Buying a Home (New) in France

ImageA ‘new' house is generally defined as one built in the last five years, which is also the legal definition. Although new properties may lack the charm and character of older buildings, they offer attractive financial and other advantages.

– a lower deposit (5 per cent rather than 10 per cent);

– lower registration taxes;

– two years' exemption from property tax);

– a ten-year guarantee;

– higher construction standards and therefore lower maintenance costs;

– better insulation and therefore lower heating bills);

– modern plumbing and electrics (including plenty of sockets), etc.;

–better security;

– no costs or problems associated with renovation or modernisation;

– greater resale potential, especially to French buyers, who generally prefer modern homes.

The standard of new buildings in France is strictly regulated and houses are built to official quality standards. They're built to higher specifications than old houses and usually include roof, cavity and under-floor insulation, double-glazing, central heating, and ventilation and dehumidifying systems – it can cost up to three times as much to heat an old home without proper insulation as to heat a modern home. New properties are also covered by a ten-year guarantee (garantie décennale) against structural defects and it's against the law to sell a new house without a warranty. Other systems and equipment are covered by a minimum two-year warranty.

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It's often cheaper to buy a new home than to restore a derelict property, as the price is fixed, unlike the cost of renovation which can – and usually does – soar way beyond original estimates

Most new buildings use low maintenance materials and must (by law) have good insulation and ventilation, keeping them warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The French government encourages the building of energy-efficient homes, and France builds more new homes than most other European countries (some 60 per cent of French homes have been built since 1945). Security is a priority for most new developments (which usually have security gates) and homes often have security blinds and other security features.

On the other hand, there are a few disadvantages to buying a new home, including the following:

– VAT at 19.6 per cent must be paid on all homes under five years old sold for the first time); this can be several thousand euros.

– New homes are usually smaller than old properties and rarely come with a large plot.

– The garden may lack mature trees and shrubs.

– There may be ‘teething troubles' with a very new building, such as cracking plaster.

– Unless you've chosen the decor, you may wish to change it, which will be costly and time-consuming.

–  It may have less letting potential than an older building.

– It may be less attractive as an investment, as old, ‘character' properties generally increase in value faster than modern homes.

Most new properties are sold by developers (promoteurs) and builders, although they're also marketed by estate agents. The monthly magazine Living France has details of ‘new-builds' of all types in all parts of France. All new developments and builders must be underwritten by a bank (garantie extrinsèque) or the developer himself (garant

These guarantees (known as garanties d'achèvement) protect buyers from defaulting builders and developers. Where applicable, the deposit is made out to the underwriting bank and cannot be used by the developer. It's possible to check a developer's financial status, although your best insurance when buying a new property is the reputation of the developer or builder. Most new developments have a sales office (bureau de vente) and a show house or apartment (maison/appartement témoin).

Off-plan Homes
When buying a new property in a development, you're usually obliged to commit to a purchase before it's completed (or even before it's begun!) – a process known in English as buying off plan (also confusingly called ‘on plan') and in French as une vente en état futur d'achèvement/VEFA (‘a sale in a future state of completion'). In fact, if a development is built and largely unsold, particularly a quality development in a popular area, it usually means

Buying a home that hasn't yet been built may seem a risky business, and there are cases of purchasers being disappointed with their purchase or even being let down or cheated by builders and developers. The most common problems are:

– building not completed on time (or at all);

– additional charges for items believed to be included in the price;

– additional charges for ‘problems' encountered during construction;

– poor quality of construction, finish or fittings in comparison with the show home, sales brochure or specification.

CAUTION

Other disadvantages of buying off plan include VAT at 19.6 per cent on building costs, although this is usually included in the price quoted to you, and the fact that you must start paying for your home long before you can occupy in it.

Nevertheless, the purchase procedure is usually safe (some 70,000 homes are sold off plan every year in France) and you can build into your contract clauses that protect you from most of the above problems. Before signing a contract, you should check the following:

– that the builder is reputable and reliable. The fact that he's registered and has a SIRET number is no guarantee that he will do a good job.

– that the land on which your property is to be built is suitable, e.g. not solid rock or liable to flooding or subsidence, as some builders don't engage a surveyor in order to save money;

– exactly what is included in the price in terms of ‘ancillary' items, such as drives, topsoil (and whether it's adequate), the removal of rubble and even the cost of the electricity and water consumed during construction, as well as regarding fixtures and fittings, as a show home often features extras and ‘luxury' items that can add as much as 25 per cent to the cost. Note also that the purchase procedure for a property yet to be built is different from that for a finished home .

On the other hand, there can be several advantages to buying off plan as opposed to buying a completed property. Off-plan properties are generally cheaper than built homes. You can usually choose your bathroom suite, kitchen, fireplace, wallpaper, paint, wall and floor tiles, and carpet in bedrooms, all of which may be included in the price. You may also be able to alter the interior room layout, although this will increase the price, but you won't be able to make major structural alterations or changes of material or design.

Most developers will negotiate over the price or include ‘free' extras (such as a fitted kitchen when it isn't included in the price), particularly if a development isn't selling well. Note that any changes or additions to a property, such as including an American kitchen, a chimney or an additional shower room, should be made during the design stage, as they will cost much more to install later.  All fixtures and fittings will, of course, be brand new, and you'll benefit from modern insulation, ventilation, heating and other materials and systems. And, of course, the building will have a ten-year guarantee. You'll also pay a lower deposit and lower registration fees on an off-plan home , which will be exempt from property tax for two years from 1st January following the completion date.

Resale Homes
Buying ‘new' doesn't necessarily mean buying a brand new home where you're the first occupant. There can be many advantages in buying a modern resale home rather than a brand new one, including better value, an established development with a range of local services and facilities in place, more individual design and style, no ‘teething troubles', furniture and other extras included in the price, a mature garden and trees, and a larger plot.

With a resale property you can see exactly what you'll get for your money and the previous owners may have made improvements or added extras such as a swimming pool that may not be fully reflected in the asking price. The disadvantages of buying a resale home depend on its age and how well it has been maintained. They can include a poor state of repair and the need for refurbishment, redecoration or new carpets; inferior build quality and design, no warranty (i.e. with a home that's more than ten years old), termite or other infestations, and (in the case of a community property) the possibility of incurring high assessments for repairs.

Excerpted from "Buying a Home in France" (Survival Books) by David Hampshire

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Buying a Home in France: Prices and Fees

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Image Apart from obvious points such as size, quality and land area, the most important factor influencing the price of a house is its location. A restored or modernised two-bedroom house might cost €100,000 in a remote or unpopular area but sell for two or three times as much in a popular location. The closer you are to the coast (or Paris), the more expensive a property will be, with properties on the Côte d’Azur the most expensive of all. A Charente farmhouse with a barn and land costs around the same as a tiny studio apartment in Paris or on the Côte d’Azur.

Note that when people talk about ‘inexpensive’ homes, they invariably mean something that needs restoring, which usually necessitates spending as much as the purchase price (or much more) to make it habitable. The French think that the British are particularly insane for buying up their tumbled down farmhouses and crumbling châteaux. Few Frenchmen (although it’s becoming more common) share the British passion for spending their holidays and weekends up to their elbows in bricks and mortar! They do, however, have a grudging admiration for the British for their painstaking and sensitive restorations.

Despite the recent increase in property prices, a slice of la bonne vie needn’t cost the earth, with habitable cottages and terraced village homes available from around €100,000 and detached homes from as little as €125,000. In some rural areas it’s still possible to buy an old property for as little as €25,000, although you usually need to carry out major restoration work, which can cost as much as building from scratch. Modern studio and one-bedroom apartments in small towns cost from around €40,000 and two-bedroom apartments from €50,000. A modern two-bedroom bungalow costs from around €75,000 and a rural two-bedroom renovated cottage from around €100,000. However, if you’re seeking a home with several bedrooms, a large plot and a swimming pool, you’ll need to spend at least €200,000 (depending on the area), and luxury apartments in Paris and villas in the south of France can cost many hundreds of thousands of euros.

Prices in Paris are similar to other international cities (e.g. London). In central Paris, €200,000 barely buys a one-bedroom apartment in some areas and it isn’t unusual to pay €2m for a luxury apartment in a fashionable area. Prices are calculated per m2 and in mid-2007 averaged €6,128 for an apartment in the capital, €3,707 in the inner suburbs and €2,918 in the outer suburbs; the table below shows average property prices in each arrondissement of Paris with the percentage increase in prices since mid-2006 (source: Les Echos). Excluding Paris, the average price of apartments in the 100 largest cities and towns in France in 2007 was between €1,266 per m2 (Nevers in Nièvre) and €5,546 per m2 (Boulogne-Billancourt in Hauts-de-Seine).

The average price of a house in the inner suburbs of Paris in late 2007 was just over €340,000 and in the outer suburbs just under €290,000. For further information on the price of property across the regions of France, see The Best Places to Buy a Home in France (Survival Books) and check the prices of properties advertised in French and English-language property magazines and newspapers. Property price indexes for different areas are published by some French property magazines, although these should be taken as a guide only.

In addition to the purchase price, you must allow for various costs associated with buying a house in France, which are higher than in most other countries . Note that prices may be quoted inclusive or exclusive of agency fees).

Make sure you know whether all agents’ fees are included in the price quoted and who must pay them (normally the vendor). If you negotiate a reduction, check that the agent or vendor hasn’t excluded some fees from the price (to be added later).

CAUTION

Note that it isn’t unusual for French vendors to strip a house bare and take everything, including light fittings, internal doors and the kitchen sink, so when comparing prices make sure you know and allow for what’s included (and what isn’t)

Negotiating the Price

When buying a property, it usually pays to haggle over the price, even if you think it’s a bargain. (Your idea of a bargain may not be the same as a French person’s.) Don’t be put off by a high asking price, as most sellers are willing to negotiate. In fact, sellers generally presume buyers will bargain and rarely expect to receive the asking price for a property (although some vendors ask an unrealistic price and won’t budge a centime!).

The practice of dual pricing (i.e. quoting higher prices to ‘rich’ foreigners) is rare; the prices advertised abroad are usually identical to those advertised in France. Nevertheless, in popular areas, asking prices may be unrealistically high (up to double the ‘real’ market price), particularly to snare the unsuspecting and ignorant foreign buyer. French owners are often astonished at the prices foreign buyers are prepared to pay for property and, although they will complain about foreigners pushing up prices when they need to buy, they seldom object when they’re on the receiving end! If a property has been realistically priced, you shouldn’t expect to obtain more than a 5 or 10 per cent reduction. In fact, according to the FNAIM, the average reduction negotiated by buyers in 2007 was just 2.75 per cent for apartments and 3.25 per cent for houses.

If you’re using an agent, it’s worth asking him what to offer, although he may not tell you, as he’s acting for the seller. It’s therefore wise to obtain an independent valuation (appraisal) to determine a property’s ‘true’ value. This can be provided by a number of experts.

Timing is of the essence in the bargaining process. Generally the longer a property has been for sale and the more desperate the vendor is to sell, the more likely a lower offer will be accepted. Some people will tell you outright that they must sell by a certain date and that they will accept any reasonable offer. In other cases, you may be able to find out from neighbours why someone is selling, which may help you decide whether an offer would be accepted. Buying a ‘distress sale’ from an owner who simply must sell is likely to result in the best deal.

However, if you’re seeking an investment property it’s wise to buy in an area that’s in high demand, preferably with both buyers and renters. For the best resale prospects, it’s usually best to buy in an area or community (and style) that’s attractive to French buyers.

If a property has been on the market for a long time, e.g. longer than six months in a popular area, it may be overpriced. According to the FNAIM, apartments spend an average of seven weeks on the market, houses ten weeks. If there are many desirable properties for sale in a particular area or developments that have been on the market a long time, you should find out why; there may be a new road, railway or airport planned.

Before making an offer, you should find out as much as possible about a property, such as the following:

– when it was built;
– whether it has been used as a permanent or a holiday home;
– how long the owners have lived there;
– why they’re selling (they may not tell you outright, but may offer clues);
– how keen they are to sell;
– how long it has been on the market;
– the condition of the property;
– the neighbours and neighbourhood;
– local property tax rates;
– whether the asking price is realistic (compare similar properties in the area).

For your part, you must ensure that you keep any sensitive information from a seller and give the impression that you have all the time in the world (even if you must buy immediately). All this ‘cloak and dagger’ stuff may seem unethical, but you can be assured that if you were selling and a prospective buyer knew you were desperate and would accept a low offer, he certainly wouldn’t be eager to pay you any more!

If you make a low offer, it’s wise to indicate to the owner a few negative points (without being too critical) that merit a reduction in price. If you make an offer that’s too low you can always raise it, but it’s impossible to lower an offer once it has been accepted (if your first offer is accepted without haggling, you’ll never know how low you could have gone!). If an offer is rejected, it may be worth waiting a week or two before making a higher offer, depending on the market and how keen you are to buy a particular property. Note, however, that if you make a very low offer, an owner may feel insulted and refuse to do business with you!

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Be prepared to walk away from a deal rather than pay too high a price. Obviously you’ll be in a better position if you’re a cash buyer and able to close quickly. Cash buyers in some areas may be able to negotiate a considerable price reduction for a quick sale, depending on the state of the market and how urgent the sale is.  An offer should be made in writing, as it’s likely to be taken more seriously than a verbal offer.

Declared Value
Don’t be tempted by the French ‘custom’ of tax evasion, where the sale price declared to the tax authorities (prix déclaré) is reduced by an ‘under the table’ (sous la table) cash payment. If you’re buying a property direct from the vendor, he may suggest this, particularly if he’s selling a second home and must pay capital gains tax on the profit. (Obviously if the vendor can show a smaller profit, he pays less tax.) You’ll also save money on taxes and fees, though you’ll have a higher capital gains tax bill when you sell if it’s a second home.

You should steer well clear of this practice, which is illegal. If you under-declare the price, the authorities can revalue the property and demand that you pay the shortfall in tax plus interest and fines. They can even prosecute you for fraud, in which case you can receive a prison sentence! The authorities can also decide to buy a property at the under-declared price plus 10 per cent within three months of the date of purchase. If you’re selling a property, you should bear in mind that, if the buyer refuses to make the under-the-table payment after the contract has been signed, there’s nothing you can do about it (legally!).

Buying at Auction
The best property bargains can often be found at auctions (ventes aux enchères) – but this isn’t necessarily the case and you must know exactly what you’re doing; buying at auction isn’t for the faint-hearted. There are three types of property auction in France:

– Voluntary auctions (vente volontaire), run by the Chambre des Notaires, at which properties that vendors wish to auction (e.g. for a quick sale, in the hope of selling for a higher than market price or to save estate agents’ fees) are offered;

– State auctions (vente domaniale), organised by the Direction Nationale d’Interventions Domaniales for the sale of public buildings and properties acquired by the state (e.g. where the owner has died without leaving an heir);

– Judicial auctions (ventes judiciares), ordered by the courts, at which you can bid for properties that have been repossessed by mortgage lenders or over which there have been inheritance disputes, for example.

The last type of auction is the most common. Somewhat surprisingly, there often isn’t a lot of competition for properties sold at auction, particularly as many are old properties in rural areas which aren’t of much interest to French buyers.

Properties due to be sold at auction are advertised in local papers by the Tribunal de Grande Instance (local county court) responsible for the auction, and details are published around six weeks in advance by the person (e.g. the notary or lawyer) responsible for the sale. The form (fiche) contains the date and place of the sale, a description of the property, land details with cadastre references, the name and address of the person handling the sale, details regarding inspections, and the reserve price. Domaines sales are advertised by the local tax office (in Paris, at the Salle des Ventes Domaines, 15 rue Scribe, 75009).

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You should check that a property isn’t occupied (e.g. by squatters), as it can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to have them evicted. Properties usually have a reserve price, which is often as little as half the market price. This is included in the cahier des charges, which includes details of the date and location of the auction, times when properties can be inspected and other information, such as the required deposit (which can vary between 5 and 20 per cent of the reserve price). The deposit must be paid in advance by bank draft but is refunded if your bid is unsuccessful.

In the case of voluntary and state auctions, the property will have been valued, and the reserve price (mise à prix) is usually 20 or 30 per cent below the valuation; it therefore obviously isn’t wise to bid much more than 30 per cent above the reserve price. With a judicial auction, on the other hand, the reserve price is the amount owing (e.g. to the mortgage lender), which may be far below the value of the property, which means that you may get a bargain. (A lender isn’t interested whether a property sells for more than is owed.)

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Before making a bid, it’s imperative to assess the market value of a property and (if applicable) what it will cost to bring it to habitable condition.

You can bid (enchérir) at a voluntary or state auction, but at a judicial auction you must appoint a notaire or lawyer (avocat) who is registered with the Tribunal de Grande Instance to bid on your behalf. In this case, instructions regarding the maximum price that you’re prepared to pay must be provided in writing and bids are delivered in sealed envelopes. It isn’t necessary to attend a judicial auction, nor indeed a voluntary or state auction, as a lawyer can act on your behalf.

In addition to normal fees (see below), you must pay for the publication of the judgement, court expenses and lawyer’s fees. Court expenses are between 1 and 2 per cent of the sale price (2 per cent or €765, whichever is higher, at a voluntary auction, usually shared between the buyer and the seller). Fees must be paid within a month and the purchase price usually within two months. It’s possible to arrange a mortgage after a successful bid, although if you fail to raise a loan you’ll lose your deposit.

If you want to buy a property at auction with a bank loan, you must normally advise the lender of the date of the auction, the details of the property and the maximum amount that you’ll need to borrow, as well as your personal details, as for an ordinary mortgage.

A judge presides over the auction proceedings and bids, which start at the reserve price and increase in small increments. The sale usually takes place à la bougie (by candle or, more commonly nowadays, by artificial candle!). When the auctioneer has announced the reserve price and any costs to be added, a candle is lit to signify the beginning of the auction. When three candles have burned down (each burns for only 10 to 30 seconds), the auction is finished and the property is sold to the highest bidder at that time.

The successful bidder must wait ten days, during which time someone can make a higher bid (surenchère). If this is at least 10 per cent above the auction price, the property must be re-auctioned, usually within two months, starting at the price bid by the person who intervened. Such interventions are rare and are permitted once only. You can, of course, make no bid at the auction itself but wait until a successful bid has been made. Then, if you decide that it’s worth more, you can make a higher bid and force a re-auction, although this may force the price up even higher!

Completion of voluntary auction sales takes place 45 days after the auction, when the balance of the purchase price, plus fees (which include auction costs of between around €3,000 and €6,000 in addition to the standard purchase fees – see page 147), must be paid. Completion of judicial sales takes place within between 30 days and three months depending on the reason for the sale.

CAUTION

If you buy at auction, you aren’t entitled to a ‘cooling-off’ period before being committed to a purchase, nor can you withdraw from the deal without penalty if you’re unable to secure finance.

Paris has the busiest auction scene, with a property auction almost weekly (properties can be anywhere in France). Details of properties for sale by auction can be found by contacting local notaires or via the internet. The Chambre des Notaires’ website // www.encheres-paris.com – available in English) advertises properties to be auctioned around three weeks in advance of the sale and even offers ‘virtual’ tours of some properties. To find properties for auction in a particular area, go to : http//www.info-encheres.com

Fees
A variety of fees (also called closing or completion costs) are payable when you buy a property in France, which vary considerably according to the price, the age of the property, whether you’re buying via an agent (as opposed to buying direct from the vendor), whether you’ve employed a lawyer and surveyor, and whether you have a French or foreign mortgage. They can amount to over 40 per cent of the purchase price of a new property and over

Most property fees are based on the ‘declared’ value of the property, which may be less than the purchase price or its ‘market’ value.

CAUTION

You should never be tempted to under-declare the price in order to pay lower fees as it can have serious consequences if it’s discovered.

The fees associated with buying a property in France are listed below, although not all will apply to all sales. (Stamp duty was abolished in 2006.) Fees are payable on the completion of a sale if not before. Before signing a preliminary contract, check exactly what fees are payable and how much they are, and have them confirmed in writing.

Notaire’s Fees
The notaire handling the sale collects all the fees associated with a purchase (except a selling agent’s commission and sundry fees). These are confusingly referred to as the frais de notaire, although only around 10 per cent of them are made by the notaire himself for his services; these are known as émoluments et honoraires. Notaires’ fees are calculated as a percentage of the purchase price on the sliding scale, which is fixed by the government. Note, however, that these are the maximum fees they can charge; they can be (and usually are!) considerably more than the actual amount due (allegedly in case of unforeseen expenses) and you can wait up to six months to receive a reimbursement of the amount overpaid.

This means that the notaire’s fees for a property costing €100,000, for example, would be €3,643.37, to which VAT must be added. In addition, a notaire will normally charge you around €250 for preparing a preliminary contract. Note that British solicitors have challenged the notaires’ monopoly on conveyancing in France and, should government regulation be abolished, fees will inevitably come down significantly.

Registration Taxes

Registration taxes (taxes de publicité foncière/TPF) vary according to whether you’re buying a new or an ‘old’ (i.e. over five years old) property. On an old property registration taxes (known in this case as droits de mutation) total 4.89 per cent, which comprises 3.6 per cent departmental tax (taxe départmentale), which is itself subject to 2.5 per cent frais de recouvrement making an effective tax of 3.69 per cent, and 1.2 per cent communal tax (taxe communale or taxe additionnelle). The same rates apply to building plots and commercial property. On a property less than five years old that’s being sold for the first time, TPF is at just 0.6 per cent of the price excluding VAT, which must also be paid (see below).

Land Registry Fees
Expenses associated with land registration (droits d’enregistrement) depend on the size of the mortgage and the number of searches made by the notary in order to draft the deed of sale, but usually total around 0.6 per cent of the property’s value.

Mortgage Fees

Mortgage arrangement fees may amount to around 1 per cent of the purchase price. There’s also a fee payable to the notaire for registration of the mortgage at the bureau des hypothèques, which has recently been reduced by around 15 per cent but is still between around 1 and 1.8 per cent of the mortgage amount depending on the type of mortgage.

Value Added Tax

Value added tax (VAT) at 19.6 per cent must be paid on properties less than five years old when they’re sold for the first time. There are two ways of recovering the VAT: to enter into a leaseback scheme or to let the property yourself on a ‘serviced’ basis, which entitles you to set up a VAT-registered business. In the latter case, you mustn’t sell the property within 20 years of purchase (or you’ll have to repay the VAT you’ve reclaimed).

If you sell a new property within five years, you must pay VAT on any profit (plus capital gains tax). Since 1998, there has been no VAT on building plots purchased by individuals. Note also that most of the other fees associated with buying property, including notaires’ fees, are subject to VAT at 19.6 per cent.

Selling Agent’s Fee
Where the selling agent is an estate agent (agent immobilier), his fee is normally calculated as a commission on the selling price, which can be as high as 10 per cent but is more usually between 3 and 8 per cent, the higher rates normally applying to luxury properties. Advertised selling prices usually include the agent’s fee; this is indicated by the terms commission compris or frais d’agence inclus.

The words net vendeur indicate that the agent’s fee isn’t included. Before signing a contract, check who must pay the estate agent’s fee and what it will be. When the selling ‘agent’ is a notaire, his fee is generally lower than that of an estate agent and it’s always paid by the buyer. Where no agent is used, i.e. in a direct sale, no fee is payable, which should mean that the purchase price is the relevant percentage lower than those of comparable properties being offered by estate agents and notaires.

Other Fees
Other fees may include the following:

– lawyer’s fees);

– surveyor’s or architect’s fees);

– utility connection and registration fees.

Running Costs
In addition to the fees associated with buying a property you must take into account running costs. These include local property taxes, building and contents insurance, standing and consumption charges for utilities, community fees for a community property, maintenance costs (e.g. garden and pool), plus a caretaker’s or management fees if you leave a home empty or let it. Annual running costs usually average around 2 to 3 per cent of the cost of a property.

Types of Property

For many foreign buyers, France provides the opportunity to buy a size or style of home that they could never afford in their home countries. In most areas, properties range from derelict farmhouses and barns to modern townhouses and apartments with all modern conveniences, from crumbling châteaux and manor houses requiring complete restoration to new luxury chalets and villas.

French homes are built to high structural standards and, whether you buy a new or an old home, it will usually be extremely sturdy. Older homes often have thick walls and contain numerous rooms. Most have a wealth of interesting period features, including vast fireplaces, wooden staircases, attics, cellars (caves), and a profusion of alcoves and annexes. Many houses have a basement (sous-sol or cave), used as a garage and cellar. In most old houses, open fireplaces remain a principal feature even when central heating is installed. In warmer regions floors are often tiled and walls are painted rather than papered, while elsewhere floors are carpeted or bare wood, and walls are more likely to be papered. When wallpaper is used, it’s often garish and may cover everything, including walls, doors and ceilings! Properties throughout France tend to be built in a distinct local (often unique) style using local materials. There are stringent regulations in most areas concerning the style and design of new homes and the restoration of old buildings.

In older rural properties, the kitchen (cuisine) is the most important room in the house. It’s usually huge with a large wood-burning stove for cooking, hot water and heating, a huge solid wood dining table and possibly a bread oven. French country kitchens are worlds apart from modern fitted kitchens and are devoid of shiny formica and plastic laminates. They’re often comparatively stark, with stone or tiled floors and a predominance of wood, tiles and marble. Kitchens in older apartments in Paris and other cities may be very basic, although modern fitted kitchens (with dishwashers, cookers and refrigerators) are usually found in new properties, and ‘American kitchens’ (i.e. open plan kitchens separated from the living or dining room by a bar or counter) are increasingly common. New homes usually also contain many ‘luxury’ features, e.g. deluxe bathroom suites, fitted cupboards, smoke and security alarms, and coordinated interior colour schemes. New homes are usually sold décorée, which means not only that they’re decorated but also that they have a fitted kitchen.

Refrigerators (frigidaire or frigo) and cookers (cuisinière) are generally quite small. Cookers in rural homes are usually run on bottled gas or a combination of bottled gas and electricity (see pages 359 and 352). Many homes have a gas water heater (chaudière) that heats the water for the bathroom and kitchen. Most houses don’t have a separate utility room and the washing machine and drier are kept in the kitchen. A separate toilet (toilette or WC) is popular, and the bathroom (salle de bains) often has a toilet, a bidet, a bath (baignoire) and/or a shower (douche). Baths are more common than showers in older homes, although showers are found in most modern homes.

CAUTION

Note that many old, unmodernised homes don’t have a bath, shower room or an inside toilet. Many rural properties have shutters (volets), both for security and as a means of insulation. External shutters are often supplemented by internal shutters that are fixed directly to the window frames. In France, windows open inwards rather than outwards, as in most other countries. In the south and south-west, many rural homes have outdoor swimming pools, and homes throughout France have a paved patio or terrace, which is often covered. Old farmhouses invariably have a number of outbuildings such as barns, which can usually be converted into additional accommodation.

A huge variety of new properties is available in France, including city apartments and individually-designed, detached houses. Many new properties are part of purpose-built developments. Note, however, that many of these developments are planned as holiday homes and they may not be attractive as permanent homes (they’re also generally expensive).

If you’re buying an apartment or house that’s part of a development, check whether your neighbours will be mainly French or other foreigners. Some people don’t wish to live in a commune of their fellow countrymen and this will also deter French buyers if you want to sell. Prices of new properties vary considerably according to their location and quality.

France’s bold and innovative architecture, as portrayed in its many striking public buildings, doesn’t often extend to private dwellings, many of which seem to have been designed by the same architect. However, although new properties are often lacking in character, they’re usually spacious and well endowed with modern conveniences and services, which certainly cannot be taken for granted in older rural properties. Standard fixtures and fittings in modern houses are more comprehensive and of better quality than those found in old houses.

The French generally prefer modern homes to older houses with ‘charm and character’ (which to the locals mean ‘expensive to maintain and in danger of falling down’!), although new homes often have pseudo period features such as beams and open fireplaces in new homes. Central heating, double glazing and good insulation are common in new houses, particularly in northern France, where they’re essential. Central heating may be electric, gas or oil-fired. However, on the Côte d’Azur, where winter temperatures are higher, expensive insulation and heating may be considered unnecessary (don’t you believe it!). Air-conditioning is rare, even in the south of France.

Note that most French families live in apartments or detached homes, and semi-detached and terraced properties are relatively rare. Some 45 per cent of the population lives in apartments (although less than 10 per cent in tower blocks), which are more common in France than in most other European countries. In cities and suburbs, most people have little choice, as houses are in short supply and prohibitively expensive. In the major cities there are many bourgeois apartments, built in the 19th or early 20th century, with large rooms, high ceilings and huge windows. Unless modernised, they have old fashioned bathrooms and kitchens and are expensive to decorate, furnish and maintain. Many apartments don’t have their own source of hot water and heating, which is shared with other apartments in the same building.

 Excerpted from “Buying a Home in France (Survival Books) by David Hampshire

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Buying a Home in France: Dealing With Estate Agents

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ImageOnly some 50 per cent of property sales in France are handled by estate agents (agent immobilier). However, where foreign buyers are concerned, the vast majority of sales are made through agents or handled by notaires (see below). It’s common for foreigners in many countries, particularly the UK, to use an agent in their own country who works with one or more French agents. A number of French agents also advertise abroad and many have English-speaking staff (so don’t be discouraged if you don’t speak fluent French).

If you want to find an agent in a particular town or area, look under Agences Immobilières in the relevant French yellow pages (pages jaunes) available at main libraries in many countries. If using a local estate agent, it’s best to go in person. French estate agents generally don’t post or fax you property details but expect you to be there, on the spot, and to visit houses immediately.

Qualifications
French estate agents are regulated by law and must be professionally qualified and licensed and hold indemnity insurance. To work in his own right in France, an agent must possess a carte professionnelle, which is granted only to those with certain professional qualifications or considerable experience. The carte must be renewed annually and its number and place of issue should be shown on the agent’s letterhead.

Estate agents should also provide a financial guarantee for at least €75,000; without this, they aren’t entitled to handle clients’ money. If an agent provides a guarantee for more than this amount, the name and address of the guarantor (i.e. bank) will also be shown on his letterhead. If an agent has a lower guarantee, you should pay your deposit to the notary or another legal professional involved in the sale.

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Ensure that you’re dealing with an agent who fulfils these requirements and, if in doubt, ask to see his qualifications and confirmation of the guarantees he offers.

Most French estate agents are members of a professional body, the three main ones being the Fédération Nationale de l’Immobilier (FNAIM, : //www.fnaim.fr the leading French association of estate agents, the Syndicat National des Professionnels Immobiliers (SNPI, :  //www.snpi.com  

Foreign Agents
Very few foreign agents in France possess the coveted carte professionnelle. Until recently, foreigners were permitted to act as self-employed ‘sales representatives’ (agents commerciaux) of French-registered agents, requiring no particular qualifications. This practice has now been widely outlawed, however, and you should beware of making any binding agreements with an agent commercial and certainly shouldn’t pay any money to one or any unregistered ‘property agent’ or ‘search agent’. In fact, you shouldn’t even view properties with anyone who cannot produce a carte professionnelle (or who isn’t employed by someone with one); if you have an accident while visiting a property, you won’t be able to claim unless an agent is legal and registered. If you’re dealing with an agent commercial, you should check that he’s listed on the local registre du commerce (he should have a registration number and a SIRET number) and, preferably, that the agent he represents is a member of one of the recognised professional body).

If a foreign agent refers clients to a French agent or agents, he may share his commission with the French agent(s) or charge extra for his services – in some cases a great deal extra – and you should always check what’s included (and what isn’t) in any prices quoted by foreign agents.

Marchands de Biens

A marchand de biens is a property ‘trader’ who is permitted to sell only property that he has owned for at least three months. Like developers, traders don’t need a licence to sell property and you should take legal advice before buying from a marchand de biens. In fact, this is no longer a recognised profession in France. Note, however, that some licensed estate agents are also marchands de biens.

Fees
There are no government controls on agents’ fees, although they’re obliged to post a list of charges (barème) in their offices. Fees are usually levied on a sliding scale between 5 and 10 per cent: the cheaper the property, the higher the percentage, e.g. 10 per cent on properties priced at €20,000 reducing to 5 per cent on properties costing €150,000 or more. On expensive properties an agent’s fee may be negotiable. An agent’s fees may be paid by the vendor, the buyer or be shared, although it’s normal for the vendor to pay (i.e. the fee is ‘included’ in the purchase price). A price quoted as net vendeur excludes the selling agent’s fees; commission comprise (written as C/C) indicates that the price includes the agent’s commission. Make sure when discussing the price that it’s C/C and not net vendeur.

Many foreign agents work with French agents and share the standard commission, so you usually pay no more by using a foreign agent. The agent’s fee is usually payable on completion, but may be payable sooner.

SURVIVAL TIP

When buying, check in advance whether you need to pay commission or any extras on top of the sale price (apart from the normal fees and taxes associated with buying a property in France).

Notaires
Around 15 per cent of property sales in France are negotiated by notaires (a peculiarly French official, whose functions aren’t the same as a notary or notary public), who also have a monopoly on conveyancing for all property sales in France. Notaires have a strict code of practice and aren’t, for example, permitted to display property details in their offices, which means that most have a working relationship with a number of estate agents. When a notaire is the selling agent, his ‘agency’ commission isn’t included in the asking price and is paid by the buyer, which should be taken into account when calculating the overall cost of the property. However, the ‘agency’ fees charged by a notaire are usually lower than those levied by estate agents), e.g. 5 per cent up to €50,000 and 2.5 per cent above this figure. Although there may appear to be a conflict of interest when a notaire is instructed by the seller but receives his fee from the buyer, in practice there are usually no problems. Value added tax/VAT (TVA) at 19.6 per cent must be added to all fees.

Viewing
If possible, you should decide where you want to live, what sort of property you want and your budget before visiting France. Obtain details of as many properties as possible in your chosen area and make a shortlist of those you wish to view (it’s also wise to mark them on a map). Most French agents expect customers to know where they want to buy within a 30 to 40km (20 to 25mi) radius and some even expect them to narrow their choice down to certain towns or villages. If there’s one phrase estate agents dread hearing, it’s: ‘I’ll know what I want when I see it.’ If you cannot define where and what you’re looking for, at least tell the agent, so that he knows that you’re undecided. If you’re ‘window shopping’, say so. Many agents will still be pleased to show you properties, as they’re well aware that many people fall in love with (and buy) a property on the spot.

Nevertheless, for both your own benefit and that of an estate agent, you should decide in advance on certain fundamental characteristics of your desired property, including:

– the use to which it will be put (e.g. buy-to-let investment, weekend or summer holiday home, potential retirement home);

– who and how many people will occupy it for how long and at what times of year;

– how many bedrooms you’ll need;

– how much and what type of outdoor space you’ll need;

– the relative importance of services and facilities such as shops, sport and entertainment, broadband internet access.

The details provided by French estate agents are usually sparse; often there’s no photograph and, even when there is, it usually doesn’t do a property justice. In the case of many old properties in need of renovation, there isn’t a lot that can be said apart from stating the land area and the number and size of buildings. French agents who advertise in foreign journals or who work closely with overseas agents, on the other hand, usually supply colour photographs and a full description, particularly for more expensive properties.

The best agents provide an abundance of information.

Agents vary enormously in their efficiency, enthusiasm and professionalism. If an agent shows little interest in finding out exactly what you want, you should go elsewhere. Note that there are no national property listings in France, where agents jealously guard their lists of properties, although many work with overseas agents in areas popular with foreign buyers.

If you’ve made an appointment with an agent in your home country to see properties in France, make a note of their reference numbers in case the French agent hasn’t been informed (or has lost them), it isn’t unusual for a French agent’s reference numbers not to match those you’re given abroad! Some agents, particularly outside France, don’t update their records frequently and their lists may be way out of date. If you’re using a foreign agent, confirm (and reconfirm) the price and that a particular property is still available before travelling to France to view it.

CAUTION

It’s common practice for agents to lure potential buyers with details of idyllic properties that are no longer for sale (or never were!) and then try to sell them other properties, which may not match their requirements.

To avoid being shown unsuitable properties, make sure you know the lingo ). To begin with, when property is advertised in France, the total living area in square metres (mètres carrés) is usually stated (written as m2) and the number of rooms (pièces), including bedrooms and reception rooms (such as a lounge) but not the kitchen, bathroom(s) or toilet(s), expressed as the letter F or T followed by the number. A two-room (deux pièces) apartment (F2) has one bedroom and a three-room (trois pièces) house has two bedrooms.

When it comes to terminology, there’s a minefield of faux amis awaiting the English-speaker. For example, the word bungalow in French means a cabin or even a shed and the French for bungalow is plan pied; a villa can be almost any detached property; a pavillon is not a pavilion but a house, although this might be detached, semi-detached or even terraced. In using the word propriété, you might think you were merely saying ‘property’ in a general sense, but the French term usually refers to a large house in extensive grounds, usually with several outbuildings.

Similar misunderstandings can arise in references to features of a property. A terrasse can be a terrace or patio in the English sense but it can also be a large balcony or simply a paved area surrounding the house; a cour may be an impressive courtyard surrounded by outbuildings in which hens and geese roam or merely a space behind the house just large enough for you to hang your washing in. If a property is advertised as having dépendances, this may mean it has a barn and a pigeonnier but it could equally refer merely to a couple of sheds and a rabbit hutch. Similarly, an appartement or studio indépendant isn’t necessarily a self-contained flat but could be just a bedroom with ensuite bathroom accessible from a landing rather than via other rooms (the latter arrangement being common in older buildings).

Beware also of French property advertisements or descriptions that have been translated into ‘English’, as these often contain numerous mistranslations. It therefore pays to be as precise as possible in describing your needs, even if this means drawing pictures, and to double-check the meaning of every term before rushing off to inspect a property – especially if this involves flying halfway across the world!

In France you’re usually shown properties personally by agents and won’t be given the keys (especially to furnished properties) or be expected to deal with tenants or vendors directly. One reason is that many properties are almost impossible to find if you don’t know the area, and it isn’t unknown even for agents to get hopelessly lost when looking for properties! Many rural properties have no numbers, and street name signs are virtually non-existent.

You should make an appointment to see properties, as agents don’t like people simply turning up. If you make an appointment, you should keep it or call and cancel it. If you’re on holiday, it’s acceptable to drop in unannounced to have a look at what’s on offer, but don’t expect an agent to show you properties without an appointment. If you view properties during a holiday, it’s best to do so at the beginning so that you can return later to inspect any you particularly like a second or third time. Note that French agents and notaires don’t usually work during lunch hours and most close on Saturday afternoons and Sundays and some also on Mondays.

A French agent may ask you to sign a document (bon de visite) before showing you any properties, which is simply to protect his commission should you obtain details from another source or try to do a deal with the owner behind his back.

You should try to view as many properties as possible during the time available, but allow sufficient time to view each property thoroughly, to travel and get lost between houses, and for breaks for sustenance (it’s mandatory to have a good lunch in France). Although it’s important to see enough properties to form an accurate opinion of price and quality, don’t arrange to see too many in one day (three or four is usually enough), as it’s easy to become confused as to the merits of each property or to end up rushing from one to another wishing you’d asked more questions or had a look in the attic. If you’re shown properties that don’t meet your specifications, tell the agent immediately. You can also help the agent narrow the field by telling him exactly what’s wrong with the properties you reject.

It’s wise to make notes of both the good and bad features and take lots of photographs of the properties you like, so that you’re able to compare them later at your leisure (but keep a record of which photos are of which house!). It’s also shrewd to mark each property on a map so that, should you wish to return, you can find them without getting lost (too often).

Excerpted from “Buying a Home in France (Survival Books) by David Hampshire

To order: Survival Books  

 

House Hunting in France

ImageThere are many ways of finding homes for sale in France; the main methods are listed below:

– Newspapers & magazines – including the English-language publications, weekly French property newspapers such as De Particulier à Particulier, Le Journal des Particuliers, La Centrale des Particuliers and La Semaine Immobilière, national newspapers in your home country and France (if you're looking for an expensive property), local magazines, papers and newssheets (which may have private property advertisements), property magazines published by the French estate agent chains (e.g. ORPI), and general retail publications (e.g. Daltons Weekly and Exchange & Mart in the UK);

– Property exhibitions  – which can be useful provided you plan your visit, including:- checking that a show includes a reasonable number of exhibitors offering property in France – drafting a list of information to find and questions to ask – allowing plenty of time and visiting stands in order of priority;
– following up any useful leads and discarding irrelevant literature.

– The internet – where there are many sites devoted to French property, including those run by French and foreign property agents;

– Discovery tours – which are organised by a number of companies in various regions of France, allowing you to get a feel for an area and the type and prices of properties and maybe see a few properties that are available. For example, there's Moving to France //www.moving-to-france.com which currently organises property tours in Languedoc. However, these tours aren't cheap and you may prefer to arrange your own itinerary (see below).

A new concept in house hunting is ‘virtual discovery tours', whereby you're enabled to ‘tour' properties on DVD or even via the internet. One company offering this facility is Real Property Tours  //www.realpropertytours.com

– Visiting an area – note that around half of French properties are sold privately and the only way to find out about them is to tour the area you're interested in, looking for FOR SALE (A VENDRE or sometimes simply AV) signs and asking locals or town hall officials if they know of properties for sale.

– Developers – some of whom sell direct, others via agents in France or abroad. Note, however, that developers needn't be licensed to sell property.

– Property traders (marchands de biens) –

Excerpted from "Buying a Home in France," (Survival Books) by David Hampshire

To order: Survival Books 

Buying a Home in France…Rent First!

Image Once you've considered possible locations for your dream home in France, you must decide on the type of property that will best suit your requirements, weigh up the purchase options and assess the fees associated with buying.

There's an overwhelming choice of property for sale and a buyers' market in most areas, although less so than a decade ago. As when buying property anywhere, it's never wise to be in too much of a hurry. Have a good look around in your chosen region and obtain an accurate picture of the types of property available, their relative values and what you can expect to get for your money. However, before doing this you should make a comprehensive list of what you want (and don't want) from a home, so that you can narrow the field and save time on wild goose chases.

Although property in France is generally inexpensive compared with property in many other European countries, the fees associated with the purchase of properties more than five years old are the highest in Europe and add 10 to 15 per cent to the cost. To reduce the chance of making an expensive error when buying in an unfamiliar region, it's often prudent to rent a property for a period), taking in the worst part of the year (weather-wise). This allows you to become familiar with the region and the climate, and gives you plenty of time to look for a suitable home to buy.

Wait until you find something you fall head over heels in love with and then think about it for a week or two before rushing headlong to the altar! One of the advantages of buying property in France is that there's usually another ‘dream' home around the next corner – and the second or third dream home is often even better than the first. However, don't dally endlessly, as good properties at the right price don't remain on the market for ever.

Renting Before Buying

As when making all major financial decisions, give yourself time to think. Unless you know exactly what you're looking for and where, it's best to rent a property for a period to reduce the risk of making a costly mistake, particularly when you're planning to buy in an unfamiliar area.

This is even more important for those planning to set up a business in France, when it isn't advisable to buy a home until you're sure that your business will be a success. Renting long-term before buying is particularly prudent for anyone planning to live in France permanently.

If possible, you should rent a similar property to the one you're planning to buy, during the time(s) of year when you plan to occupy it. The advantages of renting include the following:

– It allows you to become familiar with the climate, the amenities and the local people, to meet other foreigners who've made their homes in France and share their experiences, and to discover the cost of living for yourself.

– It ‘buys' you time to find your dream home at your leisure.

– It saves tying up your capital and can be surprisingly inexpensive in many regions. You may even wish to consider renting a home in France long-term (or ‘permanently'). Some people let their family homes abroad and rent one in France for a period (you may even make a profit!).

On the other hand, the disadvantages of renting should be taken into consideration, including the following:

– Annual property price increases in most areas are higher than interest rates, which means that you may be better off tying up your money in a property than investing it while you rent.

– Taking a long-term rental before buying means in effect moving house twice within a year or two; remember that moving is one of life's most stressful experiences!

– You may not find the type of rental property you want, which will colour your experience of living in a particular area and possibly in France generally. Most rental properties are apartments, and rural homes are rarely available for rent.

If you're looking for a rental property for a few months, you may need to rent a holiday apartment for a week or two to allow yourself time to find one that suits you.

France has an abundance of furnished, self-catering accommodation and the widest imaginable choice. You can choose from literally thousands of cottages, apartments, villas, bungalows, mobile homes, chalets, and even châteaux and manor houses. Many short-term lets are gîtes, which literally means a shelter but is nowadays used to refer to furnished, self-catering holiday accommodation in general. A typical gîte is a small cottage or self-contained apartment with one or two bedrooms (sleeping four to eight and usually including a sofa bed in the living room), a large living room/kitchen with an open fire or stove, and a toilet and shower room.

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Standards vary considerably, from dilapidated, ill-equipped cottages to luxury villas with every modern convenience. In certain parts of France, notably the overcrowded Côte d'Azur, gîtes may be concrete ‘rabbit hutches', built to a basic standard with minimal facilities. Check whether a property has the facilities you require, in particular central heating if you're planning to rent in winter.

Most property let on a short-term basis is intended for holidays and you're normally limited to one or two weeks only, particularly during the peak summer season, when the rent can be prohibitive. Seasonal lets are sometimes available, but generally only in low season. If you're planning to rent out of season, check that the property is suitable, e.g. that it's readily accessible, that local amenities such as shops and restaurants will be open. Check also whether the owners provide any ‘support', such as accompanying you on house-hunting trips, especially if your French is poor.

Furnished properties that aren't holiday accommodation are sometimes available for as little as three months, but the usual minimum period is a year. The minimum rental period for unfurnished property is three years, so this is unlikely to be an option.

Finding a Rental Property
Your success or failure in finding a suitable rental property depends on many factors, not least the type of rental you're seeking (a one-bedroom apartment is easier to find than a four-bedroom detached house), how much you want to pay and the area. France has a strong rental market in most areas, although rural properties are rarely available for long-term rental.

When looking for rented accommodation, try to avoid the months of September and October, when French people return from their summer holidays and (in university towns and cities) students are looking for accommodation.

Ways of finding a property to rent include the following:
– Visit accommodation and letting agents. Most cities and large towns have estate agents (agences immobilières) who also act as letting agents. Look under Agences de Location et de Propriétés in the yellow pages. It's often better to deal with an agent than directly with owners, particularly with regard to contracts and legal matters. Builders and developers may also rent properties to potential buyers.

– Contact travel agents, French Government Tourist Offices (who are agents for Gîtes de France) and local tourist offices, who may deal with short-term rentals.

– Look in local newspapers and magazines, particularly expatriate publications, and foreign property publications

– Check newsletters published by churches, clubs and expatriate organisations, and their notice boards.

– Look for advertisements in shop windows and on notice boards in shopping centres, supermarkets, universities and colleges, and company offices.

– Search the internet

– Ask at the local town hall or mairie, where there may be details of properties to rent long term.

– Contact owners directly.

Rental Costs
Rental costs vary considerably according to the size and quality of a property, its age and the facilities provided. Prices are calculated according to the number of rooms (pièces), excluding the kitchen, bathroom(s), toilet(s) and other ‘utility' rooms, and the floor area (in square metres). A one-room apartment has a combined living and sleeping room (it may have a separate kitchen and bathroom) and is called a studio. A two-room (deux-pièces) apartment usually has one bedroom, a living room, kitchen and bathroom. A three-room (trois-pièces) apartment has two bedrooms, a four-room (quatre-pièces) apartment may have three bedrooms or two bedrooms and separate dining and living rooms, and so on. The average size of a two-room apartment is around 50m2 (500ft2).

Rental prices are also based on the prevailing market value of a property (indice), and the most significant factor affecting rental prices is location: the region of France, the city and the neighbourhood. Like everywhere, rental prices in France are dictated by supply and demand and are higher in Cannes, Grenoble, Lyon and Nice than in Bordeaux, Marseille, Strasbourg and Toulouse, for example. Rental accommodation in Paris is in high demand and short supply, and the prices are among the highest in Europe and often double those in other French cities. In Paris, you should expect to pay at least €25 per m2; a tiny studio apartment of around 20m2 (215ft2) in a reasonable area costs around €500 per month, while a two or three-bedroom apartment (125m2/1,345ft2) in a fashionable arrondissement can cost up to ten times as much.

The lowest prices are found in small towns and rural areas, though there is not so much choice. As a general rule, the further a property is from a large city or town (or town centre), public transport or other facilities, the cheaper it is. In the provinces you can rent a two-bedroom apartment or cottage for €300 or less per month. Houses can be rented in most rural areas and on the outskirts of some towns; for a three-bedroom house, you can expect to pay at least €500 per month – double that in parts of Ile-de-France and the south-east, including the Alps.

Rental prices are often open to negotiation and you may be able to secure a 5 to 10 per cent reduction if there isn't a queue of customers behind you.

Rental prices for short-term lets, e.g. less than a year, are higher than for longer lets, particularly in popular holiday areas. For short-term lets the cost is calculated on a weekly basis (Saturday to Saturday) and depends on the standard, location, number of beds and the facilities provided.//

The rent for a gîte sleeping six is typically from €250 to €350 per week in June and September, and €350 to €500 in July and August. The rent is higher for a gîte with a pool. However, when renting long-term outside the high season, you can rent a two-bedroom property for around €500 per month in most regions.

A tax known as ‘right to a lease' (droit au bail) at 2.5 per cent is added to rental charges. In addition to rent, you may incur some or all of the following costs:

– Agency fee (frais d'agence), which is usually equivalent to two months' rent, but may be shared between you and your landlord (some agencies charge an additional ‘inspection fee' and/or registration fee);

– Deposit (caution) to cover any damage you might cause to the property or its furnishing or fittings, which is usually equivalent to two months' rent, although it's refundable if you don't damage anything;

– Heating, electricity and water, which aren't normally included in the rent;

– Maintenance/service charges (charges communes – see page 163);

– Residential tax (taxe d'habitation), which you must pay if your rental period includes 1st January unless your contract specifically states otherwise.

Rental Contracts
A rental contract, whether for an unfurnished or a furnished property, must be signed by all parties involved, including the agent handling the contract, if applicable. Next to their signature each party must also write the words lu et approuvé (read and approved). A contract for a furnished property is called a contrat de location de locaux meublés, while a seasonal contract is an engagement de location meublée saisonnière.

French rental laws (and protection for tenants) don't extend to holiday lettings. For holiday letting, the parties are free to agree such terms as they see fit concerning the period, rent, deposit and the number of occupants permitted, and there's no legal obligation on the landlord to provide a written agreement. However, you should never rent a property without a written contract, which should be drawn up or checked by a notary for long-term rentals. This is important if you wish to get a deposit returned. You should also ensure that there's a detailed inventory (état des lieux), or you could be charged at the end of your tenancy for ‘damage' you haven't caused.

If you rent for more than a year, you (and the lessor) become subject to minimum notice periods (a month for the lessee, three months for the lessor), which are increased if you rent for more than three years.

In certain circumstances it's possible to enter into a contrat de location accession, whereby you spend a period (agreed between you and the owner – known as the période de jouissance) in a property during which you decide whether or not you wish to buy it. During the ‘trial' period, you must pay an indemnity (redevance) and all running costs, as if you were renting.

Excerpted from "Buying a Home in France" (Survival Books) by David Hamphire

To order: Survival Books

The different types of “psy” in France

The distinction between  psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist, psychoanalyst is very unclear to many people & the qualifications required even less clear which leads to confusion & uncertainty about whom to choose when seeking a "psy".                                                                                                            
Psychologist   

A psychologist is not qualified in medicine but has a degree in psychology.    In France, this is a protected title * and can only be used after obtaining a D.E.S.S. (Diplôme d'Etudes Supérieures Spécialisées) or D.E.A (Diplôme d'Etudes Approffondies) in Psychology (minimum 5 years of university or equivalent). Psychologists  work in different fields (legal, social, personnel, education…..). A clinical psychologist usually works in the health sphere: he may work in a hospital or other health structures. He/she is usually trained in psychotherapy (behaviourist, psychoanalysis, Gestalt…..). A clinical psychologist or psychiatrist are the two professions trained in basic psychology i.e. a study of normal mental processes & behaviour and psychopathology.
 The Psychologist is bound by the Code of Ethics for Psychologists (Code Déontologique des Psychologues).

Psychiatrist   

A psychiatrist (Greek: psukho- breath, life, soul; iatros: healer) is a doctor, specialized in psychiatry. This is the branch of medicine, which studies disorders affecting thought, emotion & behaviour. A psychiatrist, therefore, is trained to diagnose & treat mental illness & disorder (schizophrenia, manic depression, psychoses…). As a doctor he/she prescribes medication for which the Sécurité Sociale may reimburse consultation fees. A psychiatrist may also be trained as a psychotherapist.                                                
Psychotherapist      

In France, " psychotherapist" is not a title & at the moment not protected by law as, although a law has recently been passed, there is no decree of implementation yet. Anybody, therefore, can call himself or herself a psychotherapist  and certain psychotherapists have no basic, in-depth training in psychology.   Preferably qualified as a psychologist or psychiatrist, a psychotherapist  deals with psychological problems & difficulties & uses a therapeutical method he/she's trained in.  

Psychoanalyst    

The practise of psychoanalysis is not regulated in France. A psychoanalyst, usually a psychologist  or psychiatrist, has to have completed his/her own psychoanalysis.  Psychoanalysis is an in-depth psychotherapy working on unconscious processes & motivations which influence people's behaviour, thus enabling one progressively to get rid of different blocks, complexes…. & to live more freely.  Often, a psychiatrist who offers psychoanalysis  does not prescribe medical treatment in his/her capacity as a psychoanalyst, in order not to mix the two.  

Anyone in private practice must be declared with the URSAFF, be registered with the DDASS, have a SIRET & ADELI no. in order to work legally.   Joanna KALUZINSKA, Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist – Psychoanalyst,  D.E.S.S. de Psychologie Clinique et Pathologique,  Université de Paris VII. Copyright J.E.KALUZINSKA © 2004. All Rights Reserved.

* "Wrongful assumption of the title of "Psychologist" shall be punishable by the penalties imposed for the offence of wrongful assumption of a title provided for under Art.433-17 of the Criminal Code."  *("L'usurpation du titre de » Psychologue » est punie des peines encourues par le délit d'usurpation de titre prévu par l'art. 433-17 du Code Pénal. » )

For info:  jo.kaluzinska@gmail.com 

French taxes overview

As you would expect in a country with millions of bureaucrats, the French tax system is inordinately complicated and most French people don't understand it. However, it's essential to be aware of which taxes you should pay and when. Before you move to France, take expert advice, preferably from someone with knowledge of the tax systems in France and your home country, so that you can benefit from the advantages of tax planning. Once in France, it's best to employ an accountant (expert-comptable) to handle your tax matters, especially if you're self-employed.

Although French income tax isn't particularly onerous, social security contributions are; the two together can amount to half your income if you're self-employed or running a business.

The French tax year is the calendar year and tax payments are usually made in arrears. France has no PAYE income tax system and the onus is on the taxpayer (i.e. you) to file a tax return and make payments on time, though it's possible to set up a direct debit (prélèvement automatique).

The main taxes in France are as follows:

capital gains tax (impôt sur les plus-values) – payable on the sale of a second home under certain circumstances;

income tax (impôts sur le revenu) – payable by all wage earners except those on very low incomes and those with lots of children;

inheritance & gift tax (droits de succession and de donation) – to penalise you for giving to those you love;

property tax (taxe foncière) – payable by all homeowners at widely varying rates across the country (oddly, the lowest rates are in Paris);

residential tax (taxe d'habitation) – payable by whoever is occupying a property on 1st January;

value added tax (taxe sur la valeur ajoutée/IVA) – automatically added to most transactions;

wealth tax (impôt sur la fortune) – payable by … wealthy people.

ImageExcerpted from  "Culture Wise France" which can be purchased from Survival Books

 

Banking in France

Banking in France, like many things French, is a baffling mixture of the ultra-modern and the antiquated. Online banking is widely available but most banks charge you to use a service that saves them man-hours and facilities. New cheque books are issued automatically but you're expected to collect them from your branch and must ask for them to be posted to you. The following are some of the main characteristics of French banking.

Bank charges – If you want an overdraft (découvert) facility, you must normally pay a monthly ‘service' charge of around 5, and there may be a charge to bank online (part of the French antipathy towards faceless communication). Most banks charge around 30 for you to have a bank card (carte bleue); otherwise day-to-day banking is free.

Bank managers – French bank managers are generally personable and approachable – many know most of their clients by name and personally monitor their accounts. On the other hand, they have limited authority and must refer to regional or national offices for major decisions such as granting mortgages.

Cash – At many banks, cashiers don't handle cash (except small amounts) and you must deposit and withdraw cash using a machine.

Cash machines – Instructions are usually available in English and other languages. If you make a cash withdrawal from a machine that doesn't belong to your bank there's usually a charge.

Cheques – There are no cheque guarantee cards in France, where cheques include your address. Once a cheque has been sent, there's no way of ‘stopping' it unless it's lost or stolen. If you don't have sufficient funds in your account to cover a cheque, you can get into big trouble. Many retailers have cheque-printing machines, so all you have to do is sign (after checking the amount). When you pay a cheque into your bank, you must sign it on the back; no one has any idea why.

Credit cards – Credit cards (cartes de crédit) are an unfamiliar concept to the French, where most bank cards are debit cards. Foreign credit cards with a magnetic strip – and often ‘chip and PIN' cards – cause consternation and distress – to you as well as the French.

Deposits – When depositing cash with a cashier, you may have to ask for a receipt.

Opening hours – Bank opening hours in towns are generally Tuesdays to Saturdays 9 or 9.30am to 5.30 or 5.45pm with a lunchtime closure between 12 or 12.30 and 1.30 or 2. Village banks may open for only a few hours a week.

Image Excerpted from  "Culture Wise France" which can be purchased from Survival Books     

 

 

 

French media overview

Even if your knowledge of French is good enough to understand the French media, you may occasionally (or often) hanker after some TV, radio or press in your own language. The good news is that this is relatively easy to obtain in France, particularly for English speakers.

Television

French TV isn't renowned for its quality, although it's generally no worse than what's on offer in other countries. Programmes generally consist of the ubiquitous game shows, chat shows (which really are chat shows – everyone talking at once), gossip shows and ‘reality' shows, with the addition of soaps (French and dubbed imports) sports coverage and the occasional documentary. Most foreign films are dubbed into French and most channels carry advertising.

There are plenty of bums and boobs on French TV and while adult (over 18) films, including soft porn, are shown only after 10pm, films unsuitable for young children are often on in the afternoon. If you have young children, watch TV with them and have the remote control very close by – or put on a dedicated satellite channel such as Tiji.

There are no English-language channels broadcasting in France so for programmes in English your only option is videos/DVDs or satellite TV – many parts of France can receive over 200 satellite stations (e.g. Sky) broadcasting in a variety of languages. Before paying for a satellite dish, however, check whether you need permission from your landlord, community (if you live in an apartment block) or council; some have strict regulations regarding the size and location of dishes.

Radio

The French aren't particularly keen radio listeners (they'd rather be talking) but the quality of radio programmes is generally high. The main national stations are:

Classique – Classical music (with advertising);

France-Bleu – Light and ‘easy-listening' music with regional features and interviews;

France-Culture – Highbrow (some would say pretentious) discussions and interviews on the arts;

France-Info – All news;

France-Inter – News, current events, discussions, light music and plays, with bulletins in English during the summer;

France-Musiques – Mainly classical music (without advertising) but also jazz and ‘world' music as well as other cultural programmes.

There are umpteen regional and local stations, especially in the Paris area, but English-language stations are limited to the Côte d'Azur, the south-west and the département of Lot. The BBC World Service is broadcast on short wave on several frequencies simultaneously and you can usually receive a good signal on one of them. The Astra satellite (Sky) also receives the BBC World Service. If you have cable or digital TV you should be able to receive foreign-language radio stations.

Newspapers

The French aren't great newspaper readers and would rather read about regional and local news than national or international news. In fact, there are no truly national papers and the biggest-selling daily is Ouest-France, published in Rennes in Brittany. There's no popular tabloid or ‘gutter' press, as dumbing down is anathema to the French, who also have little interest in the goings-on of ‘celebrities', although there are a couple of weekly ‘scandal' sheets and two weekly satirical papers, including the (in)famous Canard enchaîné (‘chained duck'). Most newspapers cost over €1.

France's main newspapers are:

Le Monde – published in Paris with the following day's date and the most widely read; editorial is centre-left and intellectual.

Le Figaro – more conservative but not extreme right-wing;

Libération (known as Libé – the French love to abbreviate) – co-founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and once fashionably left-wing. Now unfashionably left-wing.

L'Humanité (known as l'Huma) – official organ of the French Communist party;

L'Equipe – devoted to sport.

There are countless local papers, some covering just a few square kilometres, and free newspapers are widely distributed.

Image Excerpted from  "Culture Wise France" which can be purchased from Survival Books   

 

Basic services in France

Refuse Collection

Refuse collection arrangements are made locally and therefore vary widely, but services are usually efficient and even in rural areas there may be three collections per week: two for waste and one for recyclable material (see below). Collection times also vary.

In some areas every house or apartment block is given a wheelie bin, while in others black plastic bags are simply left by the side of the road. Refuse collectors (éboueurs) take domestic rubbish only and anything else (e.g. furniture or rubble) is left behind.

Non-collectable and non-recyclable rubbish can be disposed of free of charge at a tip (déchetterie), which are found in all but the smallest communes and clearly signposted. However, you may use only your local tip and must obtain a permit from your town hall or mairie. Check the opening times, which may be only two or three days a week.

Home Collections

Many communes arrange an occasional (e.g. quarterly) collection of encombrants, i.e. objects you want to get rid of but cannot (or cannot be bothered to) take to the tip such as old washing machines, refrigerators and armchairs. Certain items won't be collected, however, including old cars and motorbikes (or their parts) and hazardous material.

Recycling

France has recently introduced various recycling (recyclage) measures and facilities, although not all French people ‘bother' to make use of them. As with rubbish disposal, arrangements vary from town to town but in many areas there are weekly collections of recyclable material, which must be left out in the containers supplied, e.g. yellow bags.

Not all recyclables are collected, however, and some such as glass, books and magazines must be taken to a recycling point (éco-point), which are plentiful and usually include blue bins (for paper, including newspapers, magazines and cardboard) and green bins (for glass).  Out-of-date or unwanted medicines should be taken to a chemist's.

UTILITIES

Arrangements for the connection and supply of power and other services aren't always straightforward. Here's a summary of the main points to look out for.

Electricity

The domestic electricity supply market hasn't yet been liberalised, so you have no choice but to sign up with the state-owned monopoly Electricité de France (EDF). You do, however, have a choice of supply (depending on your consumption) and charging system, so it's worth going to an EDF office and discussing your requirements with an adviser, which can save you a lot of money.

Supply Problems

Power cuts are frequent in many areas of France, where power lines run overhead, although EDF is in the process of burying cables throughout the country. If your commune still has overhead cables, expect ‘micro-cuts' (micro-coupures) whenever there's strong wind as well as cuts of several hours (or days) when a tree falls on a line. If you live in an area where cuts are frequent and rely on electricity for your livelihood, e.g. for operating a computer, you may need to install a back-up generator (groupe électrogène).

Power surges occur occasionally and you may wish to install a power surge protector for appliances such as TVs, computers and fax machines, without which you risk having equipment damaged or destroyed. Electricity companies pay compensation for power surge damage, but it's up to you to claim (and prove) it – and you still suffer the inconvenience of having equipment repaired or replaced.

If the power keeps tripping off when you attempt to use a number of high-power appliances simultaneously, e.g. an electric kettle and a heater, it means that the power rating (puissance) of your property is too low and needs upgrading. This is a common problem in old houses.

Gas

Mains gas (gaz de ville) is available only in some 80 cities and large towns and, as with electricity, there's only one supplier nationwide: Gaz de France (which is part of Electricité de France). In rural areas, bottled gas is commonly used – 1,100kg tanks for heating and small bottles for cooking.

Wood

Almost a quarter of France is covered by forest (and the area is increasing), and some 7m homes rely solely on wood-burning stoves (chauffage au bois) for heating and hot water, particularly in rural areas, and millions more homes have wood fires for effect.

Wood for fuel is measured in stères (see box) and costs between around 20 and 40 per stère depending on the quality (e.g. oak is more expensive than poplar).

Water

Water is supplied by a variety of private companies but the infrastructure is owned and managed by communes, so in fact you have no choice of supplier and prices vary widely across the country.

Most properties are metered, so you pay for what you use, but the price per cubic metre depends on whether you're connected to mains drainage or have a septic tank (see Sewerage below) – the former costing around four times as much as the latter.

There are rarely water shortages, although recent ‘droughts' have led to water restrictions in certain areas, particularly in the south.

Quality

Mains water is supposedly safe to drink throughout France, although it contains fluoride and other chemicals and can taste awful. Many people prefer to drink bottled water, though it's recommended that you change brands regularly, as each contains a concentration of certain minerals.

Sewerage

Urban properties are usually connected to mains drainage (tout à l'égout), whereas most rural properties have a septic tank (fosse septique), which should be emptied every four years or so – though not completely, in order not to destroy the bacteria that enable the tank to function. You shouldn't use flush bleach and other strong cleaning products or antibiotics down the sink, as these can have a detrimental effect, and it's possible to buy various products that supposedly improve the efficiency of a tank (a dead rat is the traditional ingredient) and reduce unpleasant smells.

Telephone

Telephone services are generally good and most of the country is served by landline and/or mobile phone infrastructure, with broadband (haut-débit) due to be available nationwide by the end of 2007.

France Télécom is currently the only company that can install a telephone line, which takes a few days in urban areas but up to a month (sometimes more) in rural areas and costs around €110.

There are currently around 20 telephone service providers and the choice of ‘call plans' is mind-boggling.

All French telephone numbers have ten digits and you must dial all ten, even when phoning your next-door neighbour. Numbers beginning 06 are mobile numbers; those beginning 08 could be free or expensive.

There's no longer a single number for directory enquiries, as the service has been privatised and you must choose your ‘provider' and normally endure a barrage of advertising before you're given the number you want. Quicker and cheaper to use the internet.

ImageExcerpted from  "Culture Wise France" which can be purchased from Survival Books