After You Buy a Villa
Congratulations! You bought your dream villa. There are still a few more things that it’s important to be aware of…
Things Not As Promised?
If you move in and you find that something is not as it was promised to you via diagnostics or other reports, you may be able to sue. For example, the energy report is legally binding so, as a buyer, you could later sue in the event that you found the energy performance of the property was not as stated.
In order to get reimbursed by insurance companies in France, you’ll need to make sure you’re prepared and aware of the pitfalls. Here are a few basic things to be aware of. This list is far from exhaustive, so make sure to read the ‘terms & conditions’ of your insurance contract very carefully.
Vacations: Ensure your home insurance is not invalidated if the property is left empty for long periods, as many home insurance policies state that they don’t need to pay up if you weren’t in the property for 3 months.
Timing: Make sure to check the length of time you have to make a claim. Unless otherwise provided in your insurance policy, it is 2 days for theft and 5 days for most other claims (here are more details). The clock starts the day after the incident occurred.
Police: In the event of a theft it is important you report the incident to the police, who will provide you with a receipt of your report. You should then send the incident report and the claim to your insurer by recorded delivery within time limits stated in insurance policy. You need to state clearly the items stolen, with evidence of ownership if at all possible, and an estimate of their value.
Disasters: If you’re in a red zone (more about that in this guide), you’ll need to get expensive insurance that covers the value of the property in case disaster strikes and you’re unable to rebuild. If there’s been a natural disaster, policy holders have a limited 10-calendar-day window to start their claim after the disaster has been officially declared, although insurers recommend you do not wait for the declaration and instead lodge the claim as soon as you become aware of damage. The insurance company may wait until after a disaster is officially declared, which could take months, to process your claim.
Proof: You must not throw any damaged items out: the insurer may call an expert to visit and assess the validity of the claim. If you need to carry out any urgent repairs or cleaning, you should take photos first. You will need to supply a description of the damage, a list of all the lost or damaged items and proof of ownership and their value (receipts and photographs). It is advisable to take photos of contents and email them to yourself or store them online. Make sure the objects are clearly visible; get yourself in the photo to show ownership and fix the date by holding a copy of The Connexion or a local newspaper. If you are burgled, insurers want proof of ownership: if you do not have receipts then photos are a fall-back.
Extensions: If you plan to extend your property, make sure you declare the extra space created to your insurance company, as cover can be declared invalid if you add rooms to a house and fail to inform the insurance company.
Tips for Second Homes
An unoccupied home is an invitation to thieves and squatters. To avoid people realizing that you’re not home, arrange to have mail forwarded to your primary residence (La Poste will do this, for a small fee). To avoid the postbox being stuffed with unwanted advertising leaflets, put a label on it stating ‘pas de publicité svp’. The Ministère du Développement Durable has downloadable versions.
There are also extra taxes and other things you’ll need to know about owning a second home in France. Here’s a guide to more things to know about this.
Renting Your Villa
In nearly all the French Riviera towns if you intend to rent out a property (apart from your main residence) you must request permission from the local Mairie, and there will be extra charges. You’re also only allowed to rent your primary home for up to 120 nights a year, and if you go over that you’ll face steep fines. Second homes don’t have that limit.
A new rule that came into effect June 2022 forces landlords in popular French holiday destinations to rent out one property on the local market for long-term rental for every holiday rental that they own, in an attempt to tackle the housing shortage in key areas.
Your income from renting out a French home must be declared for French income tax (plus social charges!), even if you live outside France. Budget about 30% for taxes, and 20% for broker commission. Beyond €23,000 in rental income per year, individuals must join the RSI (Social Regime of Independents), and pay the corresponding contributions.
With income from a rental property you either pay tax under the Micro regime or the Réel regime. There are quite a few rules around this, but basically Micro is more straightforward but Réel, which involves declaring yourself as a professional landlord, has more financial advantages such as a lower tax rate and deductions for mortgage costs. It is nonetheless a complicated process, so we would suggest you get professional advice.
Here’s a big guide to things you’ll need to know if you want to rent your villa.
Oh, and make sure to get landlord insurance and learn all about squatters rights so you’re prepared in case a tenant doesn’t want to leave (or pay!)
Renovating Your Villa
Firstly, before you buy, make sure to get the town planning certificate (it takes maximum one month) from the Mairie so you know if renovating is a realistic goal. Keep in mind that the only way to be sure that you can expand it is to get proper planning permission approval from the Mairie, and double-check it at the Mairie in person.
Also be aware that a trick that agents pull is this: they get their architect contact to “verify” that you can expand a property, but then once you buy it, they all ghost you and you find out the hard way that it’s not possible to expand the m² (yes, even if ‘it keeps the same footprint’). This has happened to several contacts of ours and seems to be common practice.
Secondly, verify that the people you hire are all insured and have current SIRET numbers. And remember to save your receipts for any repairs or work, because you can use them to lower the capital gains tax you'll pay when you sell the property.
Thirdly, make sure to get a very very detailed ‘devis’ with all the items and pricing clearly stated, from several builders. Ask friends for recommendations. A price quotation in French is called a devis and once it is signed by both client and contractor it becomes a legally binding contract. Beware also that if the price given to you is an ‘estimation‘ not a ‘devis‘ the builder is not bound by the price. If you made the unfortunate mistake of starting work without a devis, you should get them to stop work ASAP and give you a devis instead, or you can expect the final price to be as much as 5x what they quoted.
Finally, expect that the renovations will take three times as long and that the builders will try to scam you into paying more than you were quoted. Make sure your quote is very detailed and that you understand it, and learn about ways to avoid being scammed. If they overcharge you beyond what was quoted, don’t pay it. If they harass you, take them to court. A recent decision of the French Cour de Cassation, the highest court in the country, stated that, without proof that extra works had been agreed by the client, no additional payment was due to the builder.
Thinking of skipping the planning permissions step? It’s tempting, but don’t. Shockingly, it’s a criminal offense to undertake works without planning permission, and the penalty is a fine of up to €300,000 and 2 years in prison(!!) Since 2020, local mayors have also been granted powers to impose fines of up to €500 a day for unauthorized construction work. Although you may think you can get away with it, it is normally neighbors who alert the authorities, and bring a civil action for ‘damages’.
In the eyes of the law, as soon as you pay anybody anything, from the first euro, you are obliged to declare it and pay social charges, vacation days, etc. This includes, for example, a baby-sitter, cleaner, cook, or gardener. Working as “casual labor”, a concept common in anglophone countries, is illegal in France.
If you’re a French resident, you declare it to URSSAF, or, if you’re not a resident of France, then you use the TPEE website. Any incomes earned in France must be declared by both the employer and the employee, however informally or irregularly this employment may occur.
There are many other complications (like paid leave, paid vacations, the long process for firing someone and giving them significant severance pay, the laws about having cameras onsite, etc.) that you’ll need to know about and research. You can start here.
You should also get legal insurance in case you have any legal issues with the people you hire. Note that it’s very difficult to fire people (or evict them, if they live on your property) once you hire them in France, even if it’s just occasional work, and you should probably hire a lawyer to help you prepare. It’s also important to be aware of all the ways that French workers scam their employers via the overly-protective French system. Lots of workers know the ways to game the system to get you to pay them far, far more than you ever expected.
Having trouble with your neighbors? Here’s a guide to how to deal with neighbors.
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.
First, in order to understand the real estate market in France, you must understand how m² pricing is a giant scam. Then, you can move on to the other guides:
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, contract pitfalls, the cooling-off period, what to do before handing over the money, and the final signing.