France m² Real Estate Pricing is a Scam
In France, whenever a villa is sold, the sale is published on an official government website (that is often referred to as DVF). The notaires are required to publish (with updates dumped every 6 months) the net price the property sold for, the exact location on a map, the m² size of the land, and the ‘approximate m² footprint’ of the house.
It looks like this:
Tip: On DVF, click on the satellite view square on the bottom left to switch between the cadastral-view and a visual photo, to get a better sense of the size of the villas.
Said plainly, the m² listed for sold villas is a joke — there’s no basis on reality.
Since the notaires make a % commission on each sale, they have a dishonest tactic to make the m² prices seem much higher than they really are, and mislead buyers. Agents then use this false data as justification for above-market asking prices, in an attempt to push housing prices up. This information then gets disseminated onto many other real estate websites.
How the Notaires Manipulate M2 Data
Since there’s no law against it, notaires report m² sizes that are many, many times smaller than the villa actually is. Therefore, a villa that displays as 145 m² might have been advertised as 450 m² (see examples below). Here’s why:
It’s only ‘the footprint’ on the land:
Further excusing the incorrect m² is the face that the m² displayed for sold villas is only supposed to be the ‘m² footprint’. Hidden in their FAQ, the DVF website admits that the m² are only non-legally binding estimates of the ‘m² footprint’ of the house (the amount of land the house takes up) and they specifically say that it is not the habitable m² and does not have any legal value:
There’s no legal obligation to measure the m² or to be accurate in DVF:
The main problem is that a proper m² survey isn’t required by law, and notaires aren’t required to report the actual m² on DVF, and consequently, the self-reported, ‘estimated’ m² sizes published on DVF are dramatically under-reported.
They Inflate the Sold Prices:
DVF also displays the sold price as the “net seller” prices (which include tax and, on the French Riviera, since seller’s pay the agency fees from their profits, it includes agency fees) to inflate the sold prices. They then use this inflated sold price to make the m² averages, which is also obviously false.
M² price averages are based on this flawed data:
Despite the fact that the m² sizes published in DVF are not based on the real m² size of the villa, those who make commission off sales (notaires, agents, immo websites) all use this false data to pretend that villas are selling for much, much, much higher m² prices than they actually are.
On average, the m² claimed on the notaire website is 1/3 to 1/4 the actual size, which falsely inflates the m² average prices, which benefits notaires and agents, who are paid on commission.
The m² price averages displayed on websites are fake — they’re much, much higher than properties are really selling for.
Examples, with Proof!
There are endless examples of this, as more than 97% of villa sales are listed with incorrect m². Below are just a few examples to give you a sense of what to look for. Keep in mind that:
- The planning permissions show only the ‘habitable’ m², which leaves out a lot of space in some houses (anywhere with low ceilings, guest houses, storage closets, stairs, etc.), so most were likely advertised as being even larger!
- The price listed on DVF is higher than the real offer price, because it includes taxes!
That is why we say the “maximum” m² that it sold for, because if you included the non-'habitable' space and removed the taxes, the m² price would be even lower!
This property with 2 villas sold at €1,450 per m², not €28,500 per m²!
This huge property in Beaulieu-sur-Mer was listed for €18 million asking price and, after many years on the market, finally sold for €3.6 million.
The notaires claim that this 2-villa property is only 126 m² (€28,500 /m²), but as you can see from Google Earth, this is very clearly false. The original listing claimed the villas have a combined size of 2470 m² (€1,450 /m², including tax).
This property with 2 villas sold at €1,964 per m², not €16,041 per m²!
This property with two villas in Tourrettes-sur-Loup were listed as being 120 m² (€16,041 /m²) and having sold for €1.9 million in 2018. But by looking at the planning permissions, you can see that one of the houses is 680m2 and, by looking at the rental listing, we found that the other is 300m2 (not including owners areas), bringing the total m2 for both to a minimum of 980 m² (€1,964 /m², including tax).
This villa sold at €4,644 per m², not €13,771 per m²!
This villa in Villefranche-sur-Mer claims 228 m² (€13,771 /m²), but is actually a minimum of 676 m² (€4,644 /m², including tax), as you can see via the planning permissions.
The also don't increase the m² after complete rebuilds, despite the real m² being public record…
This villa sold at €1,751 per m², not €12,790 per m²!
This villa in Eze was falsely reported by notaires as being 258 m² (€12,790 /m²). But, as you can see by looking at the planning permissions, the villa was enlarged in 2018 from 334 m² to the ‘habitable’ size at the time of sale: 1884 m² (maximum €1,751 /m², including tax).
This villa sold at €2,100 per m², not €18,000 per m²!
This villa in Eze is listed as being 165 m² (€18,000 /m²), but by looking at the planning permissions, you can see that it was actually 400 m², but that they added an extension of 1029 m² in early 2020, making it 1429 m² when it sold in 2021, not including the guest house of about 200 m², making the total at least 1629 m² (minimum €2,100 /m², including tax).
This new, waterfront villa sold at €3,530 per m², not €10,042 per m²!
This brand-new villa on the tip of Cap Martin is listed as being 239 m² (€10,042 /m²) and having sold for €2.4 million in 2020. But by looking at the planning permissions, you can see that it is actually 680 m² ‘habitable’ (€3,530 /m², including tax) and was completely rebuilt as new in 2019.
As a side note, the reported # of rooms is also (obviously) not accurate.
How to Check the M2 of Villas
You can do your own checking by looking back at villas you’ve visited. Save the address and sales listing and compare to DVF and planning permissions.
Another way to see this is to check out the neighbor’s houses, and compare the size to a listing where the size is listed.
Here’s an example… This is a villa that’s currently for sale in Eze:
Upon checking the DVF government website and Google Earth, we can see that the neighbor’s villa was likely made by the same developer and is the same style and approximately the same size (based on its footprint and floors, as seen via Google Earth); it recently sold for €930,500!
As you can see, this is another example of how the m² is dramatically under-counted by the notaires to falsely inflate the m² average pricing. The notaires website lists the sold (neighbor’s) villa as 125 m², yet the agency listing for the villa states its size as 379 m² (the agent told us this is all above-ground m² and verified.)
Why This is Such a Problem
Despite the fact that the m² is clearly reported incorrectly and doesn’t reflect the actual size of the villas that have sold, this false data is being used for national pricing statistics and websites that claim they know the average price per m².
But it’s literally impossible to know if prices are going up or down, or the average m², since notaires can (and do!) manipulate that data based on making m² house sizes artificially smaller (to pretend prices are going up).
Understanding this scam is one of the most important steps to understanding the French real estate market.Knowing this reality of the market is essential if you want to buy your villa for a price that is close to what you can sell it for.
Agents: Market Manipulation
Real estate agencies also manipulate the market by buying properties at prices that are 5x or more above market value, to make a sale at a price that is higher than any other villa has sold for in that area. This is the same market-manipulation tactic that is used in other luxury-focused industries such as the art market.
They do this so they can point at that sale in an attempt to justify their far-above-market asking prices, and so that they can manipulate the publicized average m² prices. While they own it, they rent it out.
Here’s an example: By far the highest-priced sale of a villa in Eze is at 772 avenue de la Marne. A little digging and you’ll see that Prestigimo (a real estate agency) bought it. They do their best to disguise this fact, and sell properties between agencies, buying from developer buddies to get money back, etc. Dig around and you’ll find an example like this in nearly every town.
More Flat-Out Lies…
On top of all this, and adding to the confusion around m² pricing, agents routinely lie about the m² size of villas, and they get inspectors to lie too. It’s not unusual for listings to claim that a villa is 100 to 200 m² larger than it really is. The only way to know the real m² is to have your own, independent inspector measure it. Better yet, have two inspectors measure it and see if they come up with different numbers.
Here’s how to find out the real value of a villa in France.
Buying a Villa? Read This First!
When you’re ready to look for a property, make sure to read our complete guide to buying real estate in France. These guides explain how to estimate a property’s real value, how to get the best price and avoid over-pricing, what to look out for, how to avoid getting scammed, and more.
Our guide to where the market is headed includes: French Riviera real estate market predictions, current & historic pricing trends in the market, and the reasons why prices will continue to fall. Plus, supplementary guide to Russians & their impact on the French Riviera real estate market.
Our guide to real estate listings includes: how to find villas for sale, what to look out for, misinformation and warnings, auctions & foreclosures, buying direct from sellers, why timing is everything, and the reason why only about half of villa sales are publicly listed.
Our guide to scams and secrets includes: warnings about the unethical tricks that agents, notaires, sellers, developers and builders use to get more money out of you. This is a must-read, and the whistleblower guide that those in the business don’t want you to see.
Our guide to real estate agents includes: the dishonest things agents will tell you, how real estate agencies operate, buyer’s agents and property finders, why you should avoid illegal and non-local agents, and who to trust (an important warning).
Our guide to pricing & determining a villa’s market value includes: why there’s so much extreme overpricing, how to estimate a villa’s market value (what it’s worth), and a step-by-step guide to finding your offer price.
Our guide to important things to find out includes: diagnostic reports and surveys, sun & micro-climates, potential issues with the view, housing taxes, the age, internet and mobile access, danger (red) zones, health risks, privacy & space issues, nearby problems, what you’ll actually own, illegal additions and structures, why they’re selling, how to verify, and more.
Our guide to things to consider includes: your actual costs, issues with buying a ‘newly renovated’ villa, learning about local crime & squatters, and questions to ask yourself.
Our guide to the buying process includes: negotiating the price & the initial offer, choosing an honest notaire, buying in the black, the official offer & deposit, using a SCI, the deposit, the cooling-off period, what to do before handing over the money, and the final signing.
Our guide for after you buy includes: insurance pitfalls, tips for second homes, renting your villa, renovating, and what to know about hiring people.
Guide for sellers: How to price your villa so it will sell.