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PROPERTY

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: 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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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting France

Ever wondered how to avoid paying exorbitant roaming fees when travelling in France? There are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by a big bill.

How to avoid huge 'roaming' phone bills while visiting France

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country than you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but non-Europeans need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with “Three” for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in France. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in France.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

Orange Holiday

This is one of France’s largest and most reputable telephone companies. The “Orange Holiday” SIM card exists specifically for tourists. At €39.99, you will get a SIM card that will enable you to make and receive calls and texts from a French phone number. You will have unlimited calls and texts within Europe, as well as two hours of calls and 1000 texts outside of Europe (for messaging people at home, for example). You will also have access to 30GB of data in Europe. 

The initial plan is valid for 14 days, and begins as soon as you begin calling, texting, or surfing the web. In order to get this SIM card, you can go into any Orange store and request it. Some supermarkets and airport kiosks might also carry this SIM card.

SFR

SFR is another well-known French phone company. Their pre-paid SIM card is called “La Carte,” and they offer several different options based on how much internet, calling, and texting you want access to. The basic plan is for 30 days and starts at €9.99 a month, which includes a €10 credit. Once the card is in your cellphone, you can add on a top-up option as needed.

You can buy this SIM card either online or in an SFR store. 

La Poste Mobile

This is the French phone company that operates in conjunction to the post office. What is especially convenient about this SIM card is that you should be able to get it at any post office in France. Plans range from €5 to €30 based on the number of days and the amount of calling, texting, and internet you are looking for. 

Bouygues Telecom

Finally, Bouygues Telecom also has some offers for prepaid SIM cards. Their plan, the “My European SIM” is especially made for tourists. It costs €39.90 and allows you unlimited calling and texting in France and Europe. The plan offers 20Gb of data. You can plan ahead for your trip by ordering this card online, but you can only activate it once you arrive in France.

The card actually comes along with a tourist guide (offered in 10 languages) and a map of Paris Metro.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in France, it is important to be sure you are buying a pre-paid SIM, rather than accidentally signing up for a monthly plan.

Some mobile phone carriers offer very affordable monthly plans, which might look appealing to tourists. However, these plans will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, and many involve complex processes, including sending a registered cancellation letter (in French), in order to cancel the plan.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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