Not One Pied-à-Terre, but Three

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New York Times July 2007 page 1    New York Times July 2007 page 2

Not One Pied-à-terre, but Three

On paper, the story of Laurie Pike would make anybody envious. A style director for Los Angeles Magazine, she jets four times a year from Los Angeles to Paris, where she has not one, but three, pieds-à-terre, in three very different parts of the city.

But hers is not the story of a silver-spoon life. Rather, it is about learning to turn difficult situations into opportunities.

“In 2001, my business went under — a magazine in L.A. called Glue — and I was $100,000 in debt,” said Ms. Pike, 44, sitting on a blue pullout couch in her studio in Montmartre. Yet, four years after entering a debt-management program, Ms. Pike suddenly found herself receiving her paycheck as supervisor of fashion coverage at the influential Los Angeles monthly magazine — much more money than she had learned to rely on — and decided to invest.

Buying in Los Angeles did not appeal to Ms. Pike, who says that although she finds it the easiest city to live in, she is turned off by its natural instability: “the earthquakes, the landslides, the fires.”

And then there is the cost. Prices vary widely across the sprawling city. In the once-again chic area of Hollywood, apartments average $640 a square foot, not necessarily including taxes, utilities or maintenance costs, while small apartments in Paris average a bit less, and those charges are included.

Ms. Pike spent time in Paris over 20 years ago as a student at the Sorbonne. On a recent visit there she realized that mortgage rates were affordable — about 5 percent — and property values were not as costly as she had thought. Aided by the Bonapart Consulting agency, which specializes in finding homes in Paris for clients from abroad, she went on the hunt for an apartment.

The third one she saw was a studio on the Rue Nobel, a short street in Montmartre that has access to the stairs of Rue du Mont Cenis — a picturesque site for which this Parisian neighborhood on a hill is known. Ms. Pike had lived in the neighborhood when she was a student.

She bought the place in 2006 for 148,000 euros ($176,000 at the time), and spent 9,000 euros ($10,700) on renovations. The 22-square-meter, or almost 237-square-foot ground-floor studio, which has a glass chandelier, also has a small bar to separate the kitchen area from the rest of the room; the bathroom has a bathtub. To supplement a 20 percent down payment, Ms. Pike got a mortgage with a French bank that she found through a broker, France Home Finance. She generally rents out the apartment, which generates enough income to cover the mortgage, taxes and all costs associated with its upkeep.

Emboldened by the success of the operation, she partnered with her New Jersey-based accountant, a friend of 20 years, and bought two more properties: a small one-bedroom in eastern Paris, between Bastille and Nation, and a studio in the Marais, on the Rue aux Ours.

Each apartment cost about 170,000 euros, or about $230,000, and has been furnished in a low-key way. As they, too, are being rented out by short-term visitors, Ms. Pike has avoided setting out much memorabilia. She did not want the apartments to feel “too lived in” and turn off American tenants.

But there are some personal touches: a coffee-table book about fashion sits on the low table at the center of the Rue Nobel studio, and she has prepared a little booklet about the neighborhood for visitors.

The apartments are rented through Craigslist, the popular Web site, or through referrals. They are also advertised on The Paris Blog, a site that Ms. Pike founded in 2006. The group blog features contents from several English-speaking bloggers, most of them expatriates who write about the daily intricacies of life in Paris. “It’s a great way to take the pulse of the city,” she said.

The appeal of buying a pied-à-terre in Paris — “I love flying in here with just a few changes of clothes,” she said — is not out of reach if approached the right way, Ms. Pike explained.

“If they are doing it for the first time and don’t speak really, really good French, they should hire a consultant,” she said. In France, as in much of Europe, real estate agents generally represent sellers, but buyers are usually on their own.

A consultant can help with any red-tape issues that come up, she said, adding, “When things go wrong, you have somebody on your side.”

Mortgage consultants, too, are helpful. Although Ms. Pike arranged the mortgage for her second apartment on her own, she turned to a mortgage adviser for the Marais apartment.

She emphasized the importance of actually being in Paris when conducting the transaction. “If they want to buy from the U.S.,” she said, “they are out of their minds.”

Ms. Pike’s boyfriend, whom she described as “a real California boy,” has yet to visit Paris, but the pair are planning to make a trip in November. “He thinks it’s great; he thinks it’s very exotic,” Ms. Pike said. “He’s a real foodie. He’ll have the time of his life here.”

Ms. Pike, meanwhile, has carved out time for a second life in Paris. “It’s such a double life here. I speak a different language. I smoke, which I never do at home, I eat different foods. Here my friends are philosophy professors, writers,” she said. “You kind of have a different identity.”


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