Buying property in France as a foreigner

25.07.17
8 minute read
Tagged:

Whether you’re moving to France for work, to start a business or just to enjoy the French lifestyle, you’ve probably considered buying property to live in or as an investment.

Whether your destination of choice is Paris, Marseilles, Lyon or any smaller city in between, you’ll find a plethora of options in property for sale, ranging from massive estates to tiny apartments to undeveloped plots of land.

While it seems like the French are missing out on investing in their own country-- just 57% own their own property-- their reluctance to buy has left a wide market open for expats and foreign investors. And despite some tricky laws and a load of taxes, many non-Residents have taken the opportunity to buy into the European country.

So if you’ve decided to buy property, what should you know in advance? This guide will walk you through the steps and key points for buying property in France.

What’s the property market like in France?

At the moment the French property market is in the middle of a steady incline, and has been over the past two years. The price of housing has increased by as much as 8%, depending on the home type and location.

Despite a major dip in 2009 and again in 2013, France’s housing market is generally seen as relatively strong, as the country boasts a wealth of desirable property for investors and vacationers.

That being said, many French people choose to rent instead of buy. This is typically credited to massive home prices, which in Paris have peaked to about €8,000 per square meter in the past few years. Most young families simply can’t afford to purchase property in the cities, and-- as is true nearly anywhere-- are unwilling to sacrifice their urban lifestyle in exchange for the relatively less expensive cost of property in more rural areas. All in all, when you consider renting vs. buying in France there are distinct advantages to each, and depending on your financial standing and intent for the property the right answer is different from person to person.

Can foreigners buy property in France?

Yes-- there are currently no restrictions on foreigners buying property in France, however you may find the process a bit more difficult as a foreigner.

If you’re working with a real estate agent the process is likely to be relatively straightforward regardless. If you’re buying directly from the owner, however, you may find your price is inflated, even up to twice the cost of what might be offered to a French person. As such, it’s a good idea to engage a local friend to help you with the process if you can, as they’re likely to have a better rappeur and get a nicer deal from a fellow Frenchman or woman.

What’s the approximate cost of different properties in France?

The cost of property in France ranges significantly based on the type of property and where it is. The following table can give you an idea of what costs might be in select areas, but you can find a wide range of variation and should be prepared to do plenty of research into prices in your chosen locale.

Location Property Type Cost
Paris, Île-de-France 2 BR 2 Bath Apartment €750,000
Finistère, Brittany 3 BR 4 Bath House €115,000
Finistère, Brittany 998 m.sq Plot €12,500
Olonzac, Languedoc-Roussillon 3 BR 4 Bath House €250,000
Lyon, Rhone 3 BR 4 Bath House €420,000
Lyon, Rhone 2 BR 2 Bath Apartment €300,000
Amboise, Loire Valley 4 BR 4 Bath House €550,000
Marseille 4 BR 4 Bath House €1,250,000
Marseille 2 BR 2 Bath Apartment €295,000

How can I find a property in France?

Property agencies and agents

It’s fairly common to use a real estate agent to find property in France, especially in more remote regions or if you don’t know the language well.

While the cost can feel prohibitive, in provinces where homes are more spread out and difficult to find working with agent is the only real way to ensure you’re seeing all of the properties available. More importantly, some French homeowners inflate prices for expats, and working with an agent can help you ensure you’re getting the best deal. That being said, it’s not uncommon for French agencies to take up to 8% of the total cost in fees, so if you’re on a budget trying to house hunt, doing it on your own may be the best course of action.

If you do decide to work with an agent, some of the most well-reputed in France include:

  1. Leggett Immobilier
  2. SMJ Immobilier
  3. Lomagne Immobilier
  4. Gascony Properties
  5. French Character Homes

Avoiding scams

No matter where you’re buying property, there’s a chance you could get ripped off. The best way to avoid scams is to thoroughly research your agent, the property, the market in the surrounding area and what you’re entitled to as a buyer. Some common scams include:

  • Outdated Diagnostic Reports. In France, your agent is required to provide you with a diagnostic report of the property. This is because the agent acts on behalf of the seller, but the same fact means that pushing the sale through to you at the highest possible price is in their best interest. As such, real estate agents sometimes try to pass off old documents-- from one to five years earlier-- as current diagnostic reports.
  • Fake Owners. While this scam is more common among rental properties, it does also happen with sale properties. In this instance, the scammer will have listed a house-- that they may never have had access to, let alone owned-- by scraping the listing from another page. Once they've engaged you in a conversation, they’ll say they’re unable to meet you at the property to exchange keys and deposits, asking you to join them somewhere offsite. At that point they hand over fake keys while you fork over cash, and you may not realize what's happened until you try to enter a property that’s already occupied or belongs to someone else entirely.
  • Property Investment Seminars. If, like many prospective homebuyers, you’re hoping to use your purchase as an investment property, you may be curious about the market, what types of properties to look for and how to get started. As such, Seminars and courses can seem like a really good idea-- as long as you’re going to a legitimate one. Some scammers will charge high rates to get you into a seminar promising lots of valuable information; in the best case, you’ll have overpaid for an informational course. In the worst case, you’ll learn very little and have paid a lot of cash.

While there are many other scams out there, you can avoid many of them by visiting the property, meeting the seller or agent in person, and refusing to hand over any money before you have a verifiably working key and title in your hand.

Property websites in France

If you’re planning to find your home without an agent, your first stop will probably be web-based real estate sites. Going this route can make a lot of financial sense, though the multitude of listings can make your head spin. If you do decide to search online, these sites can be a good place to start:

How do I choose the right property?

Property types

Realistically, the types of properties you’ll find across France vary significantly by location. While in Paris you may struggle to find any housing situation outside of an apartment, in the countryside you’ll be welcomed with plots of land, sprawling estates, villas, homes and townhouses. What type of property you invest in will depend on where you want to invest, and what makes the most sense for your family.

Condition of the property

In France, it's the seller’s legal responsibility to provide you with an up to date diagnostic report. This should cover everything from the presence of lead, asbestos and parasites to the condition of the septic system, the Performance Energy Report and the natural disaster risk.

Before you agree to buy any property, make sure you’ve received this report and have gone over it thoroughly with your agent.

What are the steps to buying a property as a foreigner?

If you’re ready to jump into the property market, the following steps can help give you a rough idea of where to get started:

  1. Decide which region you'd like to live in
  2. Set a budget based on similar properties in the region
  3. Engage a real estate agent to help in your search
  4. Select a property
  5. Carefully review the diagnostic report
  6. Make a verbal offer
  7. Sign a compromis de vente-- a preliminary agreement which locks both parties into the sale
  8. Engage a notaire (lawyer) to perform the property searches, including the land registry, ownership rights, boundaries, and rights of way.
  9. Sign an acte de vente, a sale contract
  10. Enjoy your new property!

How do I get a bank loan/mortgage? Can I make a deposit from a foreign account?

The good news is, there really aren’t any restrictions for expats hoping to buy property in France- and that includes getting a mortgage. While the exact rules and taxes around getting a mortgage may vary slightly for foreigners, all in all the process is the same.

In fact, because foreigners buying French property are so common, most national and international banks cater to the service. The only real restriction on getting a mortgage is your income-- your total debt may not exceed ⅓ of what you make. So, while banks are willing to cover 70-80% of the cost of your new home, your salary may prove to be a restriction.

Most banks will have English-speaking representatives to help you, but it may be a good idea to hire a professional translator anyway, as getting a mortgage isn't a process you want lost in translation.

If you’re already sitting on enough cash to put down your deposit in your foreign bank account, you may be able pay the seller directly. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to look into Transferwise to get the real exchange rate and cut down on international transfer fees.

What kind of taxes and fees will I need to pay?

As you assess your total budget, it’s a good idea to think about all of the costs that come into play during the property buying process, including:

  • Agency/Agent fees: Up to 10%
  • Notary/Lawyer fees: Scaled by the government based on the total price of your purchase, ex:
Purchase Price Notaire Rate
Up to €6,500 4.784%
€6,501 to €17,000 1.9734%
€17,001 to 30,000 1.3156%
€30,001+ 0.9867%
  • Public Registration fees: 0.60% - 4.89%
  • Taxes: 20% at purchase.
  • Land Registry fees: ~0.10%
  • Exchange rate: Variable, but should be set at the mid-market rate, which you can determine using Transferwise.

Once you considered all the most important points of buying property-- from location to style to associated fees, you’re ready to get started in your search. Good luck buying property in France!

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more