The best thing about Bonapart is that no day is ever the same. On Monday I attended an auction at the Palais de Justice (French High Court and also housing Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie) on behalf of a client interested in an exceptional property.
The sale was one which comes up only once in a blue moon. It’s not often the decendants of the Orleans family are forced to parcel up their heritage and sell it off. We were interested in two lots – a set of family apartments at 3 Place Vauban, Paris overlooking (and I mean overlooking) the Hôtel des Invalides and the full length Tour Eiffel. This 6 room apartment also came with a 181m² garden!
One of the perks of being pregnant is that I skipped the cue on the Bd de Palais opposite Cité Métro station, there was a long line of people hustling to get in. It seemed like a large proportion of the criminal elements of Paris were late to to have their cases heard so I was not keen to get stuck there and be late for the auction. Only the Avocats and officials can enter by the grand gates and up the staircase. I made a mental note to arrive 1 hour early next time.
I knew the sale would attract a lot of attention (it ranged from the St Tropez-Eurotrash to Aristo-chic). There was even a TV crew filming outside the room (although they were not admitted inside) and the auction room had to be moved to accomodate the number of attendees. Another pregnancy perk – aided and assisted by our lawyer, I was ushered into a prime position on the bench reserved for the vendors family. Quite a spot as I ended up next to the underbidder on the larger apartment which was eventually sold for 2.9 Million euros (218m²).
The rule is that only an Avocat can bid at these very specific auctions and that means you must engage one before taking part in this type of sale. You agree beforehand on a suitable amount and that is confirmed in writing so that he or she cannot continue bidding past your “plafon” and also, so that your intention to buy at a certain price is in writing (via a Power of Attorney). It can be difficult to engage a lawyer for these sales as there have been cases where they have been left “holding the baby” as the buyer when the client changed their minds! So as you may imagine the process is highly documented.
For the full story you can read more on Times online. French inheritance laws maintain that property passes equally to all the children in a family and this has given rise to the untenable situation for this particular family. Since the death of the Duke and Duchess of Sabran-Pontevès (in 1973 and 1988) the château and several other properties (including those we were after in Place Vauban, Paris) belonging to the family have been the subject of, to put it delicately, “disagreements” between the heirs. The current owners, three brothers and a sister, have been unable to come to a quiet family arrangement about who gets what, and were forced into a very public auction sale. One part of the sale was for an ancient château in Provence dating from 960. There are many badly maintained or empty buildings often subject to an inheritance dispute. A law was introduced under which it is possible for an individual member of a family to force a sale at an auction.
So the whole lot will go under the bougies rather than under the hammer. French auctions are conducted with candles – although these are some of the last as a law passed on 1st January 2007 means the practise will soon be discontinued. At the end of any rapid and obvious bidding, two candles are lit, one after the other. When the smoke rises from the second candle, the lot is deemed sold.
Before the final results are known, we still have to wait ten days because the law then allows a ten-day period during which anyone can make a 10 per cent overbid.
The castle was eventually sold 4,700,000€; the new owners will soon be revealed.