It’s safe, secure and easy to get to – France is still a top choice for many British second-home buyers. But read our quick guide before you go shopping...
France remains so popular among British overseas buyers for several reasons: it’s easy to get to, by car, plane, train or boat; most of us learnt French at school; property prices are stable; and buyers are well protected by France’s strict property laws.
There are also historically low interest rates on mortgages right now, with rates such as 3.60 per cent for a 20-year fixed deal (in January 2013).
It’s also a diverse landscape and the many thousands of Brits living there have barely dented the French culture, so people buy in France for the genuine pleasure of experiencing a different culture that’s focused on living well, whether in the Dordogne, the Alps or the Côte d’Azur.
France has also benefited from uncertainty over the economies of Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, unrest in the “Arab Spring” and high oil prices. Suddenly, France seems a safe haven. Yet it is still a buyers’ market. The property market in most areas is still quiet – with the notable exception of highly performing Paris – and motivated sellers are accepting reasonable offers meaning a French home isn't out of reach.
As a long-term investment, it also offers great returns, with the world’s highest number of tourists keeping up occupancy levels in guaranteed rental schemes such as the government-backed leaseback programme.
The newest hotspot for overseas buyers to secure their French home is the Languedoc-Roussillon area; a cheaper option to über-pricey Provence or the Cote d’Azur, with cities such as Montpellier, a dynamic, high-tech industrial city with an arty, bohemian culture. The countryside has vineyards and lavender fields like Provence, the Mediterranean is on the doorstep, but for €150,000 you can get a flat in Montpellier, or a country cottage or village property without much land but in good repair.
The Dordogne, in the Aquitaine region, is always a favourite with UK buyers. Bijou village houses go from under €100,000 and three-bedroom family houses with good-sized gardens for €200,000. You pay a high premium for quality restorations, so for anything without original features or top-notch facilities don’t be shy about haggling.
Up in the north, Brittany and Normandy are great options for people who like their places in the sun not too hot, but still averaging 5ºC higher than in southern England. The fishing villages are a great attraction, with restaurants on the harbourside, but inland you have the weekly markets, chateaux, green countryside and a wonderful infrastructure, all just a hop over the Channel. That convenience pushes seaside prices up, but go a few miles inland and sizeable farmhouses go from €250,000, cottages from €85,000.
Paris, like London, has bucked the national trend, and prices are still rising, while the French Alps remain our most popular ski-property location, with the Three Valleys as popular as ever.
When an offer is accepted on a property in France, the estate agent or notary (notaire) draws up the initial sales contract (compromis de vente, or sous seing privé). It is a binding contract after the seven-day cooling-off period, so any queries must be subject to conditional clauses (clauses suspensives).
Once the compromis is signed, the agent and the notaire check the documentation regarding the property and land, and on the completion date both parties attend the notaire’s office to sign the acte authentique. The rest of the price, including legal and agency fees, must be in the notaire’s account by the signing date, so that after signing the house becomes yours.
When buying your property in France, there are various buying costs you need to take into consideration. What these are depend on whether the (fairly large) estate agent’s fees are paid by the buyer or seller. Usually the latter, but sometimes they’re shared. On top of this are stamp duty on older properties of just under 5 per cent, notaire’s fees of 2-3 per cent a mortgage fee of around 1 per cent and solicitor’s fees of 1-2 per cent.
The new French Socialist government keep changing their tack on property and wealth taxes, so if you are looking to buy or relocate make sure you seek expert information, don't rely on out of date information on the internet!
When buying a restoration project property in France, take into account that material and labour prices have doubled over the past 15 years, so it may well be better to buy a house that has already been restored to a high quality. Many British buyers of French property who are more-or-less competent at DIY have done the job themselves, leaving somewhat shabby properties that are difficult to sell. Homes properly renovated by French artisans to a high standard are much easier to sell and have a warranty of 10 years after the work is completed.