The Côte d’Azur is of course known for its fabulous villas and jet-set lifestyle. However, the apartment market is equally buoyant and popular on the French Riviera and offers a slice of the good life for a lot less. For investment value, Nice and Cannes are hard to beat. Both towns offer high holiday rental yields and almost year-round occupancy.
Many buyers looking for an apartment on the Riviera are not always familiar with the system in France of co-propriétaire (the collective owners in a building) and Syndic (building management company). For many of my clients, the trip to the Riviera is the first time they have bought an apartment in France. Thus it is important I guide them as often agents (and also notaries) assume buyers know and understand how it works here, when they don’t.
When you buy an apartment, you become part of the co-propriétaire. This means you have voting rights to do with how the building is maintained and managed. The Syndic is the company hired by the owners to oversee the managing of the building and keep the accounts. They can also intervene in, say, neighbour disputes when necessary. Tenants do not have a say in the co-propriétaire
When looking for an apartment on behalf of a client, I always ask important questions. A check-list is necessary as it can mean the difference between a well-run apartment block or one that has issues and may turn out to be a bad investment.
These are monthly (but usually paid every trimester). Charges vary depending on the standard of the building, how many residents live there, and what facilities are offered. If the charges are high, it usually means there is more upkeep or the standard of the building is high. This could include a lift, gardens, swimming pool and car park area. A guardian or concierge – although sadly becoming less of a fixture these days – will also mean higher charges.
Always ask what is included. It will certainly include the Syndic fee, building insurance and general upkeep. It may also include water (cold) and heating if the building has a communal system. If there is no guardian, a regular cleaning company will be hired to look after the communal areas.
High versus low charges
Low charges are not necessarily a good thing. High charges usually show that the residents are prepared to maintain the building to a good standard. It can also reflect work that has been done recently (for example, painting of the façade or upgrading a lift) and will in time be reduced as the debt is paid off.
Charges coming up
This is an important one to know about. The Notaire should ask for the Syndic minutes from the last AGM. The Minutes record what renovation works are being planned for the building and how much the cost will be to the owners. When you buy an apartment, you often ‘inherit’ the previous owner’s outstanding share of any work unless it has been voted for and paid in advance. Again, it is often a good sign if future work is being voted on as it means the building is being looked after and run professionally.
Are there rules?
Some co-propriétaires will have stricter rules than others. A particular one to look for if you are buying to let for holiday rentals is that you are allowed to do so under the regulations. Some regulations also stipulate no noise after a certain time at night.
I look for a building that is well-maintained and has ‘harmonious’ neighbours. Things change slowly in France and a difficult owner or tenant can make life very unpleasant for the majority. The Syndic minutes will give a good guide to what is happening, including owners who do not pay their charges (sometimes for years) or who are blocking work that could improve the residence. It will also reveal difficult tenant problems.
Buying an apartment on the Côte d’Azur is not an overly complicated process but you do need to know what to look for and have access to the information. Make sure you ask the Notaire to check as much as he or she can. It is also worth remembering that standards or expectations here are different. Communal areas in some of the most chic neighbourhoods can be dated as owners often resist spending money. This doesn’t mean it is a bad building, it just shows a typical Southern French trait – to be canny.
Buying an apartment is a serious investment. It simply makes sense to check everything out – or have someone do so on your behalf as we do with our clients – before you commit.