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When residents of Montmartre walk down the slope from their perch in the 18th arrondissement, they sometimes say “on descend à Paris”, such is the contrast between Montmartre’s maze of narrow streets and diminutive squares and the monumental feel of the long boulevards that dominate much of the rest of the city.
The district is a magnet for the wealthy French media and show business crowd, together with young tech-sector entrepreneurs, says Martine Kuperfis, director of Junot Investissements, an estate agency. “People move here generally because they are attracted to the lifestyle rather than a specific type of building. Having a garden is a big draw for many buyers. All in all, they enjoy the impression that they are living in a village.”
Kuperfis estimates that most homes in Montmartre sell for between €8,000 and €18,000 per sq metre – making the district significantly more expensive than the rest of the 18th arrondissement, particularly on its northern side, which is peppered with social housing projects.
According to the most recent data prepared by the French capital’s Association of Notaries, the average selling price of apartments in the 18th arrondissement is €7,240 per sq metre, slightly down (0.7 per cent) over the 12 months to the end of September 2013. By comparison, in the 6th arrondissement – the heart of the Left Bank – apartments sell for an average of €12,620 per sq metre (down 6.7 per cent over the same period).
Montmartre’s unusual (at least for Paris) environment, and the district’s longstanding cachet, has the effect of keeping prices high even in the absence of significant numbers of non-French buyers. Meanwhile, ample supply across the city has made Paris very much a buyer’s market: research from Knight Frank shows a 5 per cent drop in prices of high-end Paris property over 2013. But the French property slump is more acute in the provinces – Knight Frank reports drops of 10 per cent in values in the prime market in the Dordogne in 2013 alone.
Some homes in Montmartre offer sweeping views of the city, but for people with reduced mobility the district is not ideal – many walkways and steps are cut steeply into the side of the hill. In the 19th century, rents dropped the higher up the hill one was prepared to live.
However, the concentration of individual houses in Montmartre is a rarity in Paris. A 280 sq metre townhouse close to Avenue Junot, with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, is on sale for €3.2m with Junot Investissements. The property has a 60 sq metre sitting room with a fireplace and a terrace, but no garden.
Avenue Junot is a particularly graceful street of apartment blocks and private mansions that winds up the north slope of Montmartre. This side of the hill sees fewer tourists than the southern slope which, when it flattens out at Pigalle, abruptly becomes quite down-at-heel.
If a private patch of green is a must, the Daniel Féau agency is offering a 70 sq metre ground floor apartment in a six-storey building in Montmartre with one bedroom and a 40 sq metre garden. The asking price is €1.05m.
Meanwhile, a two-bedroom apartment with 78 sq metres of living space just off Place des Abbesses – an attractive square with some trendy cafés and boutiques – is on sale for €700,000 through Terrasse & Cie. The unit has a fireplace and original mouldings but potential buyers will need to budget for some renovations. According to a report from the Paris Property Group, the micro-market at Abbesses “is not as fast as it was, and buyers are starting to bargain”. The starting price for a studio apartment in Montmartre is about €200,000, but at this price level the location is likely to be a little grungy and the living space cramped, typically about 20 sq metres.
For all the estate agents’ talk of Montmartre as a Parisian village – albeit a village with a champagne bar, theatres and art galleries, plus a couple of windmills – the overall feel of the place is that of a French provincial town, with its shuttered mansions hidden behind well-tended hedges and cherry trees.
According to Tim Johnston, a Scot who runs Juveniles wine bar in the city centre, and has lived in Paris since 1981, the district has a unique charm. “You can’t take away the beauty of Montmartre, even by filling it with tourists . . . The vineyard on the slope is a welcome patch of nature, a rarity in this part of Paris.”
Long-abandoned gypsum mines – a mineral used to make the original plaster of Paris – still have an impact on life today in and around Montmartre, says Johnston. “The legacy of the old mine shafts is that it is not always possible to build underground garages. This means that finding a place to park a car in Montmartre can be as difficult as anywhere in Paris.” Covered parking spaces here routinely sell for €100,000.
So it is just as well that Paris has a popular shared biking scheme, with about 20,000 Vélib’ bicycles compared with London’s 8,000 “Boris bikes”. It is also hoped that pollution will be reduced now that the speed limit on the busy Périphérique ring road (which is a little over 1km from Montmartre hill as the crow flies) was recently cut from 80km/h to 70km/h.
With French optimism and spending power taking a hit as the economic problems continue, estate agents in the capital repeatedly say that properties have to be perfect to sell fast.
“That’s the difference now,” says Kuperfis, of Junot Investissements, compared with how it was before the onset of la crise. “Major faults [such as a lack of natural light] will push the value of a home down significantly. The market is healthier and more logical now as a result.”
However, at the end of last year the Association of Notaries gave the French capital’s construction sector the good news that the number of properties changing hands in the 12 months to the end of September 2013 was up 13 per cent compared with the previous 12 months – “a modest sign of improvement”.
● Buyers should budget about 7.5 per cent of the purchase price to cover property transfer taxes, notary’s fees and other expenses
● Agency fees are usually about 5 per cent of the purchase price
● The population of Paris is 11.9m
What you can buy for . . .
€250,000: A 25 sq metre studio on the third floor of an apartment block close to the Place des Abbesses
€1m: A two-bedroom apartment with 76 sq metres of living space in the centre of Montmartre
€5m: A 19th-century mansion, with 470 sq metres of living space, home cinema and gym, near Parc Monceau