Good deal wasn't

Published Dec. 29, 1995|Updated Oct. 5, 2005

Andre-Francois Raffray thought he had a great deal: Pay a 90-year-old woman $500 a month until she died, then move into her grand apartment in the south of France.

That was 30 years ago. Raffray died on Christmas at age 77, having forked over $184,000 for an apartment he never got to live in. The same day, Jeanne Calment, now the world's oldest person at 120, dined on foie gras, cheese and chocolate cake.

Buying apartments en viager, or "for life," is common in France. The elderly owner gets a monthly income from the buyer, who gambles on getting a real estate bargain _ provided the owner dies in due time. Upon the owner's death, the buyer inherits the apartment, regardless of how much was paid.

Mrs. Calment has proven the nightmare of all those who buy real estate en viager.

Although Raffray already has paid her more than twice the apartment's current market value, his widow is obligated to keep sending a monthly check. If Mrs. Calment outlives her, too, then the Raffray children and grandchildren will have to pay.

"In life," Mrs. Calment said on her birthday Feb. 21, "one sometimes makes bad deals."