The Apartment

Thirty years ago, a Frenchman named Andre-Francois Raffray made what he considered a "great deal" that could only benefit him. He agreed to pay a 90-year-old woman $500 a month until she died. In return, he would own her sought-after grand apartment in the south of France when she died.

There was nothing illegal about Raffray's contract with Jeanne Calment. Buying an apartment en viager (i.e., for life) is not uncommon in France. The elderly owner receives a predictable monthly income from the buyer; the buyer gets a bargain in real estate ... in most cases. Even if he pays the owner for only a few months, the buyer inherits the property upon the owner's death.

But this particular deal went sour. The Guinness Book of Records recently listed Ms. Calment as the world's oldest person able to document her age. She turned 120 last year! Mr. Raffray died on Christmas Day of 1995 ... after paying more than $184,000 for an apartment he never lived in or owned. Under French law, his wife, children, and grandchildren will have to continue paying the elderly lady $500 per month until she dies.

The apartment in question is valued at less than half the amount already paid to Ms. Calment. What looked like a sure thing became a misfortune of major proportion for Mr. Raffray and his family.

It sounds like some of those deals Satan offers all of us. A flirtation, juggling figures, misrepresenting a product or service ... the possibilities are practically endless. And who will ever know? What will it matter? Others do things so much worse! Well, you know the rationalizations that come to mind.

Then you begin to pay and pay and PAY. First goes your self-respect. Then comes reputation. Next comes job or family. It seems so wrong that one could be asked to pay so much for what amounted to so little. But those are the breaks of this game called life.

Integrity is better kept than recovered. So watch out for those tawdry deals that offer you what you have no right to possess. They exact too high a price in the long run.

Rubel Shelly The FAX of Life

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