Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Gridskipper: The Stunning Brasseries of Paris

February 27, 2009
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The 7 Questions You Need to Ask Before Buying a Fractional Ownership

January 5, 2009

DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE

BEFORE YOU BUY

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1.  Who is the Developer?
Before you entrust your money to someone, check out their experience and track record.  It may sound like common sense, but many people are swayed by a slick website with fancy graphics and photos, without a clear understanding who they are dealing with.  Does the developer have the legal, technical and financial strength and experience to complete the project as presented?  What is their track history?  Do they provide the ability to speak with past clients?  These are important questions to ask.
2.  What are the annual costs of ownership?
As a part owner, one would reasonably expect that annual operating costs would bear a close relationship to the annual assessments. Of course, if concierge and hotel-like perks are part of the package, this can raise the annual costs dramatically.  Look at the true per diem cost of ownership (annual fee divided by number of days use) to determine if this is truly a good value. See if these costs are disclosed publicly on their website.  If they aren’t, there may be a reason.
3.  Who manages the property and at what cost to the owners?
Some developers encourage and train the owners on self-management; others have a management contract with sister companies.  This is profitable for the developer, but not always a good deal for the owner.  Find out ahead of time what the annual costs of management are, and whether the management contract is able to be canceled or renegotiated.
4.  How much markup does the Developer charge?
Most developers do not like to disclose their profit margins, sometimes for good reason.  It is not reasonable to expect a Developer to work for free, nor to expect that a fractional interest of a property that has been completely renovated and furnished, is somehow the same as the market value of the same apartment times that percentage.  It costs a lot of money to find, acquire, renovate, furnish, market and complete a fractional project.
Having said that, Paris property prices per m2 are published every quarter and are well known in the local industry, down to each neighborhood.  Anything over 140%  of current market value divided by the number of shares is, in my mind, excessive. Some developers have a markup in excess of 300%. (4 times market value). What can I say, except that, when it is time to sell, knowing this information before you buy can mean the difference between enjoying a profit and taking a major financial hit.  The real estate market is not kind to overpriced property.
5.  What is the legal structure of the Project?
Ask this question upfront if it is not disclosed.  Buying a property in a foreign country is fraught with risks and complexities. A simplistic legal structure may be easier to understand, and inexpensive to form, but could be extremely costly down the road.  Remember, France is not particularly friendly to foreign companies as a general rule, and foreign companies that do business in France without the annual filing of required disclosures and payment of any requisite taxes are dealt with particularly harshly.
6.  Does the Developer offer a rental program for unused time?
This is a harmless question if the property is located in the US, but a deadly one if the property is located in France.  All I can say is, if the Developer is not aware of, or ignores French law pertaining to rental of property, it is the Owners that will pay the consequences.  See my commentary in the FAQ section of this site.
7.  Can I reasonably expect to use the time that I have purchased?
The whole reason behind fractional ownership is that you can purchase just the amount of time that you would reasonably expect to use.  Don’t buy more time than you need, and never buy excess time for the possibility of rental income.
Some developers require that you take your time in 2 different time periods each year (usually high season and low season).  This is fine if you expect to travel to Paris twice each year.  Otherwise, factor in the additional cost to travel to Paris just to be able to use that extra time.
Summary
If you get the answers to these questions and feel comfortable with the answers, then you have done your homework.
Reprinted from the Paris Home Shares website at http://www.parishomeshares.net/7 Questions.html

Paris Goes on Sale

January 3, 2009

paris-soldesGlobespotters » Travel Blog » International Herald Tribune » Blog Archive » Paris Goes on Sale.

Smiling Parisians show you their city, for free – NZ Herald

December 4, 2008

Smiling Parisians show you their city, for free – NZ Herald

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Paris – Safe Haven in a Troubled Real Estate Climate?

September 27, 2008
Autumn in Colorado

Autumn in Colorado

Yesterday, I came across two interesting articles, both British based, about real estate prospects in France, and Paris in particular.  One was a commentary in the Financial Times, which you can read here.  The other was on BBC – America television. Both highlighted the differences between the French real estate market and that in America and the UK.

As is well known, the American housing market is in a severe downturn, resulting from overbuilding, rampant price speculation and lenders feeding the process with poorly underwritten loans to unqualified borrowers.  All of this started to unwind in 2006 and the process could take another year or two to resolve itself – if credit is available to purchasers.  Right now, the credit markets are all but dried up, and if that continues, there will be no loans available under any terms to allow the free market to resolve the situation. Simply put, banks have no money to lend, because all of their reserves have been set aside for the bad loans they currently own. Many are on the brink of failure.

The situation is not much different in the UK, albeit on a lesser scale.  The UK and Ireland experienced their own version of the housing bubble. They are going through the same process of rapidly falling house prices and lack of available credit.  Their banks are looking for government bailouts.  Banks are merging in a last ditch effort to survive. Barclay’s is no more, Bank of Scotland is gone, and the taint of the poisoned US subprime market permeates the portfolios of all of the remaining UK banking institutions as well.

So why has Paris, and the rest of France to a lesser degree, survived this housing meltdown relatively unscathed? There are several underlying reasons, as pointed out by the BBC.  First, there is not the fever in France to get into the “home ownership” game.  France traditionally has been a country of renters, and much of the property that is owned has been in the same family for generations.  Speculative “flipping” is simply unheard of.  Second, the French people have no credit card debt.  They are a country operating under the philosophy that you do not buy something if you do not have the money to pay for it.  Of course, that financial philosophy went out the window long ago in the US.  Most French credit cards are actually debit cards.  If the funds are not in the account to pay for the transaction, it simply does not happen.  Third, French banks are and have traditionally been far more conservative than their American and British counterparts.  Home loans are amortized for 15-20 years and usually require a minimum 20% down payment.  No 125% financing here.  Loan qualification is a rigorous process.

As a result, the financial underpinnings of the French banks and the French real estate market are more along the lines of what we in the US knew in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  This is also why, to a large degree, French real estate has appreciated much more slowly in the last 10 years than, for example, the US or UK housing markets.  The Spanish housing market is a totally different creature, having been overbuilt, rife with corruption and now crumbling.  That reality adds a double whammy to the many Brits who bought a 2nd home in the sun there with the suddenly realized home equity in their homes in Great Britian. Now, they are upside down in both Spain and at home, and for many this represents the loss of their entire pension savings.

The French real estate market is not immune to what is happening in the rest of the world, of course.  Unemployment is increasing, their trade exports are dropping due to the recent strength in the dollar, oil and food price rises are impacting the everyday Frenchman, and tourism is way down.  Home prices in many parts of France have seen a downturn, particularly in the southwest regions like the Languedoc.

In Paris, buyer demand for properties has tapered off dramatically.  Most Parisians cannot afford to live in their own city.  Foreign demand is also down.  However, like London and New York, demand for premium properties continues to remain strong.  Notwithstanding the volume slowdown, the prices in Paris continue upward, to the astonishment of most of the rest of the world. The most recent study shows Paris prices appreciating 9% in the last year.  I do not think this will continue indefinitely.  I would suspect Paris prices to flatten out or even drop slightly in the short term, until the global economy gets back on its feet. After all, Paris is an international city, and international money, particularly oil money at the moment, continues to play a key role in sustaining this market. Paris too is not totally immune to what is happening with the rest of the global markets. However, with beautiful architecture, a rich and colorful history and a fixed supply of real estate, Paris will continue to be in high demand, so long as it does not follow down the road of mistakes made by other real estate markets.

Perhaps, for those of us who feel more comfortable with our investments in real estate instead of the stock market, Paris may be the last truly safe haven for rational long term real estate investment, at least until there is some stabilization in the markets we have been more familiar with in the past, whether they be in the US or elsewhere.  Whether we like it or not, the French got it right, and we didn’t.

US Dollar Makes Some Gains

July 31, 2008

There appears to be a subtle but positive shift for the US Dollar vis-a-vis the Euro and other benchmark currencies recently.  After toying with a new record low in the $1.60-1.61 range against the euro, the dollar rebounded impressively in the last week.  As of this moment, the mid-market rate sits at $1.558.

Contributing to the dollar’s renewed strength is the remarkable decline in oil prices in the last two weeks, due to rapidly increasing inventories and a short term diminishing of global demand because of weak economies around the world.  Couple that with some better than expected economic news on the home front, and signs of continued inflationary problems abroad, and the US dollar signaled that it wasn’t Charmin’s equivalent of currency just yet.

For currency traders, the dollar/euro ratio has been “range bound” for the last month or two, trading narrowly in the 1.56-1.63 range.  But an important charting threshhold was passed late last week, when the euro dipped below it’s 100 day average.  This can often be a precursor of a long term trend, namely a weaker euro.  Traders are now talking of a new floor for the exchange rate of 1.53, should the dollar strengthen to 1.555 or more.

All of this is good news for US buyers and travelers heading to Europe.  While the situation remains highly volatile, and the dollar could weaken again with only the slightest of bad news, at least there is now hope that the movement is not a one way street into oblivion.

Chez La Tour – Work Finishes!

July 14, 2008

After a little over 3 months of renovation, Chez La Tour opened its doors to it first Owner for the month of July.  In a race against the clock, the construction dust was swept up, tools hauled out, pictures hung, furniture placed, and a myriad of small details tackled.  There are still some details to finish, but the apartment was fully functional and ready to go when our first Owner arrived on the 4th of July.  Here are a couple photos.  To see all of the photos, go to our website at www.parishomeshares.net/cltphotos.html.

Paris Real Estate Prices

July 14, 2008

As though totally nonplussed by the financial turmoil swirling around the real estate markets around the rest of the world, Paris real estate prices continue their slow, steady march upward.  According to the latest figures published by the Notaires association, the average price for Parisian real estate increased 9.4% from April 2007 to April 2008.  To view the report, click here.  However, according to the same report, the total volume of sales decreased by over 13%, perhaps indicating an increasing resistance to the higher prices.

From a practical standpoint, based on my personal experience of searching the real estate market, this price figure appears to be low.  Local agents are aggressively pushing prices upward every day, and now most core area apartments seemed to be priced at or above 10,000€ / m2, irrespective of the apartment’s condition or location.  Good quality apartments are hard to find, and those that do appear are priced in the 12-15,000€ range.  To me, prices are starting to get absurd, yet they continue to sell.  Is the Paris market heading for a bubble?  I do not know, but my feeling is that true prices have skyrocketed over 20% in the last 6-9 months alone, and this rate is unsustainable in the long term.

Happy Bastille Day!

July 14, 2008

Today is one of the biggest French holidays, Bastille Day.  Like lemmings, most of France will be enjoying the remainder of their long holiday weekend in the countryside or at the beach.  Traffic of course will be at a nightmare level, and for those remaining in Paris, there will be parades along the Champs Elysées, festivals and the annual fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower.

Chez La Tour Owners Meeting

June 3, 2008

This past weekend, Sue and I were able to host the 1st annual Owners meeting for Chez La Tour LLC at our home near Denver.  The weather was bright and sunny, and the Owners traveled from both coasts and points in between to attend. This is always one of the pleasures of my job, to meet so many of the Owners and to share our common love of Paris.  We shared lots of stories, had some good laughs, and of course, conducted some business.  Our annual dues were determined, everyone was updated on the progress of the renovation work at the apartment, and the best part was handing out keys to the apartment to each of the Owners.   It was a wonderful day, and by the end, we were hugging each other, saying our farewells, with the knowledge that all of us had found a new family of friends.