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Housing in France
Everything You Need to Know about Finding a New Home in France
From understanding the housing market in France to where to begin your apartment or house hunt, this guide walks you through everything you need to know to find the perfect accommodation in France.
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Renting a house or apartment in France is much more common than buying, especially among expats. It is likely your best option if your stay is temporary, as buying property can be very costly. Nevertheless, if this is a route you are interested in taking, this guide provides information on how to buy a house in France as well.
With so many different types of houses and apartments, plus many things to take into consideration, it might be worth checking into a short-term rental until you have a clearer idea of what kind of accommodation you are looking for and where. Our housing guide for France provides information on all of this and more, to help you figure out which option is best for you, and even how to find houses and apartments for rent.
Renting a House or Apartment
For many expats who move to France for good, buying a home might be the ultimate goal. However, in French cities, and particularly among expats, it is a lot more common to rent. This is especially true for many expats who have just arrived in France, those who know they will only be in the country for a limited amount of time or just are not sure if France is the right place to settle down in just yet. Therefore, renting is a great way to test the waters, especially considering that purchasing real estate can come with a lot of paperwork (not to mention a hefty price tag). Forty percent of the French population rent their apartment or house.
Renting can seem like a no-strings option to settling down in France and is often the more comfortable option at the start of an expat adventure. However, there are important things to keep in mind before signing a lease.
Average Rent in France
If you are wondering how much you would pay for rent in France, you will quickly learn that rent prices in France vary depending on where in the country you’re renting. Rent prices in Paris can be high but once outside of the capital, prices are usually a lot more reasonable. Prices also depend on things like whether you choose to live in the city center or the outskirts, and number of bedrooms. On average, the rental price for a one-bedroom house outside of the city center is 350 EUR (392 USD) minimum. But in Paris, for example, a one-bedroom apartment in the city center can cost more than 1,000 EUR (1,120 USD). Outside of the city center, you can find a place for an average of 800 EUR (896 USD). In Nantes, the average monthly cost is closer to 500 EUR (560 USD) in the city center, and 400 EUR (448 USD) outside of the city center.
The Process of Renting a House or Apartment
If you are looking into Paris or any major cities, you might need to give yourself a few months to find a long-term rental that satisfies your needs, as it can be very competitive. For other areas in France, a few weeks may suffice.
The ideal time for an apartment search in France is between May and July because many landlords and real estate agents are on vacation in 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 are starting their new semester, returning to the city, and sweeping up most of the available housing. The real estate market is also slow during the Christmas season.
How to Search for an Apartment in France
Real Estate Agent
You can use the services of a real estate agent to help you in your search if your budget allows for it. Agencies usually charge a fee equal to one month’s rent, but on the upside, the process can be easier than dealing with a landlord directly. It can also be more convenient if you are in a rush to find accommodation or if you are struggling to find a place on your own.
Once you have an idea of where you would like to live, talk to other expats, colleagues, or friends to see if they know of any vacancies. Many apartments are recommended through word of mouth, and you might be able to find a place before it is even on the market. Of course, this approach is more straightforward if you already have a support network in France.
The classifieds sections of various local magazines and newspapers are excellent options for finding a place to rent in France, but keep in mind that competition is fierce. The best approach is to get a copy of the classifieds as soon as they are published and call the landlord right away. Many landlords might not return your call so it up to you to 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), number of chambres (rooms), and whether the apartment is meublé (furnished).
There are also many real estate search engines and websites, which are simple to browse and navigate. They are regularly updated and allow you to filter results or search for specific keywords, which can make your search a lot easier and faster. Unfortunately, scammers like to roam and post on these sites as well, so be wary and use caution.
Furnished or Unfurnished?
You have the option of renting a furnished or unfurnished place. A standard contract for an unfurnished apartment usually has a longer minimum lease — usually three years — but the contract offers greater legal protection to the tenant.
Furnished apartments have a standard minimum contract of one year, and they must be equipped with a stove, an oven or microwave, a fridge and freezer, kitchen utensils, tables and seats, storage shelves, lighting, bedding, and housekeeping equipment.
If you decide on renting a furnished apartment, make sure to check and ensure that everything is there and in proper working condition. It is the responsibility of the landlord to replace broken devices or pieces of furniture that are no longer in good working condition.
Different Types of Rentals Available in France
Some French types of rentals include the following:
- Batside: In France, these types of rentals are usually old, but you can find some new properties. They are detached, square stone buildings with flat, tiled roofs. These types of homes are generally located in the countryside and Provence.
- Château: A castle or palace, but not necessarily like the ones in fairytales. In fact, some of these properties are actually quite small. Be wary of the upkeep and renovation costs that will come if you choose to rent in this type of housing.
- Domaine: A house (estate) in France with a lot of land such as vineyard properties.
- Fermette/Ferme: A farmhouse in the country. The amount of land can vary greatly.
- Hôtel Particulier: Do not be fooled by the name. This is not actually a hotel but a townhouse in France.
- Longère: This is a property of long rectangular shape and can range from a barn or a one-story house.
- Mas: This is a rural property in France and most common in Provence.
- Maison à colombages: A home made of half-timber.
- Maison Bourgeois/Maison de Maître: A large house with high ceilings and windows, and four large rooms per floor.
- Pavilion: A detached bungalow.
- Pied-à-terre: A small unit or apartment.
- Villa d’architecte: Designed by an architect, this property is a modern home and built into a contemporary plan.
Requirements and Documents for Renting in France
There is a list of documents that you should have handy in case your landlord requests them. Below is a list of the main documents to have:
- copy of your passport and visa
- recent pay slips or job contract with salary details
- details of a guarantor and their pay slip
- university letter (if a student)
One of the things that may be required if you are renting in France as a foreigner is a guarantor. If a guarantor is required by your landlord, they will need to be a French citizen able to pay your rent in case you do not. For working expats, this can sometimes be your employer. Some banks might act as your guarantor if you have an account with them. Talk to a bank representative for information on this.
In the event you cannot get a guarantor in either of these ways, it is best to get the help of an agent. They will be better equipped to help you find a landlord who does not require this. Otherwise, keep searching for a place and landlord who does not need a guarantor, as not everyone will.
Rental Contract and Deposit
An official rental contract is important because it will help you understand the rental process and rules for both landlord and tenant, and who is responsible for what. In France, the first thing that is important to note is that your lease will automatically renew unless proper notice is given by either you or the landlord. It should be signed before or on the move-in date which should also be clearly stated in the tenancy agreement.
The law in France also says that a landlord has the right to request the tenant to take out home insurance in the case of a fire, water damage, explosions, or a robbery. Lack of coverage can be grounds for canceling a lease.
Charges such as utility bill payments, city taxes, and maintenance should also be clearly outlined in your lease along with who is responsible for paying what. Usually, tenants are responsible for paying for any minor repairs or routine maintenance such as gardens, basic interior damages, and sometimes even plumbing. For major repairs, however, the landlord is responsible.
Can You Sublet in France?
Subletting is also legal in France so long as it is approved by the landlord in official written form and the rent does not exceed the amount paid by the principal tenant.
Paying a Rental Deposit in France
Typically, you have to pay the deposit amount when you sign the contract. For an unfurnished apartment, a landlord can ask for the equivalence of a month’s rent as the deposit. However, there is no limit for a furnished apartment. For the deposit, it is best to opt for an escrow account which essentially does not let either party withdraw the money, giving you an extra layer of security for getting your deposit back once you are ready to move out. If you do have to pay with cash, make sure you get a receipt stating the amount transferred under security deposit.
Upon your exit from the apartment, your deposit should be returned to you in full, assuming there are no damages to the property. It should not take a landlord more than two months to return your deposit after the end of your lease date.
Expats who are only staying in France for a few months or who are looking for a short-term rental while they search for a more permanent apartment for rent should look into holiday rentals as a potential option. There is an active holiday property market in France, including “long-term” rentals of up to three months, as well as monthly furnished rentals. Another critical thing to know is that you usually cannot extend your short-term lease on a holiday rental, so you should be ready to move out when it ends.
For holiday rentals, the deposit should not exceed 20% of the total rent (or 25% if a middle person is involved such as a real estate agent). It also cannot be asked for more than six months in advance, if no advance payment is made.
Some other common temporary rental options include:
- Bed and Breakfast
- Residence (Apartment) Hotel
If you plan on checking into a hotel, France has a variety of options to choose from, with average prices as low as 20–45 EUR (22–50 USD) per night, depending on the type of accommodation you decide to book. Other low-budget hotels found on the outskirts of the city can go for as little as 15 EUR (17 USD) per night.
Bed and Breakfast
These are called chambres d’hôte and can be found all over France but mostly in rural areas. Prices vary depending on the time of year, location, and quality of the establishment. Average costs can be in the range of 40 to 70 EUR (45–78 USD) per night.
Residence (Apartment) Hotels
Residence Hotels are a mix of hotel and apartment, and they are usually a better option than staying in a hotel if staying for an extended period. They are an easy option for a short- to medium-term rental, but anything over three months would not be worth the money, because they become more expensive than just renting traditional accommodation. Typically, linen is provided, and prices vary depending on the amount of time you plan on staying. If you plan on living there for more than a week, you can try to negotiate the price for a better deal.
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Buying a Property as a Foreigner
No matter where you decide to settle down in France, the information below will guide you through the process of buying a property in France even if you are a non-resident.
The French Housing Market
According to 85% of banks, demands for home mortgages are expected to remain steady and stable. The real estate market saw an upwards trend between February 2015 and October 2017. While the French property market report of Notaires de France consider all this a positive trend, purchasing a property is still a significant decision to be contemplated. Ownership can give you a sense of security and reassurance. However, it can still be costly when you factor in monthly mortgage payments, taxes, and the cost of purchase.
Property prices in France vary greatly, depending on the type of property and the location. Some examples of prices include:
|City||Property Type||Price (EUR)||Price (USD)|
Finding Your Dream Home
There are many resources to help you find the property of your dreams. Online websites, newspapers, and property magazines are popular ways to find a home, but most expats prefer to use real estate agents. This may, in fact, even work to your benefit as owners could inflate the price to a potential foreign buyer, doubling the amount they would charge to a French person. So, getting the help of a local French realtor could help you in getting a fairer deal.
A professional will also have a better idea of the market and average property prices, can help you negotiate, and will be able to explain details which may otherwise become lost in translation. Some even offer things like help with drafting the sales contact and liaising with the local notaire (notary), the official who will handle the legalities of the transaction. It is also worth asking if they will help you with things like setting up utilities and finding local services. Expect for them to take up to 8% of the total cost in fees for their services.
When looking for an agent, make sure that they are certified by a registered body such as CNAB (Confédération Nationale des Administrateurs de Biens), FNAIM (Fédération de l’Immobilier), SNPI (Premier Syndicat Français de l’Immobilier), or UNPI (Union Nationale de la Propriété Immobilière).
What are the Processes and Steps for Buying a Property in France?
Once you have found your dream home, you are ready to begin the process of buying a house in France.
The seller is responsible for providing you with an up to date diagnostic report of the property which gives detailed information on its condition. Make sure you go through this document thoroughly with the help of your agent before making a decision.
Now it is time to make a verbal offer. If the seller accepts, then you sign a preliminary agreement — either a promesseunilatérale de vente orcompromise de vente.
The promesse unilatérale de vente (unilateral offer to sell) is taken care of by the notaire. When you sign this contract, you need to pay a 10% deposit, after which, during a period of two to three months, the seller cannot sell the home to anyone else — only to you at the agreed upon price. But during this time frame, you, as the buyer, have the option to withdraw and lose your deposit.
The compromis de vente is more commonly used as a purchase and sales agreement. This type of contract also requires a 10% deposit and is considered a ‘final sale’ in legal terms. Meaning that if either party withdraws, legal action can be taken against them.
Both contracts allow for a seven-day cooling off period during which the buyer can pull out without penalty.
Provide details regarding your plan for financing your home. If you plan on using a mortgage to finance your purchase (see below for information on how to apply for one), a condition must be put into the agreement outlining the details of it, along with a clause that explains that the sale can only be completed if your mortgage application is approved.
Your notaire will eventually set a date for you to sign the acte de vente (deed of sale). Bring a translator along if you need to, as the document will be read out loud to you in French before signing. Once all of your taxes and fees have been paid, your name will be registered at the Land, and you can officially pop open that bottle of champagne to celebrate your brand-new home.
How do I Apply for a French Mortgage?
Borrowing money in France can have some significant advantages. Mortgage interest rates in France, for example, are relatively low and have been for the past few years. French banks are also typically keen on lending money to foreigners; however, non-residents might find that they are subject to certain conditions and restrictions.
Usually, a mortgage in France allows a buyer to borrow anywhere between 70% to 80% of the total property value. Some banks, however, limit themselves to only 50% for non-EU people.
Non-residents may be asked to open a savings account at a French bank with a minimum deposit equivalent to 24 mortgage payments. Having a savings account with regular deposits is advisable as it can be seen as favorable by mortgage providers. Another legal requirement for getting a French mortgage is a life insurance policy equivalent to 120% of your mortgage. There are also three main mortgage tax reliefs if you are paying taxes in France: deductibility on mortgage interest on rental income, deductions against French inheritance tax, and relief only to those subject to the French wealth tax. A tax advisor will be able to provide more details on each of these.
The Application Process
Unless your French is flawless and you know how to navigate the French banking system, hiring a reputable mortgage broker might be a good idea. They can help you with the mortgage application process, and moreover, most brokers also have good working relationships with major banks. Brokers are there to help negotiate a good deal and help find you the bank with the best interest rate.
The application process itself does not differ much from other countries that have a well-developed mortgage industry.
Some of the documents you will need to gather for the application are:
- Copy of your passport
- Proof of income (last three pay stubs and previous year’s tax returns)
- Self-employed workers will need to show a set of audited financials of the past three years
- Bank statements for the last three months and proof of funds to cover the costs of the mortgage and down payment
- Current rental agreement
- Statement of assets
- Executed sales agreement
If approved, a French bank will send an offre préalable (conditional offer) outlining the terms and conditions. You cannot officially accept until ten days have passed. You will have a total of 30 days to accept and return the signed agreement.
It might be a good idea to have a backup lender at hand as well, as some lenders are known to withdraw their mortgage and offers at the last minute.
Things to Keep in Mind
Purchasing costs are something to take into serious consideration when budgeting for your new home. You may think you have found your dream home until you start calculating all the extra costs, quickly making your dream home unaffordable. Notaries’ fees are usually 7 to 8% of the property value (includes 5.8% of stamp duty, land registration fees, and disbursements); and not to mention additional mortgage fees and other services.
When it comes to purchasing property, the French inheritance tax is not something to overlook and something else to certainly consider. Whether you are an EU citizen or not, if you have property in France, your inheritors may be subject to French inheritance law and taxes. It can be quite tricky and complicated to understand, so it is best to seek out professional advice to help with your specific situation.
In France, there are several utility companies and providers to consider when it comes to setting up gas, electricity, and water in your new home. And just like everything else so far, this means lots of required documents and preparation — just to get the lights turned on. This section provides you with all the things you need to know when it comes to setting up your utility providers.
There are three main providers in France: Véolia, Suez, and la Saur. However, water supply and sanitation is the responsibility of the communes (municipalities), and the individual does not get to choose the water provider. Contact your local mairie or communauté de communes to find out who the provider is for your area. If you are the owner of a new property, bring along a copy of your certificate of ownership.
In France, water supplies are metered and read at least once a year. Your water bill will show your consumption and the charge per cubic meter. Sanitation charges are usually included in the bill, except for when you have an independent septic tank. In this case, periodic inspection by the sanitation regulator will occur around every four years. This regulator is called Le Service Public d’Assainissement Non Collectif (SPANC). You will see your water bill broken down into three parts: tap water, sewage services, and taxes. On average, the water bill is typically 400 EUR (448 USD) per year for a four-person household, but prices vary depending on the commune.
France enjoys some of the lowest electricity costs in all of Europe. To open an electricity account, you will require the following documents:
- Proof of identity
- Proof of residence
- Bank account details (if you opt for automatic payment each month)
Électricité de France (EDF) is the state-owned supplier of domestic electricity in France, but there are also local co-operatives in rural areas. EDF will connect you for a small fee if your property does not already have an existing electricity supply. Just ask for a connection quote, and you should be connected within a month, assuming the property has the correct planning permission to install a meter. Additionally, EDF has a dedicated English-speaking customer helpline.
Your electricity bill arrives every two months, sometimes three months. It includes the abonnement (standing charge), which is determined by the power supply installed. The consumption of electricity units used will also be shown on your bill. TVA (same as VAT) is applied to the standing charge and consumption. Local taxes are also added. Bills can be paid online, by phone using a credit card, or by mail via check. There is an option to have this directly debited from your bank account, or prorated monthly.
In general, the domestic electricity supply is 230 V at a single phase in France. However, you may sometimes find a three-phase, 380 V supply in bigger properties. If you are coming to France from North America, your electronic devices may not work correctly (electricity in North America runs in the range of 100 V to 127 V), and you will need a converter and power adapter.
The two types of gas supply in France are gaz de ville from Gaz Réseau Distribution France (GrDF) or Gaz de France (GDF, part of EDF); or bottled gas (propane or butane). Propane is more common as it is better suited to external storage than butane. The two types of gas have different valve systems, so they are not interchangeable. Since the bottles are all from various suppliers and not every store carries every supplier, it is worth having at least one bottle of gas on reserve; they come in sizes from 6 kg to 35 kg. GrDF is responsible for conducting meter readings and responding to technical problems. The meter is customarily read every six months.
Your gas bill will be divided into the following sections:
- Fixed subscription charge – varies depending on supplier, consumption, rate, and plan you choose
- Consumption charge – measured in kWh, this is the cost for the amount of gas you consume
- State-regulated tariff – this changes every month and is set by the government
It is worth noting that many suppliers offer a joint plan for both gas and electricity which can be more straightforward and often cheaper.
Two weeks before you move into your place, you will want to set up your account. Required documents you will need to do so are:
- Contact information (name, e-mail, phone number, address)
- Proof of identity
- Address of your new home
- Proof of residence
- Name of your new home’s previous occupant
- French bank account number
The connection process can take up to five working days if the house has been vacant for some time and the gas service was disconnected.
Garbage collection is mostly run by the local authorities of each commune, with their own set of requirements and regulations on how to properly dispose of specific items. For electronic equipment, you can bring the items to the shops you purchased from, and they can dispose of them for you. However, you can also take them yourself to your local waste collection center. Provided that you live in the area, it will not cost you anything to dispose of your items here. You can dispose of unused medicines at any pharmacy.
The required documents are:
- Proof of residence (utility bill, for example)
- Registration documents for your car
- Proof of identity
Rural areas do not have a door-to-door collection so be prepared to take your garbage to one of the several collection points. If you live in the capital, garbage collection happens daily.
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Internet and Mobile Phones
When you arrive in France, your friends and loved ones back home will undoubtedly be anxiously waiting for an update from you and news that you have made it to your new home safe and sound. For this, you will need to get connected and set up your internet and cell phone as soon as possible. You also may want to arrange for other entertainment services for yourself such as television while you are at it.
Like many countries throughout Europe, in France, there is easy access to the internet, with free Wi-Fi available at many hotspots, airports, cafés, hotels, even some parks. But if you are staying long-term, you will probably want to set up internet in your home for convenience. You will have to choose between optical fiber (faster but not available everywhere in France) or ADSL. Both offer unlimited internet, and all the providers offer some type of bundle packages where internet, television, landline, or mobile plans are included. Internet providers in France include the following:
- Bouygues Telecom
No matter which provider you choose, the documents and information required to set up your internet will be the same. You will need:
- Contact information (name, email address, and telephone number)
- Full address
- Banking information
How to Get a Phone Number
The national telephone grid is managed by Orange. SFR, Free, and Bouygues Telecom are other phone networks to choose from. Packages are available from each supplier offering both internet and a fixed telephone line, with the option of adding TV channels and/or a mobile phone plan. The only providers that offer landlines on their own are Orange and SFR with costs ranging from 20 to 40 EUR (22–45 USD) per month, but landline service is cheaper when bundled with an Internet package.
To get a landline set up, you will require:
- Full address
- Proof of identity (birth certificate, passport, etc.)
- Proof of address (recent utilities or tax bill, or rent receipt)
Be prepared to pay a one-time activation fee. Orange charges 55 EUR (62 USD) for this, but if you are in a home that has never had a telephone line before, you will pay extra (69 EUR (78 USD)) to have a technician come to your house and install a line. Activation fees for other providers are:
- SFR – 49 EUR (55 USD)
- Bouygues Telecom – 39,99 EUR (45 USD)
- Free – 39,99 69 EUR (45 USD)
Like with all other services, Orange, SFR, and Bouygues Telecom are your main mobile providers in France. La Poste Mobile and NRJ Mobile France are options as well, and the leading providers also have their low-cost brands. France has pay-as-you-go mobiles, with top-up vouchers starting at 5 EUR (6 USD). You also have the option of a contract cell phone plan, but these can be more difficult to obtain without a credit history.
There is also the option of contract-free plans. These are the best route for those who are in France for a short period. The contract-free plans are prevalent because of the freedom and flexibility they give you. They can also be pretty cheap (even cheaper when bought with an internet plan). You will need to already have a phone because these plans only provide a SIM card.
Contract plans are for a commitment of 12 or 24 months and are best if you are in the market for a new phone. If you need to cancel early, you may be charged a cancellation fee. Plans with a contract also tend to be more generous with their allowances (calling, data, and even extras like online subscriptions to newspapers, music channels, television, and more).
To sign up for a phone plan in France, you will require:
- Contact information (name and e-mail address)
- Full address
- Banking information
In France, all households must pay a license fee (125 EUR (140 USD)) if they have a TV set. This is called la redevance audiovisuelle and is charged with your annual taxe d’habitation (housing tax) if your TV was bought in France. Otherwise, if you have bought your TV with you from your home country, you will have to declare it to your local agent of the Trésor Publicor risk being fined if you do not.
There are five public television stations in France, which you can watch for free: TF1, France 2, France 3, France 5, and M6. But cable TV channel or satellite is very popular for a wider variety of channels, and often people purchase it as part of their internet plan. Digital television is also an option in France. Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) is known as Télévision Numérique Terrestre (TNT). You will need a decoder to access some of the free channels which can be bought in any electronics shop (e.g., Darty, FNAC, Boulanger).
How to Watch Your Home Country’s TV in France
You might be wondering how to watch your home country’s TV in France. If you are in the north of France, you may be able to get a UK television signal with a large enough satellite dish.
While many packages tend to be French-centric, there are some television/internet packages that offer English channels such as BBC, Sky News, CNN, Al Jazeera, and other news. Orange was found to provide the most English-language channels in its standard TV package. You may find a better selection of channels in the premium packages or by adding a “bouquet” of extra channels.
In French cinemas, you can watch films that are subtitled, but you will not have the same luck with television. You will find shows you recognize, but they will likely be dubbed in French.
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