June 16, 2011

Notes On A Napkin

I feel like the big decisions in our lives are made for us....and its the small stuff we sweat!

We feel that we lucked into our life in Martel, and have again here in Bordeaux. 

Restaurants and Bars.

Private terraces with noisy neighbors,
Cultural mixes,
Safety in numbers.

We keep working the numbers
Notes on a napkin
just excuses,  our game continues!

The big items in our enterprise are the varagies of the currency markets and the pastimes of the politicians, and while these affect our projects bottom lines, they recieve far less attention than the locations of the closets or the finishes on the countertops. The truly important stuff is out of our control, but the fun stuff we still get to do. We made more money on the exchange rate flux than we ever did on the improvements of the first house. We lost more money to the taxes on the third house, than the profits warranted, and the second house was a good idea until the American speculators took down the economy (it will sell eventually!).

Even still... we have entered the shell game of real estate again! Today we closed on an apartment here in Bordeaux, and we are getting excited.
It’s a nice place and a good project and in a few many months it will even be a nice home.  The only regret will be moving from the ease of our apartment and the greatness of this current neighborhood. We have certainly enjoyed this year of tenancy, someone else to fix the roof leaks and someone else to pay the cable bill, but it was temporary, if one year can be called temporary. And honestly we are moving only a 10 minute walk to the other side of the centreville.

This is where we have lived this year
Our new apartment is about 850 square feet and nothing at all square. The place starts out at 25 feet and runs along past the living room/kitchen, two bedrooms and into the bathroom ending up at about ten feet, forming a trapezoid we have named Number One for its address: #1 rue des Boucheries (road of the butchers).
First look at #1
(click on it to see it bigger)

There are five large windows on the East, pulling in the morning sun and two on the West into a courtyard giving us a cross breeze. We need to renovate everything, as is our style: plumbing, electric, heat, and all the finishes. We will insulate, replace windows, expose stone walls, try to uncover some of the 18th century, and hope to have this principally done by November.
The view from #1

The first question we asked was why?  Why this one?  We looked at a hundred, visited perhaps a dozen, and somehow this one, with no sewer connection, rose to the top.  (The sewer has since been installed, if not yet connected).
The Recipe:
Location, price, location, character, location, scope….. which isn’t really fair, because we were only looking in the heart of the center of Bordeaux, so if we remove the constraint of location,…  we are left with price, character and scope.  This project had the criteria of being something we could afford while we wait for our house in Martel to sell, something that had the “Bordelaise character” that we are here for, and something which needed neither too little nor too much work to fit into this one man renovation show we put on every few years. Not to discount the group aspect of our projects. Patricia and Oscar become les vrai ouvriers, strapping on whatever tool belts the job needs. Oscar is starting to see joy in the results and Patricia is always there to take on the few tasks I refuse.

The view of #1
Our apartment is the 3rd level in this photo
Price, Character, Scope
Number One has the trifecta.  It was kind of a goldilocks moment where the three criteria came together and despite the  63 limestone steps to our front door, we’ve found a winner!

The roof had been redone and the stone fa├žade had been ravaled (renovated) to the tune of 65000 euros, and all someone else’s money (the previous owner and the condo association). There are seven units in the building, and our ownership will be about 11% of the whole.  We will expose some giant beans and some giant stones, we’ll make one room as big as we can and two normal bedrooms and a big Salle de Bain. 

First why Bordeaux:  I am going to skip the booster club explanation of why we moved to Bordeaux, it is a great city!  Here I am going to try to address the bussiness decision to move to Bordeaux, not that it was, but there is a directive we must keep in mind, if we want to keep this three ring cirque in the air, there needs to be a business plan that looses less money than the other options. This bussiness plan is what we call the Notes on a Napkin, usually a cocktail napkin, tinted with red wine, but its where we make are finest fortunate mistakes.  

So why Bordeaux?  While most of Europe seems to be in the grips of the same crisis that has the US by the tail, there are centers of commerce and esprit that are seemingly immune to this. Paris real estate prices flattened out for a year, but are once again inching into the stratosphere, and Bordeaux is just 2.5 hours away from Paris. Bordeaux is almost like a single Parisien arrondisement, beautiful, full of style and it feels contained. Bordeaux is emerging from a long slumber; the city is waking up to realize its own beauty and cultural wealth. As it stretches its arms everyone wants to claim it as home.  Being from here is a badge of honor, those that stood by their city when it was dark and dirty are now standing proud and returning to the centerville in droves. While the city is growing fast, with housing developments in town and blanketing the perimeter, there is definite cache to living in the center, "Bordeaux meme". The center is small, and can’t grow, so there is a supply and demand quotient strongly in favor of an appartment “in town”, making this a good moment to be buying into that market.
The crossroads of our world

Why only the center of Old Bordeaux:
            I have noticed a trend in the real estate offices to accentuate their in town lisitngs. There are several agencies which have taken the names J’abite en ville (I live in town), Maison de ville (Town house), Loft (loft), Urban Immo (real estate)....  There is a real pride to living IN town, and there's no room for creating new units. They are building huge quantities of housing in several directions radiating out from Bordeaux, and the sales pitch is always about how its "only 20 minutes from the centre". Everyone wants to be in the center, there just isn't the stock, so we feel the market here is way more than stable.
            Much of the Centerville is closed to traffic. The Mayor, Alain Juppe, has a vision of a modern substantially car-free city. It is visionary and proving a success. He has made it difficult to own a car in the center of town, expensive to park, and slow to enter and exit. The result is a town that is easy to live in, if you are resigned to a bike or your feet! In addition, Bordeaux was given Unesco protection making changes to the exterior of any building very controlled, and guarantees a protected urban environment into the future.
Map of the center of Bordeaux showing #1
As we looked at real estate around the center, the appeal of an industrial space was clear. We tried to find a garage to renovate, something large and empty, but these sold in the first wave of speculation and what is on the market now is too far out of town, too expensive, and always a bit scary about what might be left IN the ground by the previous industrial tenant.
Nice space, too far out of the city
Bad space, no light, low ceiling

The appeal of a yard or terrasse. The first question: “is there a garden?  even better a terrasse?" Life in Bordeaux is URBAN, there are wonderful parks, but private outdoor space is a premium and worth alot. We were priced out of this market.

On the Auction Block,  lacking charm; just like everything else on this street
Nice garden, too expensive
Picking a micro neighborhood. There are sections of Bordeaux that are too pioneer still, better bets for the long term, with higher potential, but when shopping for a home as well as an investment, one must pick a neighborhood that one wants to live in NOW.  We love the area we have been living in, and the next concentric circle is too dense and expensive and then the next is just right, more residential, while still having the balance of restaurants and stores and street life. Our Goldilocks moment.
Fancy, lifeless neighborhood, $$$$

Light and access; everyone wants a view of the river, and windows on two sides, and southern exposure. Most of the terrasses and yards in the center of town have no privacy as all the neighbors share the same access to light.
This one pushed the limits of "fixer upper"

Classic Bordeaux vs urban funkiness, it would be nice to have found a noble second floor appartment, with 16 foot ceilings and deep crown moulding, but those neighborhoods are not so interesting, no street life, too far to shopping and no restaurants outside the window.
One huge space, great windows, but just on one side,  busy street

At #1 we can walk in a few minutes to our favorite farmers market, the antique store section of town, 2 hardware stores, the rivers edge, playgrounds, trams, good schools, great boulangeries, hip bars and wonderful restaurants!  It will be a rewarding next home.....

Oh and theres a guest room with a fireplace!


sarah and josh said...

I am so excited! Hope that the guest room is ready by next summer for ALL of us! Enlightening blog post, as always. Miss y'all terribly. Glad we get to see you soon. Xoxoxxo Sarah

Becky & Mark said...

Love the idea that the critical decisions are where the closets go and the finishes while the big issues are out of our control.So very true. All out love and best wishes for #1.

Seth said...

So exciting! Love the 3D sketchup model. Plan on a visit from WISPS next May/June!

Anonymous said...

More progress please!