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PROPERTY

The real cost of buying a house in France

When people are looking to buy property in France - especially in rural areas - they are often struck by how cheap the house prices are. But before you get too excited there are plenty of other costs to factor in.

The real cost of buying a house in France
Is your dream French property as much of a bargain as it appears? Photo: AFP

Every so often a 'bargain' property in France makes the headlines, such as a chateau for €50,000. And it is true that, particularly in comparison to the UK, property in France can be cheap.

But when you're budgeting to buy your dream home, there are hidden costs that you need to be aware of.

Here are some of them.

Area

Fairly obvious, but property prices vary depending on where you are – sky-high prices in Paris where the average property costs €10,000 per metre square puts the capital out of reach to all but the wealthiest buyers and popular tourists hotspots like the French Riviera can also be pricey.

READ ALSO The cheapest areas of France to buy property

 

The cheapest parts of France tend to be the sparsely-populated rural areas like Lozère, Corrèze and Creuse. But beware of moving to a place simply because it's cheap – rural France can be very rural indeed with very little in the way of nearby public services, public transport, medical facilities or even neighbours.

For some people this is the dream, but consider carefully whether you can cope with this level of isolation if, for example, you become ill.

Agent

Unless you are conducting a private sale with someone that you know, you will likely need an agent d'immobilier (real estate agent) to help you find your home and you may have to pay a fee for this.

Whether the agent's fee is paid by the buyer or the seller of the house varies according to the contract, so when you're looking at house adverts look out for honoraires à la charge de l’acquéreur, which indicates that the buyer pays the fee. If this is the case there should be two prices advertised for the property – with and without extra fees and charges.

Notaire 

Even if you are conducting a private sale you will need to pay the notaire fee and this can be substantial – tens of thousands of euro.

The role of the notaire is a confusing one for foreign buyers, they don't act as lawyers do in other countries – although they can give legal advice if asked – they are acting on behalf of the state and their role is to register the sale on the French land register.

A sale has not been completed until registered by a notaire so there is no way to avoid the fee, which is a percentage of the price of the property.

Although it's called a notaire fee, the notaire only keeps a small portion and the rest is passed onto the state, so it's really more like a house tax or stamp duty.

READ ALSO How to calculate notaire fees when buying French property

Renovation costs

If you are buying an older property you also need to consider how much renovation it needs. There are a lot of older properties on the French market, as inheritance law rules means family properties are often inherited by several siblings who prefer to keep their own new, lower-maintenance properties and sell off the old family home.

These historic properties are popular with foreign buyers – and it's true that many of them are beautiful and atmospheric and totally deserve a loving renovation –  but the reason that many French buyers will have nothing to do with them is that they are aware of the costs of renovating.

The cost naturally depends on what needs doing but in general tradesmen charge more in France than in many other countries and a lot of raw materials and items like paint are more expensive too, so do your research before committing to an ambitious renovation project.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' – top tips for French property renovations

Taxes 

Once you've bought your new place you will be liable to pay taxes on it, and these apply whether you live in it full-time or not.

There are two property taxes in France – the taxe d'habitation which is paid by the householder and the taxe foncière which is paid by the property owner. If you own the home you live in, then you pay them both.

Taxe d'habitation is in the process of being phased out so only applies to people in higher income brackets at present – but second home owners pay it regardless of their income.

Taxe foncière is not being phased out, in fact in some areas it is being substantially increased to cover lost local income from taxe d'habitation. It varies quite widely depending on the area so it's well worth asking what the neighbours pay to give you a rough idea of what to expect.

There is also an annual TV licence fee, which you pay whether you watch French telly or not, and depending on the commune sometimes a local charge to cover waste collection.

Utilities and insurance

Most people will have already factored in utility bills and insurance into their calculations but utilities in particular might be more expensive than you were expecting. Prices for electricity and gas are centrally regulated and change every month (keep an eye on The Local's What Changes series for each month's prices) and there is not the option of regularly switching between companies to save money. 

Rental income 

People buying a property as a second home might be planning on getting some income by renting it out while they are not there.

While plenty of people successfully do this, you should be aware that the rules are quite complicated and you need to register your property with local authorities, among other things.

If you are earning money from rentals in France you will also need to start making an annual tax declaration in France, even if you do not live here full time.

READ ALSO Five things to know about renting your your holiday home in France

 

Member comments

  1. Good advice but you need to update your Utilities section because the price of gas and electricity is no longer completely controlled by the state, you can opt for other fixed term/cheaper etc. contracts. You can change supplier when you like.

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PROPERTY

What second-home owners need to know about 2023 French property taxes

Autumn in France is property tax season - and for second-home owners there are some important changes to know about this year.

What second-home owners need to know about 2023 French property taxes

Every year in September and October, households in France receive their property tax bills – which have historically included three things; taxe foncière, taxe d’habitation and the redevance audiovisuelle (TV licence).

For main properties, two of these taxes have all-but disappeared, but for second home-owners the situation is a little different.

Taxe d’habitation

This is the tax paid by the householder and it is being gradually phased out in France and most households no longer need to pay it – the exception to this, however, is maisons sécondaire (second homes).

Local councils set the rate for this tax, and in some areas this can include an additional surcharge on taxe d’habitation on second homes.

This usually applies in areas that have a housing shortage, and although the surcharge has existed for several years it has recently been expanded to include new areas.

Taxe foncière

This is the tax paid by the property owner and this remains in place, and in some areas has increased. Some local authorities, faced with the shortfall in overall taxe d’hab funds, have increased surcharges on the tax for second homes, while most local authorities are also increasing taxe foncière charges to offset the drop in revenues.

This tax is calculated based partly on the size and value of the property you own (which is why if you do any major renovations or add a swimming pool you need to tell the tax office) and partly on the tax level decided by your local authority. 

This means that the actual rate varies quite widely between different parts of France, but in some areas it has gone up by 20 percent.

Redevance audiovisuelle

This is the TV licence and this has been scrapped this year – including for second homes – so your bill will no longer have the €138 per household TV charge. 

Waste collection taxes

Some communes, especially in rural areas, also charge a taxe d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères (TEOM) or la redevance d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères (REOM) to cover rubbish collection. These are also payable in the autumn, although dates and amounts vary from commune to commune.

Renovation projects

If your property is what real estate agents refer to as an ‘opportunity for renovation’ you may be exempt from taxe d’habitation if your property is uninhabitable.

This is this is strictly defined in France as meaning a property is unfurnished, is not connected to utility services, and/or needs work costing at least 25 percent of the value of the property to make it habitable.

Other information

The amount of both taxe foncière and taxe d’habitation varies across France, but you should be informed in the sale details of the amount of the taxe foncière, and you can also request to know the amount of the taxe d’habitation when you buy a property. 

READ ALSO Why French homeowners face higher property taxes in 2023

Second homeowners are not eligible for most reductions or exemptions available on taxe foncière, with the exception of over 75s who are on low incomes. Be aware this is not automatic for second homeowners and must be specifically requested by those who are eligible.

Be aware, too, that authorities can charge an additional 10 percent for late payment without good reason – though you may get this removed if you write a polite formal letter asking for a remise gracieuse de la majoration. You can search for model letters on the internet.

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