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Buying Property in France: A Guide for Expats

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Written by Reviewed by Dave Sayce

4th Jun 2024 (Last updated on 10th Jun 2024) 10 minute read

France is a fantastic country to move to. It’s full of culture and has a reasonable cost of living. If you’re looking to make the move a permanent one, it’s more beneficial to buy a property instead of renting.

In this article, we will guide you through everything you need to know about property purchases when moving to France from the UK. From initially finding the property, to the legal process, we’ve got you covered to help you find your dream home in France.

  1. Step 1 - Find Property in France
  2. Step 2 - Book House Viewings in France
  3. Step 3 - Making an Offer on a Property
  4. Step 4 - Submit Technical Surveys and Certificates
  5. Step 5 - Contract of Sale Agreement
  6. Step 6 - Paying the Deposit
  7. Step 7 - Land Registry Research
  8. Step 8 - Final Document Signing
  9. Find an International Removal Company

Step 1 - Find Property in France

The French housing market is not too dissimilar to the UK’s property market. When finding a property in France, it’s important to carry out the correct research before buying a property. You will want to look into the area you want to move to and the typical cost of the properties in this area.

The French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) is a sought-after location for those looking for a warm climate and impressive coastlines. Areas include Cannes, St-Tropez and Èze. Other popular destinations in France that are the most popular with expats are:

  • Dordogne
  • Paris
  • Nantes
  • Lyon
  • Toulouse
  • Marseille
  • Strasbourg
  • Nice

One of the best ways to find a property in the housing market is to use French estate agents' websites and online portals. It’s always recommended to visit a property and check it thoroughly before purchasing. Online viewings don’t provide an accurate idea of the property's condition as visiting it in person.

When researching the area of France you are looking to move to, use estate agents local to the area. Visiting these estate agents is ideal as you can tell them your specific needs and requirements. They can then help you with your property hunt and find the perfect property for you.

Some popular estate agents include Gascony Property, Purslows Gascony and French Gold Property. La Résidence is a UK-based French Property estate agent who can guide you through the house viewing process. HousingAnywhere is a great online portal to use. However, this is more rental than purchase-based.

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Step 2 - Book House Viewings in France

When you have found properties of interest, you will want to book house viewings. As stated, ideally you should always book an in-person house viewing. This will provide you with a clearer idea of the house and its condition.

The majority of estate agents will book house viewings in advance, so it’s important to liaise and organise this before visiting. The viewing process will be very similar to looking at properties in the UK. The estate agents will guide you through the process and take you to each property. Afterwards, you will have the opportunity to discuss your options and potentially place an offer if there is a home or flat of interest.

If you can’t visit the property in person, you may be able to have a virtual viewing carried out. If you have a virtual viewing, you need to ensure the viewing is as detailed and thorough as possible.

Step 3 - Making an Offer on a Property

If you have found a property of interest, you can opt to make an offer on it. This is carried out through the estate agent. It’s important to note that the offer process in France varies slightly compared to the UK.

A formal, written offer to purchase the property is required in France. This is known as an offer to purchase and will begin the house-buying process. In the UK when an offer is placed on a property and accepted, the house or flat is then ‘sold subject to contract’.

Offre D’achat

The offre d’achat details the offer the buyer wants to place on the property. It's also called the offer to purchase. This paperwork is signed by the potential buyer and the seller if the price is agreed upon. It provides information about the property and acts as a written agreement for the upcoming sale. This can expire if any disputes arise and it doesn’t guarantee the property sale.

Promesse de Vente

When your offer is accepted you will be given the promesse de vente. This is a legally binding document that will begin the buying process. Your estate agent will organise this for you. The document will contain essential information regarding the buying procedure. It should include but is not limited to:

  • Buyer’s details (including but not limited to - contact information, passport, ID and job title)
  • Title and Land Registry details of the property
  • The agreed house price
  • The deposit amount
  • Estate agent fees and their details
  • Estimated completion date

Notaire

When purchasing property in France it’s essential to hire a French notaire. Both the buyer and seller will need to use one. Notaires are similar to hiring a conveyancer or solicitor in the UK.

They are an essential part of the French legal system and are required to complete the process. A notaire will assist you from the initial contract details through to completion and will handle all legal aspects on your behalf.

Obtaining a Mortgage for a French Property

Now that the UK is no longer part of the European Union, obtaining a mortgage for a French property and completing the sale is a lengthier process. There is more paperwork and steps involved for non-EU citizens. This includes relevant visas and lengthy documentation.

French mortgage lenders are happy to lend to British expats given that you can meet the criteria set. This criteria involves your deposit, proof of income and the correct paperwork. The percentage of deposit you will need will vary depending on the specific lender and the total value of the property.

In general, when obtaining a foreign mortgage, you will be expected to provide a higher deposit and loan-to-value (LTV) amount. This can be anywhere up to around 30% of the property’s value. You may be asked to provide proof of savings. This will reiterate that you can afford to pay your mortgage repayments if your current financial situation changes.

The borrowing capacity is stricter compared to purchasing property in the United Kingdom. This is why it’s important to seek the help of a mortgage broker or advisor where possible.

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Step 4 - Submit Technical Surveys and Certificates

When you’ve had your offer accepted on a property, similar to the UK, you will need to have property surveys carried out. These surveys are different compared to the UK. Instead of having a RICS Level 2 or 3 Home Survey, a Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT) is undertaken.

In France, it’s the seller's responsibility to have these carried out for the buyer. It’s important to note that these surveys cover the energy efficiency of a property rather than the structural integrity of the property.

Surveys and local searches covered by the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique include:

  1. Gas and electricity
  2. Termites and parasites
  3. Septic tanks and sewerage
  4. Radon gas
  5. Energy efficiency
  6. Drainage systems
  7. Geotechnical survey
  8. Asbestos
  9. Lead
  10. Natural and industrial risks

When buying a property in France, you won’t need to pay for these surveys and certificates as the buyer is required to ensure these have been completed. The cost will vary depending on the professional used but it can cost the seller around €500. As these reports are required to sell a property, they will need to be carried out before the house is put on the market.

In France, full house surveys aren’t as common compared to the UK. You can have these types of surveys carried out, but they aren’t as common. You can have a survey carried out but it won’t affect the contracts if issues are found after an agreement is in place.

You can opt to have a survey carried out before placing an offer on the house, but this is uncommon. While surveyors in the UK are specifically trained to carry out structural and building surveys, this isn’t a common profession in France. Ideally, you would need to hire a RICS-regulated surveyor who works in France. However, this qualification isn’t acknowledged in the same way.

Step 5 - Contract of Sale Agreement

A compromis de vente is completed when the sale agreement has been accepted by both the buyer and the seller. It is a legally binding, written document. When you sign the compromis de vente, this marks the start of the buying process.

For English speakers, this will be translated so you have a clear understanding of the terms you are agreeing to. Your notaire is the person who will create the compromis de vente. In some instances, the estate agent can carry this out too.

A compromis de vente should include, but is not limited to, the following information:

  • Personal details of the buyer and seller (E.g. ID, passports, contact details and marriage certificates)
  • Title details of the property
  • French Land Registry details
  • Agreed house sale price
  • Deposit cost and any forfeiting circumstances
  • Any survey agreements
  • Specific conditions of the sale from both parties
  • Estate agent and any legal fees
  • Inventory of any items being sold with the property
  • An estimated competition date

As with purchasing a home in the UK, there are additional charges you will be expected to pay in addition to the selling price of a property. Here is an estimate of some of the costs you can expect to pay:

Service UsedCost

Deposit

Typically between 5-10% of the property’s purchase price

Notary fees

Notaire fees are around 5% of the value of the property (this also covers Land Registry costs)

Loan registration fee (if required)

Roughly 2% of the value of your loan

Estate agent fees

Around 6% of the value of the property

Transfer fees

The rate will vary depending on the amount of money being transferred (can be anywhere from 0.7-3%)

After purchasing the property, you may need to pay additional costs in the future. This can include local property taxes, capital gains tax when selling the property and wealth tax.

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Step 6 - Paying the Deposit

After the compromis de vente has been completed and signed, you will need to pay the deposit to secure your property. As stated, your deposit will typically be between 5-10% of the property’s value. This is typically higher for non-French nationals. This deposit is then given to your notaire who then pays it for you on your behalf.

10 Day Cooling Off Period

Before the deposit is paid, the buyer is given a 10 day cooling off period. This allows them time to analyse the compromis de vente and be sure they are happy with the terms and the property. During this period, the buyer can legally withdraw from the sale without any penalties. This period begins on the day the compromis de Vente is signed.

Once you have paid your deposit, you are then bound to the property legally. As a result, you will incur charges if you were to pull out of the sale at this point. This is typically 10% of the property's value.

Step 7 - Land Registry Research

When purchasing a property your notary needs to carry out all the necessary searches and paperwork with the French Land Registry. This will legally transfer the ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer.

In addition to this, it will highlight any environmental and urban regulations you need to be aware of. This will help to determine if there are any areas of concern with the property and the area that you need to be aware of.

The Land Registry research costs will vary depending on the property. On average it will be around 2% of the property’s value. Your notary will submit all your details to the French Land Registry on your behalf.

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Step 8 - Final Document Signing

The final stage of the French house-buying process is signing the acte de vente. This is the equivalent of a completion certificate in the UK. It displays proof of ownership of the property. It is the last document you will be given.

It’s essential that these documents are signed in the presence of the buyer, seller and notaire. If one party cannot be present then a power of attorney can be present in their place. This cannot be an estate agent.

This is to ensure everyone has correctly completed the documents to mark the end of the process. Before the acte de vente is complete you should have insurance taken out on the property.

A date will be set for the signing to take place, and this process typically occurs around 3 months after the compromis de vente has been signed.

All money will need to be transferred upon signing the acte de vente. This includes estate agent fees, notary fees and deposits. After the documentation is completed, the process is complete and you will legally own your home.

Find an International Removal Company

Here at Compare My Move, we can connect you with up to 6 international removal companies. They can help you with your removals to France.

Our international comparison form allows you to compare quotes and save up to 70% on the costs of shipping to France.

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Dave Sayce

Reviewed by Dave Sayce

Owner & Managing Director, Compare My Move

Dave Sayce is the owner and managing director of Compare My Move and has over 10 years of experience in the house removals industry.