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

Hidden extras can make that 'bargain' a bit more expensive than you first thought, while the French property-buying system contains several costs that you may not be expecting.

A set of house keys on a blue plastic fob on top of property adverts at an estate agents in northwest France
(Photo by FRED TANNEAU / AFP)

Properties in France, especially rural France, often look – on the face of it – very affordable. And many of them really are.

But unexpected fees can soon see the total cost rise pretty sharply to a figure much higher than the one you were boasting about to your friends.

Knowing what additional expenses to expect will – if not cushion the blow then at least ground your dreams in financial reality.

Notaire Fees

This is the big one and the name is confusing, leading many people to think this is just a few hundred euro for legal fees.

In fact, a notaire fee can be up to 10 percent of the price of the property and most of it is really a one-off property tax, similar to stamp duty in the UK.

The full amount generally comes to about seven percent of the purchase price – though this varies depending on the purchase price and the type and location of the property.

CALCULATOR: How to work out your notaire fees

The largest portion of the fee is taken up by the droits d’enregistrement, a tax on property purchases in France. This is usually around five percent of the property’s value.

The rest includes land registry costs and the notaire’s charges.

Property expert Adrian Leeds explained: “It’s quite detailed, as you can imagine – this is France, right? The taxes and fees are complicated in the way they are assessed – but if there’s a mortgage, then there are additional taxes and fees based on having a mortgage. That’s aside from what ever the mortgage broker or bank is charging as an origination fee. 

“Notaires charge additional taxes and fees if there’s a mortgage involved.”

The loan registration fee amounts to up to 2 percent of the loan value.

A full explanation of how notaires’ fees are made up, and where all that money actually goes is available on the Notaires de France website

Deposits

When you sign the Compromis de Vente – an agreement committing the buyer and seller to the sale of a property in principle, similar to a property in England and Wales being sold ‘subject to contract’ – the buyers are expected to pay the notaire a deposit of between five percent and 10 percent of the purchase price.

Mortgage fees

Buyers – if they need a mortgage – will probably have to put down a deposit against that, too, and it can be quite a lot – up to 20 percent of the value of the property. 

Once you have arranged your mortgage there will be a fee to pay, but unlike some countries where the mortgage fee is included in the total amount you’re borrowing, many French banks will expect you to pay it up front. Of course this works out cheaper in the long term as you’re not paying interest on your fee, but it’s another expense that you need to budget for.

Repayment terms

It’s a good idea to understand the repayment terms of your mortgage, if you have one. The higher the interest rate, the more you’ll end up paying, after all…

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

Real estate agent’s commission

In France, the buyer usually – but not always – pays the real estate agent, rather than the seller. The price of the property includes the agent’s commission, which can range from 5 percent to 10 percent of the property value. 

Leeds said: “Agency fees are included in the price of the property, but the mandate between the seller and the agency dictates who pays these fees, whether it’s the buyer or the seller.

“When this fee is paid by the buyer, it reduces the price of the property on the deed by that amount. Notarial taxes and fees are assessed based on the net, so it reduces the notarial fees if these fees are paid by the buyer.

“But if there’s a mortgage involved, the bank will not mortgage the notarial fees nor the agency fees if the buyer pays.

“If the seller pays the agency commission, the full price is shown on the deed, notarial taxes and fees will be based on the gross price and the bank will mortgage the total amount.”

Look out for property adds with the mystic three-letter initialisation FAI. This stands for frais d’agence inclus, which means the agent’s fees are included in the listed price, meaning the seller will pay the agent.

Building fees

If you’re buying an apartment you may also need to pay a charge – which is the building fee that covers things like external maintenance and the salary of the concierge if you have one.

Likewise if your building has a Syndic de copropriété (home-owners association) you may also need to pay a fee to join that.

Renovation fees

If you’re intended to do a renovation, bear in mind that costs for building materials and tradesmen may be higher than you are expecting. The advice of pretty much anyone who has ever done a renovation project is ‘double your budget’.

If you’re from the UK, remember that post-Brexit restrictions on imports means it is much more difficult to save money by buying items like bathroom suites in the UK and bringing them over to France. 

Property taxes

Once you are the proud owner of your beautiful home in France you’ll be responsible for a tax known as taxe foncière, a land tax paid for by the property owner. How much this is depends on the size of the property and its location.

You may also, if this is a second home, for example, face a second tax based in part on its rental value, known as taxe d’habitation. This is being phased out for main properties, but second homeowners don’t have that luxury.

Property taxes are usually not paid up front, but charged in the year after you move in, so this isn’t an up-front expense but one to add to the usual costs like utilities and insurance when you are budgeting for the running costs of your new place.

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PROPERTY

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

A new accessibility scheme recently announced by the French government gives grants for home improvements such as installing a stair lift or widening a doorframe to allow wheelchair access - here is how you could benefit.

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

According to a recent survey in France, the vast majority of retired people expressed a desire to stay in their homes long-term, rather than entering a care facility.

While there are several schemes by the French government to provide assistance for renovating homes in order to make them more accessible for elderly people, the newly announced “MaPrimeAdapt” seeks to streamline the process.

When was it announced?

MaPrimeAdapt was part of President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign, with plans for it first announced by the president last November.

Most recently, the government aid was earmarked to receive funding in the upcoming 2023 budget, which also hopes to increase the number of nursing home employees, as well as boost public funding for care centres.

The budget is set to allocate €35 million to the National Housing Agency (ANAH) in 2023. In response, the ministry of housing said to Capital France that one of their top priorities is “a single aid for the adaptation of housing to ageing” that would replace several existing government subsidies.

What is the goal of Ma Prime Adapt?

Similar to Ma Prime Renov, this programme hopes to provide additional funding for home refurbishment.

But while Ma Prime Renov focuses on environmentally friendly home adaptations, Ma Prime Adapt aims to make it simpler for older people or those with disabilities to refurbish their homes in order to maintain their autonomy and avoid falls.  

The French government also aims to reduce the number of fatal or disabling falls of people aged 65 by at least 20 percent by 2024, and by 2032, the goal is for at least 680,000 homes to be adapted, particularly those of low-income older people.

Who can benefit?

According to reporting by Le Monde, this aid is not solely reserved for people who already have decreased mobility. 

Instead, it is intended for older people generally. When applying, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are an independent retiree and need (this could be based on income, age, health, etc) to adapt their housing in order to make it more accessible.

The amount of assistance offered will be means-tested based on financial status.

What types of work would qualify?

Some examples of work that might qualify for assistance might be:

  • adapting the bathroom (for example, adding grab bars or enlarging the door)
  • replacing the bathtub with a shower
  • installing a bathtub with a door
  • installing a stair lift
  • adding access ramps to the home

The benefit is not limited to those options – any project that aims to increase home accessibility for a senior could qualify, as long as it is not simply aesthetic-focused.

Can it be combined with Ma Prime Renov?

They have different criteria, but Ma Prime Renov and Ma Prime Adapt can be combined in order to provide maximum support to elderly people wishing to adapt and stay in their homes.

How can I apply?

In order to apply, you will be required to meet the conditions stated above, in addition to being able to demonstrate that the housing in question is at least 15 years old and that the amount of work being done would cost at least €1,500.

Keep in mind that the renovation will need to be carried out by a recognised building company or contractor – specifically one with the label “RGE.”

You will be able  toapply for the Ma Prime Adapt aid via France’s National Housing Agency (ANAH). A dedicated website will be created to facilitate the process, with a launch date TBC. 

On the site, you will submit an application form that includes the estimates of the work planned. According to Le Monde, €5,600 will be the maximum amount of aid to be offered, and the cost of work will be capped at €8,000. However, this information has not yet been published by the National Housing Agency. 

What have the other available schemes been?

Currently, retirees in France can apply for the “Habiter facile” scheme from the ANAH (Agence Nationale de l’Habitat), which also helps to finance work that promotes the ability of elderly people to remain in their homes.

“Bien vieillir chez soi” is a similar aid scheme which is offered by the CNAV (social security).

The elderly and disabled can also benefit from tax credits on accessibility or home adaptation work. 

These will likely be replaced by Ma Prime Adapt, which will combine all benefits into one package.

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