Flat sharing in France: A very weird and wonderful world

Flat sharing is a popular living option in France, but as many people will say - it's not always smooth sailing, writes Hattie Ditton.

Flat sharing in France: A very weird and wonderful world
Photos: Andrew Dyer, Wesley Underwood, slgckgc/ Flickr

If you're in France and looking to make new friends and save a bit of money on rent, then flat sharing, or colocation as the French say, could be a good option for you. 

However, it doesn’t always go strictly to plan.

Of course there are the usual scenarios that you could imagine, complaints of people being too noisy, too messy, too smelly… But that certainly isn’t the worst of it.

What follows are all true stories, from Anglophones in who have at one time of anther lived in France. 

Joe, who has lived in Paris for the past three years, said his first coloc (or flatmate) loved to collect and hoard “anything he could get his hands on” only to store it all in the living room.

(Having to battle your way to the door each morning is far from ideal. Photo: Grap/ WikiCommons)

“You could literally find anything in there, from fridge freezers (three in total) to car registration plates, to a wide selection of unused sex toys”. 

Living with a landlord isn’t uncommon in France either and this can become problematic if the landlord decides to take on something of a parental role.

Ellie, who lived in Lyon, described how her ‘helpful’ landlord became all too comfortable a little too quickly.

“He used to go to the trouble of sorting my dirty laundry and returning it in neat little piles to my bedroom when I wasn’t there,” she said.

“When I asked him not to he told me not to worry as he didn’t mind doing it. That hadn't really been my concern.”

Another woman in Paris described how she was late to spot the warning signs that her lonely flat mate (who was 22 years her senior) and landlord was a little on the unusual side.

When he told her that all food was included in the rent, she thought she had really got lucky.

“Oysters, champagne and fine cheeses were regular features on the evening menu,” she told The Local. 

(Fine cheeses and wine included in rent seem too good to be true? It probably is. Photo: Skeeze, Pixabay)

However, the novelty of being cooked elaborate meals every night soon wore off.

“He would buy far too much food every week and then get angry if I was going out and he had to throw it away,” she said. 

“I'm 24. I felt like I'd moved in with a third parent but I couldn't get annoyed because in his eyes he was being generous,” she added.

Anyone who has lived in France will know that some of the eating habits of the French are a little unexpected, but the next story makes coffee-dipped soggy croissants sound perfectly normal.

Georgia, a young woman who spent a year living in France, said: “Every morning without fail my housemate used to wake up at 5am, open the curtains and tuck into her daily breakfast of an onion, which she would eat like an apple.”

Perhaps she could have tolerated this, were it not for the fact that once she had finished her own delicious breakfast, she would try to very kindly involve Georgia in the morning meal.

“She used to wake me up with a bowl of hot water and hot dogs floating in it,” she said. 

And then there's student life. The Erasmus year is a prime time to live with fellow foreigners and it can be interesting to note how different people adapt in different ways to life in France.

One lucky lady reflected on her year living in a colocation with five Spaniards during her sejour in Toulouse, southern France. 

“They were so low on cash that they would regularly trek to a local wholesalers and bring back entire animal carcasses on the bus,” she said. 

(Imagine this but in your kitchen. Photo: AFP)

“Saturdays were then spent portioning up pigs and lambs in the miniature kitchen, following a regimented system of packaging and labeling each cut to go in the freezer.”

Another Erasmus student, British woman Rachel, said her time in northern France's Lille was spent living with a woman who had rather different nighttime habits to her own. 

“She liked men. And she particularly liked making pasta dishes with those men post-coitus and eating them in bed.

“There was a lull in her active sex life for around two months which left me slightly unnerved as the only sounds I heard from her room were loud, aggressive bangs on the floor and wailing,” she said.

But fear not, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation. 

“She was entering a historical flamenco singing and dancing competition in Spain, and had taken some time off from her social life to focus on training,” the Brit said. 

So, the next time you feel yourself complaining about your housemate, remember it could be a lot worse. 

By Hattie Ditton

Member comments

  1. Thought you’d like to correct this, unless it’s too late: ‘from Anglophones in who have at one time of anther lived in France’

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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.