petite anglaise

January 18, 2005

flat hunting

Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:58 am

The tiny lift wheezes and groans its way up to the fifth floor, where the doors open with an unpleasant sound reminiscent of a cat’s claws being sharpened on a school blackboard. The pre-pubescent estate agent is already unlocking the door to the apartment. There are four locks. I picture the previous occupant, possibly a spinster with several cats, peeping through the spyhole suspiciously.

Young Mr Estate Agent hurries us past the windowless, unventilated bathroom and its odour of damp. It possesses one of those short Parisian baths in which even a ten-year old child would be unable to stretch out his/her legs fully. Something about the appearance of the toilet sets alarm bells ringing in my head, but before I have chance to investigate further I am cut off mid-thought. Tadpole has escaped my grasp and is making a bee-line for an interesting looking bouquet of dangling earthless sockets and exposed wires in the living room.

Returning to the task in hand, I note that the kitchen wouldn’t be out of place in a student house shared by four impoverished boys and no cleaning products. What plumbling is visible looks decidedly ancient and is likely to be lined with toxic lead.

Monsieur Agent Immobilier ingeniously diverts my attention away from this unappealing sight by throwing open the windows in the three main rooms, creating a situation where Tadpole can potentially defenestrate herself if my attention lapses for a moment. He studiously avoids the issue of central heating (and the lack thereof), but he does concede that the apartment probably requires € 35,000 spending on it in order to realise its full potential.

The main rooms are lovely, with wooden floors, high ceilings and original fireplaces. Winter sunlight pours in through the (non-double-glazed) windows and bathes the walls in a warm, buttery light. Leaning out of the fifth floor window and craning my neck to the right, I can just spy the Buttes Chaumont park.

I prod a wall-mounted electric heater suspiciously. It wobbles. I have never understood the French fondness for a single, tiny electric heater, positioned on an outside wall under a window, intended to heat a large high-ceilinged room.

Sensing that the heating issue is causing my enthusiasm to falter, the estate agent makes the mistake of opening a panel next to the front door to demonstrate the existence of a gas pipe. The rusty old pipe he wiggles at me could be anything for all I know, but whatever it is, it evidently hasn’t been used since the 1920’s and seeing this does nothing to reassure me. Nor does a glimpse of the fusebox (a single old-fasioned wire fuse). Hardly a desirable original feature.

We mumble the usual meaningless niceties about how we’ll have to discuss it but, a priori it is a little out of our budget range considering the amount of attention it needs and our patent lack of DIY skills. Mr Agent Immobilier promises to contact us if anything similar comes on the market (he won’t, in two years no-one ever has) and we take our leave.

It dawns on me later that day what was wrong with the toilet. It was low and small like a bidet with a lid. There was no visible connection to a water supply. I don’t even think it was a sani-broyeur. Could it be some sort of chemical toilet?

Call me fussy, but for the sum of £ 200,000 (€ 317,000) I am not prepared to relive my worst experiences of the Glastonbury festival. I’m too old for that.

Back to the small ads.


  1. euch. I don’t envy you that task. give it up, till tadpole is a hugely rich lawyer/film star and can buy you the house of your dream avec plumbing.

    and can I tell you how much I love the word “defenestrate”.

    Comment by vitriolica — January 18, 2005 @ 1:45 pm

  2. Very French choice of word, isn’t it?

    Comment by petite — January 18, 2005 @ 2:54 pm

  3. I choose to remain in my nasty damp flat (with the towel rail that nearly broke my foot this morning falling out of the wall again) rather than navigate the painful process of parisienne real estate.

    Comment by l'oiseau — January 18, 2005 @ 3:22 pm

  4. We also once looked at something like that. It still had a bomb hole from the second world war in the kitchen floor, covered with little but a sheet of lino. The weasly estate agent with an grating East German accent said there was a Turkish family down below but as far as ‘Kanaken’ go, they were pretty decent. “F*#k you mate,” we said, “they’ve been here longer than you have.”

    Comment by David — January 18, 2005 @ 5:41 pm

  5. I’m always intrigued by French apartments which have all the rooms “en enfilade” (I think they call it), whereby doors lead from one room through to another rather than leading from a central hallway. My flat in Brussels was also like that.

    Comment by witho — January 18, 2005 @ 5:53 pm

  6. yep Witho, it had those too. It was basically three top floor ‘chambres de service’ which had been joined together.

    Comment by petite — January 18, 2005 @ 6:01 pm

  7. I bought my first house in Sheffield. It cost me £34,000 in 1997, and was a victorian red bricked mid terrace two-up two-down. (Like Coronation Street). It had a miniature bathroom. It was tiny but I loved it. It had belonged to an elderly lady who had lived in it for fifty years.

    Thankfully it didn’t smell of old ladies too much, but I did have to have the whole place re-wired and have central heating installed. I also had to remove polystyrene tiles from the ceilings in all four rooms, which took me days and days, but every bit of pain and expense was worth it.

    I had to sell it eventually which broke my heart, but the profit paid for the deposit on the flat in North London which my boyfriend and I now own. It’s also a tiny flat, and cost us four times as much.

    Comment by stressqueen — January 18, 2005 @ 6:36 pm

  8. Oh my goodness you were in my first apartment. Except of course that they have moved it from Toronto to Paris. The transportation fees must explain the cost.

    Good luck with the hunt and if Monsieur Agent does happen to call please tell him that the much needed bucket is in the extra hall cupboard. The new tenants might need it.

    Comment by Michele — January 18, 2005 @ 9:35 pm

  9. We paid $239,000 for our home 1 year and five months ago. It is roughly 2600 square feet. It has four bedrooms and a full bath on the second floor, a kitchen, dining room, living room, my office, and another bathroom on the first floor, and a finished basement with an attached two-car garage.

    Of course, you live in Paris while I live in New Hampshire with only one winery within easy driving distance…

    Comment by Bob Barton — January 18, 2005 @ 9:49 pm

  10. cor, it looks FAB up there, goes with your colour scheme! (and I’m not talking about the dud flat!)
    thanks for this.

    Comment by vitriolica — January 18, 2005 @ 10:18 pm

  11. Sometimes I get nostalgic about old French buildings. Then I remeber how internal plumbing is a poorly integrated recent novelty in such buildings.

    Oh well, bon chance with the house hunting.

    Comment by BHR — January 19, 2005 @ 12:31 am

  12. It’s funny to hear the england/france housing debate from this point of view. Up here, we here a lot of british families immigrating over to buy houses to live in France, because the bang for your buck (err, pounds) is supposedly so much better here. I think this is mostly happening in Brittany and Normandy though (I guess so people can travel back to their homeland rather conviently on the ferries?).

    But of course, prices here don’t compare to Paris at all, so…

    Comment by kim — January 19, 2005 @ 10:12 am

  13. HEAR a lot, hear.

    I swear, my english is getting more and more pathetic with every passing day.

    Comment by kim — January 19, 2005 @ 10:13 am

  14. I really miss central heating. We have those same electric heaters in our apartment, but some brilliant person decided to only put them in the common rooms and not in the bedroom. We finally had to buy one of those portable, “oil filled,” radiators for the bedroom, because sleeping under 40 blankets was starting to impede my ability to breath.

    Good luck with the apartment hunting.

    Comment by Jason Stone — January 19, 2005 @ 10:25 am

  15. Oh my. I fantasize about living in Paris, and then realize I would need to win a lottery to do so. I live in Nova Scotia, a 45 minute drive from Halifax–the only city of any size nearby, though a great place to work. But for the equivalent of say, $70,000 US, we own 2 1/2 acres on an ocean inlet and a lovely log home–only 1,400 sq ft, but hey, there’s only two of us and a cat.

    Mind you, it’s -19 C right now and there’s 40 cm of snow on the ground with more expected. So you can’t have everything in one place, can you? Best of luck hunting. When you want a vacation by the ocean maybe we can do an exchange!

    Comment by Lisa — January 19, 2005 @ 5:36 pm

  16. And people wonder how depression can set in so quickly.

    Vraiment triste.

    Comment by Sigmund Carl and Alfred — January 19, 2005 @ 6:19 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: