Living Abroad - France 

Thinking about buying an overseas property ?

A wonderful quality of life, efficient transport links and some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe just three of the reasons why France continues to be one of the most popular destinations for Britain's growing army of overseas property buyers.

Now is a great time, with prices falling, there are undoubtedly bargains to be found. You will discover that you get a lot more property for your money, especially in France, which of course, has excellent communications with the UK, with a choice of cheap flights using regional airports, several ferry port options, plus of course the train utilising Eurostar and the TGV.

To make the most of the better weather, you generally need to be south of the Loire Valley, but do bear in mind the distances involved when looking at a map of France, which is roughly 4 times the size of the UK. The Poitou Charentes is a very popular destination, since it is easily reached within a day, and has is the 2nd sunniest area, after the Med coast. The area is well served by several airports, including La Rochelle, Poitiers, Angouleme, Limoges, plus Bordeaux and Nantes a little further away. 

House prices are cheaper than further south, and there is a nice mix of styles, in fact everything from Moulins, Maisons Bourgeoise, Logis and Farmhouses to Chateaux.

Over the last 10 years, the Western world has enjoyed the biggest property boom in its history.  Currently, the first generation of the original baby boomers who bought overseas are now choosing to downsize their foreign properties as they get older. This often means that ex-Pats are selling up in Europe and moving back to the UK to be close once again to relatives. This is creating a great opportunity as the vendors will have purchased when exchange rates were very favourable for the , whereas now it favours the Euro. British vendors are therefore generally more open to negotiation on price.

As a buyer, any purchase inevitably this involves a currency exchange transaction, moving Sterling into Euros, and we always recommend that a specialist dealer is used rather than a High Street bank to ensure that a competitive rate is achieved.

For those looking for a permanent move, they will enjoy the return of the quality of their lifestyle, so frequently lost nowadays in the hustle and bustle of the UK. The better weather is, of course, an added bonus. For those buying a holiday home in France, perhaps ahead of a permanent move and retirement, a purchase will offer years of cheap holidays, and the potential for some rental income if you choose.

Buying a home in France involves a different system to that employed in the UK, and the buyer is committed to the transaction at a much earlier stage, although there is a 7 day period of reflection, during which time you can change your mind. There are also different inheritance rules to consider in France, and you should speak to an English speaking Notaire for guidance in this area.

Information provided by Peter Elias (Agent Commercial) - www.allez- francais.com


Buying Your 1st French Home

You can have an organised itinerary, sensible journeys planned each day and good "value for money" accommodation waiting for you each night or you can race up and down the country exhausting yourself with broken appointments, and a lot of frustration. Warning  - France is a big country!

Trying to squeeze in 3 or 4 appointments a day, an hour here, an hour there plus a late arrival might seem initially like the best way to cover ground - but take it from us, that's exactly what you'll achieve - just covering ground and you won't endear yourself to the French agencies. Do also bear in mind that it is difficult to view houses at lunch times and weekend viewings are very limited.

Once we have a feel for the type of property that you are seeking and the amount of viewing time you want us to fill, we will plan a viewing itinerary.  This can range from half a day to 2 full days, depending on the number of properties to see. We will arrange the itinerary into the most efficient for travel and confirm your appointments. If you are not free to accept the appointments, or if you're waiting for other agency confirmations, or if you have "rest" days in mind, please tell us beforehand
Visiting Properties. Keep your itinerary, mobile phone and map with you. Then, you shouldn't get lost, you'll have all the relevant directions and phone numbers with you and if you get delayed or find your ideal French home, you'll be able to advise all the agents accordingly.

Equip yourself for the task. Don't wear your smart clothes. Do take a torch, tape measure, compass, digital camera, pen and notebook. Then, you'll be able to investigate any dark corners, take a photo of the unusual feature, confirm the measurements of rooms, be sure where the sun will rise and set and make sufficient notes to aid your decision later.

Try to prepare a list of general questions, pertinent to all the properties you will see, beforehand. How old is the property? Is there a septic tank? Are all services connected (water, electricity, etc)? How much are the local taxes? How long will the sale process take (is it a straightforward single owner sale or a multiple owner inheritance sale)?

Tell us honestly, what you like and don't like about each property you see. It will allow us to fine tune your viewing list if we're on the wrong track.

Spend some time thinking about:-
What location are you looking for?  Within reach of a ferry port or near to an airport? A mild, warm or hot summer climate?  A mild winter climate or snow? Near the coast, rolling countryside or views?  Town, village or rural?

What type of property are you looking for?

A holiday home, a permanent home, income producing or "get-away-from-it-all"? Moulins, Maisons Bourgeoise, Logis and Farmhouses to Chateaux or a simple pavillon. Let us know which styles appeal to you and which do not. Lots of land and lots of upkeep or a small garden and low maintenance?

A restoration project (and the end of carefree holidays) or renovated and more expensive - bear in mind that property prices in France are cheaper because land is cheaper, building and restoring costs can be as expensive as in the UK. Personal use or potential space for gites - typically an average gite can make 5,000 per year but a lot depends on number of bedrooms, off season use (central heating) and marketing, etc, and there are running costs to consider.

 If you see a specific property that really appeals to you, you should be prepared to drop everything and get to France as quickly as you can. Whilst we employ the speed of the internet to keep you informed and to update our systems, ensuring we are always ahead of printed brochures and magazine adverts (which have a typical 3-4 week lead time), it should be appreciated that because in France the buyer pays the agency fees rather than the seller, many owners will put their properties on the books of more than one French Estate Agent and whilst every effort is made to ensure availability with our offices, it could be sold by another agent the day after an appointment is made. This is true for all agencies working with French properties, but at least being resident here in France we have our ears to the ground.

Making an offer.

Just like people in the UK, some owners will accept an offer and others won't. Generally we know whether the owner will accept and, if so, within what range - so do please use our knowledge. After all, we want to find a suitable property for you as much as you do.

If you can afford the time, it is our recommendation that you leave your last day free of appointments. This will allow you time to review the properties you've seen and if you've made your mind up, sort out the paperwork without being rushed into mistakes.

When you've reached an agreed price, you will be required to sign the first contract - "compromis de vente". Without this, your offer remains only an offer and most owners will not stop the marketing of their property. However, once you do sign it, (there is a 7 day 'cooling off' period), and then you are legally bound to purchase the property or forfeit your deposit (usually 10% of the agreed price). Equally, once signed, the owner is legally bound to sell it to you at the contracted price. 

A registered agent or notaire is allowed to draw up the compromis and it is at this point that you need to insert any clauses which you feel must be met in order for the sale to continue to completion. For example, should you require a mortgage, subject to particular items being included in the sale, etc. These conditions are called "clauses suspensives".

Whilst speed is of the essence in the signing of the compromis (as mentioned, without this, the property could be bought by someone willing to sign the contract more quickly than you), it is possible and acceptable for all the documentation to be sent to you in your own country so you do not have to sign anything there and then BUT you must accept the risk of losing the purchase through your delay.

Once you have signed, the notaire will begin his work (relevant enquiries and searches) which normally take 2 to 3 months. You will then be required to return to the notaires office to complete the purchase and pay the outstanding amount of the purchase price and associated fees or you can appoint a "power of attorney" to do the same on your behalf.

Currency and insurances

The best single piece of advice to all buyers in France is to use a currency exchange specialist, and not your bank. We can arrange this for you at preferential rates and will even allow a 6 month free offer for insurance for all of our buyers.

Do you need UK professionals (solicitors etc) ?

France enjoys a fairly straightforward conveyancing process that most people using a measure of common sense should handle easily. Even if you use a solicitor, the legal documents still have to be passed by the French Notaire. It is worth pointing out that under this system and their supervision, property problems and litigations are lower in France (less than 0.5%) than any other country. Please bear in mind that we constantly have experience of non French clients, are English speaking and will guide you through the whole process, at absolutely no additional charge some agencies charge a hand holding fee.  If  you do want to use a UK solicitor we can introduce you to one at a 10% discount price.

It is our remit to ensure that you are totally happy with the transaction and if you were not you wouldn't recommend us to your friends. And that is one of our goals!

Information by Peter Elias (Agent Commercial)  - www.allez- francais.com

 

Our top 10 mistakes made when moving to and living in France

1. UNDERESTIMATING THE COST OF LIVING IN FRANCE
Many people arrive in France with the profit from the sale of their house in their previous country of residence - but no other source of income. They frequently over estimate how long this money will last and it often runs out much quicker than anticipated. It is important to have an additional source of income.
Also please note, the income at which you need to start paying social charges is quite low so you need to take this into account if planning a self-sufficient lifestyle with a small income.

2. NOT SPEAKING FRENCH
If you're moving to the countryside, it is very important to understand the culture of rural France - they speak only French and expect English people to speak French. If you cannot speak the language you are likely to find life difficult and isolating, especially if you want to work or set up a business. It is also vital for families with children as your child will learn the language so you will need too as well. Try to study French before moving to France and when you arrive, organise extra lessons.

3. NOT RESEARCHING LOCAL SCHOOLS
It is very important, especially if coming to live in rural France, to research schools and colleges for your children. Try to visit schools in the area in which you intend to move in order to avoid disappointment and also the stress of changing schools very soon after arriving causing undue upheaval and upset for the children.

4. NOT BUDGETTING FOR HEALTH COVER
Be clear about how you fit into the health and social security system - and how much is will cost you. Many people underestimate the costs and often do not budget for them, especially when it comes to health cover. Remember: only 50 - 75% of health costs are refundable and top up insurance is required for the rest.

5. NOT REGISTERING FOR TAX
Many people are afraid of the tax laws in France and therefore don't register; or they believe that it is not required as they have no French income. However, it is imperative to register for tax even if there is nothing to declare. If you don t there could be a knock-on effect with issues such as capital gains tax; for example you could be eligible to pay it on your French home even if it is your only home.

6. SIGNING HOUSE SALE CONTRACTS WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WHAT THEY SAY
Often people sign the compromis de vente (promise to sell) and the acte de vente (act of sale) without understanding the contents. This means that they do not discover problems, such as an issue over rights of way across their land or restrictions on use of a building, until after they have signed to buy the house. Make sure you fully understand the details of the sale before you sign.

7. HIRING ARTISANS WORKING ON THE BLACK
There are many people in France trying to earn a living by doing building work on the black. The problem with using these people is that you have no guarantees for the work and therefore no comeback. Using un-registered tradesmen is also a problem if you want to resell your house as the potential buyer will want to see guarantees for important work, such as the roof, the fosse etc. These have to have been done legally for the work to be accepted.

8. FORGETTING TO PAY BILLS ON TIME
In France bills are expected to be paid by the due date - it is not done to wait for the 'final warning' letter! Failure you pay can mean automatic penalty payments or worse, being cut off!

9. NOT CARRYING DRIVING LICENCE & OTHER DOCUMENTS
By law you must always have your driving licence, insurance details and carte gris with you at all times. These will be checked on the spot by police, and you will be in trouble if you do not have them or if they are out of date. Also be careful if you are involved in a car accident. You are expected to have the form called un constat with you and both parties need to sign this form before it is given to both insurance companies.

10. UNDERSTIMATING THE COSTS AND RED TAPE OF BEING SELF- EMPLOYED
Many people come to France to be self-employed, hoping for a more flexible live than being an employee. However, many people find themselves in financial trouble because of mistakes made when starting up and running a business.

It is vital to take advice and guidance when setting up your business and then on an ongoing basis to ensure all the correct charges are being paid by the due date. This will give your business the best chance of success and avoid undue stress - and failure.

Information provided by Peter Elias (Agent Commercial) www.allez-francais.com


Currency Important

It is strange to find that purchasers of property in France are always keen to negotiate a good price on the house of their dreams, but then fail to appreciate that great savings can be made by ensuring that they receive the best exchange rate from into Euros.
 
We tend to shop around for most things in life, but when it comes to currency, most people simply head straight for the bank. Mistake ! Banks do not offer you the best currency rate options.
 
The currency markets are notoriously volatile : for example in the final quarter of 2008 the cost of a property in Euroland would have increased by around 20% in 3 weeks. Purchasers can avoid these pitfalls if they use a specialist currency broker who can explain the various methods of avoiding risk.
 
We recommend that our clients use our chosen currency experts Foremost Currency Group. They are the specialist dealers with whom we work and we see them as an integral part of our business. It is possible to implement monitoring systems to protect a minimum exchange rate.  Depending upon the size of a transaction the potential gain could amount to a very tidy sum, but no matter what happens, you are always protected against any negative exchange rate movements that could leave you out of pocket. It is possible to lock into exchange rates when rates are especially beneficial. Our business partners at Foremost Currency Group, with a dedicated dealer in Adam Bobroff (01442 892 060), can do this at no cost to you at all.
 
F C G are able to offer corporate rates of exchange, which are more competitive than High Street banks.  
F C G charge you no fees or commission.
F C G will remit your money to the Notaire in France at low/no cost by Priority Telegraphic Transfer.
 
Don't fall into the trap of not getting the best deal for your money. Take expert guidance and use a specialist currency dealer. We have every confidence that Foremost Currency Group will ensure that you get the best deal and give you the peace of mind to enable you to concentrate upon the other important matters associated with property purchase. Don't delay - open a trading account today. It costs you nothing apart from a few minutes of your time, but it could make a lot of difference to the cost of your dream home in France.
 
Whilst these notes have been written with purchasers in mind they equally apply to anyone selling in France and moving back to the UK.
 
Due to the sheer volume of transactions they are able to offer preferential rates of exchange, without compromising an exceptional level of personal service.

Information by Peter Elias (Agent Commercial)  - www.allez- francais.com