Whether you’re moving to France for retirement, work or just to enjoy the French lifestyle, you’ve probably considered buying property to live in or as an investment.
Whether your destination of choice is Paris, Marseilles, Lyon or any smaller city in between, you’ll find a plethora of options in property for sale, ranging from massive estates to tiny apartments and undeveloped plots of land.
Around 64% of French residents own a home¹, which potentially means a market wide open for expats and foreign investors. And despite some tricky laws and taxes, many non-residents have taken the opportunity to buy into the European country.
So if you’ve decided to buy property, what should you know in advance? This guide will walk you through the steps and key points for buying property in France, from post-Brexit changes to the best places to buy. So, let’s get started.
While France’s economy has been hit hard by the recent coronavirus crisis, like the rest of the world, it’s not all bad news - especially in terms of the housing market.
After a pause caused by Covid-19, property sales in France started to pick up in some areas throughout the second half of 2020. Some experts are predicting a 3.5% increase in house prices and continued growth in property sales, as the country and its economy starts to recover from the pandemic².
There are currently no restrictions on foreigners buying property in France, however, you may find the process a bit more difficult as a non-resident. This means quite a lot of paperwork and due diligence.
If you’re working with a real estate agent, the process is likely to be relatively straightforward. But you’ll still need to make sure you read up on what taxes you’ll need to pay, and any visas needed so you can live in your new French home once you’ve bought it.
Even though the UK has now officially left the EU, you’ll still have the right to buy property in France as a non-EU citizen. You can even rent it out if you want to.
However, you will now need to make sure you have a long-stay visa if you plan to stay in France for more than 90 days at a time.
Unlike some other countries, France doesn’t have a ‘Golden Visa’ or other investment scheme for property purchases⁵. This means that although there aren’t restrictions on foreigners buying property, you’ll need to go through the same process as any other non-EU citizen to get a visa to live in France - and then to apply for permanent residency if you’re eligible.
The cost of property in France varies significantly based on the type of property and where it is.
The following table⁶ can give you an idea of what costs might be in select areas, so you can figure out the best places to buy property in France based on your budget. But you should also be prepared to do plenty of extra research into prices in your chosen locale.
|Location||Apartment price per sq.m - in city centre||Apartment price per sq.m - outside city centre|
It’s fairly common to use a real estate agent (un agent immobilier) to find property in France, especially in more remote regions or if you don’t know the language well.
While the cost can feel prohibitive, in provinces where homes are more spread out and difficult to find, working with an agent is the only real way to ensure you’re seeing all of the properties available.
You might also be likely to get a fair price, as there’s always the risk of French sellers inflating prices for foreign buyers. That being said, it’s not uncommon for French agencies to take up to 8% of the total cost in fees (if not paid by the seller)⁷. So, if you’re on a budget trying to house hunt, doing it on your own may be the best course of action.
If you do decide to work with an agent, some of the most well-reputed in France include:
If you’re planning to find your home without an agent, your first stop will probably be real estate websites or portals. Choosing this route can make a lot of financial sense, though the multitude of listings can make your head spin. If you do decide to search online, these sites can be a good place to start:
No matter where you’re buying property, there’s a chance you could get ripped off. Scams are one of the biggest pitfalls to avoid when buying property in France.
The best way to steer clear of scams is to thoroughly research your agent, the property, the market in the surrounding area and what you’re entitled to as a buyer. Some common scams⁸ include outdated diagnostic reports for properties, sellers with no legal right to sell property (or who’ve ‘scraped’ the listing from a property portal and pass it off as their own) and fake property investment seminars which charge a high fee.
While there are many other scams out there, you can avoid many of them by visiting the property, meeting the seller or agent in person, and refusing to hand over any money before you have a verifiably working key and title in your hand.
Realistically, the types of properties you’ll find across France vary significantly by location. While in Paris you may struggle to find any housing situation outside of an apartment, in the countryside you’ll be welcomed with plots of land, sprawling estates, villas, homes and townhouses.
What type of property you buy will depend on where you want to invest, and what makes the most sense for your family.
In France, it's the seller’s legal responsibility to provide you with up to date diagnostic reports. Known collectively as the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT)⁹, these reports should cover everything from the presence of lead, asbestos and parasites to the condition of the septic system, the Performance Energy Report and the natural disaster risk.
Before you agree to buy any property, make sure you’ve received this report and have gone over it thoroughly with your agent.
The DDT doesn’t however cover the kind of comprehensive building survey that we have here in the UK. You’ll need to commission and pay for a full structural survey yourself if you have any concerns.
If you’re ready to jump into the property market, the following steps can help give you a rough idea of where to get started¹⁰:
- Decide which region you'd like to live in.
- Set a budget based on similar properties in the region.
- Engage a real estate agent to help in your search, and consider a trip or two to France to view properties in person.
- Select your dream property.
- Carefully review the diagnostic report (Dossier de Diagnostic Technique or DDT).
- Make a verbal offer.
- Sign a compromis de vente - a preliminary agreement which locks both parties into the sale.
- Pay a deposit - this is usually 10% of the total purchase price¹⁰.
- Engage a notaire (lawyer) to perform the property searches, including the land registry, ownership rights, boundaries, and rights of way.
- Sign an acte de vente, the deed of sale contract at the notaire’s office.
- Enjoy your new property!
The good news is, there really aren’t any restrictions for expats hoping to buy property in France - mortgages included. While the exact rules and taxes around getting a mortgage may vary slightly for foreigners, all in all the process is the same as for residents.
In fact, because foreigners buying French property are so common, most national and international banks cater to the service. The only real restriction you may face is the amount you can borrow, as some lenders will only lend up to 50% of the property’s value to non-EU citizens¹¹.
Most banks will have English-speaking representatives to help you, but it may be a good idea to hire a professional translator anyway, as getting a mortgage isn't a process you want lost in translation.
If you’re already sitting on enough cash to put down your deposit in your foreign bank account, you may be able to pay the seller directly. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to look into Wise to get the real exchange rate and cut down on international transfer fees.
There are a number of fees involved with French property purchases, for estate agents, notaries, lawyers and other charges.
Here’s a summary of the kinds of costs you can expect to pay when buying property in France⁷:
- Estate agent fees (when not paid by the seller) - 5-8%
- Stamp duty (Droit de mutation) - 5.8%
- Mortgage fees (if using a French bank) - 1% arrangement fee, plus €250 for a valuation survey¹².
- Notaire fees (charged by the government): on a sliding scale depending on the total purchase price⁷:
|Purchase price||Notaire rate|
|€0 to €6,500||3.945%|
|€6,500 to €17,000||1.627%|
|€17,000 to 60,000||1.085%|
And even before buying property in France, tax is one of the most crucial things to factor into your budget. There are two types of tax on residential property in France - land tax (taxe foncière) and local taxes (taxe d’habitation). These are both due on 1st January each year.
Taxe foncière is based on the annual rental value of the property multiplied by a percentage set by the local commune. It’s around 1% if the property is your main residence, and up to 3% for second homes. Taxe d’habitation is only due on second properties, and depends on local rates along with the size and condition of the property¹³.
If you’re buying your French home while still in the UK, you’ll need a secure, low cost way to send money overseas. You’ll have things like estate agent fees and mortgage arrangement costs to cover, not to mention your initial deposit.
Banks tend to charge high fees for international transfers, and there’s usually a mark-up on the exchange rate that ends up costing you a bundle.
Use the Wise multi-currency account instead and you can send money to France for small fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. In fact, it could turn out up to 7x cheaper than using your bank.
Security is always a concern when sending such large sums of money overseas. But you don’t need to worry with Wise, as we’re FCA regulated and use advanced security and anti-fraud measures to keep your money safe. You can even track all your transfers, so you can see for yourself that the money arrives safely.
Once you’ve considered all the most important points of buying property, from location and property type to fees, taxes and other costs - you’re ready to get started in your search. Good luck buying property in France!
Sources used for this article:
- Statista - home ownership rate in France
- Long Term Rentals in France - French property market 2021
- Proper Star - how to buy property in France as a foreigner
- Property Guides - buying property in France after Brexit
- Golden Visas - France Golden Visa
- Numbeo - property prices in France
- Proper Star - taxes and fees for property owners in France
- Property Investor Today - how to buy a property in France
- World First - buying a house in France
- Expatica - buying property in France
- Expatica - French mortgages
- Expatica - a guide to French mortgages
- Expatica - a guide to taxes in France
Sources checked on 15-July-2021.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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