Paris is experiencing a property renaissance, and it’s happening within the 18 arrondissements that make up the city’s prime real estate core. Despite French president François Hollande’s unpopular tax policies, it is still noteworthy that deeds continue changing hands to give elegant 18th century Haussmann-style buildings new leases on life. Though wealthy Parisians have fled the country to escape personal tax hikes, one person’s loss is another’s gain. The former homes of the upper crust are now ripe for redevelopment, and there are many for the picking.
Developers such as Cogemad see Hollande’s policies as incentives for taking their message on the road. Founded in Cannes more than 25 years ago by Emad Khashoggi, a French businessman of Saudi descent, Cogemad specialises in renovating existing properties, selling them, and managing them for new owners. Its concierge service includes buying groceries, housekeeping and decorating the home for the holidays. It’s a one-stop shop, cutting out the red tape and minimising hassles to ensure that owners spend more time in their new home rather than in a Paris law office. One of Khashoggi’s most ambitious projects has been the Château Louis XIV in Paris, on grounds formerly owned by Louis XIV. He built a 17th century style castle entirely from scratch using 300-year-old techniques and stone from specific French quarries to get the right look. It is the first château built in more than 100 years, though it looks like it’s always been there.
Cogemad’s marketing director Christelle Revol sees Asia as a key market for her company’s offerings precisely because of its fascination with all things Gallic. Growing up in Tokyo and Paris to a French father and Indonesian mother, she participated in Luxury Properties’ show in Shanghai last December. “The response was fantastic,” she recalls. “There was strong interest in France and people were interested in the services that we offer. France conveys a luxurious image. It is one of the top destinations for Chinese tourists, who appreciate its architecture, gastronomy and culture. We’ve since hosted some Hong Kong visitors who toured our villa near Monaco. They stayed for over an hour to admire the views and the grounds.”
“The tax situation in France is horrible,” Revol admits. “Chinese clients are often surprised by our tax policies, and it is the main obstacle to property investment. But I feel that the picture has been wildly distorted by the media. When we give them quantified examples, clients realise that France isn’t that bad. Property tax is actually very low when we consider the value of the property, particularly in Paris. For example, a 30-square metre (323 square feet) flat in a nice district within Paris will cost €450,000 (HK$4.8 million). The annual tax on that will be €1,000 (HK$10,700).”
“Anyone can buy a property; all you have to do is open a bank account in France and you can own 100 percent of the property,” says Revol. “The paperwork is the biggest challenge. That’s why we offer a management service option where we handle all the paperwork, from the purchase of the land to contracting a lawyer or notary. We take care of everything.”
Cogemad currently has about a dozen properties available, with the majority of them in France though it has previously built in Switzerland and Bahrain. Its clientele are mainly from Russia or the Middle East. “Russians love the south of France,” Revol notes. “They will buy a large property and rent it out to tourists who come for yacht shows or the Cannes film festival. Villas can command €200,000 a week during such an event.”
Cogemad’s clients are primarily owners who are purchasing their second or third property for personal use. “Asian clients are either looking for properties with land such as vineyards, or they are seeking something convenient in the city,” says Revol. “In terms of design, Asians generally favour traditional French architectural details such as marble chimneys, old style parquet flooring and 17th century cornices. There are a lot of apartments in good condition for sale in Paris. Foreign owners typically want a property in the ‘golden triangle’ area demarcated by Champs Élysées, Saint Germain-des-Prés and the Eiffel Tower. Although we are not allowed to change anything on the exterior such as windows or shutters, we can do anything that our clients want on the inside.”
One of Cogemad’s latest Parisian properties is a spacious 425-square metre (4,600 square feet) apartment on the second floor of the late 1930s Walter Building that was the former home of fashion designer Pierre Balmain — known for creating Singapore Airlines’ flight attendant outfits. Diamant sur la Parc features an open kitchen facing a dining and living area with wood burning fireplace. The jungle chic design concept was inspired by the Africa’s mysteries, with animal textiles and prints dominating the rich interiors.
Other properties include Palais Venetien in Cannes, a sprawling 1,000-square metre (over 10,000 square feet) mansion complete with two outdoor swimming pools, a private lake, a protected wood, tennis court and views of the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Villa Marguerite near Monaco is a restored home on a two-and-a-half-acre park set in the hillside overlooking the sea.
If Cogemad doesn’t currently offer what you fancy, it can assemble a dream team of architects and designers to build it. “We have renovated a château and changed it into an office,” states Revol. “The father of the Amir of Qatar asked us to renovate a building and include an elevator for his cars. Almost anything is possible.”