When it comes to real estate in France, It's important to consider the Owner's lease on life


As part of a television segment on local customs, I started researching the rules and regulations relating to the sale and purchase of property and came upon the following.

The French have a way of purchasing real estate that is known as “en viager “, which translates as “for life”. The purchaser agrees to pay a monthly fee to an elderly owner, then gets to own the real estate upon the death of the owner. How much or how little is actually paid is unimportant. The purchaser is betting that the owner will pass away before the value of the apartment has been paid.

André-François Raffray thought he had made a great deal. He agreed to pay a 90- year-old woman about $500 a month until she died, at which point he would takeover and own her apartment. The apartment was in the center of Arles, the town in Southern France where Vincent Van Gogh produced his most famous works. 

Mr. Raffray died at age 77, having paid almost $200,000 (twice the value) for a magnificent apartment that he never got to live in. His widow, children and grandchildren were obligated to continue the payments.

The owner of the apartment, Jeanne Calment was eventually listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest person who could authentic their age with official records.  She was born in Arles on February 21, 1875, and recalls working in her father’s shop where she sold colored pencils and canvases to Van Gogh. She died at the age of 122 on August 4, 1997, three years after the death of Mr. Raffray.

During her last birthday party, she was asked for her vision of the future, to which she replied: “Very brief.”