So we have (finally) bought an apartment in Nice, France! But this was not, however, a feat that was accomplished easily or quickly! MB (Monsieur Bleu) and I had spent many years (eight to be exact), getting whiplash from craning our necks upwards searching for À Vendre (for sale) signs carelessly attached to miniature Niçoise balconies or stalking various immobilières (real estate agents) windows and internet sites for anything even half resembling a decent dwelling with a price that wouldn’t immediately cause severe heart palpitations!
There are many different avenues to explore when searching for estate there, be it the SeLoger site (which is similar to realestate.com) or the usual hunt around the million or so agents at play in Nice or even Le Bon Coin which is the equivalent of Gumtree (in Australia). We eventually found our little place on L.B.C, (which was a fluke in itself, more on that later) and the best part of buying this way, is that you deal exclusively and directly with the owner and you don’t have to pay exorbitant agents fees or commissions. Winning all the way!
Ok, of course we had a budget (we were willing to bend if the right one appeared) and a wish list (that we were willing to compromise upon) as long as France’s A10, but my God did we see some dumps and dives during this exhaustive and weird real estate wonderland experience!
Below are examples of some of the more interesting apartments we visited on our journey:
There was one we viewed, very early on, that was situated right across from the railway line (I know), where the owner not only collected but displayed jars and jars of used coffee pods! No doubt it was a great advertisement (or not) for Nespresso and its sustainable durability, but just WHY? Scary but true!
And the one where everything was painted a different hue of red and overlooked a tunnel entrance and a dodgy looking tattoo parlour, but with a glimpse of the Port area and the sea. Safety and comfort all the way, it had a mezzanine level that was approximately one metre in height to house a bed (mattress); combine this with a precarious looking, floating red staircase with no handrails leading up to it and it’s a big bonne chance if you needed to go to the bathroom or kitchen in the middle of the night. A broken neck was NOT part of our wish list package thank you very much! There was just too much to change and too much to spend on it, but the location was good!
Our personal favourite was the one where the ‘people’ renting it had about ten cats with various litter boxes scattered everywhere, covering every surface and piled high with, um, kitty waste, that you couldn’t even contemplate OR care about what it looked like as it was in such a state of disrepair! I’m a huge feline fan, but apart from requiring an urgent call to the local animal refuge association and a fumigator, it had only one window and a minute balcony that overlooked an interior courtyard delivering a wonderful view of various washing lines and a hoarder’s junkyard! Our dream home it was not. But this was FOR SALE and expensive as it was situated on the edge of Nice’s Old Town (which is a sought after location).
Seriously though, some of these places were worse than a bad dad joke on a good day and the estate agents should be ashamed of themselves for even having apartments in these conditions on their books, let alone showing them to prospective buyers. It was appalling, atrocious and unprofessional AND they still expected ten percent of the final sale to boot! Unbelievable, but we saw it first hand.
Location, location, location is always the key phrase bandied about, but ours was balcon, balcon, balcon. It’s the Côte d’Azur remember and summertime here lasts forever, so this was the major player and a MUST HAVE on our wish list! We had searched tirelessly for ‘the one’ only to be faced with the endless issues and problems that go hand in hand when shopping for particular real estate in France.
FYI: Deux pièces means a one bedroom; une cuisine américaine means an open style kitchen; traversent (very important) means a cross breeze and pas de vis- à- vis means no one’s overlooking you! Une terrasse is a large outdoor area and un balcon is a small Niçoise wrought iron balcony. We wanted all of the above and more in our dwelling of dreams and were determined to find it! Strangely enough, over those years, we had nearly bought quite a few, so it wasn’t a complete W.O.F.T (Waste Of F*#&ing Time) kind of mission!
This little slice of heaven we have now purchased was the 8th one in a long line of suiters that we had seriously considered and now it’s ALL OURS. Insert high five here!🖐🏼 But the journey that took us there was fraught with many disappointments and challenges and many many tears!
Sit back and allow me to tell you the story:
The FIRST one we wanted (back in November 2014) was lovely! It was exactly what we were looking for: a great layout, original features, spacious and with a wide balcon. The area where it was situated (an ethnic part of town), was ok and it was in a moderately well maintained albeit quirky style building. The Swedish owner who showed us around was kind, approachable and very happy to sell (it appeared) and so of course we put in an offer! Quite was the shock when a few days later, we were informed that he had retracted the sale and changed his mind! Nooooo…
Maybe we talked it up so much that he fell in love with it all over again and reconsidered his position? Or just didn’t like us? No one will ever know. A flood of tears and hiccupy crying ensued…
The SECOND was a top floor corner apartment in the very hip and happening Port area, with not one but three separate little balcons and was entirely painted a peach/salmon colour (along with most of the interior decor)! So we chatted to the sweet elderly lady owner and gushed over the joint and again, put in an offer. A day later, we were informed that it had already been sold the week prior to our visit! Um, ok, what? (FYI, this scenario happens quite frequently in Nice.) No kidding aside, exactly a week after this occurrence and just as we were about to board our flight home, we were contacted by the odd little fellow from the agency and told that it was back on the market but at a reduced price and did we still want it? With so much stuffing around and no time to do the sale etc, we passed. Strangely enough, last year when we were in Nice, we discovered that this apartment was once again up for sale (but fully renovated) and so we tried copious amounts of times to get a viewing, but were never contacted by the agent or owner! Supreme salesmanship all round. Ah well, it was their loss and La Maison Saumon was obviously not meant to be!
The THIRD was a studio with a petit balcon in a traditional Niçoise building in the Old Town (trés cool) and only 300 meters from the sea! Love… BUT it was just so damn small! The living, dining and bedroom were all in one tiny space that even the bloody bathroom sink was in there! The kitchen was the size of a postage stamp, but it was an excellent price for the area, building style and location (unfortunately it had a nightclub underneath). After frequent visits, both in the day and at night, with my sister and Hervé’s brother coming along for the ride too, we eventually put in an offer. It was all happening, lawyers and all, but I had a strange feeling about it and we both weren’t entirely at ease with the decision. So in the end we withdrew from the sale as it was just too ‘cosy’ for a couple and had no space to breathe. We just couldn’t feel ourselves living there. We still look at it now and wonder ‘what if’ (it would have been fine for a weekender but you could never live in it comfortably on a permanent basis) and the club has gone, but we are happy with the decision we made. It wasn’t easy.
And so we continue on to number FOUR… The (in)famous Rue Trachel Tragedy!
Now here is one for the books! Ok, so we found this apartment by accident one day on a respectable real estate agents site. Purely by chance, (whilst searching for a place on AirB&B) to use whilst on another property search sojourn in February of 2016, the exact same apartment came up as available to rent! What are the chances of that! A sign? We took it as one, so we pressed the book now button! We lived in this apartment for three weeks but still searched for other places to buy at the same time… just in case. It was in a slightly dodgy area of town and there were homeless folk lying near the main front door that was busted, (I can see you all rolling your eyes and shaking your heads) but we turned a blind eye to all this of course, as it had three balcons (again), blue and white striped awnings and was ridiculously cheap. The owner wanted to get rid of it so badly, she even took another ten grand off the asking price! Mmmm, I wonder why? 🚩Red flag alert!🚩The cold was obviously playing havoc with our brains, as we literally nearly bought this one as well (much to our family’s horror), but pulled out at the last moment as we discovered, via the lawyer, that the building was full of squatters and being investigated! We sometimes drive past when we’re in town and it still looks just as run down as ever (but now has a police station next door… shock) and we keep asking ourselves ‘what in the name of the Lord were we thinking’? We now affectionally call it Rue Trash-in-Hell!
Number FIVE was in the Port area again (our particular endroit of choice) and was a newly renovated one bedroom in a tan coloured Niçoise building and with a narrow balcon. It was really a studio, but with a small room off to the side that could literally only house a bed. Nothing else would fit. It had very low ceilings, but two sets of French doors and a lovely bathroom. The kitchen was very tiny and tidy but had no window or ventilation and that needed to be addressed if you ever cooked and required air or oxygen! The cost of doing this would have been very expensive too, as it required knocking a hole through the bedroom wall. Fun! The lovely, patient young agent also informed us that the Body Corporate did not allow you to put in air-conditioning or erect any form of shelter on the balcon (which became so hot in summer that you couldn’t use it) and this was a HUGE no go for us. We looked at this one about a million times as well, as it had a lot of potential and was basically turn key ready, but it just never felt right, regardless of the location and price, so we sadly aborted the mission. Next!
Exhausted yet? We were!
The SIXTH was still in the same (Port) area and more upscale. A two bedroom apartment this time on the top floor of a six story block, that was marvellous and came fully furnished. It had an extra long but narrow balcon but no lift. I (we) adored IT, but not the price tag and it was far too close to the building opposite. VIS-À-VIS! You could see everything that was going on inside their homes and the direct neighbour (each time we visited) appeared to be quite aggressive and strange. We eventually woke up from the ‘out of our price range two bedroom apartment dream’ and waved a teary adieu to this one as well. More sobbing and wailing of course! Will we ever learn? Will we ever find THE ONE?
Number SEVEN was a treat! Obviously we were getting slightly desperate and delusional, as this apartment was near the airport (we have renamed this area to Niceberia, as in Nice Siberia), and was part of a professionals-inhabited gated community. An old Niçoise house converted into six apartments, it had a clawfoot bath (sigh) and arched French door style windows. SOLD! I’m such a sucker for old world charm that I was immediately in love. It had two little balconies, one at the front and one at the rear of the property that overlooked a cul de sac and a very quiet street, was on the 2nd floor and not very private if you spoke above a whisper. Of which, if you know us, we definitely do not! We put in an offer anyway as I had become possessed and overly obsessed with the fancy bathroom (with B&W subway tiles… aaaagh) and the princess windows, only to be told that the owners demanded 20,000 euro cash up front with no refund if the sale fell through for any reason for either party. Pardon! Are they crazy? This is neither normal behaviour or legal, so a swift au revoir was given to that one too. Loads of crying and drama after THAT shebang! Poor MB! To be honest, it was way too far out of the inner hub and didn’t suit us at all, but it was REALLY PRETTY. I still long for that bathroom, but at least I got to keep the cool tote bag from the agency!
And that, my lovelies, takes us to lucky number EIGHT!
Come 2021, we were over it and had honestly given up all hope of finding a place as it had become both a chore and argument fuel. There was just nothing out there for us. Were we really asking too much from our wish list? Why was this so difficult? Promising never to look at property again that holiday, I broke the rule and went on Le Bon Coin one afternoon (whilst MB dabbled away on his computer) and mindlessly scrolled over hundreds of properties. Suddenly, a photo of an orange striped awning (un store in French) overlooking a huge terrace caught my eye. What is this pretty place? I asked myself. Reading through and looking at the photos, I felt something in my gut. I got all hot and bothered and couldn’t email it to MB fast enough! “I found it!” I shouted excitedly to him from my position on the couch of our 4th AirB&B. “CALL NOW!” And so he did. The owner was marvellous! Honest and professional all the way, he wanted to deal solely with us. We visited it ONCE and only walked around for about ten minutes. It came complete with odd bits of furniture, (not our style and slightly run down) but we immediately felt at home and could visualise living there after putting our unique mark on it. The cherry on the cake was that the building also had an original, turquoise coloured Art Nouveau lift of which we were not aware until we visited. Now that’s a sign!
So a year after that first introduction and months and months of paperwork and stress later, we own our very own Petit Piece of Nice that we now call our second home! It’s a beautiful apartment on the fifth floor of six and in a 1930’s Art Deco building, and the space is filled with light, height, breezes, history, character and charm! One could live here for a short stay, a season or a lifetime and still feel happy and content every. single. day. It isn’t in our revered Port area, but that was part of our compromise and we had gradually grown away from that, because in the end (and for a lower price) we had eventually found an apartment with a small, stylish interior but with an enormous terrace to entertain our closest family and friends. This has become more important to us and THAT, we think, is what life and living should truly be about!
This apartment also fulfils our A10 long wish list:
*A Terrace (and this is the most important feature of all) is 20 m2! ✔️
*Original, wooden chevron patterned floor ✔️
*Cellar (cave and it’s HUGE) ✔️
*Lift (my personal fav) ✔️
*Good neighbourhood (it’s in the Musicians quartiere of the revered Carré d’Or) ✔️
*View (a view of the surrounding streets and hills) ✔️
*Amenities (near the Baie des Anges main beach, four supermarkets, three bakeries, a beautiful park, tram station, train station, shopping streets AND overlooking a bistro)! ✔️
*No major renovation required (just lots of things to change, fix and tidy to make it our style). ✔️
So our pied- à- terre (foot to the ground) is now shaping up to become the best little Art Deco/Miami inspired guest home it can be and my next blog, Renovating a Petit Piece of Nice, will explain just how we did it! Until next time…
…”Tout vient à son heure pour qui sait attendre”…French proverb
[…”Everything comes in its own time for those who are prepared to wait”…] AMEN!