So where’s better to be a homeowner, France or UK?

A wide-ranging study on real estate in Europe makes good reading for those who have bought houses in France compared to homeowners in the UK.

So where's better to be a homeowner, France or UK?
Photos: Frédéric Bisson/Mark Moz/Flickr
The study, based on information from Eurostat, was published on Monday by mortgage specialists Crédit Foncier.
It compared eight European countries: France, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Italy (which makes up 75 percent of Europe's population). 
Here are some of the key findings:
How many are homeowners?
In France and the UK some 65 percent of households are homeowners, which compares to 84 percent in Poland, 79 percent in Spain and 73 percent in Italy. At 54 percent, Germany had the lowest percentage of households that were homeowners.
Less salary spent on paying for home
The study found that in France, people tend to spend a smaller percentage of their income on their homes. 
In fact, the typical French person spends 18.3 percent of their income on housing, compared to 25.1 percent in the UK. 
Only the Italians spend less (17.1 percent of income), while the top spenders were in the Netherlands, where a whopping 29.4 percent of people's salaries goes directly into their living arrangements. 
France sees only small jump in house prices
Between 2006 and 2015 house prices in France increased only 2 percent on average. That compares to a staggering 30 percent jump in the UK and a 21 percent rise in Germany.
In the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, house prices all fell during this period.
(Vic Burton/ Flickr)
Big, empty homes
Homes are relatively spacious in France, according to the study. This might not sound right to anyone living in Paris, but the average home in France is 102 metres squared and has just 2.3 people inside. 
This compares to the UK's 2.3 people per 76 sqm home (the smallest homes in Europe), or Poland's 2.7 people per 85 sqm. 
The biggest homes belonged to the Dutch (at 119 sqm on average) and the Portuguese at 112 m2. 
Less time to pay off mortgage
The stats revealed that the French generally borrowed over the short term compared to some of their neighbours, facing an average mortgage time of 19 years. The Spanish borrowed over 23 years, while it was 25 in Germany and 30 in the Netherlands. 
Average interest rates for mortgages stood at 2.1 percent in France, compared to 2.6 percent in the UK. Rates in Germany were the lowest (2 percent) and the highest in Poland (3.4 percent).
The average mortgage left to pay back stands at €47,096 in France, just over the European average of €41,099, but streets ahead of the UK, where homeowners have €82,525 still to pay back on average and the Netherlands where the figure is €81,433. In Germany homeowners had an average of €51,793 still to pay off. 
However the Poles have an average mortgage of €7,567 for the Italians it was €19,216. 
Comparatively low jump in construction costs
The study also noted that while the French have seen construction costs rise by 18 percent over the last decade or so, the European average is far worse at 27 percent. The Italians and the Brits, meanwhile, have suffered respective hikes of 42 percent and 41 percent. 
Young and rural 
The study noted that the French typically leave home at the age of 24, two years shy of the European average. 
This was the same case for the Dutch, the English, and the Germans. Italians were the oldest to fly the coop at 30 years on average. 
And while 72 percent of Europeans live in urban areas, the number is just 66 percent in France (compared to 87 percent in the UK).
France also has one of the least densely populated countries with 120 inhabitants per square kilometre compared to 26 in the UK and 227 in Germany. The Netherlands was the most densely populated country included in the study – 405 inhabitants per square kilometre.
And despite the impression some may get that everyone in France lives in an apartment, in fact 69 percent of households are in houses, compared to 85 percent in the UK.

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MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.