You might have your eyes set on a château, a farm, or a ruin you dream of renovating. But whatever it is that has caught your attention, be aware that finding a home in France, whether it’s renting or buying, is a challenging experience. 

"/> You might have your eyes set on a château, a farm, or a ruin you dream of renovating. But whatever it is that has caught your attention, be aware that finding a home in France, whether it’s renting or buying, is a challenging experience. 

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Finding a home in France

You might have your eyes set on a château, a farm, or a ruin you dream of renovating. But whatever it is that has caught your attention, be aware that finding a home in France, whether it’s renting or buying, is a challenging experience. 

Finding a home in France
William Schmitt

Finding a home in France is a difficult task, one that even the locals dread. 60 percent of the French say they struggled to find a suitable home, a rate that increases to 71 percent for youths aged 18 to 29 years old, daily Le Figaro writes.

Should foreigners moving to France rent or buy? Legal fees for buying a first home are high and newcomers are advised to rent first and test the waters.

However, renting can also be a testing experience for foreigners. Landlords complain it’s difficult to kick out tenants who don’t pay the rent and demand a lot of guarantees before handing over the keys.

In Paris, housing shortages mean you often compete against other potential tenants for a flat or house.

Renting

You would think combing through ads in the local newspaper was a good way to start your house hunt. But that’s not the Gallic way to find a home. First, you must sort out your paperwork and put together a “bon dossier”, a good file in French.  Your “dossier” includes copies of ID card, tax forms, pay slips, etc.  You will need to hand these documents over to estate agents and landlords if you wish to rent.

In major cities, real estate agencies can require you to earn three to four times the rent, and have a guarantor who will step in and pay if you don’t.

These rules play against foreigners who often don’t have established relatives in France able to guarantee their rent.

You may be able to bypass these requirements by renting directly from owners, subletting or flat-sharing. Subletting is more informal so beware of scams, make sure the people you are dealing with are trustworthy.

If you are a foreigner working in France, do find out if your company can help you rent a flat or a house, they might be able to assist you with the admin.

The French state also runs schemes to help people find a home, check this website for details.

You can also find out what the average rent is in your area on this website.

You will be asked to put up a deposit, which cannot be higher than a month’s rent. Often landlords “forget” to refund the deposit at the end of the tenancy, so be sure to claim yours.

Buying

Buying involves hefty legal fees in France, so prospective buyers are advised to choose carefully.

Legal fees for buying a property reach 5 to 10 percent of the sale price.

Negotiating a sale in France has its distinctive features. Once you have reached a deal with a seller, the notary draws up a sale promise or “promesse de vente”. This takes the property off the market and bounds the buyer to purchasing the product or pay 10 percent of the sale price in compensation. This sale promise gives the buyer time to deal with paperwork, and finalise loans.

If the buyer fails to obtain a bank loan, the sale promise is cancelled.

Where to look

The Local’s own property section has English-language listings of hundreds of flats and houses across France.

Real estate agencies are a good source of information, but do not be tempted into buying lists of flats on offer, this is often a scam. You will be asked however to pay agency fees if you do find a flat through a real estate agent. These fees can reach up to a month’s rent. This does sound a lot, but renting through an agency can be cheaper on the long term. So check out all the options.

If you want to bypass agencies, check out ad sections in local newspapers, or online. These are some of the main housing websites in France: Particuliers à particuliers, craigslist, seloger, explorimmo. 

The website streetwise-france has links to many more housing websites.

Mortgages

French weekly Le Point writes that the middle classes are increasingly finding iteasier to buy than to rent. Landlords will require tenants to earn up to four times the rent, while bankers will give clients a mortgage for a third of their earnings.

Home buyers in France are only allowed to allocate up to a third of their income on mortgages. Banks encourage future home buyers to have 10 percent of the price of the property in savings to get a mortgage. If you want to find out what kind of loans you can get, ask several banks to do a simulation, and don’t hesitate inshopping around for the best loan.

French banks will ask foreigners to put a larger contribution upfront, up to 20 percent of the property price.

Oddities

It is not unusual to rent a flat or house without a fitted kitchen. So if you do not want to spend your first weeks in your new home eating sardines on bread, make sure your home has “une cuisine aménagée”, a kitchen with furniture, or even better “une cuisine équipée”, a kitchen with furniture and white goods.

It’s illegal to kick out a tenant who doesn’t pay his or her rent during the winter months. Struggling tenants can stay smug under the blankets from November 1st till March 15th.

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PROPERTY

Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

If you're researching the French property market, you might have come across mentions of 'courtiers' - here's what they do and whether they are necessary.

Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

The French ‘courtier‘ is usually translated as a broker, and the Notaires Association describes their role like this: “the broker is a true intermediary in banking operations. His/her role is to negotiate the best rates for you, but not only that: they will also find the most advantageous financing conditions for the realisation of your project.”

Essentially they act as an intermediary between you and the banks, so they’re only required if you need a mortgage or a loan in order to buy your French property. 

Their job is to research the best deals for you and then to help you put together your application and ensure that all your paperwork is correct – unlike the notaire, instructing a courtier is not a required part of the process, so the decision on whether to instruct one is up to you. 

So is it worth it?

Among French buyers, around 30 percent of mortgages are obtained using the services of a courtier, and this rises to 60 percent among young, first-time buyers, who generally find it harder to access credit.

Some of things to consider are your level of French and confidence in negotiating French bureaucracy, your financial situation (since French mortgage lenders tend to be stricter than those in the UK or US) and whether you currently live in France or not (since there are extra hoops to jump through for overseas buyers).

READ ALSO Is now a good time to buy a home in France?

“Things have changed,” Trevor Leggett, group president of Leggett International estate agents, told The Local. “It’s now more important than ever to work closely with a reputable broker.

“In France it is all paper-based, very old-school and extremely bureaucratic, a different world entirely to the UK. Preparing the client “dossier” so that it will be accepted is an art form.”

READ ALSO MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

He advised non-resident international clients, particularly, who may not be au fait with the French system to seek the help of a broker who knows the ropes.

“The question is no longer really about savings,” he said. “It is about finding a bank that can actually lend to the client profile, interests rate are secondary. 

“It occasionally happens that one bank can be played off against another, or to shop around, but it’s a rare event nowadays.”

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

And he had no hesitation in recommending that prospective buyers find a broker to sort out the financing.

“The lending market has tightened for international buyers and a good one is worth their weight in gold,” he said.

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

In France, you make an offer on a property and then you begin the mortgage process (while in the UK it’s the other way round) so problems in getting your mortgage approved could lead to you losing your dream property.

“[Using a courtier] can be the difference between buying and not,” added Trevor.

“It’s not just any possible language barrier – but understanding the process and the different players in the market.”

How much?

The cost of hiring a courtier is borne by the buyer – but how much do they charge?

The courtier usually charges a percentage of the total mortgage amount – fees must be fixed in advance and are only payable once your mortgage application has been approved. 

Fees vary between different areas and different businesses, but the average fee is €2,000, which amounts to around one percent of the purchase price.

Many brokers set a minimum amount – around €1,500 – for smaller loans, and take a percentage of larger loans, so how much you pay depends on your property budget. 

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