We've all found ourselves gazing into windows of the local agents immobiliers fantasising about having our own home in France. But what if you really want to make the move? Here's how to find – and buy – your dream home.
Buying a property in France is very tempting: You tend to get a lot more for your money than you do in the UK, for example, and it's easy to picture yourself enjoying a glass of local wine on your own sunny terrace. However, making the decision to own a home in France is a big commitment – and it can be an expensive mistake if you get it wrong.
Buy or rent?
If you're already sure about where you want to live in France, and know what life will be like there, then you'll probably want 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. You can find out what a place is like at different times of year, too: That idyllically hot summer location may be a very different prospect during a cold, dark winter. It gives you a base from which to find a property to buy – and you're already in situ when the perfect property comes up.
Finding a property
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). Most people will go to an agent immobilier at some point but, unless you have a personal recommendation, how do you find a good one?
Look out for the letters FNAIM, SNPI, UNIS or CNAB, as these show that the company belongs to a registered organisation, with at least one member of staff holding a carte professionelle, a licence issued by the prefecture de police.
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.
You don't have to go through an immobilier, You could 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.
You've found your dream property – now what?Before signing
Once you've found a place that you like, you can make the owners an offer. If they accept, you have to sign a contract, either a promesse de vente or, more commonly, a compromis de vente. With the former, the owner promises to sell the property to the buyer at a given price and keeps the option open for a limited period of time (two to three months). The buyer puts down a 10 percent deposit and the document has to be registered with the authorities (for a fee). The buyer can't sell to anyone else during this time but the buyer can withdraw and lose the deposit. With the latter, both buyer and seller agree to cement the deal at a given price, the buyer puts down a 10 percent deposit and in legal terms this is a ‘final sale'. If either party pulls out, the other can take legal action and claim damages. Both contracts have a seven-day cooling off period during which time the buyer can withdraw without penalty.
Check that all the details are correct. It should include full details of the property (its surface area and boundaries), set out exactly what is included in the sale, such as dependences (outbuildings), fixtures and fittings, the results of legally required reports (energy performance report, checks for termites, asbestos and lead in the property, electricity and gas safety certificates), and whether there are any conditions suspensives (conditional clauses). You'll need to supply details of how you're going to finance the purchase, too. For more information on mortgages, see Expatica's Guide to French mortgages.
After you've signed
The notaire will investigate any legal, financial or other claims on the property, which usually takes about three months but occasionally longer. Once this is underway, a completion date (when you sign the acte de vente, or deed of sale) can be set. In the meantime, you might want to have a structural survey carried out although many locals don't bother.
If you're planning to build your own home on a plot of land or substantially alter an existing building, you'll need to get permission from the mairie. You'll need to apply for the certificate d'urbanisme (certificate of town planning), provide a permis de construire setting out your building plans and check what other taxes or fees you'll need to pay.
In France, property (even that owned by foreigners) always passes to the children, so take advice from the notaire before you take the next step – signing the acte de vente – about your own situation.
Fees and taxes
Costs may include the notaire's fees (which include certain costs to do with the sale) are set by the French Minister of Justice at 5 percent up to €45,735 and 2.50 percent above that. You may also be liable for all or a share of the estate agents fees (up to 10 percent). There are two taxes on residential property: land tax (taxe foncière) and local taxes (taxe d'habitation), which are due on 1 January every year, so you will pay a pro-rata amount.
The deed of sale
Once all the checks and searches are done and the funds to purchase the property are in place, you're ready to go to the notaire's office to sign the deed of sale, the acte de vente. You may need to take a translator with you if you don't speak French, as the document will be read aloud to you before you sign. Once this is done, you have to pay the various taxes and fees, and the deeds in your name will be registered at the Land registry. You will now be the new owner of property in France.
Photo credit: Frédéric Mauriet via Wikimedia Commons (photo 1), Alan Cleaver (photo 2), WordRidden (photo 3), Victor1558 (photo 4).