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PROPERTY

Property in France: A weekly roundup of the latest news and talking points

From how to find a builder to the property trend of treehouses, stay up to date with The Local's guide to the latest news around French property.

Property in France: A weekly roundup of the latest news and talking points
Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

Real estate boom

There are now more real estate agents than boulangeries in France, according to the national statistics agency INSEE.

The number of agences d’immobilier has risen by 50 percent across the country over the past five years.

On average there are now 161 real estate agencies per 100,000 of the population (compared to 73 boulangeries per 100,000 people) with the highest concentrations in the Nice département of Alpes-Maritime (525 per 100 000), Paris (442) and the south west département of Pyrénées-Orientales (347).

Meanwhile if you want to set yourself up in business, the places with the least competition are the départements of Cantal (33 real estate agencies per 100,000 people), Mayenne (51) or Manche (50).

Estate agents

It is not compulsory to use a real estate agent when purchasing in France (unlike a notaire) but they will often have access to the best properties, some of which do not get advertised.

If you do decide to use one, read this piece from British woman Jenny Lovett who (eventually) successfully bought a home in north west France – Five top tips for dealing with estate agents in rural France

Aerial view of the French Riviera with Nice (left) Villefranche sur Mer (centre) and Saint Jean Cap Ferrat (right). (Photo by VALERY HACHE / AFP)

Property trends

Paris has this week lost its crown as the home of the priciest real estate in France.

The new holder of the title is the town of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera, with an average price of €14,000 per square metre.

Undeniably a ritzy area long favoured by film stars and singers, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is unlikely to hold on to the title, however, as locals explain that the recent sale of a villa for €30 million has skewed the price-per-square metre ratio in the 248 hectare peninsula.

Renovation

If you’re keen to start some work on your French property after more than a year of shutdowns and travel restrictions, then you’re not the only one.

French builders’ federations are warning of long waiting lists for good builders as demand has rocketed for home improvements.

You may be facing higher prices too, since a worldwide shortage has pushed up the price of building materials.

Spot the scammers

However keen you are to start work, however, don’t be tempted to skip on the pre-contract checks.

It’s a sad fact that every year newcomers to France are conned by ‘expat builders’ who may speak their language but don’t possess the necessary skills or qualifications.

Here’s how to avoid the scammers.

Dream Homes

For many, buying a chateau in France is the dream. But one French chateau owner has bucked that trend by selling the 2,000 square metre property near Bordeaux that his family had owned since the 18th century and moving into a 30 square metre tree house.

The reason – and potential chateau-buyers take note – was that he could no longer afford the upkeep of his historic mansion, so instead spent €60,000 to build the eco-friendly tree house out of wood.

He told Le Figaro that he is much more content with his new property – he sold the chateau but kept the surrounding 10 acres of vineyards – and intends to build more tree houses that he will let to tourists. 

Property tip of the week

Many people when property hunting tend to look at either cities or rural France, but don’t be too quick to discount France’s many small towns.

Writer and small-town resident James Harrington argues that they create the best of both worlds – enough amenities and attractions to keep you and your family busy, plus the peace and space of the countryside and access to a garden where you can grown your own.

(His neighbours also regularly gift him the fruits of their hunting trips, but readers should note that this isn’t a guaranteed part of the small town experience).

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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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