Monday, April 26, 2010

Getting on with the neighbours

A recent post on one of the French discussion forums concerns an English family who moved to a small village in France 'hoping for rural solitude'. They had in fact bought a derelict plot of land and spent the last two years building a house, and are now suffering hostility from the neighbours.

Perhaps not surprising, as they describe their activities as including long periods of using a mechanical digger, receiving deliveries of building supplies, keeping a noisy guard dog, erecting a seven-foot high surrounding hedge, and claiming they do not work during lunchtime or on Sundays! If it was a British person writing about a French family, doubtless they would have been labelled as neighbours from hell.

Much of the advice given in the replies to this post has included adopting a more conciliatory approach to the (French) neighbours, and trying to apreciate the situation from their point of view. Sadly, the original poster appears more ready to file a formal complaint for harrassment.

I think one can draw a number of lessons from this truly sad situation. One of which is clearly that you can not and will not find peace and solitude in a small French village, where typically everyone knows everyone else's business and new arrivals have to make a super-human effort to fit in and slowly become accepted. It is very much about contributing something to the overall life of the community.

If you are not prepared to do this, for whatever reason and it is entirely a personal choice, then it is perhaps wiser to settle in a larger, more cosmopolitan community, where your arrival and lifestyle will pass largely unnoticed. In many of the Mediterranean coastal resorts where I live, the original residents are used to the influx of seasonal visitors of virtually every nationality, and those who live here permanently tend to go about their affairs wihout attracting any particular interest. Friendships and connexions can be made but they are an option not an obligation.

Selecting your French property for either occasional or permanent use should take into account your personal preferences, and time is well spent in searching for the neighbourhood which suits your way of life and in which you will feel most comfortable.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Home renovations that add value

In an interesting article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, property expert Phil Spencer - presenter of the TV programme Location, location, location - points out that not all home renovations necessarily add value to a property when it comes to re-selling.

He particularly cautions against over-spending on kitchens and bathrooms, as these are items that new owners are most likely to want to change and 'impress their personal style on their new home'.

Anything that creates more space and light will generally add value to the property, including extra bedrooms, an office, a utility room or garage. He also advises that quality details will always impress, including items such as wood floors, bathroom fittings and light switches.

Source: Daily Telegraph, 12 April 2010.

French Property News, April 2010

In this month's issue I look at the recent trend to buy atypical properties, including basements that that can be converted into living space and which have been awarded the name 'sousplex' by astute Parisian estate agents. I also look at the potential for converting former commercial properties into housing, sometimes with the option to revert back to commercial status, and the rules and regulations that are commonly applied by the planning authorities and the managers of co-ownership properties. The latter tend to be very conservative when it comes to innovative projects!

French Property News is on sale in newsagents or on subscription. See

Friday, April 9, 2010

Translation or interpretation?

Buying French property necessarily involves reading and understanding a large number of documents - a difficult task if French is not your first language. Documents include the estate agent's description, the obligatory technical reports on the property and its environment, building surveys, reports and regulations from the syndic of co-owners, the pre-sale document ('compromis de vente'), power of attorney, the final sales act and many others, running in some cases to fifty or more pages. How do you set about dealing with such a mountain of paperwork, written in legal jargon and in a language you do not undertsand?

One option is to use a qualified translator, and for some documents French law may require the use of an approved translator ('traducteur assermenté') who can provide official translations for use in court. These translators have a near-monopoly, are in short supply and are expensive. Other translators can provide a 'literary translation' but this is usually offered without guarantee or legal authority ('sans portée juridique') and in all cases, in the event of a difference of understanding, it is the original French document that counts.

Because of the wide differences between French and Anglo-Saxon law, even an English translation of a French document can be difficult to understand, as the terminology and practices differ between the two jurisdictions.

A more helpful approach is to use an interpreter, particularly one who can be present before and during the signing of the principal documents, and ideally someone with a good knowledge of both French and English law. Someone who lives locally and knows the property business and the area offers a distinctive advantage.

An interpreter can work with the Notaire to help explain the broad concepts behind a particular French document, and what its implications are for the signatory. French Notaires are also under an obligation to ensure that you fully understand what your are signing. Working in conjunction with an interpreter (and many Notaires speak at least some English themselves) can usually provide a more cost-effective and useful solution for the client.

Many documents associated with a French property purchase are more or less standard, using well known approved models (such as those provided by FNAIM, the estate agents federation), and provided the broad principles are fully explained to you by the Notaire, you can normally proceed to signature confident that you not committing yourself to anything you do not understand.

Where a home-based adviser is employed, such as your family lawyer, even someone who understands French and French law can at best best only work with the information contained in the original French documents supplied by the Notaire (property description, technical reports...) and in the absence local knowledge is obliged to rely solely on their written content when advising the client. This is not an effective substitute for employing someone on the ground who can carry out any necessary, independent checks and verify the accuracy of any information supplied.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Buying a French property for re-sale

A question that is frequently posed by potential buyers is whether it is feasible to buy a French property, do it up and then offer it for re-sale. Some principles to bear in mind include:

1. Capital gains tax will be payable on the re-sale of a property that is not your main home (as evidenced by your tax status as resident in France). There are some abatements possible, with tapered relief after year six years of ownership, and no CGT to pay if you sell the property after fifteen years.

2. Other costs that need to be factored-in include transaction costs - agent's fees, notaire's fees and taxes - both on the original property purchase and its subsequent re-sale. Be prepared for delays due to planning permissions, cost overruns and other hazards associated with this type of project.

3. If you plan to undertake the renovation work yourself (DIY), note that particularly French buyers prefer renovations that have been carried out by registered artisans, and like to see the bills and accompanying guarantees regarding the quality of the work.

4. If due to change of circumstances, such as a cash shortage, you are unable to complete the renovations, a partially renovated property can prove very difficult to sell, except perhaps at a knock-down price, that may result in your incurring further losses.

However, if you plan to invest in a property for future (short-term) re-sale:

5. Choose an area and a type of property where there is an active market. Examples include areas where holiday lettings predominate or there is a demand for student accommodation.

6. Check local prices for fully renovated properties against the cost of buying a property for conversion, plus building costs and a margin for profit, after taxes etc.

7. Ensure that all work is carried out by properly registered, fully insured (French) artisans, who can provide the appropriate guarantees ('décenniale' etc).

8. Ensure that you can be on site to check progress or have someone who can do this for you. An architect is advisable in virtually all cases, even for small projects, to plan and supervise the work, liaise with artisans and suppliers, and authorise stage payments as work progresses.

9. Check and double check the figures from initial purchase through to completion of the conversion.