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Finding a Temporary Home: Renting in France
At a Glance:
- Many people in France rent rather than buy their own house or apartment.
- Furnished apartments may be more suitable for expats, but unfurnished apartments offer greater legal protection.
- At the very least, your application to the landlord or real estate agency should include a copy of your visa, bank statements, and employment contract.
- Tenants are required to take out liability insurance and pay the housing tax at the beginning of every year.
- A termination of lease should be submitted in writing and within the appropriate period of notice.
Finding a place to live is one of the big challenges of moving abroad, one of the biggest items to cross off your to-do list. Especially for expats who have just arrived or whose foreign assignment has an expiration date, renting an apartment is a great way of testing the waters. Considering that purchasing real estate comes with a lot of paperwork, renting can seem like a no-strings-attached way of settling down in France.
However, there are a lot of things you need to keep in mind before signing a lease.
Renting vs. Buying
For many expats who move to France for good and dream of a château overlooking the lavender fields of the Provence, buying a home might be the ultimate goal. However, in French cities and particularly among expats, it is more common to rent. About 40% of the French population rent their apartment or house, and many even live there for a longer period of time.
One of the reasons why only few people live in a place they actually own — in Paris the percentage of homeowners is less than one in three — is the high price per square meter. Moreover, the property transaction costs of purchasing or selling a home can amount up to 23%, which is relatively high. For expats who are looking to move again within a couple of years or who are not sure if France is the right place to settle down, buying real estate could therefore be rather expensive. Unless you live in Paris, where affordable housing is few and far between, renting is often the cheaper and easier option, especially in the beginning of an expat assignment.
Different Types of Rentals
You have the option of renting a furnished (meublé) or unfurnished (vide) apartment. Unfurnished apartments have a longer minimum lease, usually three years, but the contract offers greater legal protection to the tenant.
Furnished apartments must be equipped with bedding, stove, oven or microwave, fridge and freezer, crockery, kitchen utensils, tables and seats, lighting, and housekeeping equipment. While this sounds great on paper, many expats report that the furnishing in their apartment was rather old and that some of the appliances broke soon after they had moved in.
If you decide on renting a furnished apartment, make sure to check everything thoroughly. Talk to your prospective landlord about whose responsibility it is to replace a broken device or piece of furniture.
Expats who only stay in France for a few months or who are looking for a short-term rental while they search for a permanent home, should look into holiday rentals as well. There is a strong holiday property market in France, including “long-term” rentals of up to three months. Keep in mind, however, that you usually cannot extend your lease on a holiday rental, so you should be ready to move when it ends.
How to Find an Apartment in the First Place
First and foremost, make sure to get a head start on the apartment search. In Paris, you might need a few months to find the long-term rental that satisfies your needs, but elsewhere in France, a few weeks might suffice.
The ideal time for an apartment search is between May and July whereas many landlords and real estate agents are on vacation during August. If you plan on moving to a university town, September and October can be a difficult time for house hunting, since this is the time when students start their new year and people return from vacation. The real estate market is also slow during the Christmas season.
Of course, you can use a real estate agency if your budget allows it. Agencies usually charge a fee for their services, but on the upside, the process is a bit easier than dealing with a landlord directly. This can be convenient if you are in a rush to get settled or if you struggle to find a place on your own.
In case you are doing the legwork yourself, there are many ways to approach the housing search. The first step is to familiarize yourself with your prospective home: try to find out all you can about local housing prices and the infrastructure in different neighborhoods.
Once you have an idea of where you would like to live, put some feelers out. Talk to other expats, colleagues, friends, that parent you always run into when you drop your kid off at school, and ask them if they know of any vacancies. Many apartments are recommended by word of mouth, and you might be able to find a place before it is even on the market. Of course, this approach is easiest if you already have a support network in France.
The classifieds sections of various local magazines and newspapers, such as Le Parisien, are a little old school but can be very effective. While you read through the many ads, keep in mind that the competition is fierce. The best approach is to get a copy of the classifieds as soon as they are published and start calling landlords right away. If you get an answering machine or can’t reach anyone, be persistent. Make sure to brush up on the real estate lingo before you get in touch with anyone: learn how to ask for the étage (floor), the number of chambres (rooms), and whether the apartment is meublé (furnished).
The many real estate search engines and websites, such as Se Loger, Logic-Immo, and A Vendre A Louer, popping up everywhere are more common and easier to browse. They don’t just update regularly but also allow you to filter results or search for specific key words, which makes the search a lot easier and faster. Unfortunately, scammers like to roam these sites as well, so be wary if someone asks for a deposit upfront before showing you the place, for instance.
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