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Finding, Buying and Renting for Expats in France

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: December 2013

Finding Property

There are many local newspapers and also nationwide property magazines available for French speakers.

You may also want to use the services of an estate agent to help you find a property. In France, there are also professional property finders. These will help you find accommodation but cannot help you with property purchase.

If you struggle with French, some websites which are either in English or have an English version are below:

Note that, whether renting or buying property, you are legally obliged to take out household insurance. This typically costs around €15-€20 per month.

Renting

In order to rent a property out in France, you must have the following:

  • Copies of your passport (main pages) and visa
  • Letter from your employer verifying employment (if applicable)
  • Copies of last 3 months’ payslips and last 2 tax returns
  • Receipt of rent payment and utility bills for your current accommodation

If you do not earn at least three times the amount of the monthly rent payable, you must also give the name of a guarantor. A family member or friend living in France can act as your guarantor. The guarantor must also earn more than three times the amount of your rent, and must provide all the above documents.

The initial outlay for renting is quite high. In addition to paying the first month’s rent in advanced, landlords will charge you two months’ rent as a security deposit. You are obliged to take out housing insurance and must also help the landlord to draw up and inventory before moving in.

Note furthermore that a tax is (Taxe d’Habitation) levied on everyone renting accommodation on 1st January.

Buying Property

The French property market is conservative, which means that prices are usually stable. (See our French Property Market article for a more in-depth analysis.) Most properties are under freehold rather than leasehold. Unless you are sufficiently fluent in French, it is generally best to work with an estate agent who speaks your language, though one may be hard to find in rural areas. Estate agents are strictly regulated in France. Legitimate estate agents should have the correct certification in their office and each should carry a carte professionelle (‘professional card’).

The purchase process is relatively stress-free; contracts are in general highly secure and practices such as gazumping are a rarity. The legal process of buying a house in France, which takes about 12 weeks to perform, is handled by a notary, who is strictly impartial. If you are not a fluent French speaker, you may also want to appoint your own bilingual lawyer.

Once you and the vendor have agreed on a price and other terms, both parties will normally sign a promise of sale, a kind of preliminary contract. The notary then sets up an independent account, into which you pay a 10% deposit. After you have done this, you have a week to change your mind about the purchase. Once the week has elapsed, your decision to purchase the property is legally binding and the deposit becomes non-refundable.

Assuming you want to go ahead with the purchase, the notary then makes land registry and other checks to ensure there are no complications which might hamper the purchase, such as existing mortgages on the property. The notary also makes sure all necessary taxes are paid. Notaries are paid 1-2% of the original purchase price for their services.

Meanwhile, the onus is on you to secure the necessary funding. Once you have successfully secured a mortgage, the notary supervises the final deed of sale, transfers the monies to the vendor and grants you ownership of the property. Further taxes may be payable at this point.

Total fees and taxes are approximately as follows. For an existing property, you can expect to pay a total of 7-10% of the purchase price in fees and taxes, excluding estate agent’s charges. For a new property, fees and taxes will come to around 2% of the purchase price. VAT is chargeable on new property at the standard rate, currently 19.6%, but rising to 20% from 1 January 2014.

 

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