Q&A with Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds grew up in New Orleans, attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel before settling into a career and family life, first in Knoxville (Tennessee), then in Los Angeles.
In 1994, she brought with her to Paris more than 21 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Since 2001 she and her team have provided property consultation services, including mortgage brokerage services and fractional ownership properties, to hundreds of clients seeking to buy property in France (including yours truly 🙂 ).
Adrian is author and editor of the Parler Paris and Parler Nice Nouvellettres®, editor of French Property Insider, and author of Adrian Leeds’ Top 100 Cheap Insider Paris Restaurants. Since 2006 she has been a popular host on HGTV’s House Hunters International and recently she has been featured on FYI’s new original series, Tiny House World, which celebrates the global trend of extreme downsizing.
Adrian is both well-known and well-liked in the community of Americans in Paris for many reasons, not the least of which is her popular Après Midi series, which offers residents of Paris as well as those passing through town the chance to meet new people, and listen to speakers talk on a fascinating variety of topics.
This interview was conducted via e-mail.
JH: What first brought you to Paris, and what made you decide to stay here?
AL: In September 1994, my then-husband and I came to Paris on a one-year “test,” to see if we liked living here. Staying here was a case of “la maladie.” I got hooked! In 1997 my husband and I separated and divorced, and I had a decision to make, to either go back (to what, I don’t know), or stay. Staying was the only emotional answer, even if it was the riskiest — with no right to work and no money and no assets. But after three years of living in France, I felt it was IMPOSSIBLE to go back to an American lifestyle.
JH: What do you love most about Paris?
AL: The physical beauty, the intense cultural lifestyle, the closely-knit American community, and the proximity and ease of traveling throughout all of Europe.
JH: What drives you the most crazy?
AL: The anti-entrepreneurial, anti-capitalist viewpoint on business, money, and prosperousness.
JH: What do you miss about the U.S. when you’re in Paris, and about Paris when you’re in the U.S.?
AL: I don’t miss much about the U.S. with the exception of family and friends, but I do miss the optimistic, friendly, open-mindedness of the American culture that enables us to believe we can be anybody we want to be and do anything we want to do with hard work, effort, and gumption.
JH: How did you first become involved in helping people find properties in France? And what do you love most about it?
AL: When I was the Director of the International Living Paris Office, their readers wanted assistance in purchasing property–so I found someone who could do the work. That was the beginning of it all! Helping someone find the dream property (for purchase or rent) is not only fun but very rewarding — we have helped hundreds of people fulfill their dream to live or invest in France, something they might not have done without our help–and we don’t have a single client who has regretted it!
AL: Americans have an advantage over the French in most ways, for their ability to “think outside of the box,” for their industriousness, optimism, tenacity, and their business/financial acumen that is naturally acquired, almost from birth.
JH: What are some of the challenges in doing so, and do you have any advice about how Americans considering such a move should proceed?
AL: Every aspect of life in France is a challenge for an American comfortable with the simplicity and ease of accomplishing things Stateside. I have a long list of advice, which I impart as part of my consultations with those wishing to move here, but it all starts with NOT trying to manage the transition alone, without the help of professionals or experienced friends to advise.
JH: One of the benefits for Americans who have moved to Paris, or who just find themselves passing through there on the second Tuesday of any month (except August), is the chance to attend one of your Après-Midi gatherings. Can you tell us how this wonderful Parisian institution began, and what sorts of speakers tend to come to these events?
AL: It all started in 2003, after I received dozens of emails from readers wanting to ‘have a coffee’ with me. Obviously, if I stopped to have coffee with every traveling reader, it would be delightful, but I’d never get anything done (!). So I had the idea of creating a coffee gathering once a month that would be free to readers — a way of meeting other readers, as well as my staff, and me. Years later, I wanted to make the gathering more meaningful, as well as give something back to those who supported us, so we began to invite speakers of all walks of life and industry to offer up their ideas and experiences. It’s an informal setting, and is always fun and interesting — plus a great way to meet people. We have been holding it in the same venue since the beginning, and I have never missed one session.
JH: I want to ask about a current matter that has caught the attention of the news media as well as people who love going to Paris and prefer to stay in apartments when they do so, than in hotels. What is the current situation for short-term rentals in Paris?
AL: The current situation is very sad, indeed. The short-term rental laws make no sense for anyone, except for big corporations and big investors who can afford to create “apart-hotels,” which are legal under the current regulations and guarantee the city tax revenues.
JH: Why is the mayor of Paris going after people who rent their apartments to tourists?
AL: The idea is to put more long-term accommodations on the market so that Paris is made up of real residents, and not just tourists or absentee owners. Unfortunately, the regulations also greatly affect temporary residents of all kinds–anyone who needs accommodations of less than one year.
JH: What do you think the outcome of this controversy is going to be? And is this a problem that is unique to Paris, or does it apply to other French cities as well?
AL: It applies to cities with a population of 200,000 and more, but Paris is the only city enforcing the laws. It’s tough to say what’s going to happen. My hope is that it will ‘blow up’ in the face of the current city administration, and that the regulations will be amended to create more of a win-win situation, for landlords and tenants alike. [Editor’s note: Those who wish to learn more about this issue can find out more here.]
JH: Paris has been through a rough year, and because of that some people may be reluctant to go there right now. What would you say to encourage them NOT to stay away?
AL: There is no reason to stay away from Paris, unless you plan to stay away from your own backyard and have any life at all! Paris is a safer city than just about any U.S. city and certainly as safe as any European city. Every inch of our world is threatened by terrorist activity, and as long as we fear it, they win the game.
JH: You also spend a lot of time in the South of France, in Nice. Can you tell us the most charming thing about Nice, or the thing you like best about it?
AL: I go to Nice about once every month or two to take in the sun, the surf, the colors, the palm trees and the casual atmosphere. The moment I arrive in Nice, I feel as if I’m on vacation, even if I’m working full time. The Riviera is a stunning part of the world with a lot to offer. It’s very different from the urbanity of Paris: it’s much more casual and relaxed, the perfect antidote to the intensity of Paris. And the abundance of color is a great antidote to the “griege” (gray) of Paris.
JH: I know you travel to other places a lot, often with your daughter or with friends. What are some places you’ve visited that stand out as particularly wonderful?
AL: I don’t travel as much as I’d like to more exotic spots on the planet, but I do love traveling with my daughter, no matter where we go together. She is very adventuresome and travel-savvy. One of our greatest excursions together was to Costa Rica, where we ‘vegged’ at a gorgeous resort on the beach (French-owned) amid the tropical plants and wildlife. We zip-lined between the treetops, jet skied on Mangrove Reserve, and took in the incredible natural beauty. Our most life-changing experience, however, was a two-week adventure in (incredible!) northern India, where she photographed two traditional Hindu weddings, with me as her “assistant” and “chaperone.” We both fell in love with the people and the Indian culture, in what was a never-ending photo op.
JH: I understand that you’re currently working on a book. Can you tell us a little bit about it, and when it may be published?
AL: I was approached by a literary agent and encouraged to write a memoir surrounding the story of a viager (life annuity) property I bought that took me five years to acquire and renovate. It was designed to be my retirement home, but I was forced to sell it as a result of the current rental laws, which prevented my making enough income to be able to maintain it. I have begun writing the chapters and the book proposal, but they both need more work, and I need more time. It may take a long time before we see the book come to fruition, but it will be the first of many I want to write. So it’s okay if it takes me some time in order to get it right.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, and teacher of writing, and of literature. She divides her time between the Washington D.C. area, where she teaches at Politics & Prose bookstore, and Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France, where she offers Writing from the Heart workshops several times a year.