The Sixth Arrondissement has become the most expensive address in the City of Light, luring a new generation of home buyers with a rustic vibe that still conjures up the feel of an 18th-century neighborhood.
Paris's Sixth Arrondissement, in the heart of the city's Left Bank, has been the stomping ground of Europe's intellectual and artistic elite for most of the past 100 years. Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Sartre all lived there. Now, drawn to the area's 18th-century architecture and 21st-century amenities, a new kind of elite led by wealthy Americans and Europeans has helped give the Sixth the highest median prices for residential real estate in Paris.
The current average price for an apartment in the Sixth is $1,589 per square foot, according to figures released in late November by the Chambre des Notaires de Paris, the city's organization of notaries who supervise all real-estate transactions. That is more than $93 per square foot above prices in second-place Seventh Arrondissement, long associated with France's titled families, and ahead of the Fourth, which includes the most desirable areas of Le Marais, home to even older buildings than in the Sixth and transformed by gentrification over the past several years.
That price is also $443 per square foot higher than in the Right Bank's 16th Arrondissement, which boasts a high proportion of luxury buildings from the Belle Époque and Art Deco periods.
French buyers still have a presence in some high-end Paris deals, says Marie-Hélène Lundgreen, director of Belles demeures de France, the Paris-based agency affiliated with Christie's International Real Estate, but "when you go over $5 million, 80% aren't French residents."
"Foreign buyers have made the new benchmark in prices," adds Jules Caris, managing director of La Galerie de l'Immobilier, a Left Bank real-estate agency that handles high-end properties throughout Paris.
He says desirable apartments can cost much more than the median figures suggest. A three-bedroom, 1,076-square-foot apartment "on a good street but not the best, with not too much noise" and in need of some renovation, could cost about $1.9 million, or $1,772 per square foot, he estimates. High-end apartment’s right on the Luxembourg Gardens or in prime buildings in Saint-Germain-des-Prés can reach $2,530 per square foot.
The general rise in prices over the past decade has closely followed a move by upmarket stores into the area that has made it a major shopping destination.
The chief appeal of the Sixth, however, is its central location, across the Seine from the area between the Louvre and Notre Dame. In addition to the Luxembourg Gardens, it is home to the city's legendary art school, the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, and famous Left Bank watering hole, Café de Flore. Its narrow, winding streets give it a rustic charm. And unlike much of central Paris, which was remade in the middle of the 19th century under the radical guidance of prefect Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the Sixth was crisscrossed by only a few new boulevards, leaving intact many of its historic buildings and inner courtyards.
Pre-Haussmann-era architecture is a higher form of luxury, says Jean-Louis Deniot, an interior designer based on the Left Bank, when asked to compare the Sixth with more conspicuous high-end homes in the 16th Arrondissement and Avenue Montaigne.
No matter how fancy, buildings from the Haussmann period are "like the IKEA of their time," he says. "Once you have seen one, you have seen them all—the same fireplace, same molding."
The buildings of the Sixth, by contrast, "feel more personal," he says. "Your fireplace is your fireplace. You have almost no chance of seeing it somewhere else."
Paris brokers identify three prime areas of the Sixth: Saint-Germain-des-Prés, between the Seine and Rue de Four and once the center of Paris intellectual life; Saint-Sulpice, the area around a church of the same name dating back to the 17th century and home to the district's most impressive square; and the streets around the Luxembourg Gardens, one of Paris's largest parks.
Helen Lee, a 34-year-old director of a New York real-estate private-equity fund, recently bought a small apartment in the Saint-Sulpice area. She plans to share it with a London-based friend and spend time in Paris after she has a family. She was drawn to the ghosts of the past as well as to the conveniences of the present, she says. She recently paid about $1,895 per square foot for a one bedroom. Already familiar with Paris, she started the search in October by looking at flats in Le Marais, "but it really didn't feel the same" as the Sixth, she says.
Miranda Bothe, founder of Paris Property Group, a Left Bank real-estate agency that offers clients English-language services, says the village-like appeal of the Sixth turns off some foreign buyers.
Many Asian and Middle Eastern buyers are drawn to the Right Bank, which includes the prime area of Avenue Montaigne in the Eighth Arrondissement. "What you see there are very clean streets and very wide sidewalks—everything looks good and shiny," she says.
By contrast, many of the streets of the Sixth still retain the same urban clutter that has marked the neighborhood for decades. Behind that clutter, however, you can find multimillion-dollar homes.
Belles demeures de France is offering a grand duplex apartment for $15 million on Rue Cassette, a short walk from Place Saint-Sulpice. The 10-room, 5,000-square-foot home, in a building from around 1700, surrounds a courtyard, but is invisible from its quaint but otherwise anonymous side street.
Paris property prices have doubled over the past decade, but high-end homes have come down, says Charles-Marie Jottras, president of Daniel Féau, the Paris real-estate firm and parent company of Belles demeures de France.
Paris prices peaked at the beginning of 2012, after sharply recovering from the drop during the world-wide recession, but they then declined in response to increases in French capital gains and other taxes, and a perceived flight in wealth following the election of Socialist President François Hollande in May 2012. Prices continued to come down in 2013, with high-end properties registering declines of 10% or more, says Mr. Jottras.
While prices for top apartments are relatively stable, properties are taking longer to sell in the current market. Mr. Caris cites an apartment on Rue de Guynemer, overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens. Mr. Caris sold it two years ago, when the market was red hot, for $11.5 million; now, it has been on the market at $12.1 million for three months.
Rue de Guynemer has a special allure because of the views it offers, say Mr. Caris and Ms. Lundgreen. Other prime streets include Place de Furstenberg, a secluded square in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Rue de Tournon, connecting the Luxembourg Gardens with Boulevard Saint-Germain and thick with historic mansions.
"Before you had book shops and cafés. Now you have Louis Vuitton and Dior," says Ms. Lundgreen, who currently has a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot apartment for $5.7 million on Rue de l'Odeon.
These days, a Saint-Germain-des-Prés address suggests a luxury lifestyle. A pair of British clients asked about Le Marais, recalls Ms. Lundgreen. She showed them something on Place des Vosges, a sedate 17th-century square with some of Paris's most expensive real estate, but surrounded by the rollicking night life once associated with the Left Bank. They were impressed—until a walk around the neighborhood on a lively Friday evening. They asked her how they could put on jewelry and a fur coat there. She recalls: "They told me, 'Please find us something in the Sixth.' "
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