Sunday, October 25, 2015

Paris Stories: Lessons In Real Estate

{My favorite frame (King Miles) and a little reminder of Miami}
What is that saying? Everything is fun and games until somebody ends up homeless? 

Apartment hunting was the perfect welcome wagon to this city, it's both a "hello, you live here, congratulations!" and a big slap in the face. Thankfully, I adore my apartment, which is why it is #1 on my list. 


Coming to Paris, I had a guardian angel in the form of my friend Caroline. She graciously hosted me in her apartment (and her spacious, gorgeous kitchen) while I got settled in. Most people, do not have this luxury and their first days in the city are spent in a hotel, rushing to find somewhere more permanent to live, or on someone's fold up couch. I got here towards the end of August, which is a bit late in the game if you want to find a good, cheap place. All my friends offered their advice/opinion, "It's too late, you'll never find a place" and "No way! it's the perfect time, there is a lot available" or "I have a friend... she's been dying for it to be September because it's dead right now," then there are the educated opinions based on my particular case "Your budget is good, you'll find something, easy!" and "Pfffft you'll never find any place with that budget, maybe with a roommate, you want a roommate?"

Freaked out and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I frantically started to look for a place online. With furniture, check. In a neighborhood I was familiar with, check. Bathrooms NOT outside of the apartment, check (this one could easy add a couple hundred bucks to the price, I mean toilets? non essentials). I found dozens of offers within my budget, how hard could this be? Then I had to figure out what I needed to bring to visits, how the process actually worked and that's when I ran into this video. In a nutshell, the person looking for an apartment has a CDD, (Contract with a date-limit, temporary) and everyone denies her, both agencies and particulars. I was equipped with an NFC (No Fucking Contract). In the end of the video she calls an ad and the man on the line tells her she can live with him for free, on the condition that she hits him and insults him when they cross paths. Full on nervous breakdown happening at this point. 

Armed with copies of every and any paper that said how much money my parents and I had, I showed up to my first visit, vigilant for any body language that read I have a closet full of whips right here next to the kitchen. After an endless trip up six flights of tiny stairs that began in a courtyard full of garbage cans and a hidden underground entry (formerly the maids' access to the building, with each door in the tiny stairway leading to the kitchen of the real-size apartments), I had barely gotten a look at the place, the agent kicked me out, "We cannot rent to you, you and your guarantee are not from here, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." I could accept being told I didn't have enough money, and a million other reasons, but "not being from here" was something that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't change in time to get an apartment. 

When you go to visits, you run into 20 more desperate souls, all clutching their papers, trying to beat you to live in the sardines' can. "For how long have you been struggling?" is the first question everyone asks each other, not looking but struggling, the answers range from two weeks to three-four months, "Not that long, but I'm American... so I'm struggling since the beginning, I guess" I usually answered. 

Discouraged and having broken my golden rule of never crying in public, I walked back to my apartment in an ugly sob, like that picture of Kim Kardashian that got turned into a sweater, and inquired with the friends again, "I live with my boyfriend... it was his apartment" and "Yeah, yeah me too" or "Have you tried a roommate? you should try to find a roommate." I thought about which option could work faster and ultimately decided it would probably take me just as long to be happy living with a stranger, than to find someone who would both date me and let me move in. 

Having inherited a knack for obsessive cleaning from my neurotic (yet lovely) mother, deep inside I knew this was not going to work out, I had all sort of questions regarding living with other people "Wait, but do we take turns cooking? Can I leave my stuff in the bathroom? What if they're dirty? or weird? What if they don't like jazz?" (This was a real concern). I called all the ads that looked for "female" roommates and every woman on the other end of the line said the same thing "You can come tomorrow and meet the guy that already lives there,"Is this Noah's Arc? I thought.

{Accent rug in the living room, Reine Claude plums by the window, wall bookcase & Jean Cocteau gift from a friend}


"Where do all those Americans that come to Paris live? How do they do it? If they can do it, so can I" was the mantra I repeated to myself. I was already traumatized by looking on Google, what would I find next? hoarders? hardcore cat ladies? but this time my search led me to church, the American Church of Paris to be exact. After visiting a 9 sq meter apartment seven flights up, with a sad dirty toilet in the middle of the hall to be shared among six other people, I headed to the church, if nothing else perhaps I could get down on my knees and repent and do some more crying. I called six ads in 5 minutes, leaving the same voicemail every time "Hello, my name is Diana, I am calling because I am interested in visiting the apartment, is it still available? Please give me a call back at..." 

Three hours later, I paid a visit to my most optimistic friend Elsa, "The good thing about looking for a place, is that it can all change in a second. Bam! you visit a place you like and it all comes together," she said as the phone rang, it was one of the ads I had called, I couldn't remember which one for the life of me, but I wrote down the address and hoped for the best. The next day, as I walked to the place, I had a good feeling could this be it? this sweet older woman led me through the garden and opened the door. The smell of old wood flooded the tiny apartment, I wasn't necessarily in love yet but there was another visit right after me. I quickly tallied up the pros in my head: good neighborhood, nice lady, garden, no psychopath in sight, within my budget, and the best part: she hadn't kicked me out the door when I told her I was American! Then she said the magic word, WI-FI and I said "YES! I'll take it!" After all, in Paris, you don't choose your apartment, it chooses you. 

She handed me the keys, they're big and gold as if they opened a castle.

One of the things I find most interesting about Paris is how crafty everyone is. Everything has some of nifty solution, like a universe of DIY. My apartment has high ceilings, high enough to make a second floor within it, so they did crafty Parisians. As a fan of decoration blogs, my dream place has crisp white walls and modern glass furniture. This was nothing like that but the best solution was to embrace its coziness and old Parisian charm and play it up, so that's what I did. With time, I've learned to move comfortably in my tiny kitchen, added pieces that remind me of home, and have learned to love my place. 

To this day, I still think it was a miracle.