Find out all you need to know about buying property in France in our in depth guide.
How to Start Buying Property in France
So why France? Freshly baked diet-defying croissants, delicious cheeses, market fresh produce, sprawling vineyards and French men in stripy t-shirts with berets and onions are all loveable clichés that attract millions of visitors to France each year.
However, France’s low property prices have more recently also become a major attraction for many British visitors looking to continue their fond holiday memories abroad. As such, France has experienced a surge in the number of Britons taking the plunge across the channel and buying a property there. Brittany and Normandy were historically the popular destinations people chose to buy their second home as travel distances were short and relatively straight forward. Today it is not uncommon for property hunters to look at chateau restorations in the Dordogne, or ambitious barn conversion in the Ardèche without any hesitation.
Low-cost airlines that fly to smaller, local French airports combined with rising UK property prices are contributing factors for the surge in interest in the French property market. For some, the chance to own a second home or holiday villa in France is no longer a dream or a right that’s reserved for the rich and famous. As property in France has become more accessible and affordable, many Britons have looked to invest. Currently it is estimated that approximately 500,000 homes have been bought by Britons making France a popular foreign property buying destination.
Historically, areas such as the Cote d'Azur and the Dordogne were popular with those looking to step on to the French property ladder. Now people are buying all over the French continent depending on their individual requirements. Whereas people may have traditionally purchased holiday homes, overseas retirement havens or sound investments in France, a significant number of buyers nowadays have grown tired and disillusioned with the UK life and rising property market so are now interested in making ‘lifestyle changes’. The Alps is one area that has seen a surge in popularity from UK property buyers for this reason. It is not unusual to find the once career hungry individuals who have had enough of the city lifestyle opting for ‘the good life’ and buying a charming rustic chalet in a bustling French ski resort and running it as a successful business. There are also some who are fortunate to run a web-based business that is not location-dependent so that they can experience the benefits of living and working in France. On a personal note I can say that having experienced a view of Mont-Blanc (Chamonix) or the Saulire (Courchevel/Méribel), or the Grand Motte (Tignes) as my office view, it isn’t half bad. The 10 minute walk to work is practically pleasurable!!!
In France there are many options when purchasing your property:
- Private Sale
- Using the services of a Solicitor ('Notaire')
- Through a local Estate Agent
- At auction
Private sales are a direct way of purchasing your property in France and since estate agency fees are typically paid by the buyer of a property, in buying direct you will not have these charges. You may find websites that offer details on private sales but generally property will also be advertised in local free papers. It's not uncommon in France to see a hand written 'for sale' sign in the actual window of the property for sale.
A significant amount of property in France is sold through the local Notary (Notaires). A Notary is an impartial government official that acts for the state during the buying and selling process. It is not uncommon that the notaire dealing with the purchase of your property will also be acting on behalf of the seller. Having a single notaire can make some British buyers feel uneasy about their property purchase so some will choose to employ the services of an English speaking solicitor to advise them and check the legal paperwork. This is obviously an extra cost to the price of your property but is highly advisable if you are not fluent in legal French! It could be money well spent in the long term. Don’t be fooled into thinking the notary will look after your legal interests, he wont!
Estate Agents (‘Agent Immobiliers’)
There are a proportion of Britons who don’t speak fluent French but still wish to buy property in France and therefore the option of using an estate agent is generally preferred by many. You may even find that popular areas of France you can find estate agents with English speaking services that will assist you.
‘Agent Immobiliers’ are French estate agents and act in the same way to English estate agents in bringing both buyers and sellers together. It is good to check all estate agents in the area you are buying as it’s not uncommon for a property to be on the market with a number of estate agencies, all asking for different amounts!! All Estate Agents should be properly registered and carry an appropriate ‘carte professionnelle’ – professional card. (Notaries may often act as estate agents as well just to confuse the issue!)
At Auction ('Ventes aux Enchères')
As a risky alternative those with a fluency in French could bag a real bargain at auction! French property auctions are quite common because of inheritance disputes, repossessions and debt defaults so often it’s a corporation hoping to salvage some form of financial return from the sale instead of a family looking to sell to the highest bidder. Auction properties usually come onto the market via 'notaires' but they can also be advertised on websites and in local papers. It can be quite an interesting but complex process way of purchasing a home as bids are apparently placed as candles burn ('a la bougie')!
If you are interested in purchasing in France we heard about the ‘Coeur de France language school’ in the centre of Sancerre where a potential English speaking property hunter can enrol for a weeks intensive French course that will teach you sufficient French to see you through the acquisition, purchase and renovation of your dream French property!
Whichever of the routes you decide to take, you should still always make sure you understand all legal consequences of your actions and any documentation you are asked to sign.
Leaseback Property Purchases
Leaseback property is an ideal, hassle free option for the pure investor to purchase their property in France. Over the past few years there has been a significant increase in people opting to purchase their development in this manner. But what is leaseback?
The concept of ‘leaseback’ properties is mainly relevant to new developments. You purchase the property off plan on a freehold basis then immediately lease it back to the property developer for a specified number of years (e.g. 9 years). During your lease period, your property is rented out to holiday makers on your behalf where in return, you’ll receive a guaranteed rental income. As the owner of the property, you are still able to make use of the property for a certain number of weeks during the year as specified by you. The only costs you will need to pay are the local French taxes (link) and a co-propriety charge for the building. As an additional bonus, those investing in a leaseback scheme can potentially also recover all VAT (or TVA as it’s called in France) paid on your property providing it is not classified as your primary residence. At present, the rate of TVA in France is 19.6% so it’s quite a significant proportion of your property price back. Leasebacks are becoming more and more popular with those who are occasional skiers or mountain summer holiday makers.
Purchasing Timeshares in the Alps
Despite the appeal of purchasing property in the Alps, owning property abroad is not a realistic dream for all individuals. In addition to the upfront expense, there are yearly taxes to consider as well as the fees and hassles of maintenance that must be taken into account.
For many individuals, purchasing a timeshare in the Alps is a more economical option, because you pay a fraction of the cost for the initial purchase and a set nominal yearly fee for maintenance. Once you are an owner, you can enjoy annual week-long vacations in the Alps. Moreover, if you purchase a timeshare affiliated with a major exchange company, such as an RCI timeshare, you can trade your vacation time for different destinations throughout this region.
Before purchasing any property – timeshare or traditional real estate – be sure to research both initial costs as well as recurring fees and expenses to ensure that you are not exceeding your means. Learn more about timeshares.
Do you have any tips or experience buying property that you want to share? Use the comments box to let us know.