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What Is a Pied-à-Terre and Why Would You Want to Live in One?

pied-a-terre

If you’ve been browsing the property listings of a major city, like New York, you’re bound to come across the term pied-à-terre. It’s certainly a fancy-sounding word, and you’re pretty sure you want one, whatever it is.

But what is a pied-à-terre?

Let’s start with a pied-à-terre definition. Many believe it’s simply the French word for ‘small apartment,’ however, the literal pied-à-terre translation would sound something like ”foot to the earth.” ‘A foot on the ground´makes more sense, though… In practice, a pied-à-terre is a second home, one that’s used on a temporary basis, giving you a partial presence (or foot on the ground) in another city. But their size, location, and how they’re used is typically a little different than a vacation home.

Now that we’ve had a chance to define pied-à-terre, let’s have a quick word about – erm – the word. The correct spelling is of course pied-à-terre, though both pied-a-terre and pied a terre are used in the U.S. It’s worth noting that its correct plural form is pieds-à-terre –as opposed to the much too frequently seen pied-à-terres. It’s an easy word to misspell, having inspired countless typos such as pied de terre or pied-e-terre, but we’ve also come across pieta terre and even pierre de terre.

Why should you consider a pied-à-terre?

There are plenty of reasons to buy a pied-à-terre, ranging from leisure to business. The wealthy use them for regular jaunts into New York, San Francisco, London or Paris – whether for shopping, dining, or partying. Business travelers usually own a pied-à-terre in cities they frequently travel to. There are foreign buyers who want a part-time residence in one of the world’s premier cities. Other pied-à-terre owners have family in the city, like a college-aged child that they regularly visit. Some people even own one to cut down on lengthy commute times between their primary home and their workplace.

pied-a-terre

In all of these cases, it’s more convenient and possibly even cheaper to buy one than to constantly pay for hotel rooms. Owners avoid the hassle of bookings, check-ins and packing, while gaining the comfort and amenities of a home away from home, like a kitchen that cuts down on the cost and necessity of eating out.

In short, if you…

  • Take regular vacations
  • Travel frequently for business
  • Visit family
  • Commute
  • Take day trips

…to a particular city like NYC, a pied-à-terre might be for you.

In general, these second homes tend to be smaller than a primary residence, with many owners opting for something as small as a studio or one-bedroom pied-à-terre apartment. This allows them to secure a more central location at a lower price. And if you think of it as a replacement to hotels, it makes a lot of sense.

Controversies regarding pieds-à-terre

Not everyone is a fan of pieds-à-terre, regardless if they’re in NYC or other cities. They’ve drawn criticism for creating an influx of foreign buyers, driving up housing prices, and not contributing to local taxes. There’s even been talk of introducing special pied-à-terre taxes. Whether this ever happens remains to be seen, but it’s still something to keep in mind when you’re on the hunt for a NYC pied-à-terre.

Tips for Buying a Pied-à-Terre

By now, you’re probably convinced that you absolutely must have your own Los Angeles or NYC pied-à-terre, meaning you’ll need some tips on buying one. Here are some of the top things to consider when searching for your second home.

Most popular pied-à-terre amenities

What should you be looking for? Here are some of the most popular features with owners and buyers:

  • Great location
  • Beautiful views
  • Access to public transportation
  • Pet-friendly
  • Concierge service
  • Full staff (doorman, maintenance, housekeeping, etc.)
  • Common areas
  • Gym, spa, and other quality-of-life amenities

Of course, you may not care about all of the above. For instance, you may not have a pet or need a concierge. But they’re just some of the things to keep in mind when searching for a pied-à-terre in NYC or elsewhere.

pied-a-terre

Should you buy a condo or co-op?

One of the biggest questions surrounding the search for a pied-à-terre in New York for sale is whether to buy one in a condominium- or a co-op building.

A co-op, short for housing cooperative, is a building owned and managed by a cooperation. The good news is, they are generally cheaper and better maintained than a condo. The bad news is, many of them don’t allow a pied-à-terre and see temporary residents as undesirable. And unfortunately, co-ops make up around 75% of the properties in Manhattan.

On the other hand, condos are much easier to buy, and you can usually rent it out when you’re not there. However, they cost more and they’re not as abundant as co-ops. There are still housing cooperatives that accept temporary residents though, so if you can find one where a pied-à-terre is allowed, it’s definitely an option to consider.

Other restrictions on pied-à-terre owners

Whether you decide on a co-op or a condo, there are other potential restrictions on pied-à-terre owners that you be aware of. For starters, renting out your place when you’re not there can be a great way to make back some of your investment, but many buildings don’t allow short-term rentals. Even condos continue to crack down on renting properties through services like Airbnb.

In fact, some co-ops don’t even allow guests to stay in your pied-à-terre, unless they’re immediate family. And if you have furry friends, you’ll want to make sure the building allows pets. If you’ll be doing any kind of work from your pied-à-terre apartment, it’s a good idea to okay it with the board first. This goes for any planned renovations too, since most buildings are quite strict about it.

Tips for Renting a Pied-à-Terre in NYC or Elsewhere

Not everyone can afford to buy a NYC pied-à-terre. And many people simply don’t want to. But bear in mind that the whole essence of a pied-à-terre is in its use as a temporary home away from home… Which also means that it stays vacant for varying periods of time. That is of course unless the owner decides to rent it out while not there. So even if your lifestyle doesn’t justify the big investment, pieds-à-terre may still have something for you. After all, there are plenty of reasons to rent a NYC pied-à-terre instead of owning one. You certainly avoid getting stuck with a depreciating asset if housing prices plummet, for example. It also spares you the headache of maintaining the property and paying for the various fees and taxes.

If you’re not sure whether you’ll like having a pied-à-terre or the city it’s in, renting gives you an opportunity to try before you buy. It’s also a great option for folks who simply don’t want to commit to any place long-term. Maybe they’ll give NYC a try for a few months, before moving to Chicago or Los Angeles.

Then, of course, there are those who simply don’t have the assets necessary for a down payment but still have the income to qualify for a rental. Renting is simply cheaper in the short-term.

Here are all of the reasons to consider looking for pied-à-terre rentals:

  • No down payment and renovation costs
  • Cheaper than buying (short-term)
  • No long-term risk
  • No upkeep costs
  • Ideal short-term solution
  • Comfortable temporary home while you find one that’s right for you

The good news is, there are many options available to people who want to rent a Los Angeles or NYC pied-à-terre, and there’s a much lower barrier to entry than buying.

Ready to start your search for a rental? Head on over to RENTCafé and browse through our selection of condos, townhouses and apartments for rent in the city of your choice.

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About the author

Balazs Szekely

Balazs Szekely is a qualified journalist with extensive experience as a real estate writer for several Yardi publications. He has covered a wide range of housing issues and real estate news as a creative writer for RENTCafé. Balazs holds a B.S. in Journalism. You can connect with Balazs via email.

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