If you’ve been thinking of buying a property in France for a while, make 2019 the year you turn your dreams into reality
Choose a location
Ok, so you’ve been thinking about buying a property in France for some time now, but haven’t quite pinned down the location. Choosing where to buy is not as easy as it may sound to an outsider; after all, France is a big country with masses of variety in scenery, styles of property, activities on offer, tourist and cultural attractions, and regional dishes.
If you’ve been dithering over deciding between two or more locations, now’s the time to take a good hard look at each, and work out which will suit your needs best. Why not list your requirements (how you want to spend your time in France, the type of scenery you like, your preferred climate and so on) and score each location accordingly.
Take time too to explore each location; if possible at different times of the year. Many places, especially touristy ones, are very different in the depths of winter to the height of the summer holiday season.
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Decide on the property style
Chances are you have a good idea of the property you’re seeking – probably determined by budget, the number of bedrooms you need, old or new etc – but the clearer you are about it, the less time you’ll waste looking at unsuitable properties. Of course, you’ll need some flexibility too so you can embrace that old property watchword, compromise.
As with location, aim to narrow down your requirements, perhaps in a wishlist; decide which are ‘must-haves’ and which are ‘would-be-nice’. Use this list when deciding on properties to view, and then you can eliminate any that have caught your eye but aren’t really suitable. How many bedrooms will you really need? If you’re including guestrooms for visiting friends and family, how often will you use them all? Remember, bigger properties mean bigger taxes and higher running costs. The same goes for land; it can be so tempting to go for a huge garden only to regret it later when you spend all your time at your French holiday home weeding and mowing the lawn!
When it comes to the style and age of a property, consider all options before you discard any. If you’re set on an older home, have you thought about a newer property with character features that would be easier to maintain? If you’ve only ever looked at houses, why not check out a few apartments online to see if they might suit you better.
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Build relationships with agents
Once you’ve decided what and where you want to buy, contact agents who know the area well. You’ll be able to learn a lot from them about the location, and they’ll be able to match properties to your requirements. There are no set rules on how many agents to contact; sometimes one is enough, other times you’ll need to work with a few.
If your French is not so good, it helps to deal with English-speaking agents. Luckily, there are plenty, based in France and in the UK. Take a look at FrancePropertyShop.com to find agents who are used to working with British buyers and will be able to advise you on the various aspects of the process as well as arrange property viewings. If you’re short on time, a property finder may be a useful option; they will take a brief from you and source suitable properties.
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Sort out finance
If you need a mortgage, it’s advisable to get one agreed in principle before you start viewing properties. As well as showing vendors and agents that you’re serious about buying, you’ll be able to move quickly should you find ‘the one’.
Even if you have cash for your purchase, it may still be worth considering a mortgage for all or part of the property, especially when the pound to euro exchange rate is not so strong. You can always pay off the mortgage later when the pound strengthens.
There are plenty of flexible mortgage products currently available for British buyers in France; a specialist mortgage broker will be able to advise you on the best options. They will pre-assess your mortgage application and ensure it includes the supporting documentation required by French law.
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Contact a currency broker
While exchange rates go up and down, one thing is for certain – the better exchange rate you secure, the more property you’ll be able to buy. Contact a currency broker early on in the process, not just before you sign the deed of sale. They can advise you on how to get the best rate, and as specialists, they generally offer better rates than your high street bank. You can sign up for rate alerts and they will also offer various useful currency contracts.
A spot contract, for example, allows you to agree an exchange rate based on the current market rate, for an immediate transfer. A forward contract enables you to lock in the current exchange rate for a transfer at a later date. This is usually a maximum of two years and you usually pay a deposit of around 10% up front and then the rest when the contract matures.
A limit order can be used when you want to send foreign currency at a guaranteed rate. You set your target exchange rate and when the market reaches that rate, your transfer will be triggered.
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Get legal advice
When buying abroad, it’s always best to seek professional legal advice to ensure you have all bases covered. In France, the buying process is regulated and protective of the buyer, but it is quite different to the UK process. The main difference is that the contract becomes legally binding early on rather than towards the end of the process. After the initial contract (usually called the ‘compris de vente’) has been signed, you have a 10-day cooling-off period after which you can’t pull out of the deal without losing your deposit (and may be required to complete on the purchase), unless one of the conditional clauses has been triggered.
Some estate agents have their own standard sales contracts, but it is preferable to have these drawn up by your notaire, as they can tailor it to suit you. For example, you may want to insert a clause saying the sale is dependent on a satisfactory survey. Although your notaire can advise you, it is best to also seek the advice of a solicitor who is familiar with both French and British law. They can also recommend the best way to frame the purchase. For example, unlike the UK, France has several marital regimes, and this can affect the way you want to bequeath your property.
French inheritance law (and tax) favours dependents, so if you don’t want your property to default to French law you will need to draw up a UK will covering your French property too. A legal professional will be able to help with this, and also with further estate planning. It may not be on your mind when you’re buying a property, but setting up the purchase according to your needs in the first place can save a lot of heartache (and money) later.
And on that happy note, bon chance! May 2019 be the year your property dreams come to fruition.
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