Buying property in France
Moving to France? Find out what you need to know before buying French property and how to find your dream home in France.
If you've found yourself gazing into windows of French agents immobiliers or at French properties online and fantasising about buying your own property in France, it's important to know the quirks of the French property market first.
Buying a property in France is very tempting: You tend to get a lot more for your money than some other countries, for example in the UK, and it's easy to picture yourself enjoying a glass of local wine on your own sunny terrace. However, making the decision to buy a home in France is a big commitment – and it can be an expensive mistake if you get it wrong. This guide explains how to find – and buy – your dream French home.
Is now a good time to buy French property?
Property prices in France fared relatively well during the global economic crisis unlike some of France's neighbours, such as Spain and the Netherlands where property prices dropped more than 20 percent and 40 percent respectively.
Although French property prices fell during 2015, France can still be considered as one of Europe's core performing housing market as it continues to attract international investors. Paris, in particular, showed considerable growth in the number of property transactions in 2015.
The market is partly fuelled by historically low mortgage rates, which can be as low as 2.5 percent for a 20-year fix-rate mortgage. Consistently low inflation, however, means properties yields are also low – around 3 or 4 percent – and the French government's rental cap introducted in 2014 is expected to affect rental yields as well. However, compared to zero or negative interest rates offered on bank savings and low returns on bonds and other asset classes, in comparision this can be an appealing yield for a long-term investor.
The euro is also weaker than it has been in recent years, meaning foreign buyers can get a more attractive exchange rate for their property investments and essentially pay less for a property than compared to recent years.
According to real estate experts, some popular areas in the past year have been the Alps, the Côte d’Azur and Paris, with other regions, such as Aquitaine, Languedoc-Roussillon and Normandy, also growing in demand.
Should you buy or rent in France?
If you're already sure about where you want to live in France, and are familiar with what life will be like there, you'll be more knowledgeable to look directly at properties to buy. If you're not, then renting a property first is a good way of finding out. Renting allows you to see what living (rather than holidaying) in France is like and to find out if an area works for you. What might have been an idyllic rural getaway could have too few services for what you realistically need. You can also find out what a place is like at different times of year: That hot summer location may be a very different prospect during a cold, dark winter. It gives you a better base from which to find a property to buy – and, more importantly, you're already in situ when the perfect property comes up.
Finding a property in France
To find French properties for sale, you can look online, in newspapers and property magazines, with an estate agent or realtor (un agent immobilier) or even – if you know what you're doing – through a public auction (vente aux enchères). International buyers may be able to find a realtor who can communicate, and later negiotiate, in English. Most people will go to an agent immobilier at some point, the more common process, but, unless you have a personal recommendation, how do you find a good one?
Look out for the acronyms FNAIM, SNPI, UNIS or CNAB, as these show that the company belongs to a registered organisation, which has a financial guarantee, liability insurance and at least one staff member holding a carte professionelle, a licence issued by the prefecture de police.
Like elsewhere, some industry professionals engage in unethical practices. As a measure to further safeguard buyers, the French government created the Conseil National de la Transaction et de la Gestion Immobilières (CNTGI) in 2014, a representative body for maintaining ethics and creating regulations for real estate professionals and property-related activities.
When choosing a realtor, ask whether they will help prepare the compromis de vente (the sales contract) and liaise with a local notaire, the official who will handle the legal side of the purchase. Even if the seller already has a notaire, you can nominate your own with legal fees split between the two officials. The agent immobilier may also help you set up utilities and find local services like builders, doctors, etc, so it helps to ask what they can offer. After you choose a licensed realtor and view French properties, they will usually ask you to sign a bon de visite, which certifies they showed you certain properties.
You don't have to go through an immobilier. You can try buying directly from the owners. Check out the De particulier à particulier's website at www.pap.fr which has English language pages with thousands of properties for sale and for rent across France.
Buying a property in France
Once you've found a French property you like, don’t hesitate to visit it several times to assure it checks off the vital requirements (in French) and whether more work needs to be done after a purchase.
Following that, you can make the owners an offer. If they accept, you have to sign a contract, either a promesse unilatérale de vente (unilateral offer to sell) or, more commonly, a compromis de vente. The 'promesse' is commonly used by property professionals wanting to secure an 'option' to buy land or property that they may be seeking planning consent or if there are other unknown parameters, while the compromis de vente is typically a sale and purchase agreement.
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