December 29, 1995 in Nation/World

It Was A Great Deal But Not For Him 120-Year-Old Turns Tables In Real Estate Gamble

Pierre-Yves Glass Associated Press

Andre-Francois Raffray thought he had a great deal 30 years ago: He would pay a 90-year-old woman $500 a month until she died, then move into her grand apartment in a town Vincent van Gogh once roamed.

But this Christmas, Raffray died at age 77, having forked over $184,000 for an apartment he never got to own or live in.

On the same day, Jeanne Calment, now the world’s oldest person at 120, dined on foie gras, duck thighs, cheese and chocolate cake at her nursing home near the sought-after apartment in Arles, northwest of Marseilles in the south of France.

She need not worry about losing income. Although the amount Raffray already paid is more than twice the apartment’s current market value, his widow is obligated to keep sending that monthly check. If Calment outlives her, too, then the Raffray children and grandchildren will have to pay.

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

The apartment is unoccupied, according to local media.

Buying apartments “en viager,” or “for life,” is common in France. The elderly owner gets to enjoy a monthly income from the buyer, who gambles on getting a real estate bargain - provided the owner drops dead in due time. Upon the owner’s death, the buyer inherits the apartment, regardless of how much has been paid.

Calment seemed to offer some consolation to the Raffrays when, asked on her last birthday for her vision of the future, she replied: “Very brief.”

Born in Arles in 1875, Calment recalls working in her father’s shop at age 14 and selling colored pencils and canvases to Van Gogh, the Dutch impressionist who depicted Arles in several of his vibrant paintings.

On Oct. 18, the Guinness Book of Records officially listed her as the world’s oldest person able to authenticate her age with official records, mostly civil and religious documents.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email