We delve into the business of securing a mortgage in France and deliver the basic facts about French mortgages and buying French property.
If you’re tempted by property for sale in France , it can be beneficial to find out your French mortgage options as an expat, what tax rules apply if you’re a resident or non-resident in France, and if you’re eligible for any mortgage tax deductions or liable to pay local French taxes.
This guide answers some important questions on getting a French mortgage:
- Should you buy property in France?
- How much can you borrow in France?
- French mortgage calculator
- Tax deductions for French mortgages
- Requirements and documents for getting a French mortgage
- How to apply for a French mortgage
- Types of French mortgage credit
- Mortgage types available in France
While several European housing markets have suffered severe fluctuations from the financial crisis, the French property market has emerged as one of Europe’s core performing property markets, with one report citing Rennes, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Nantes and Lyon as France’s best investment hotspots in 2018.
While Britain has announced its intention to leave the EU, the long-term withdrawal process has yet to have a financial effect on British expats, save for the devaluation of the pound making French property more expensive.
While some potential buyers may be motivated to pull back from the market, many French are becoming increasingly optimistic as property prices stabilise and transaction levels increase. Indeed, a report published in late 2017 by Knight Frank predicted that 2018 would ‘put Paris back on the radar of international investors’. Indeed, data from Notaries of France found that existing property prices increased by 3.4% year on year in the final quarter of 2017, while transaction numbers were up 10.9% year-on-year in February 2018.
Foreigners, however, should be aware that property transaction fees total around 10–15% of the purchase price and capital gains tax applies if you sell the property (a total of around 35–40%), factors particularly important for those planning stays of less than five years who might not be able to offset the costs in a short time.
How much can you borrow in France?
French banks are equally keen to write mortgages for foreign buyers as they are for French nationals – the same rules apply to each. The typical French mortgage allows a buyer to borrow between 70% and 80% of a property’s value, though some French mortgage brokers limit themselves to only 50% for non-European Union (EU) buyers.
A peculiarity to French mortgages is the legal requirement that your entire liabilities – including rents, mortgages and other regular expenses – must be no more than 30% of your net household income (up to three cosigners). If your total mortgage term payments are more than 30% of your household income, French banks are prohibited from extending further credit. If a bank mistakenly does so, the borrower is not legally obligated to make his or her payments.
Thus, the amount which you can borrow in France is restricted by both by the property value and your net income. If you are over age 65, the banks will not include earned income; only passive income or retirement benefits will be considered.
You will also need to consider the transaction costs of buying a French property, which can add up to 10–15% for fees and expenses and the typically 20–30% not covered by French mortgages. To calculate, this means that if you purchase a property for €100,000 and secure a 75% mortgage, you would need to provide personal funds of €25,000 on top of some UR €10,000 for fees and expenses. In total, you would need to provide € 40,000 in funds to secure a mortgage of €75,000.
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French mortgage rates
French mortgage rates have reached record lows in recent years, in line with the lowering of Euribor rates. In February 2018, average borrowing rates remained very low at 1.61% (according to Banque de France data. Unlike some other European countries, very long fixed-term mortgages in France (15, 20 years) are quite common as buyers look to lock in the best rates.
As France continues to stabilise its economy, the best French mortgage rates are still typically given to those with bigger deposits and shorter repayment periods.
To give an example, for €100,000 borrowed the monthly cost would be around €513 for a 20-year, fixed-rate mortgage (at 2.15%).
A French mortgage calculator with an associated ‘affordability’ calculator can be found here.
Costs of getting a French mortgage
French lenders typically charge a set up fee (sometimes called frais de dossier), which can be fixed or a percentage of mortgage. Associated administrative fees for setting up a French mortgage include the following:
- There is a 1% origination/arrangement fee, with a €350 minimum (plus Value Added Tax, VAT). This can very, so there’s a chance your mortgage broker can negotiate it down.
- Lenders may require a ‘valuation survey’, which typically costs €250.
- The largest cost of a getting a French mortgage are the legal fees, the frais de notaire, for the notary. These fees can total around 6–8% for a used property, and 3–5% for a new-build or properties less than five years old. The notary fees are fixed by law for many aspects of the property transaction.
While French banks are happy to extend credit to foreign buyers following the same vetting standards and fee schedule as with nationals, they may place certain additional requirements on foreign buyers.
In order to get the best French mortgage interest rates, and to secure against unforeseen currency exchange downturns, French mortgage providers may ask non-residents to open a savings account with a minimum deposit equal to at least 24 mortgage payments. For example, if you were to secure a €100,000 mortgage with a 1.5% fixed French mortgage rate for 10 years, you might be required to lock up capital of some €15,000.
An additional, legal requirement for obtaining a French mortgage is to purchase a life insurance policy equal to 120% of your mortgage with the lender named the beneficiary. The premiums are typically added to the monthly mortgage payments. Individual lenders may also require health and disability insurance policies, as well as that you submit to a medical exam if you are 50 years or older or borrowing more than €150,000. Also, many lenders will request that the borrower obtain proof of insurance on the property and any improvements thereupon.
There are three main forms of mortgage-related tax relief allowed when paying taxes in France.
One is the deductibility of mortgage interest on rental income; if you purchase a French property and rent it out for part or all of the year, your mortgage interest is considered to be a direct business expense against your rental income. Thus, for French nationals and expats with a valid residency visa, the tax on property revenues is calculated on the rental income less the interest payments. For non-residents, however, the tax liability on rental income is reduced to 25% of that levied against residents.
French law also allows mortgage interest deductions against French inheritance tax – which can be a sizable liability to those who inherit your property. The inheritance tax laws are complex and highly situational. Speaking to a qualified tax advisor is advisable as a precursor to buying French property or taking out a French mortgage.
The third form of mortgage-related tax relief applies only to those subject to French wealth tax. New wealth tax rules introduced in January 2018 means that anyone with worldwide property worth €1.3m or more need to pay an additional tax rate. Non residents only need to pay this on property in France. The rates are as follows:
- Real estate value €800,000-€1.3m – 0.5%
- €1.3m-€2.57m – 0.7%
- €2.57m-€5m – 1%
- €5m-€10m – 1.25%
- €10m+ – 1.5%
Those eligible for the tax can offset the value of their main home by 30%, if they’re living in it.
Before applying for a mortgage it is advisable to open a French savings account and make regular deposits, as this can be viewed favourably by the mortgage provider. In some cases, you may also need a French bank account to handle the monthly payments.
In order to claim a favourable rate, French banks are reportedly demanding foreign investors to provide evidence of sufficient capital to cover payments, for example, savings equal to 24 mortgage payments. You may also want to speak with a financial advisor about purchasing a currency forward contract. Having one in place not only hedges against currency risk, but allows for more stable financial budgeting. Additionally, with the current historically low interest rates, remortgaging may also be a beneficial option, although a mortgage provider can advise you on this.
When applying for the mortgage, you will need to provide the following documents:
- Copies of the borrower(s) passports.
- Proof of income (including your last three pay stubs and last year’s tax return).
- Self-employed individuals will need to show a set of audited financials for three years.
- Bank statements for the last three months and proof of having funds for the costs of the mortgage, including the down payment.
- Current rental agreement (if that is your current accommodation).
- Statement of assets.
- Executed sales agreement (for the actual mortgage offer, not for a preliminary commitment).
- If appropriate, written estimates or invoices from French-registered tradesmen and copies of their certificate of insurance (if the property is new or to be renovated).
- If appropriate, a property title or preliminary sales agreement for the land, building license, and the building contract and plans (if new improvements are to be constructed on the property).
- If applicable, the title deed or loan deed with a complete repayment table if the property is to be financed with a remortgage or equity release.
French mortgages cannot be officially offered without presenting a property purchase agreement. But in some cases it may be possible to secure a certificate of commitment (pre-approval letter) for around €350 (plus VAT) from a mortgage lender. This will usually allow you to negotiate with the seller and should be valid for three to four months. However, having a back-up mortgage provider is sometimes advised inasmuch as French lenders have been known to withdraw their mortgage offer and commitments at the last minute.
Before proceeding to secure an actual mortgage, the buyers will need to have the desired property’s value assessed and verified by the notary as being just and fair.
Applying for a French mortgage is relatively straightforward and a very similar process to other countries with well-developed mortgage industries. It can be worth consulting several mortgage lenders to see which one will give you the best mortgage interest rate. In France there are many local and international banks offering mortgages to foreigners, as well as specialised mortgage providers focused on providing expat mortgages and services.
As a buyer, you can request an official mortgage offer from the lender of your choice once a completed sales agreement has been signed by the seller and buyer, and the bank is assured the buyer can both afford the loan (per French standards) and the property’s value supports the loan request. Once accepted the mortgage will proceed to underwriting for final approval by the lending institution.
There are three types of French loan guarantees, or securities, which may be offered to foreign investors against their loan. While international buyers may be more familiar with a conventional mortgage, residents in France can find cost-savings in the other mortgage credits on offer in France.
A conventional mortgage (hypothèque conventionnelle) is taken care of by the notary who charges a fee around 2 percent of the mortgage amount to complete and register all the sale documents. The notary also ensures all terms of the previous mortgage on the property are satisfied to clear the way for the new buyer’s mortgage, and that the requirements of the new mortgage are fully met. This is typically in addition to administration fees charged by the mortgage lender.
Priority Lien (hypothèque de privilège de prêteur de deniers)
This is a popular mortgage in France since the notary fees for this service are generally lower (only about 1%) because there is no requirement to pay stamp duty (publicité fonciere). It is very similar to a conventional mortgage except that the mortgage takes first priority over all other charges on the property. It may be possible to obtain this mortgage for a higher loan period, up to 50 years (although rare), but it is only offered on old properties and does not allow the buyer to borrow more against the value of their property, for example, for renovations.
This is a newer mortgage option offered by French banks aimed at reducing the borrowing costs associated with mortgages. This option involves taking out a loan under an institutional guarantee, called la société de cautionnement, run by a group of organisations. The basic idea is that the risk of a mortgage default is shared among all participating lenders.
Under the system, the mutual funder acts as the guarantor; in return the borrower pays the funder a guarantee fee proportional to the amount borrowed, eliminating mortgage registration costs and fees. Thus transaction costs are limited to an arrangement fee of less than 1% plus the cost of setting up the guarantee (1.5–2%), the latter of which 75% can be reimbursed at the end of your mortgage in some cases.
It is typically cheaper to set up and can be beneficial for shorter loans because there are no penalties if you redeem a mortgage, unlike other French mortgage options. It is offered for both new and old properties, although a good credit rating and income are typically required and it is only offered to residents of France.
A main organisation specialising in these guarantees is Le Crédit Logement, but just look for the acronyms SACCEF and CNP to find other mutual lenders. Some major banks have their own guarantor: CAMCA (Crédit Agricole), CMH (Crédit Mutuel) and SOCAMI/SOPACEF (Banques Populaires).
France has an established mortgage industry and much experience in dealing with foreign buyers, although you may find fewer product variations than you’re used to. The typical mortgage types are available in France, including remortgaging, interest-only mortgages, fixed and variable rate mortgages and bridging loans, alongside other mortgages such as capital repayment, capped-rate, tracker, equity release and post-finance mortgages.
One route to purchasing property is to remortgage an existing property, whether in France or in your home country. There are two common types of remortgaging: one allows you to borrow against the amount already paid against an existing mortgage, while the other allows you to borrow against a property’s increase in valuation (secondary loan). Before any remortgage can be secured, borrowers should visit a financial lender or a notary to explain the various risks and costs involved.
Interest-only (prêt infiné) mortgages
Interest-only loans are increasingly popular in France, and as buy-to-let mortgages aren’t really offered, this is popular for investors with the intent of renting their property out. Since mortgage interest is deductible against rental income, this mortgage type can greatly reduce the monthly payments for the investor. In conjunction with the interest-only mortgage, the investor can also choose an annuity which pays off the loan principle at the fulfillment of the term.
Fixed and variable French mortgage rates
Borrowers can also choose between fixed-rate and variable-rate mortgages. Fixed-rate mortgages are often set at a higher rate than variable-rate mortgages but do offer security. However, with today’s environment of historically low interest-rates – and not much room to decrease further – buyers have less risk locking in long-term interest rates, even of up to 20 years. Variable rate mortgages in France are keyed to the three month or one year Euribor rates plus a 1–3% margin, so it can be difficult to get a transparent picture of long-term rates.
One interesting fixed-rate mortgage product is the so-called flexible mortgage. This product provides the security of a fixed interest rate but allows borrowers to vary their monthly payments based on their individual cash flow circumstances. Typically the lender will set upper and lower payment limits, but in some circumstances payments can be suspended for up to two years or increased as much as 30% for a more rapid payoff. Rates for product features such as these can influence a higher interest rate, so should only be used if you forsee using such features.
A popular variation on the variable-rate mortgage is the prêt à taux révisable non cape mais à échéances plafonnées. This product has a completely variable rate but the borrower’s payments have an upper bound. Though it is unlikely, it is theoretically possible that the borrower may inadvertently end up with an interest-only mortgage if the rates increase substantially.
Bridging loans (Prêt relais)
Borrowers in France also have access to bridge loans, designed specifically for buyers who are ready to purchase property but are waiting for the sale of their existing property. Such loans are intended to be short-term solutions but can be extended for up to two years.
You can read more details about mortgages in France for expats.
Because of the amount of paperwork that must pass through the French notary, the time frame from making an offer on a property to actually transferring the title to the buyer can take up to four months.
It is also worth noting that real estate agents typically work for the seller. Buyers are advised to appoint and pay for their own notary to ensure that the sale contracts are equitable or seek the advice of a financial professional.