Paris’ Real-Estate Madness: Like Ours, Only Different

A general view shows rooftops and cranes on July 30, 2013 in Paris with the Eiffel tower (L) in the background. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Looks like Paris' most expensive apartment — an 1,862-square-foot first-floor in a 17th-century building overlooking the Seine in the 6th Arrondissement, the former property of the owner of the huge, fancy bakery chain Paul and macaron empire Ladurée — just sold at the record price of €8 million ($11 million).

Well, let's be clear: They mean a record price in square meters. It went for €46,200 per square meter, which is almost $6,000 per square foot. (In comparison, according to one report, average square feet in Manhattan right now is about $1,300, and last year in Paris was about $1,100, amid continuing reports that prices there are coming down.) This Paris apartment in question is just that — an apartment — whereas the big kahuna in Paris is a maison particulière, their equivalent of a private brownstone-type mansion. One — with 7,800 square feet indoors and 3,700 square feet outdoors — recently went on the market for $47.4 million.

In general, as exorbitant as real-estate prices are in Paris — especially for studios that make NYC studios look gigantic in comparison, and that often come with only two hotplates and a tiny stand-up shower — they are still somewhat cheaper than in New York. As far as rentals go, in my past few years of obsessive lèche-vitrine — window-shopping, though literally it means "window-licking" — in Paris to compare rentals to New York, I've concluded that it's still generally cheaper to rent there than here. Mostly I'm looking in the funky, immigrant/hipster neighborhoods of Paris' north and northeast (the 18th, 19th, and 20th Arrondissements), which would be the equivalent right now to places like outer Bushwick and Crown Heights, and it usually appears you can find a studio in those Paris neighborhoods for around $1,000, whereas a Craigslist search I just did on the New York 'hoods yielded little for less than $1,500. (But keep in mind, you may have to go without a stove.)

None of this is to say that it's necessarily easier for Paris' non-rich to find an apartment. It's not. It's income-documenting hell, just like it is in New York, with the added factor that there is much less of the looser, find-it-on-Craigslist-and-make-a-deal-with-the-nice-old-Polish-lady-downstairs secondary market that exists in New York. For that reason, Paris officials, just like their NYC counterparts, are trying to crack down on landlords who turn their properties into expensive short-stay venues at the expense of real residents who need affordable apartments.

But whereas New York authorities want to crack down hard on Airbnb renters of all stripes, Paris at least appears to be trying to distinguish between absentee mega-subletters and average folks who rent a spare room to guests from time to time to help out with the rent.

"We don't want to stigmatize Airbnb," Paris' new housing czar just said. "Most of their clients are in conformity with the law ... that's why we'd hope that they are living among their Airbnb guests."

If he really means that, then it's just one of the many ways that Paris, despite its world-class wealth, often prioritizes its average citizens and the public good over the hyper-rich. For example, the city just announced that, due to extremely high pollution levels, it hopes to automatically make public transit free whenever car-pollution levels exceed a certain point, to discourage car use. The city did just that for more than three polluted days in March, when I was there, at a cost of more than $5.6 million daily. The gesture sent the message that the city actually cared about public wellness more than its transit system's coffers. Could you ever see that happening with the MTA?