How one woman took on the Parisian property market (and won…)

Founder and CEO of VINGT Paris, the leading estate agency for people moving to the city from abroad, Susie Hollands reveals how she succeeded in a traditionally male-dominated industry

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Susie Hollands, who runs the leading estate agency for people moving to Paris: VINGT Paris

When Susie Hollands arrived in Paris from her native Scotland in 2003, she’s the first to admit that running one of the city’s leading property companies was not part of the plan. Au contraire, it was her lifelong love for the arts that brought her here – and, in fact, she started out by running her own gallery showcasing the work of struggling artists.

At the same time, she also began an English-language culture blog – long before anyone else was doing anything similar – and this, in turn, developed into a successful online magazine, Live Like a Local, which was one of the first of its kind in Paris.

“Those were great days,” recalls Susie. “We had to run the art gallery on a shoestring budget, and sometimes we barely had enough money to eat, but I loved every moment. And running our culture website, which continues to this day, was fantastic too. We had, and still have, an amazing team of writers – some of whom have gone on to work for such prestigious publications as The New York Times.

“I knew something had to change”

“But, by that stage, the publishing world was in decline, and it was very difficult to make any money out of what we were doing. I was working round the clock, with a beautiful online magazine but very little else to show for it, so I knew something had to change.”

A new direction
It was then that she hit on the idea of setting up a boutique estate agency, to complement the culture website, helping foreigners tackle the notoriously tricky business of moving to Paris. As anyone who lives in the city will testify, demand for property (whether renting or buying) far outstrips supply – and when you throw in the infamous French bureaucracy (it’s fair to say that they love their paperwork…), it can be a pretty daunting process.

“The idea came about simply through helping out various friends who had struggled to find somewhere,” continues Susie, 42, who lives near Bastille with her nine-year-old daughter. “I soon realised that there was a real need for this kind of service and it all went from there.

“Aside from actually finding a place, and navigating all the paperwork, the skills needed in sealing the deal on property in Paris are an unusual mix of subtlety and bravado, decisiveness and cunning – and, above all, Parisian tact. We provide that expertise.”

A luxury property from the VINGT Paris portfolio
A luxury property from the VINGT Paris portfolio

Today, VINGT Paris is the leading estate agency for people moving to the French capital from abroad, with some of the city’s most desirable properties on their books, a beautiful office in one of its swankiest streets, rue Saint-Honoré, and clients from all over the world. A full-service agency, it encompasses rentals, sales, letting and management, and has recently expanded into other areas, too, with an in-house design service, the project management of renovations and even a concierge department. Now it is busy taking the brand into other parts of France as well.

The achievement is all the more remarkable given the fact that the Paris property market has historically been a very male-dominated industry – not always easy when you’re a young woman from the Scottish Borders. However, an entrepreneurial spirit, a fearsome work ethic and a genuine desire to act ethically has taken Susie far.

“I think that’s the key really; we have always maintained our integrity,” she says. “We know only too well from our own experience how daunting it can be trying to move here, so we genuinely want to help our clients so that they too can enjoy this wonderful city. In fact, many of them are now our friends.”

Looking to the future, with an explosion in Paris property prices predicted for this autumn, as the current France ‘feel-good’ factor kicks in, the company only looks set to grow. And with their online magazine still going strong, they can also claim to be the only property agency with an in-depth cultural knowledge of the city.

“I suppose that’s the other thing,” adds Susie. “We never lost touch with our roots – and what made us first fall in love with Paris. That passion is still there now, as much as it was at the start.”

Susie’s top business tip:

“To set you on the right path for the day, make time for early morning sport and/or meditation and reflection.”