In preparation for our recent move to Paris, my husband Harry and I had a plan.
Because we were visiting the City of Light regularly for work and passing through on the way to other destinations, we decided to make the move in stages.
Half of this strategy was to bring over extra suitcases (stuffed with not-often-needed mementos, books, winter clothing, and other things we didn’t think we’d miss for a few months) and store them here until we could join them.
The other half was to house hunt.
We hope to make our first home purchase in the next few years, but, for now, we’re renters.
In Paris, though, the rental process is so arduous… the commitment so great… that a long-term lease feels closer to buying than anything I’ve experienced before.
To be honest, anywhere else I’ve lived, I’ve never put much thought into comparing locations or buildings when choosing an apartment to rent. If the price was right and they allowed pets, I pounced.
Here in Paris, where we’d like to stick around long-term, I knew it was time for a more scientific approach.
We spent weeks ahead of any trip scouring Airbnb, and we’d book one apartment for three days at the most. A two-week trip could have us in five different units. We wanted to see and experience as much real estate in Paris as we could before it came time to commit.
This method wasn’t convenient or enjoyable. It’s no fun to move apartments three times on a 10-day vacation. When here for work, our location-switching meant commutes changed every couple of days—a new hurdle to contend with twice a week.
But it paid off.
We discovered problems in some places that we’d never have thought to look for before. Bath drains that sound like a jackhammer when the tub is emptied, anyone?…
We now know that we want an apartment on a street as opposed to an interior courtyard. And it has to be a quiet street. The ground and first floors are fine in winter, but in summer with windows open (no air conditioning here), it gets loud…
Floor-to-ceiling windows are great in summer, but make a home impossible to heat in winter…
With our commute practice, we got to know all the major routes that would get us to work on time… and where we had to draw the line…
A 15-minute walk to the train, two metro switches, and a bus at the end?
One train switch per commute is our limit, we decreed. (This in itself was a breakthrough for me. Up until then, I’d been stubbornly sticking to a direct line.)
Although we’re still far from buying, we now have a better idea of what we want to look for in our first home than we ever could have had before. And, as first-time buyers in probably the most bureaucratic country in the world, it feels like a good position to be in.
While on the prowl, I took a leaf from property maven Lee Harrison’s book. Lee is famous for his spreadsheets (you’ll know this if you’ve sat through any of his talks at our events).
Ask Lee any question and he’s likely to pull out an Excel sheet to help answer it. He lists every number, every variable, every comment and question, every bit of minutiae he can collect on a place… and it all goes into the report. He does this for every property he visits in a market. And when he’s done, he can easily compare one against the next.
We make fun of Lee’s cerebral approach to investment at conferences. In fact, this is one of the fundamental issues in property buying—whether to be led by the heart or the head.
For pure investment, it’s all about the numbers.
But if you’re buying for lifestyle, your heart has to factor into the equation.
Either way, Lee’s spreadsheet strategy is a useful one.
My spreadsheet was probably less number-based than Lee’s. It included things like “storage space,” “good things,” and “bad things.” I made comments like “Harry doesn’t like the furniture,” “worst kind of washing machine invented,” or “dingy bathroom.”
These notes wouldn’t make the cut for a true investment guru, but they helped me remember what was most important to me about each place we tried on for size. Trust me, after seeing a dozen properties, you’ll muddle them all. You need to keep some kind of record.
Harry and I got lucky this year. We managed to get the apartment we liked far better than all the others we had seen. And when it comes time to move again—likely next year—I’ll have a handy list of going prices in various neighborhoods and the kinds of spaces I can expect in them.
All this legwork is laborious, of course. But it’s the best way to get to know a single market.
In a way, we had it easy. We knew we wanted to settle in Paris…
But what about you? If the whole world is your market, how do you decide where to focus your search?
No matter your reason for wanting to go overseas or the country (or countries) that have your attention, the best first step you can take would be to join our Live and Invest Overseas team in Houston Sept. 7–10 for this year’s Retire Overseas Conference.
This is Making A Plan For Living Or Retire Overseas Made Easy… the most practical (and fun) way I can imagine to sift through all the factors that go into making the important choice of where to base your new life.
I’ll be there to share my stories, along with Kathleen Peddicord, Lief Simon, Lee Harrison, and dozens of other experts and expats from across the globe.
I very much hope to meet you there.