The 4 French Property Mistakes You’ll Probably Make



The 4 French Property Mistakes You’ll Probably Make

Whether it was the “bargain” renovation project that ended up costing a small fortune or the dream property that turned out to be the home from hell… we’ve all heard the horror stories of holiday home purchases gone awry! Thankfully, the most frequent French property mistakes we see are often much less dramatic, but if you aren’t aware, you’ll almost certainly make them too. Here are four that you need to watch out for.

1. Missing out on your dream property

The French property market is moving fast at the moment, and you’ll need to move quickly if you want to secure your property purchase. Not only does this mean changing tact when it comes to planning your property viewing trip (while we definitely recommend chatting with estate agents prior to arriving in France, booking viewings on specific properties is best left to the days before or after you arrive), it also means that it’s essential to be prepared.

Being “ready to buy” means you already have your funds in your bank account (if you’re a cash buyer) or a mortgage in principle agreement, that you have already opened your currency account and are ready to transfer the deposit, and that you’ve already sought legal advice prior to setting off on your viewing trip.

What about if you do all of the above and you still miss out on that perfect property? Well, in this case, we suggest deferring to the age-old adage of “it wasn’t meant to be”. Don’t get too upset about losing out – it’s highly likely that an even better property is just around the corner.

2. Underestimating costs and overestimating your budget

These two go hand-in-hand, and they more often than not lead to a property costing far more than you originally budgeted for or, in some instances, a beloved property ending up being out of your budget. There are so many things to think about when it comes to budgeting for a property overseas, and currency exchange should be top of your list – after all, the rate of exchange you get for your euros is what determines the actual price you will pay.

Equally important is to factor the notaire’s fees into your budget (these are non-negotiable, and they typically add up to about 8% of the property purchase price) and to carefully assess the cost of renovation works. Remember that renovations may require planning permission, and costs and timeframes may be very different in France to what you are used to in your home country.

Before purchasing a second home, you also need to be sure you fully understand the costs of running and maintaining your French home after the purchase. For example, do you understand your property tax liabilities and have you looked into the costs of hiring a property inspector or gardener if you aren’t able to visit through all seasons? What about service charges, utility bills, and house insurance?

3. Not getting legal advice before you sign

If there’s one thing you need to remember about French law, it’s this: do not assume that it will be the same as what you are used to in your home country. Unfortunately, far too many people do indeed assume this, and they also assume that if they have made a mistake at the signing process that it can be rectified later… which often isn’t the case.

The Compromis de Vente (the preliminary contract you will sign when purchasing a French property) is legally binding, so it’s essential that you understand the basics of French property law before you sign anything. In fact, we recommend seeking legal advice before you even start your property hunt.

Not only do you need to be sure of exactly what you are signing and your legal responsibilities, but you must consider the implications of French inheritance law (and while we’re on the subject, don’t assume that you can simply elect to have your French property follow the law of your country of residence – due to changes in French law at the end of 2021, this is actually no longer the case). Not to mention that if your French isn’t fluent (and frankly, even if it is, it’s a good idea to get a second opinion), having a bilingual legal advisor can be invaluable.

4. Wearing your rose-tinted glasses

We’re all guilty of this one, and no matter how many times we tell you (or you tell yourself), when you walk through the door of what you are convinced is your “dream home”, those rose-tinted lenses will have you day-dreaming of sipping wine on the terrace before you’ve managed to get through half the questions on your list.

The biggest mistakes we see aren’t actually the most obvious ones. Many potential buyers are savvy enough to know that they need to critically evaluate the property itself and smart enough to get a second opinion on renovation works and structural issues (at least, you are now that you’ve read no.2!)

But an easy mistake to make, especially with a second home, is to forget to imagine what it would be like actually living in the home. If you’re planning to move to or retire to France one day, the location and setting of your ideal holiday home may be far from what you need once you spend all four seasons living there. Do you really want an isolated country farmhouse miles from the nearest supermarket in an area where access roads might flood in winter or a beachside villa in a seaside resort that completely closes down out of season? Even if your property is only destined to be a holiday home, you will still be responsible for running and maintaining the property through all seasons, so think carefully about the location and consider all the potential downsides before you commit to buy.

So, how do I avoid making these mistakes?

Now you know our top four mistakes; they should be easy to avoid, right? If it only it was that easy. The problem with buying overseas is that so many of these details are impossible to know until you’ve been there, done that, and… made the mistakes for yourself!

Thankfully, that’s where FrenchEntrée comes in. Our buying property and owning property essential reading articles will talk you through all the must-know details. And if you have further questions, why not attend our free Buying in France webinar this week? Our panel of experts will be on hand to answer all your FAQs on buying in France, French property law and tax, mortgages and finance options, and currency exchange. Don’t worry if you miss it, you can watch the replay on our FrenchEntrée YouTube channel after the event.

Buying a House in France: Mortgages, Finances & FAQs

Thursday 15th September 10:00am UK Time (GMT+1) 

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FrenchEntrée's Digital Editor, Zoë is also a freelance journalist who has written for the Telegraph, HuffPost, and CNN, and a guidebook updater for the Rough Guide to France and Rough Guide to Dordogne & Lot. She lives in the French countryside just outside of Nantes.

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  • Mark Nicol
    2022-09-15 10:21:27
    Mark Nicol
    Hi Zoe, We have been an avid reader of your columns for around 2 years now and bought/completed a villa purchase in Herault from Australia in September 2021. We have been living in France since beginning of May 2022. Nothing can prepare you for the paperwork involved once you land. I am a New Zealander and my wife and daughter are French. My initial trip to OFII was a chastening experience resulting in 4 wasted days mandatory civic integration indoctrination and followed by 400 hours of mandatory French lessons. This has been required even though we own a company in Australia and maintain an income from it over here. Four and a half months later we are still waiting for our auto entrenpeneur and CPAM/carte de vitale paperwork to be acknowledged. Our daughter starts university in Montpellier next week and the paperwork required to get a student SNCF pass/card and insurance and of course student tax CVEC are amazing. Everything is so slow over here. We are wondering about investing in an apartment in Montpellier and would welcome some advice re landlord requirements in France. Keep up the good work on your column. Mark


    • Zoë Smith
      2022-09-20 15:57:58
      Zoë Smith
      Hi Mark, Congratulations on making the move to France, and thanks so much for getting in touch and sharing your experience. I can absolutely sympathise with the amount of paperwork and the time that things can take to get done over here in France - it's often one of the most notable differences for expats and it can be quite frustrating when we are used to a different system! Thanks for your interest in landlord requirements - I realise that we don't have any articles that cover this subject at the moment, so I will look at putting some together very soon. I'm sure this will be of interest to others hoping to rent their properties in France too. Watch this space! Zoë