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REAL ESTATE

The ‘unwanted’ French properties with falling prices

The lockdowns and travel restrictions caused by the pandemic are changing what potential buyers are looking for in their future homes in France, as well as what they’re trying to avoid.

The 'unwanted' French properties with falling prices
More than a third of future buyers want to move away from big cities. Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP

By revolutionising the way we live, the pandemic has shifted our views on what makes a home attractive, especially after spending the majority of the past year working from home.

“This has definitely changed what people want,” Joanna Leggett, Marketing Director at Leggett Immobilier, told The Local.

 

It has also changed what they don’t want. Covid-19 has impacted France’s property market in several ways, such as the move away from big cities like Paris and, a rejection of the pre-pandemic lifestyle known as “Métro-boulot-dodo” (Metro-work-sleep).

Of course, not everyone will want to (or will be able to) settle in a remote village in the middle of the countryside. Not everyone can work remotely, and the majority of jobs and services are still concentrated in big cities. 

But here are some factors to bear in mind if you’re thinking of selling or buying a property in France in 2021.

Too small

A study conducted during the first lockdown last spring found that only 23 percent of people spent lockdown in a property larger than 101 square metres. In Paris, 69 percent of people were confined inside an apartment.

Since then, the demand for small properties such as city apartments without balconies or access to green areas has dropped. According to a study by real estate website Seloger.com, over a third of future buyers now want to move away from big cities.

“Generally speaking, there has been a shift among the urban population towards greener areas,” according to report by the Notaires de France, published on February 15th.

Parisians moved to the suburbs while inhabitants of the greater Paris Île-de-France region “spread out towards Normandy, La Perche or Burgundy,” according to the report.

READ ALSO: Suburbs’ property prices soar as Parisians continue to flee the city

It added: “In the same vein as French residents, non-resident foreign buyers in the provinces are shifting their investment from urban centres to rural areas.”

As a result, property prices in Paris dropped by 0.1 percent in 2020, breaking with a trend of a 9.9 percent rise registered the past two years – 31.4 percent when looking back five years. 

Leggett said this trend would likely continue in 2021, saying: “Paris’ prices are expected to drop whereas they always increase.”

No outdoor space

For international or French buyers, a balcony, garden or proximity to nature have become key requests, in rural areas and cities alike. Properties without access to green areas or a balcony are therefore less in demand than before the pandemic hit.

“Outside space has become a major criteria,” Leggett said. “It’s the one thing everybody mentions in their initial email.”

On advertising site Leboncoin, searches for “house with a garden” and “house by the sea” increased by 40 percent compared to the same period the previous year.

Meanwhile in cities, balconies and terraces have become a basic requirement for those looking to buy a flat, and on average increase the price of a property by 8.8 percent

“Countryside properties are increasingly in demand,” Leggett said.

More functional 

Widespread remote working has meant that having enough space to work from home has become a basic requirement. Having a separate room for work is not a luxury the majority of people had, with many setting up their offices at their kitchen or dining tables.

When French people suddenly found themselves in lockdown a year ago, 34 percent of them said they lacked a proper work space, according to a study on the quality of housing by Ipsos, while 60 percent said they would have liked to have one.

That extra space has since become essential, especially considering that some companies are likely to become more flexible when employees go back to the office, and will be more open to letting them to work from home a couple of days a week.

Apartment buildings

In cities as well as towns, copropriétés (co-ownership), where buildings are owned jointly by individual flat-owners, are common in France.

But lockdown has made people eager to own a space that is separated from other people, without the hassle that comes with managing a co-owned building, and without the noise that comes from living in close proximity with neighbours. 

According to SeLoger, seven out of ten French people aspire to own a house one day, and the figures from Orpi show that 59 percent of buyers are looking for a house, and 9 percent rejected the idea of living in an apartment at all.

Holidays at home

The pandemic has also made the international property market less attractive than the domestic one for second home buyers.

“There is a big increase in French people looking for holiday homes at home,” Leggett said.

Biarritz, Charente-Maritimes, La Rochelle – the entire west coast is seeing its popularity surge, as people crave a second home to escape to without needing to do a Covid test.

The trends differ when looking at French and international buyers, Leggett said. French property hunters are ditching big cities for the suburbs, where they might be able to afford a house with a garden.

Internationals have changed their behaviour less following the pandemic, but Leggett said they rarely tended to look for property in French cities either way – except in Paris. With the capital’s popularity in decline, there will be possibilities for making relatively good real estate deals in 2021.

“If you can get a two-bedroom apartment for an underrated price now, it will still be a good investment in the future,” she said.

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For members

FRENCH BUREAUCRACY

Everything you need to know about your vital French ‘dossier’

It's a crucial part of life and an incomplete one can bring about a whole world of pain - here's what you need to know about your French dossier.

Everything you need to know about your vital French 'dossier'

The French word un dossier simply means a file – either in the physical sense of a plastic or cardboard item that holds documents together or the sense of a collection of documents. You might also hear civil servants use dossier to refer to the responsibilities they hold, as in English we might say their ‘brief’. 

But by far the most important use of dossier, particularly to foreigners in France, is its use to indicate the collection of documents that you must put together in order to complete vital administrative tasks, from registering in the health system to finding somewhere to live.

When you begin a new administrative process, you will need to put together a collection of documents in order to make your application. Exactly what you need varies depending on the process, but almost all dossiers will include;

  • Proof of ID – passport, birth certificate or residency card. If a birth certificate is required check carefully exactly what type of certificate is being asked for (and don’t freak out if they’re asking for a birth certificate no more than three months old, it doesn’t mean you have to be born again).

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

  • Proof of address – utility bills are usually the best, if you’re on paperless billing you can log into your online account with your power supplier and download an Attetstation de contrat which has your name and address on it and also acts as proof of address
  • Proof of financial means – depending on the process you might have to show proof of your income/financial means. This can include things like your last three months payslips or your most recent tax return. If you’re house-hunting you might be asked for your last three quittances de loyer – these are rent receipts and prove that you have been paying your rent on time. Landlords are legally obliged to provide these if you ask, but if you can’t find them or it’s a problem you can also ask your landlord to provide an attestatation de bon paiment – a certificate stating that you pay what you owe on time.

Paper v online

The traditional dossier is a bulging file full of papers, but increasingly administrative processes are moving online, so you may be able to simply upload the required documents instead of printing them all out. 

If you have to send physical copies of documents by mail, make sure you send them by lettre recommandée (registered mail), not only does it keep your precious documents safe, but some offices will only accept documents that arrive this way. 

If you’re able to send your dossier online, pay careful attention to the format specified for documents – usually documents like rental contracts or work contracts will be in Pdf format while for documents like a passport or residency card a jpeg (such as a photo taken on your phone) will suffice. If you’re sending photos of ID cards, residency cards or similar make sure you upload photos of both sides of the card.

If you need scanned documents there is no need to buy an expensive scanner – there are now numerous free phone apps that will do the job and allow you to photograph the documents with your phone’s camera and convert them to Pdf files.

Some French government sites are a little clunky and won’t accept large files – if you get an error message telling you that the file you are uploading is too big, you can resize it using a free online photo resizing tool. 

Payment

If the process requires payment (eg changing address on certain types of residency card or applying for citizenship) you may be asked for a timbre fiscale – find out how they work here

House-hunting

If you are looking for a property to rent you will need to compile a dossier and if you’re in one of the big cities – especially Paris – landlords or agencies usually won’t even grant you a viewing without seeing your dossier first, so it’s always best to compile this before you start scanning property adverts.

The government has put together a tool called Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Find a full explanation of how it works here.

Attestations

For foreigners, especially new arrivals, it’s often a problem getting together all the documents required. It’s worth knowing that if you don’t have everything you need, you can sometimes substitute documents for an attestation sur l’honneur, which is a sworn statement. 

How to write a French attestation sur l’honneur

This is a legally valid document, with penalties for submitting a false one, and needs to be in French and written in a certain format – the French government website provides a template for the attestation.

Vocab

Déposer un dossier – submit your file

Pièce d’identitie – proof of ID eg passport, residency card

Acte de naissance – birth certificate. 

Copie intégral – a copy of the document such as a photocopy or scan

Extrait – a new version of the document, reissued by the issuing authority

Sans/ avec filiation – for birth certificates it might be specified that you need one avec filiation, which means it includes your parents’ details. Some countries issue as standard short-form birth certificates that don’t include this, so you will need to request a longer version of the certificate

Justificatif de domicile – proof of address eg recent utility bills. If you don’t have any bills in your name you can ask the person who either owns the property or pays the rent to write an attestation de domicile stating that you live there

Justificatif de situation professionnelle – proof of your work status eg a work contract – either a CDI (permenant contract) or CDD (short-term contract)

Justificatif de ressources – proof of financial means, such as your last three months payslips (employers are legally obliged to provide these), other proof of income or proof of pension payments or evidence of savings.

Avis d’imposition – tax return. Some processes ask for this separately, for others it can be used as proof of resources – this is not a copy of the declaration that you make, but the receipt you get back from the tax office laying out your income and any payments that are required. If you declare your taxes online in France, you can download a copy of this document from the tax website. 

Quittance de loyer – rent receipts

Attestation de bon paiment – a document from your landlord stating that you pay your rent on time

Un garant – for some processes, particularly house-hunting, you might need a financial guarantor. This can be tricky for foreigners since it has to be someone you know reasonably well, but that person must also be living (and sometimes working) in France, and they will also need to provide all the above documents. If you’re struggling to find an acceptable guarantor, there are online services that will provide a guarantor (for a fee).

En cours de traitement – this means that your dossier has been received and is in the process of being evaluated. Depending on the process this stage can take anywhere between hours, months or even years (in the case of citizenship applications).

RDV – the shortened version of rendez-vous, this is an appointment. Certain processes require you to first submit your dossier and then attend an in-person appointment.

Votre dossier est incomplet – bad news, you are missing one or more crucial documents and your application will not proceed any further until you have remedied this.

Votre dossier est validé – your dossier has been approved. Time to pop the Champagne!

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