28 expert tips for buying property and living in France
PUBLISHED: 12:42 13 January 2020
Whether you’re thinking of buying a French property or setting up your new life across the Channel, here is some essential advice from the best in the business
Matthew Cameron of Ashtons Legal says:
1. PLAN, AND ASK QUESTIONS
Once you have found the ideal property, think carefully about all of the enquiries you will need to address: not just in relation to the property itself, but to all related issues. If you want to rent the property, are there any local restrictions on rental? What are the tax implications? If you are moving permanently, what about your investments, your pensions, your work and French income tax (even if you continue working for a British company)? If you need to renovate or develop the house, does this require planning permission?
2. COMMISSION A SURVEY
You may hear that surveys are 'just not done' in France. While they may be less common, it does not make them less valuable. A survey is certainly not rendered redundant by the pre-contract diagnostic inspection reports that must be provided by the seller as part of the contract; these diagnostic reports are strictly limited in scope, and would not realistically give any insight into the overall integrity of the building. If you would have a survey on a house purchase in Britain, you should think hard about commissioning one in France.
Make sure you have your finance set before you sign a purchase contract. If you need a mortgage, this will require a condition to be included in the contract. If you are selling your home in Britain, be aware of the potential consequences that could arise if you were to be contractually bound in France before having exchanged in England. You may want to consider using a currency exchange company to negotiate any transfer of the purchase price from sterling into euros: such companies can provide preferential rates of exchange, which may lead to a saving for you.
4. INHERITANCE LAW AND TAX
Even though it is indeed possible to declare that the inheritance law rules of the country of your nationality can apply to your house in France, it is still important to consider the implications of French inheritance law and tax before you proceed with the purchase. Just applying an English Will in France can cause complications. Implementation of trusts in France can be complex, and trusts are a standard element of English Probates and estate administration. In some circumstances, it may actually be better to rely on French inheritance rules. Even if British rules are applied, French tax will still be relevant.
5. UNDERSTAND THE LEGAL PROCESS - SEEK ADVICE
The transfer of title is completed by the notaire, yet that notaire may not provide you with any specific legal advice about the specific transaction, or whether it is suitable for you. A solicitor's firm with experience of French property law and French and English inheritance law will be able to assist you in this respect, working in collaboration with the notaire. While there may be similarities between English and French contract law, the actual process of buying a house in France can be quite daunting for a British buyer, even where that buyer is a good French speaker. The solicitor should be able to guide you through with reassurance.
BUYING A PROPERTY IN FRANCE
Victoria Maître Headdon from Compass Immobilier says:
1. SIZE ISN'T EVERYTHING!
A purchaser recently thanked us for convincing him that 1 hectare (2.2 acres) of garden was enough. Nature is very busy here so if you would prefer to spend less time fighting it and more time poolside enjoying the views, avoid the trap of going as large as your budget will allow. The same goes for the house too. Average homes in Gascony are on the large size which is great but all of that space involves additional cost and work.
2. DON'T WRITE OFF VILLAGE HOUSES TOO QUICKLY!
Village houses can represent excellent value for money, lower maintenance and heating costs, plus are much more 'lock up and leaveable'. Many are spacious with plenty of period features and authentic charm. The villages in Gascony are quiet and friendly, sometimes with the advantage of amenities, a definite plus when you run out of wine, toilet roll or bread!
3. IT GETS COLD, EVEN IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE!
When I arrived I made the (not uncommon) mistake of thinking that decent heating was not a necessity in Gascony. Winters are shorter but there can sometimes be very cold snaps and it can even snow on occasion. You will be very grateful for buying a house with a decent, updated heating system, or that you factored in the cost of one! Remember to keep a careful eye on related factors such as insulation, double glazing and exposure.
4. IF YOU SEE THE WORD 'SERVITUDE' IN A CONTRACT, PAY VERY CLOSE ATTENTION
This is the French word for an easement (or covenant). It covers very important things like rights of way. It could be that you need one for the house you purchase written into the paperwork, for example should the access to the property be over your neighbour's land. Or there could be one affecting the house you purchase and you need to be fully informed about the implications for you, which in certain cases can be serious. Get proper, qualified legal advice in the case of any doubt.
MOVING CURRENCY TO FRANCE
Shaun Dash from Currencies Direct says:
1. STAY UP-TO-DATE WITH THE LATEST NEWS
Keeping an eye on what's happening in the world of currency is essential if you want to time your transfer effectively. Even the discrepancy of a few cents per pound can leave you thousands better or worse off when making larger currency transfers, so sign up to receive regular market updates from a leading currency provider and stay in the know.
2. SECURE A GREAT EXCHANGE RATE
Specialist currency providers work on different margins to banks, meaning they can help you achieve a more competitive exchange rate. Moving your money at a great rate can have a substantial impact when you're transferring the size sums involved in a property purchase, potentially leaving you with thousands more euros to spend.
3. SAY NO TO TRANSFER FEES
While most banks will charge you transfer fees for moving your money abroad, providers like Currencies Direct don't charge fees. If you're making regular transfers (to meet French mortgage payments, for example) these savings can really add up.
4. CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS
No two currency transfers are the same, so it pays to explore the different options available to you. With a forward contract, for example, you can fix a rate up to a year ahead of making a transfer. A rate alert, meanwhile, gives you the ability to target a specific exchange rate.
5. TAKE SECURITY SERIOUSLY
When you're moving money to France you want to feel confident that your funds are in safe hands. To ensure your transfer is being managed securely, always use a currency transfer provider that's authorised by the FCA. You should also check out online reviews and see what other customers have to say about their experiences.
SOURCING A TRADESPERSON
Rosie from Artisan Central says:
1. ASK TO SEE A TRADEPERSON'S 'EXTRAIT KBIS' OR INSEE CERTIFICATE BEFORE HIRING THEM
Every registered artisan in France will have been issued documentation which provides proof of their affiliation to the Chambre de Métiers and / or the Chambre de Commerce (GREFFE). These same documents should outline all the activities the artisan can carry out. Checking an artisan's SIRET online will not give you all the information you need so if you want to be sure the existence of these documents should go some way to putting your mind at rest.
2. ASK TO SEE THE ARTISAN'S 'ATTESTATION D'ASSURANCE'
Depending on what you are engaging them to do every tradesperson should have at least a 'civil liabilities' insurance. This covers any damage that may occur to a person or to the property while work is underway. In addition to this artisans should have an insurance cover for the work itself, smaller jobs such as painting and decorating will normally be insured for up to two years and larger jobs or 'gros oeuvres' such as roofing, structural building, plumbing and electrical works are required to be insured with a ten year guarantee or 'decennale 'insurance that should cover both the materials and the work carried out.
3. ENGAGE A TRADESPERSON WITH A GOOD TRACK RECORD
This is particularly important when you have a larger project that requires skill and experience. France can be complicated when trying to source the right materials for example, but seasoned artisans will have their go-to suppliers they can call up and rely on to make the relevant deliveries of the right products ultimately arrive on time. Well established companies that have been trading for more than two years will have local or regional knowledge and be able to help you to find other reputable artisans they have previously worked with. This can be invaluable if you own a holiday home and have not had the opportunity to do all the leg work yourself. If you have a good relationship with your tradesperson, they should be happy to share some of their hard-earned knowledge and advice.
4. DON'T LET OTHERS' BAD EXPERIENCES WORRY YOU
If you take the right steps from the outset to ensure the credibility of your tradesperson you are already in good stead to realise your renovation project. Remember that building and renovation work can be stressful at the best of times and invariably problems can arise that were perhaps not originally accounted for. However, a good relationship and the ability to talk things through with your artisan are integral to the success of a project. Don't be tempted to panic, as long as you've done your homework and they have the relevant insurances together with a long-standing reputation they should be keen to make sure that any difficulties that arise will be handled in a professional and swift manner.
Jon Tuson from Maison Bretagne says:
1. PLANNING IS KEY
Whether you have a large château to renovate or a small cottage, planning in the early stages of a renovation can save a lot of problems and potential frustrations later down the line. If you already have an idea of what you want, try and make a list of everything you would like to achieve and go through it with your builder during your first meeting. It's also a good idea to send a follow up email yourself after the first meeting outlining everything you have discussed.
2. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ADVICE FROM THE CORRECT PROFFESSIONALS
If you are extending or changing the external appearance of your property you will need to submit plans to the Architecte des Bâtiments de France (ABF). Ask your builder if he will help you with the plans so that you are both on the same track, he will be able to give you advice on the technical aspects of the project so you can create a coherent document to submit. Otherwise, consult a planner, they charge a fee, but it may be worth allocating a small percentage of your budget to be able to get the building permit completed quicker and with less stress.
3. COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION
You may be of the mind that it is up to your builder/artisan to keep you updated with the progress of work, and you would be right. However, if you have any questions or worries make sure you convey them calmly in an email or discuss them face to face with your builder or project manager. The most important thing is not to panic and allow reasonable time for your issues to be solved or answered. Invariably builders will be more than willing to make sure that you are reassured as it ultimately makes their life easier too!
4. BE FLEXIBLE
It's wise to try to be prepared from the outset for any unforeseen eventualities. This sounds scary, but realistically when renovating older properties unexpected surprises can be lurking under every floorboard or roof slate. If your builder is experienced, he will have taken note of areas which may pose potential risks when he formulated his 'devis', discussed them with you and perhaps advised you to keep 10% of the budget aside for safe measure. This circles back round to good initial planning to prepare in advance for potential problems and to having a good line of communication with your artisan / builder.
Jason Porter of Blevins Franks Financial Management Limited says:
1. FRENCH SOCIAL CHARGES ARE DUE IN ADDITION TO INCOME TAX!
French tax residents pay social charges at 17.2% on investment income and gains, 9.7% on earnings, and 9.1% on pensions. UK nationals living in France should try and arrange their financial affairs to limit their exposure by investing in assets and financial products which are efficient from a social charge perspective.
2. DO NOT TAKE BENEFITS FROM ANY UK PENSION SCHEME BEFORE MOVING TO FRANCE, WITHOUT TALKING TO A UK-FRANCE PENSION SPECIALIST FIRST!
The UK's pension freedoms, including the ability to take your pension fund as a lump sum are important from a French tax perspective; France taxes annuities and regular payments from pension schemes at scale income tax rates up to 45%, but a lump sum is only taxable at 7.5%.
3. UK TAX-EFFICIENT VEHICLES LIKE ISAS, DO NOT WORK IN FRANCE
ISAs might be tax-efficient vehicles in the UK, they have no tax benefit in France. Any dividends, interest and gains arising are taxable. Consider cashing these in before you leave the UK, and investing via a French tax deferral vehicle, an assurance-vie, which can hold similar investments as an ISA.
4. BE AWARE OF THE TAX CONSEQUENCES OF RETAINING YOUR UK HOME WHEN YOU MOVE TO FRANCE
Both the UK and France have main home reliefs - for any gains arising on the sale of th principal home. Without the required planning, it is very easy for some of the gain to become taxable in the UK and/or France! Make sure you have planned, or taken the correct advice before exposing yourself to an unnecessary tax charge.
5. WHAT DOES BREXIT MEAN FOR YOU AND YOUR AIM TO MOVE TO FRANCE PERMANENTLY?
The Withdrawal Agreement has still to be signed off by Parliament, and any long-term deal has not even been discussed yet. What are the rules for those who move prior to the end of any transitional period, and those cannot move until after this date has passed? Understand the worst case scenario and what you will need to qualify for legal residency in France.