France is blessed with a rich and varied countryside that incorporates stunning beaches and coastline on its Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboards, spectacular mountain scenery in the Alps, Pyrenees and Massif Central, and a mainly temperate climate in which to enjoy such diverse splendours.
The French have a strong appreciation of the good things in life, and are considered (and consider themselves) to be amongst the most cultured of people. Good food and fine wine are held to be their right, and a relaxed pace that affords them time to enjoy such fruits of life fully is sacrosanct.
Continental climate (central and eastern France): cold winters and hot summers. Mediterranean climate (south eastern France): warm and dry summers, rainfall from October to April (damp but mild weather), ample sunshine all year round.
There are no restrictions for foreigners to buy property in France
Consider the popular property locations in France. France, of all nations, really does have the lot: cultured cities, great beaches, awe-inspiring mountains, rolling hills and meandering rivers. Broadly speaking, the northwest regions of Brittany and Normandy are remote, with rocky bluffs and windswept beaches, while the Cote d'Azur, on the Mediterranean south coast, is incredibly beautiful, with golden sand beaches, ritzy restaurants and million-pound marinas. Most of France lies between the two geographical and cultural extremes.
Paris - Paris is the capital and pacesetter for the rest of the country. France's significant business is conducted here, its government and political powerbrokers residing in the northern city. Culturally, Paris is home to several museums, opera houses and galleries, and countless cinemas and theatres. Much as in any major city, property prices in central areas are expensive. One would be hard-pressed to find a studio priced at less than 200,000 euros (£156,000), but 30 minutes from the city centre by train, for example, 100,000 euros (£78,000) buys a one-bedroom apartment out in the suburbs close to Disneyland Paris.
Central and southwest France - Heading south, the Loire, known for its vineyards, chateaux and rivers, is a land where time seems to have stood still for a couple of centuries where the latest hot spot for French property, Limousin, can be found. Still further south is the Dordogne, in southwest France. Given the nickname Little Britain locally, the region is picture-postcard pretty, chock-full of butterscotch-coloured stone cottages and green hills and dales.
Property in the Loire can be bought for 170,000 euros (£132,000) for a two-bedroom house in good repair. A character period house costs from 400,000 euros (£311,000), depending on condition. In the Dordogne, a picturesque three-bedroom cottage in a pretty village costs around 500,000 euros (£389,000).
The south coast of France - Travelling eastwards towards Italy, bypassing the cosmopolitan cities of Montpelier and Marseille, one comes to the shimmering Cote d'Azur and inland Provence. For many people an idealised France, the region is the height of sophisticated living, be it dining in a quayside restaurant, or sipping a glass of wine in a hilltop cafe overlooking the sparkling blue Mediterranean.
It would not be unusual to pay 1 million euros (£778,000) or more for a villa located inland with views, and considerably more for one close to the sea and with sea views. That said, a one-bedroom apartment in the centre of Nice, for example, can be picked up for 150,000 euros (£117,000).
The notary (notaire) is a mandatory part of the purchase process. Do not be fooled into thinking that the notary will look after your legal interests, because he won't. The notary is a government official and works for the state, not the buyer or the vendor, although, confusingly, notaries often act as estate agents as well.
Once a sale has been negotiated, an initial legal contract, the compromis de vente, is prepared by the notary and signed by both parties. On signing, the buyer pays a 10 per cent deposit, with the balance due on completion. By law, there is then a seven-day cooling-off period, during which the buyer may withdraw from the purchase if he wishes.
There follows a period of generally 10-12 weeks in which the searches are carried out. At the end of this period, the final contract, the acte de vente, is signed in front of the notary, and the property passes to the purchaser. The various fees and taxes, including transfer tax and the notary's fees, become due for payment at this point, after which the deed of sale is registered at the Land Registry.
Be prepared to meet the essential costs. Several fees and taxes are payable when buying property. Budget to pay 9-13 per cent of the purchase price, excluding a buying fee, payable to the estate agent, which may be applicable in some cases - ask before you proceed. Costs may include:
If possible, rent an unfurnished property as tenants have greater protection when renting an unfurnished (vide) property as their main residence.
There is no legal definition of what makes a property count as furnished (meublée), so a property may be rented entirely empty, without even carpets or light fittings. Be sure to check when viewing which essentials will remain in the property, whether the property is marketed as furnished or unfurnished.
Advertisements will typically list the living space in square metres. Under 40 square metres is considered a small apartment and 11 percent of rentals fall into this category. The majority of rentals, 60 percent, are 40–99 square metres while the remaining 28 percent are large apartments with more than 100 square metres. It's worth noting that the living space listed may include the balcony, hallway or other spaces that aren't the main living areas, so don't be too surprised if the property seems smaller when you view it than the listed size would suggest.
Applications are usually handled by an estate agent rather than the owner (propriétaire) or landlord (bailleur). As a prospective tenant (locataire), you will usually have to complete an application form. You can expect to have to provide:
There is something of a catch-22 for expats here, as new arrivals typically will not have all this information. Moreover, you require a French address to open a French bank account. If your employer is a large multinational company accustomed to hiring expats, they may be able to assist by writing letters of introduction or references. Alternatively, you may be able to use a short-term let (such as a holiday let) as a temporary address or request a letter from your estate agent saying you're about to sign a lease, either of which may allow you to open a bank account.
A standard contract for unfurnished (vide) properties is three years. The tenant can easily give notice within this time frame, although the landlord cannot. Furnished properties have a standard contract term of one year, so landlords may try to pass an unfurnished property off as a furnished one. Both contract types renew automatically unless the landlord or tenant gives notice.
Unlike sales contracts, a tenancy agreement (contrat de bail) does not have to be witnessed by a notary (notaire). The tenancy agreement should be signed on or before the tenancy start date, which must be specified in the contract. The contract should also indicate which charges are to be paid by the landlord and which by the tenant. This normally includes city taxes, utilities and, particularly for apartments, charges for the maintenance of communal areas.
At the signing of the contract, the deposit should be paid. It should be set aside in a particular fund, and if you pay cash (not recommended) ensure you get a receipt.
In France, unfurnished properties have a standard letting period of three years and a notice period of three months. This means it's easier to find short-term lets that are furnished. There's also a strong holiday property market. Long-term holiday lets are common, where the tenancy is agreed for several months. However, it's not usually possible to extend a tenancy in a holiday let. For this reason, if you're renting while buying or building a home, a standard tenancy is often simplest, although not necessarily cheap.
There is no fixed amount of deposit (garantie) required, although one to two months' rent is typical and it should not be more than two months' rent. Likewise, estate agents fees are not set, although somewhere between EUR 250 and one month's rent is common.
Rents vary widely across France. They start from around EUR 300 per month for a small apartment in a less popular area. A two-bedroom apartment in a larger city, such as Bordeaux, is likely to be around EUR 800–1,000 and prices in Paris can be higher still.
Rental increases should only occur a maximum of once per year, and should either be in line with inflation or a change at the end of a contractual period to bring the rent in line with the local market.