Protecting your home against risk is an important aspect of buying a home in France, especially if you are absent for long periods of time, says Guillaume Poissant
I’m buying a property in France. Is house insurance obligatory?
Home insurance is is not obligatory on your own home (unless you rent it out). However, it is highly recommended that you take out the minimum third-party liability cover (responsabilité civile propriétaire) which will cover you against the risk of damage from an accident on your property to a third party (e.g. a neighbour and their property). If you don’t have this cover, you would be held personally responsible and be required to pay any compensation that may be due.
I heard that you need to have insurance in place when you sign the acte de vente?
Despite it not strictly being required, in most cases the notaire will ask for proof of insurance.
I’ve heard you automatically ‘inherit’ the previous owner’s insurance, so don’t need your own. Is that correct, and if so, advisable?
This is not correct. You do not automatically inherit the previous owner’s insurance. In most circumstances, the previous owner’s insurance policy will stop on the day of the purchase and so this is why you (and the notaire) cannot take the risk that your property is not covered on the day of the signature.
Is there building insurance and contents insurance in France as in the UK? Does property insurance in France differ from that in the UK?
Just like the UK, there is both building insurance and contents insurance. Within a multi-risk policy (assurance multirisque habitation) you are covered against the cost of repairs or rebuilding following loss or damage caused by earthquake, fire, storm and flood to the property which includes its walls, garages, sheds, gates and fences plus the property’s permanent fixtures and fittings within the building, such as fitted kitchen and bathrooms.
Home contents is normally included in a multi-risk policy and in France, as in the UK, content is defined as any movable item. However, if you own more valuable items (such as jewellery, artwork, and antique furniture, for example) it will need to be valued by an assessor and separately listed in your home insurance contract.
Accidental damage to household content is not usually included in standard French policies, which means your TV will be covered if there is a fire but it will not be covered if you accidentally drop it.
What is obligatory and what is optional?
As already mentioned above, home insurance is optional if you simply own your home, but it is obligatory if you rent your property out and you must have third-party liability cover. In both cases you would be held personally responsible if something were to happen and you did not have this cover in place.
Other risks like fire, theft, water and other damage are covered in what is known as a multi-risk policy (assurance multirisque habitation) which should also include public liability cover for you and your family.
Some policies offer a ‘new for old’ option (réequipement à neuf étendu) allowing you to get an equivalent new item as a replacement (with no depreciation due to the age of the item or general state). An age limit on new for old items may apply and, for example, to a washing machine if it is more than 10 years old. It is highly advisable to take photos of and keep receipts for the appliances you buy as you may be asked to provide proof of purchase in case of a claim.
Could you tell me more about the third party liability you mentioned above?
The minimum cover you can have in France is third-party liability cover (responsabilité civile propriétaire) which will cover you against risk of damage from an accident on your property to a third party (e.g. tree or tile falling on the neighbour’s car).
This forms the basis of a home insurance policy and other risks like fire, theft, water and other damage are covered in what is known as a multi-risk policy (assurance multirisque habitation) which should also include public liability cover for you and your family (including pets) for any damage you might cause to a third party even if it happens outside of your home.
Are there different considerations for holiday and permanent homes?
If your property is your second home or is empty for part of the year then you must make this known to your insurer.
There may be implications on the level of risk cover which can be offered, particularly in relation to insurance against theft and security of the property such as ensuring locks and security alarms are fitted, that the property is inspected regularly and ensuring shutters and grills are fitted to windows.
You may also be required to ensure water and electricity supplies are turned off at the mains while you are away.
Is French insurance based on rebuild value as in the UK? Will my insurance company want a valuation of my property? What will they need to know about my property?
Property in France is insured at the value of rebuilding the property at today’s building costs. The rebuild value is the full cost of reconstruction of the building in its present form. Therefore, no evaluation will be requested for standard houses apart from the main criteria which is the number of main rooms of your property.
It is extremely important therefore that you inform your insurer of changes that are made to your property, especially if you are renovating an old cottage or farmhouse, as your policy contract will need to be updated so that it includes any new additional bedrooms or a converted attic space.
Are there any differences between insuring an old or a new property? Are there any between a house or an apartment?
There are usually no differences when insuring an old or new property or an apartment. Other more unusual buildings like mills, castles, or part of a property that is used for business purposes may have to be dealt with differently.
I’ll be leaving my property empty for periods of time. Do I need to inform my insurer?
You will have to inform your insurer if your contract has been subscribed as your main residence. A main residence is generally a property where it is inhabited for more than 90 days a year, again this should be checked with your insurance company.
If the property in question is your second home, or is empty for part of the year, you must make this known to your insurer. There may be implications on the level of risk cover which can be offered, particularly in relation to insurance against theft and concerning security of your property.
You may be required to ensure that your property has double locks and security alarms, and that shutters and grills are fitted to windows. You may also be required to turn off your water and electricity supplies at the mains when you are away.
I will be renting my property out as holiday accommodation. Do I need to let my insurance company know? Does this affect my third party liability?
If you are going to rent your property out as a holiday let (for the entire year or for seasonal letting) you should inform your insurer of this. This also aplies if you only rent part of the property and still live in the other part of it.
The fact that you rent out your property will not affect your third-party liability but you will need to ensure that any damage, risk of fire and flooding caused by a holiday tenant to your property is properly guaranteed.
If you already insure your home through a comprehensive assurance multirisque habitation then most of these policies do contain a clause that allows you to let out on a seasonal basis to third parties for up to three months, but you should always clarify this with your insurer.
Likewise, a tenant may already be covered in their own home insurance policy for their contents as well as their liability when renting. It is highly recommended you request such proof of insurance from the tenant.
How do I choose between insurers. Do I have to use a French company/broker?
Using a French company is not obligatory when owning a property in France but the French insurance market offers a wide choice of companies to choose from. You may contact an insurer through your local high street agent, online or via a broker.
In France, your local agent acts like a broker seeking the best deal for you and being at your side throughout the life of your contract including whenever a claim occurs. Insurance has its own jargon, its own rules and processes and, in a foreign country, language may be an additional problem. An agent général who offers an English-speaking service and who specialises in helping expatriates can obviously ease the process of getting insurance policies explained. It will also enable you to discuss your situation and specific needs with a professional who can provide you with a tailor-made solution.
Guillaume Poissant, AXA Poissant Insurance
Tel: 0033 (0)2 97 60 08 23