Expert tips for buying or renting property in France

When looking at a move to France, one of the most important considerations is finding the right place for you and your family to live. You can opt to rent or buy a property, although it may be wise to rent first before committing to an overseas purchase. This can give you the chance to test the waters and make sure that the area is right for you, that it has the right amenities in the vicinity, and to get settled in the country before buying a more permanent residence.
The majority of expats (60%) find that the cost of accommodation is less or the same as at home, according to HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey, which is useful in helping you to set a budget for your rental accommodation or property purchase. It is also worth bearing in mind that most rental companies and estate agents will speak French, so, unless you are a fluent speaker, an English-speaking solicitor to negotiate on your behalf is a must.
We have put together a few expert tips for buying or renting a property in France, which may be worth bearing in mind when making your accommodation plans.
Choosing the right location 
Whether renting or buying, making sure that you are well located is key to a happy move. You may be limited to a region due to work, so get to know as much as you can about the area and the best places to look for property. If you will be working from home, for example, make sure you check what the mobile phone signal and broadband coverage is like. Visit the property as much as is feasible, as you are sure to miss things on a first viewing. Ask lots of questions to the landlord/rental agency or estate agent, so that you are not met with any surprises on moving in.
Prepare for fees 
Just like in the UK, buying or renting has its associated fees. If you are renting, you will need to pay a deposit, as well fees to any agent that you go through to draw up the tenancy agreement. Similarly, purchasing a property will have agent fees, solicitor fees, fees to connect utilities and so on. The age of the property has an impact on the fees you pay when purchasing, which includes the conveyancing fees and taxes (such as the stamp duty land registration taxes and other local taxes).  Make sure that you fully understand all the costs, especially on French documents and contracts.
Understand the buying process
If you are buying a property, and even if you are going to rent to begin with but have the intention to buy down the line, it is worth understanding the purchase system in France, as it does differ to what we are used to in the UK. The contracts are drawn up and all the paperwork sorted by a notaire, a public authority legal specialist. While you can look for one who speaks English, they are not there to advise you on the contents of the contract, and while costly, an English-speaking solicitor to act on your behalf can ensure that the contract meets your requirements. There is a good guide to the contract process of buying a French property on the website, which goes into a lot of detail on the subject.
Pay for surveys   
Make sure that you have surveys done, as they are not always an assumed part of the process as they are in the UK. If you are renting a property, then a survey or inventory should be undertaken, which looks at the property and the condition that it’s in before you occupy it. The cost of this is often shared between you and the landlord. When buying, make sure that you have a structural survey done early in the process, so that you don’t have any surprises when it’s too late to back out.
Ask around
The best advice you get is from people who have been there and done that, so run any questions you have about the renting/buying process past expats who are already living and working in the region you are interested in. There are plenty of communities and forums online where you can post any queries, for example InterNations or Angloinfo.
If you’re moving to France, find out how our international removals team can help to arrange packing, storage and transportation on your behalf.
Information correct at time of publication