they have children. But the other reason is that they simply got here before now. Ten years ago, rents were half of what they are now, and once you've signed the lease can only be increased by an agreed percentage every year. As people living in cheaper apartments gradually move on thought, it's expected that places like Belleville will become increasingly "gentrified". I already have the feeling that some of the more expensive areas are becoming a bit like ghost towns, with only older people living there, and no sign of children and young families anywhere. So if you got here in the early 2000s and are planning on staying put, you're one of the lucky ones.
Fortunately for the rest of us, we live in a great city to be out and about in. Who needs room to swing a cat when you have Paris on your doorstep?


  1. I think it started more than ten years ago. I graduated from high school in 2001 and a bunch of my friends and I tried to move to Paris to attend university there. We all studied Chinese and it was the only city offering postsecondary education in that language.

    I have never been able to find a place to live under 500 euro (gave up, ended up in Canada!). Most of my friends came back to Nantes after a couple of years of living in really shitty places they could barely afford. The two who stayed the longest eventually left Paris in the last couple of years, tired of living in a shoebox with a partner and sometime a baby.

  2. No shortage of space in Canada, I guess! It's a sad situation if people actually just can't afford to live in the city where they need to work and study.

  3. I'm horrified when I look at property prices whenever I visit Paris. I am so thankful to live in Bordeaux and be spared what for me would be a low quality of life in Paris.

    I'm just very sad for people that want out, that want to live in Province, especially those with small children, but can't because of their jobs. There are some jobs that only exist in Paris or would be almost impossible to find in other parts of France.

    Great job with the blog, by the way.