How You Can Own A Piece Of France
The Paris Property Insider was launched six months ago. In that time
we’ve provided you with relevant information about buying property in
Paris and France. The following is a recap of that information… all
in one place. Following the summary below are links to full articles
and our archives where you can read the details of the topics we’ve
I. It Really Is A Different World
In France there is no Multiple Listing Service for property. Most
real estate agents are independent, providing access only to the
properties they represent. Consequently, you cannot walk into an
agency and ask to see what is available throughout the city or area.
Real estate transactions require the involvement of a notaire, a
legal representative of the government charged with administering the
purchase and sale of property.
The recent SRU law made several changes to real estate codes, among
them, mandating waiting periods before the transaction can move
Not the least of the differences here are the inheritance laws and
inheritance taxes. In France, you cannot leave your French property
to whom you wish, certain people are entitled to a share
automatically. Your beneficiaries will be responsible for paying
inheritance taxes, not your estate.
II. Before You Buy
There are a few things you need to be aware of and keep in mind if
you’re interested in buying property in Paris or France. First of
all, yes, you can buy property here as a foreigner. And, you can get
financing here, as a foreigner, even pre-qualification… I’ll talk
about this a little later.
Two of the most important things to consider before signing on the
dotted line are France’s inheritance laws and taxes. The type of
ownership you establish when you buy your property will determine how
you can pass it on at the time of your death.
The default provision a notaire will put in the final "acte de vent"
sets ownership as "en indision" (similar to tenancy in common, each
person owns 50% of the property). Your children will automatically be
entitled to a certain portion of your share of the property.
If you want your spouse or other co-owner to "inherit" all the
property, one option is to establish "en tontine" ownership (similar
to a joint tenancy). At the death of either person, the property is
deemed to be owned entirely by the survivor.
As mentioned earlier, here, it is the beneficiary who pays the taxes
on the property they inherit. This can be a low as 5% or as high as
60% depending on their relationship to the deceased. Children and
spouses pay the least, non-related beneficiaries the most. Even in
France, death and taxes are inevitable. At least inheritance taxes
can be ameliorated. There are a couple of options to soften or
eliminate these taxes.
And one very important caveat… if your domicile at your death is
France, your assets WORLDWIDE will be subject to French inheritance
III. Finding Property
There are a number of resources to actually find an apartment or
other property. The Internet is full of websites listing properties
for sale. Publications such as "Particulier a Particulier" are
another good source. Notaires maintain a list of properties for sale
in their area. You can make an appointment to stop in and see what
they have available.
There are, of course, real estate agencies. Somewhat like pubs in
London, they seem to be everywhere. Again, they only represent what
they have on their books, but they are a good resource for finding
property. Just be aware that if you are interested in different
areas, you will need to visit different agencies.
Another resource to consider, especially if you are not local, is
services like those offered by our Paris office who assist you in
locating the property you want.
IV. Found It, Now What?
No matter what they tell you, try to negotiate the price of the
property you want. In many instances you can get the owner to come
down. Be aware, though, that right now it is a seller’s market here.
If it is something you really want, don’t push to negotiate to hard,
there will be another buyer right behind you, probably willing to pay
the asking price.
Part of negotiating is knowing what the property is worth. Learn what
the average property prices are for the city and the particular area
of the city where the property is located. Know what the averages are
per square meter. These will give you objective measurements to start
On top of that, you have to consider all the subjective elements that
make a property worth the price or not. The building, the apartment
layout, the neighborhood, etc. These are just a few of the things to
For many foreigners, the property prices here seem reasonable, even
good. When you walk into that charming pied-à-terre with wood floors,
exposed beams and stone walls, it may seem worth every over-priced
"centime" the owner wants for it. Even though the price of the
apartment you have found may seem good, comparatively, don’t pay more
than you should. Leave it up to less informed foreigners to drive up
the prices after you buy yours for less.
V. Getting The Financing
Naturally, the easiest way to finance property here is to pay cash.
If that’s not an option, there are a variety of ways to obtain a
mortgage. Unless you are a resident here and have a salary or some
type of regular income going into a French bank account, you will not
be able to get a loan from a French bank.
There are some American financial institutions that will finance
property abroad, but doing so comes at a very high premium. You will
pay exorbitant interest rates.
As a foreigner, your best bet is with either British lender Abbey
National, or former British institution Banque Patrimoine &
Immobilier (BPI, formerly Woolwhich Bank). Both operate in France and
are equipped and used to working with foreigners who need a mortgage
to buy property here. You will be able to finance up to 80% of the
purchase price of the property at very attractive interest rates.
VI. Signing On The Dotted Line
All real estate contracts are required by law to be written in
French. Even if you are fluent in the language, I encourage you to
have a native French speaker to assist you. Not only will they know
the language, they know the meaning behind it and truly understand
As stated above, real estate transactions are all handled through a
notaire. Do not confuse a notaire with our idea of notary. They are
not the same. A notaire is a specially trained and certified
attorney. Hired by the seller and theoretically acting as an
impartial administrator of the transaction, it is advisable to hire
either your own notaire or other professional to represent your
The "promesse de vent" (promise to sell) is generally the initial
document you will sign. This is the agreement between the buyer and
seller. It outlines the various terms of the agreement, and more
importantly outlines any conditions that must be met for the deal to
go through ("clauses suspensives"). These are clauses proposed by
either party that allows them to back out of the deal, without
penalty, if they are not met. This generally includes things like
obtaining financing and property inspections. You will be expected to
pay a 10% deposit at this time.
Once the clauses have been met, either by fulfillment or time lapse,
and the notaire has completed his work, the parties will be notified
and a date set for the singing of the acte de vente. At the time of
the meeting, the notaire will read the document aloud to the parties.
The French believe you can’t sign what you don’t understand, so the
reading is to insure that the parties know what they are singing.
Once the singing is completed, you will give the notaire the check
for the balance of monies due. He will pay the owner, the agent if
there was one, the taxes, and finally himself. Et voila! You will be
given the keys.
VII. You Bought It, Now What?
Congratulations! You now own your home away from home. You can look
forward to renovating to get it just the way you want, and of course
begin to think about the taxes, utilities, and other things
homeowners are faced with… in some ways, it is not so different
I’ve touched on most of the issues we’ve covered over the last six
months. You’ll find links below to our archives and to specific
articles that discuss these in detail. In the months ahead we’ll
continue to provide information and updates on real estate here in
Paris and France. Our goal is to educate and keep you informed so
that you the knowledge and tools to buy property here easier and
Editor, Paris Property Insider
E-mail: mailto:[email protected]
For an archive of all newsletters, please visit
http://www.internationalliving.com/paris/eletters.cfm (archive of
both Parler Paris and Paris Property Insider, alternately)
For specific property articles, please visit
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Many people don’t have the time nor the resources to look for their
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