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PROPERTY

What you need to think about before buying that dream house in France

Buying property is never simple - but add in another language and a totally different purchase system and the French property market can be a stressful place. Here are some tips for navigating it, from people who've done it.

What you need to think about before buying that dream house in France
Photo: Leggett Immobilier
Take look around in winter
 
As everyone knows France is a beautiful country and unsurprisingly that's particularly true in summer. 
 
That's why if possible it's best to also visit the area where you're thinking of buying, especially if it's in deep dark France Profonde, in mid-winter to see what you'll be letting yourself in for during the other half of the year.
 
And it's not just a question of getting the full picture in terms of the climate but also consider it as an opportunity to see which shops, bars and restaurants stay open for the whole year, as well as how much of the area is taken up by holiday homes.
 
It might be good to know if you'll have any neighbours during the cold months.
 
Speak to an expert first
 
Before you put your house on the market and book your tickets to the French countryside, first speak to an expert so they can advise you on the legal rules around foreigners buying property in France.
 
It's a good way to avoid any nasty surprises down the road. 
 
French property of the week: Stunning stone farmhouse in Languedoc-Roussillon
 
Decide if it's going to be your main residence or a second home
 
Dull compared to dreams of sunlit terraces with a bottle of chilled rosé, but you need to consider matters like residency and tax.
 
If the house is going to be your home, you will need to apply for French residency unless you are an EU citizen – check first whether you meet the criteria. This is particularly true for people planning on retiring to France, there are minimum income levels needed to get residency.
 
 
If it's going to be a second home, be aware that there are some extra costs and taxes associated with masions secondaire in France. If you are not an EU citizen, there are also limits as to how much of the year you can spend there without applying for a visa. (And sorry to mention it, but after Brexit British people will also be subject to these limitations).
 
If you want to have it as a second home and also generate some income by renting it out, check what the rules are on this and what taxes you will be liable for.
 
 
Don't be fooled by the low, low prices
 
Remember that if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. 
 
While it can often look like you're getting a lot for your money in France, keep in mind that running costs can be high, with taxes, upkeep and heating bills all likely to swallow up heaps of cash. Not to mention the cost of any work you need to be done on the property.
 
And remember there's no rule against asking the agent or owner what the cost of running the house is likely to be. 
 
The cost of property taxes vary widely in different areas of France, so check out in advance how much your annual bills are likely to be.
 
 
 
 
Be wary of taking on big renovation projects 
 
Even small projects can cost an arm and a leg, so really think things through before you decide to buy the empty shell of your dreams, unless you have the time and money to make it into a proper home. 
 
While there are certainly some positive stories about people renovating beautiful old houses in the French countryside and turning them into the perfect property, there are also many (many) horror stories. 
 
It's important to consider whether you're likely to make your money back on the renovation if you sell the house and remember that selling could take longer, much longer than you'd like.
 
And with that in mind, it's important to make sure you have enough money to make the house liveable without going bankrupt.
 
 
French property blog: How to convert a rustic barn into your dream home
 
Think about renting first
 
If you're unsure about exactly where you'd like to live in France or what kind of house you'd like to buy, then why not rent first?
 
That will allow you to get an idea of the way of life there and investigate the transport, weather, different neighbourhoods and shops, without the financial risk. By easing in slowly, you'll have time to work out your priorities in advance of making a purchase.  
 
Also, you might find that by becoming familiar with a town and the people living there first, you'll find out about properties that are available to buy which aren't being advertised by an estate agent. 
 
French property of the week: 19th century stone house in the Lot (in need of some TLC)
 
Spread the net wide 
 
Similarly, it's important to visit lots of houses that pique your interest and use those to work out exactly what you're looking for. 
 
Use Google Maps and even Street View (if possible) to get the best impression of the properties you're interested in from all angles, especially if you're going to be spending time travelling over from the UK. That way, you can avoid wasting precious time on houses that were wrong from the beginning.
  
It's best to hunt around
 
Don't restrict yourself to the estate agents in the area as you can save a lot of money on fees by avoiding them.
 
For example, France's most popular classifieds site Le Bon Coin has property listings and it's also worth familiarising yourself with the town hall and local solicitors in case they have any tips about properties that are (or will soon be) available. 
 
With thanks to the Expat Life in France Facebook page for help with these tips. 
 
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These are the 10 'best' cities in France to buy a propertyRennes in western France. Photo: Sokoljan/WikiCommons

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PROPERTY

Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

If you're researching the French property market, you might have come across mentions of 'courtiers' - here's what they do and whether they are necessary.

Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

The French ‘courtier‘ is usually translated as a broker, and the Notaires Association describes their role like this: “the broker is a true intermediary in banking operations. His/her role is to negotiate the best rates for you, but not only that: they will also find the most advantageous financing conditions for the realisation of your project.”

Essentially they act as an intermediary between you and the banks, so they’re only required if you need a mortgage or a loan in order to buy your French property. 

Their job is to research the best deals for you and then to help you put together your application and ensure that all your paperwork is correct – unlike the notaire, instructing a courtier is not a required part of the process, so the decision on whether to instruct one is up to you. 

So is it worth it?

Among French buyers, around 30 percent of mortgages are obtained using the services of a courtier, and this rises to 60 percent among young, first-time buyers, who generally find it harder to access credit.

Some of things to consider are your level of French and confidence in negotiating French bureaucracy, your financial situation (since French mortgage lenders tend to be stricter than those in the UK or US) and whether you currently live in France or not (since there are extra hoops to jump through for overseas buyers).

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“Things have changed,” Trevor Leggett, group president of Leggett International estate agents, told The Local. “It’s now more important than ever to work closely with a reputable broker.

“In France it is all paper-based, very old-school and extremely bureaucratic, a different world entirely to the UK. Preparing the client “dossier” so that it will be accepted is an art form.”

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

He advised non-resident international clients, particularly, who may not be au fait with the French system to seek the help of a broker who knows the ropes.

“The question is no longer really about savings,” he said. “It is about finding a bank that can actually lend to the client profile, interests rate are secondary. 

“It occasionally happens that one bank can be played off against another, or to shop around, but it’s a rare event nowadays.”

READ ALSO Revealed: The ‘hidden’ extra costs when buying property in France

And he had no hesitation in recommending that prospective buyers find a broker to sort out the financing.

“The lending market has tightened for international buyers and a good one is worth their weight in gold,” he said.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Time-frame for buying and selling property in France

In France, you make an offer on a property and then you begin the mortgage process (while in the UK it’s the other way round) so problems in getting your mortgage approved could lead to you losing your dream property.

“[Using a courtier] can be the difference between buying and not,” added Trevor.

“It’s not just any possible language barrier – but understanding the process and the different players in the market.”

How much?

The cost of hiring a courtier is borne by the buyer – but how much do they charge?

The courtier usually charges a percentage of the total mortgage amount – fees must be fixed in advance and are only payable once your mortgage application has been approved. 

Fees vary between different areas and different businesses, but the average fee is €2,000, which amounts to around one percent of the purchase price.

Many brokers set a minimum amount – around €1,500 – for smaller loans, and take a percentage of larger loans, so how much you pay depends on your property budget. 

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