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Invest in a French Property and a French Way of Life, Too

Volume XIX, Issue 3

Duplex Apartment, Design by Martine di Mattéo (http://www.martinedimatteo.com)
Duplex Apartment, Design by Martine di Mattéo (martinedimatteo.com)

I received a polite email today from a reader of our Nouvellettres® that she subscribed “in hopes of receiving insight into real estate opportunities and knowledge of the market in Paris,” but “did not subscribe to be lectured on the joys of socialism and how horrible our last president was.”

Those were not my words at all. If she would reread what I wrote in yesterday’s Nouvellettre®, and not what’s she’s making up in her own defensive thinking, she would have understood that the message I tried to impress on you readers has to do with what it’s like to live in France as compared to the U.S. That’s the investment you make when you purchase a property in France—you invest not just in a property, but in a French way of life, too. That French way of life includes a very different kind of political system, legal system and therefore a different way of looking at life…and law.

You can’t separate the two, even if you think it’s just an apartment or a house in which you will spend a few weeks a year enjoying, in a country in which you love being. And why do you have such an affiliation with France? Let’s face it, France is a beautiful country that appreciates fully satisfying all the senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. France isn’t about getting rich, but about enriching life by doing everything in its power to provide as much as possible for as many of its residents (not just citizens) as possible. That comes from it being the Democratic Socialist nation that it is, to “provide a range of essential services to the public for free or at a significant discount, such as health care and education.” (Source)

Duplex Apartment, Design by Martine di Mattéo http://www.martinedimatteo.com

Duplex apartment, design by Martine di Mattéo

I have been watching the U.S. Presidential Inauguration with awe as the nation I call home has turned on a dime with a new administration who sees life very differently than the last one. It seems really hopeful that we Americans will once again be able to work together, not divided, to accomplish great things…but then I get an email like this one and I become less hopeful. What I see is someone who’s not only going to have a hard time working together with all Americans, but someone who is going to have a hard time transitioning to life in France, too.

A meme from the inaugoration of Joe Biden

(Image Provided by WNYT.com)

Meme from the Wizard of Oz

One of the crucial aspects of what we do has less to do with property in France and more to do with helping our clients make that transition. When purchasing property in France, every aspect of the process is different, as are the systems, the laws, the perspective. The roles each of the players play are different. A real estate agent in France doesn’t have the same responsibilities as an agent in the U.S. A “Notaire” is a player that doesn’t exist in the U.S., but has the legal responsibility of processing the transaction and collecting the taxes. The banks that lend money are dealing with a different set of rules and take fewer risks, making the acquisition of a loan a more difficult and cumbersome process. More consumer protection is built in that lengthens the transaction process to months, rather than days or weeks. The closing costs are higher, but the cost of ownership is lower. Inheritance laws and tax obligations are decidedly different. I could go on and on and on. Everything is different. Everything.

A list of everything that's different in France

And it’s all because France is a Democratic Socialist nation. So, if you don’t politically agree with this idea, then best you take France off your list. You may never understand it and may find it more frustrating than enjoyable. That dream you have to live in France could be more your nightmare than the dream you had hoped for if you can’t adapt to these ideas from the beginning. And this is really what we do. We help you understand it and make that transition as smooth as possible. If you’re open-minded, then you’ll pass the test with flying colors.

If you “did not subscribe to be lectured on the joys of socialism” then don’t entertain a property in France, either. You will be disappointed at every turn. Shocking, but you’ll bite the bullet and pay about 7.5 percent of the price of the property to the state for taxes and fees in closing costs, but your annual taxes will be about one-tenth of what they are in the U.S. It’s also surprising that the seller has no responsibility to sell a perfect product—you buy a property “as is,” but you can do whatever you want to the property without special permits (except for altering structural walls or changing the common parts of the building). The seller is morally obligated to accept asking price, so bidding wars don’t exist. Property prices remain fair and not falsely inflated. The seller is also liable for providing diagnostics and all the supporting documentation, so there’s no need for an inspection. The transaction takes months, but you have no title insurance to purchase because the Notaire is culpable for producing a clean title with every i dotted and every t crossed. Plus, imagine when you decide to stay longer in your property and acquire a long stay visa in France, 90 days later you’re entitled to universal health care—up to 70 percent coverage free of charge without ever having paid into the system. Then, when you’re tax resident in France, you won’t pay a penny on your retirement income or your dividends and interest from your U.S. investments.

Wow! Aren’t these all such democratically socialist ideas and aren’t they all so terrible!? (You know, I jest, right?)

Napolean explaining the Napoleonic Code to JosephineI explained the following to someone yesterday who’s been living in France more years than me, but hadn’t fully grasped the difference between English Law (U.S.) and Napoleonic Code (France), so I reiterate it here for your benefit. I learned this after living here 20 years, but it opened my eyes to every situation that was puzzling to my American default mode. Take this to heart, as I believe every cultural shock you encounter in France has this concept as its foundation:

NAPOLEONIC CODE: “Everything which is not allowed is forbidden.”

ENGLISH LAW: “Everything which is not forbidden is allowed.”

The legal system in Anglo Saxon countries is based on what is forbidden while the legal system in France is based on what’s allowed. In America, you can’t do this, and you can’t do that, and everything else is allowed. In France, you are supposed to do this and you are supposed to do that and everything else is not allowed. This means that English law engenders open-minded, out-of-the-box thinking, while Napoleonic code is about following the rules and thinking within the box.

Photo depicting English law

If you can think the way the French think, you can avoid making some of the biggest mistakes. We can help you through that, but it starts with being open-minded, just like our legal system allows us to be.

A bientôt

Adrian Leeds embossed on a coffee mug in ParisAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

 

Postmarked from Paris

 

Adrian Leeds promoting her appearance with Alliance FrançaiseP.S. This is a good moment to register for the “Pursuing the Dream: Living and Investing in France” Webinar sponsored by the The Federation of the Alliances Françaises this Saturday, January 23rd at 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST/8 p.m. to 9 p.m. CET (if you haven’t already!).

“If you’ve had even a glimmer of an idea to enrich your life with a move to France—whether living full-time or part-time in the Hexagone—this is your opportunity to learn the steps to help make the dream come true. In this one-hour session on Zoom you’ll get the inside scoop from moving-to-France and property expert, Adrian Leeds. Adrian has lived in France for over 25 years; her expertise has been featured on House Hunters International. She understands the ins and outs of finding an apartment to rent or a home to buy anywhere in France (not just Paris). In this session she’ll discuss getting a visa, determining where in France you might want to live, and the steps to finding the perfect home. The session will also include an open forum for questions.”

This Zoom event is free to Alliance Française members and readers of our Nouvellettres®. ($10 for non members.)

Visit their site for more information and to register NOW!

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10 Comments

  1. Martine Addison on January 21, 2021 at 11:28 am

    Thank you for your clear description of the difference between real estate norms when purchasing in France and USA. Also, describing the difference in mindset between the two countries is spot on.

  2. Rebecca Lopez on January 21, 2021 at 11:41 am

    Vive la différence!!! Well said – not to mention you are an American making these observations… best to weed out in a very organic way those who will not fit well in France. In the short time I was able to visit France last year I was struck about how many things the French do so much better than we do – while at the same time maintaining their beautiful historic lands and buildings.
    So happy that President Macron and other European leaders gave such a warm and encouraging welcome to President Biden.
    Going to be a very tough climb – hopefully we will be successful.

  3. Jacqueline Bloxam on January 21, 2021 at 11:48 am

    My dear Adrian,

    I so enjoy reading your NouvelleLettre each week. Thank you so much. I have learned a lot from you about my birth country and if I were returning there I would absolutely seek your advice.
    You are the best!

  4. Cynthia Evans. on January 21, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    Brava on your response to the person who complained. I love France and les français and have since I was 10 when my grandmother took me to Paris. I studied in Dijon while at university, and have tried to return as often as possible now that I am older. I am always looking for a home there, mais c’est une rêve. Peut-être un jour.

  5. Madeline McFeely on January 21, 2021 at 12:44 pm

    Bravo Adrian! Excellent column! I was heartbroken to see the assault on the Capital. It is disheartening to learn you share a country with so many racists, sexists and ignorant citizens. Don’t stop speaking truth!

  6. Angela Durand on January 21, 2021 at 1:20 pm

    Dear Ms. Leeds: Amen Sister.
    Having recently returned to the US after owning and renovating (at long distance!) a property in the Languedoc where we had 15 wonderful years of long – and sometimes exasperating – pleasurable/”working” vacations in Le Sud. France is, as the French say, “un peu speciale” but then why would one want it any other way? For various reasons we now find ourselves back in South Florida but not a day goes by without nostalgia for our little village and the magnificent surrounding countryside. Yes, a different world from Paris — but everywhere one turns in France presents different beautiful regions offering their own inimitable cultural experiences.
    Thank you again for your always interesting NouvelleLettres. We may yet return to La Belle…. although US prospects for civility at least (most French may appear, but definitely are NOT rude – in general their manners, especially their children’s, are enviable) are looking up, as of yesterday.

  7. karen hurst on January 21, 2021 at 4:47 pm

    I love this issue, would be perfect for educating Americans on a Democratic Socialistic government. I read all your issues, and wish I was young again to go live in France. Lived in Germany 8 years, owned a house, interesting adventure. Lived in Spain for 5 years rented, that too was interesting. Thanks for the care you take writing your letters.
    Karen

  8. Marcy Wagman on January 21, 2021 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such interesting and thoughtful notes. I especially appreciate the ones you have written this week. I find it to be thought provoking and energizing to learn different perspectives. Thank you for bringing that to me.. especially in these times of very limited travel.

  9. Shon Betancourt on January 21, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    Hello Adrian, I first discovered you on HGTV while one day hoping to move to Europe, thus the main reason I watched House Hunters International. I read your latest newsletter regarding a comment from an American about politics, and I loved your response. I look forward to your newsletter and all the information it provides about France and the life you had in America. I love your story and the courage and strength it took for you to move to another country and not being completely fluent in the language. I don’t have HGTV anymore but I can say that watching you encouraged me to give my then 8 year old daughter French lessons and now she’s a college Freshman and thriving in her French class (I think her professor has figured out she’s not a novice😀) Please keep up the great work you do, stay safe and keep us Americans smiling with your wonderful and informative newsletter. Shon

  10. Jim mcherny on January 26, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Love the coffee cup. Where can I get one?

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