What Exactly Is a Pied-à-Terre

The word “pied-à-terre” may conjure up visions of opulent living quarters in a remote, beautiful locale. The origins of the French descriptor, however, may be traced back to horses. It literally means “foot on the ground.” Long ago, French troops would mettre un pied à terre, or dismount at the end of the day and spend the night in makeshift lodging. When it initially emerged to designate transitory housing in the 1700s, the phrase was reduced to pied-à-terre. The phrase still has a negative meaning nowadays, but also refers to a transitory residence. What is a pied-à-terre, exactly?

Despite its lowly origins, the centuries-old term is frequently used by today’s elite to gently communicate their riches and rank.

Carlos confesses, “It’s a luxury buy.” “Whether it’s a flat in Paris where you stay twice a year or an apartment with Central Park views on Billionaire’s Row in New York, [a pied-à-terre] is purchased for convenience and, in many cases, as a showpiece property.” When people inquire where you stay in New York, it has a certain cachet to say, “Oh, I have an apartment on Park Avenue,” or “I stay at my Tribeca loft during the Film Festival.” One way to describe it is prestige.

Those who can afford a pied-à-terre usually do so for one of two reasons: convenience (for example, if they often visit a certain city for work or pleasure) or investment. “Some people may feel that buying an apartment or house, which rises in value over time, makes more financial sense than paying money to rent or stay in a hotel.”

Pied-à-Terre

However, the length of time spent in a pied-à-terre is more important than the price. “Some may refer to a $88 million penthouse on Central Park West or a $45 million townhouse on the Upper East Side as their pied-à-terre,” says the author, “but it may also be a basic studio apartment in a condo, or a one- or two-bedroom in a hotel-style structure.” (Co-op pied-à-terre are less frequent since certain buildings don’t allow it, and few homeowners “willing to go through the rigors of a co-op board inspection during the application process,” according to the article.)

Before you buy a pied-à-terre—or any second home, for that matter—you must first evaluate if you have the desire and the means to maintain the property, let alone buy it. Who owns a property and lifestyle management firm that helps homeowners care for their secondary residences? Consider all the monthly maintenance payments, taxes, and utilities to keep a mostly vacant unit. “Some of our clients ask us to pay their utilities and assist them with day-to-day management while they are in town,” he explains. This encompasses everything from hiring cleaners to making beds to stocking the refrigerator to getting flowers.

Everything adds up. However, whether or not you intend to use the phrase, there are various advantages to acquiring a pied-à-terre if you are fortunate enough to have such assets. You should have a pied-à-terre if you genuinely want to feel at home in a place you visit frequently for long periods of time. “Even in a huge city, you could feel as if you’re in a little town.” Because real estate appreciates greatly in value over time, it is a far better long-term investment than renting.”