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Buying, Selling, and Renting on the French Riviera

by | Jun 30, 2023 | Real Estate

If you’re thinking of investing in property on the French Riviera (pinch me, we’re living the dream now eh?), or maybe you’re lucky enough to already be an owner and would like to sell, the process could be stressful if you’re not familiar with navigating the French systems.

I gathered together the most prominent English-speaking agents and property managers on the Cote d’Azur to get their tips on buying and selling on the Riviera and I’ve also thrown in my tips on the rental property.

Important things you have to know about the Property Market in France

Let’s clear up some common misconceptions in the industry and process. Jenny Willett of Nice Homes, conveniently situated at the port of Nice, helps us with the explanations below.

MLS (Multi-Listing Service)

This is a system that agencies pay to use and around 80% + agencies in and around Nice use it. This system allows all agents to see the up-to-the-minute status of all properties on sale. Agents have full access to the addresses and can 100% collaborate. It is an easy way to get the property seen by the majority of other agents out there and therefore sold faster.

Exclusivity

People see Exclusive written often and maybe think that they can only go through that agent as they have exclusivity with that apartment. This is only partially true.

For the Seller

There are 2 types of contracts to choose from. The SIMPLE contract and the EXCLUSIVE contract.

The simple contract allows you to have many agents sign and therefore you can work with more than one agency. The pros of a simple contract are that you can use more than one agency. The cons are that the agency cannot put it onto the MLS system (it is the law under the MLS system that an exclusive property must collaborate with all agents using MLS) and you have to deal with more than one agent. It can sometimes be stressful dealing with more than one agent, and not having it on the MLS avoids a huge part of the market.

The exclusive contract means you only sign with one agent. The pros of the exclusive contract are that you deal with one agency, have access to the MLS platform (diffusion to over 900 agencies for collaboration on the French Riviera), and the property is not repeated on the same public platforms. Your ads will be consistent in prices and images across the board and there is only one contact point. Cons are, you are subject to the fees and methodology of one agency.

For the Buyer

In dealing with just one agent (which is quite common and makes your life easier), more often than not, the buyer’s agent will collaborate with the seller’s agent even if the advert says exclusive. This I think is quite important.

Don’t go in blind! Do some research yourself and get a feel of the market prices. You can check out these websites to get a good idea:

  • SeLoger.com
  • Leboncoin.fr
  • MaisonsetApprtements.fr

Buying a Property on the French Riviera

First, let’s walk through the process. Kristin King, a partner of Riviera King Agency based in Villefranche-sur-Mer (her agency is also an art gallery that welcomes different artists, look out for their vernissages!), gives a tidy summary of the process below.

Timeline for buying a property in France

1. Buyer’s Offer is accepted

Undetermined. It can be within a day if the seller is happy with your offer.

2. A notary is chosen

One week once you have chosen your notary and arranged a first meeting.

3. Sign a Preliminary Contract

The process of signing a preliminary contract can take a total of one month.

4. Buyer arranges the deposit

If a bank loan is required, this step can take one or two months.

5. Buyer’s 10 day cooling off period

This mandatory cooling off period takes ten days.

6. Buyer arranges purchase funds

Usually one to two months and this includes the time needed for the deposit.

7. Notary draws up final deed

Don’t be surprised if this step takes up to four months due to the administration process.

8. Funds moved into escrow account, final deed signed by the buyer and seller pays capital gains tax

In France, the process of: moving funds, signing the final deed and the seller paying capital gains tax, happens all at the same time. This should not take too long.

9. Buyer collects the keys

The buyer collects the keys on the day of signing the final deed.

10. Celebrate with champagne!

Yay, you are now officially a home owner and you can start celebrating with champagne. Repeat this step on a regular basis for as long as you are the owner!

What to Look Out for When Buying Property

I’ll split this segment into two: Buying to Live-In and Buying to Invest. Depending on the reason you’re purchasing a property, you have different things you need to look out for.

Buying to Live-In

Fabricio Carminati, of French Riviera House Hunting, advises potential buyers to make an exhaustive list of “Wants and Needs” of the apartment.

Things you might want to think about:

type of property, costs, number of bedrooms, type of kitchen, number of bathrooms, equipment or appliances in the property

Location (city centre vs nature), space (minimum number of square metres, outdoors space, which floor,

Accessibility to transportation, distance to the workplace, schools, freeways, and the airport

Be wary of “love-at-first-sight” properties, there’s always one! Your checklist of Needs vs Wants will help keep that in check and ensure you’re being realistic about the property.

Don’t underestimate the amount of work that needs to be done to the apartment. Arrange for a professional to visit the property with you to determine the renovations that need to be done and they can probably give you an estimate but always anticipate for it to be more because there may be certain works that cannot be predicted until the works have been underway.

Expensive areas to renovate include the bathroom, kitchen, windows, roofs, and structural columns. If the electrical wiring has also not been done well initially, you may also find yourself stuck with a big bill to rewire the entire property. Telltale signs of that include switches that don’t work, are not connected to anything, or have older sockets that need to be replaced.

Fabricio also adds that you should also take into consideration the resale value of the property. Anything that is particularly unusual sells less well as it dramatically limits the pool of potential buyers. If the property has defects that you have accepted, it could be the only focus of future potential buyers.

Renaud Pierre of Riviera Hunt, a luxury market agency for villas between 1.5-20M€, adds to this. An apartment overlooking noisy renovations and works may be priced cheaper due to the noise and inconvenience now, but in a couple of years, you’ll be the owner of a property that’s in a much nicer area. An example of this is the coulée verte in Nice, the works took years but owners on either side now have a great view in an ideal location that’s much higher in value now.

If you plan ahead and keep updated on the city’s plans around tram stops, pedestrian areas, and future malls, you could buy cheap and get a large return on your investment later.

In the luxury market of villas, Renaud also points out that it’s much better to have a “small” house amongst bigger houses in the area rather than the other way around. If you have a 5M€ home and are surrounded by 10-20M€ homes, your property’s value will definitely benefit from your bigger neighbours!

While it’s mandatory to have diagnostics check out the history of asbestos, termites, and lead, don’t take any of the reports for granted. Make sure that the reports are not outdated. Furthermore, these do not cover all major possible issues. Getting a surveyor to assess the building could uncover potential problems like the stability of the building and the land under or around it.

Also, ask if there were previous offers on the property and how much they were (and how the seller reacted to them). This might give you an idea of how much the seller might be willing to sell at but also, it’s a bit of a red flag if the previous offers were much lower than the asking price.

Buying as an investment

Catherine Batstone of Sunlight Properties has spent almost a decade managing properties on the French Riviera. She’s acquainted with which apartments do very well and she has shared some of her tips with us.

If you’re looking to buy a property to rent it out, here are some crucial things about your property that could exponentially increase its rental value.

If you’re looking at apartments, lifts (or elevators for our American readers!) are important, especially if you’re on a higher floor. Potential tenants are put off by climbing more than 3 floors of stairs and it limits your target audience who have mobility issues

A parking space that comes with the apartment is invaluable. If your property in town did not come with one, you could consider subscribing to a parking garage nearby so that you could include this in your offer. It could cost you 80€-150€ a month but that could easily pay for itself and then some

In France, air-conditioning is not common but these days, with no A/C, you’ll find it hard to compete with hotels, villas, and other apartments in the sweltering summer heat

Having an outdoor space is always a perk, not just for tourists but for longer-term, monthly tenants too

While rare, having 1 bathroom per bedroom on the property that is a 2-bedroom or bigger is a game-changer

If you’re looking to convert a space and increase the number of rooms in a property, keep in mind that to be legally counted as an additional room, the space has to be at least 9sqm

Always visit the property at least twice at different times of the day. It may look lovely during the evening on a weekend but if you visit on a weekday, you may realise that there is a lot of noise coming from traffic or schools nearby

Overall, the magical trifecta is the location (of course!), amenities, and interior design.

May- September are the best times to rent out your property but you should also keep in mind dates of major events in the area that would drive up the occupancy rate of the cities nearby such as the Cannes Films Festival, the Grand Prix, Yacht shows, conferences, and special holidays like Christmas.

It is always best to chat with a property management agency before you purchase to have a better idea about a property’s rentability, and best practices to improve said rentability and get an overall yearly estimate of how much it can bring in for you.

Finances to Consider when Buying a Property

Commissions

Jenny Willett from Nice Home explains that the commission (usually between 4-6%) is split between the seller’s and buyer’s agents and it should be included in the sale price already. Having agents add their commission on top of the sale price is not a normal practice.

Notary Fees

What you do have to anticipate on top of the sale price is the Notary Fees. This is typically 7-8% of the sale price.

If you are not 100% comfortable in French, your notary can hire a translator to walk you through the process. This will be at your own expense but it’s imperative that you understand all the proceedings and can ask questions (this is not the time to be shy or embarrassed by things you did not quite understand!). Most of the mentioned agents in this list will have an English-speaking notary they can recommend to you (yet another benefit of having an agent!).

Kristin King of Riviera King also advises you to take your own notary even if the seller already has a notary of their own. This is to ensure that your notary will defend your interest in the whole transaction.

Building Fees & Property taxes

You should also check how much the monthly building fees are to the company that manages the building (syndicat). In Nice, it can range from 150-200€ but in luxury markets, Renaud of Riviera Hunt adds that residences that have tennis courts, a large park, and a live-in caretaker can run up to 2000€ in monthly maintenance fees.

Another thing to consider is the number of tenants in the building. If the building only has a handful of apartments, you can anticipate that any major renovations to the building that needs to be done will be split amongst only a few owners, meaning a big bill per owner.

Agencies are obliged to display the expected building fees as well as the property taxes of the property so do ask if you haven’t seen the amount. Property taxes differ by city and there are some cities that are particularly higher than others like Nice or Cannes, according to Renaud Pierre of Riviera Hunt.

You should also anticipate some fees like the pro-rata reimbursement of property taxes or building management fees to the previous owner but this does not usually add up to much.

Other Fees to Consider

You’ll need to check all the latest notes from the last General Assembly meetings to understand if there are any ongoing lawsuits in the building or discussions about damage that will require renovations or repairs. If you buy a property in the middle of a lawsuit, you inherit the outcome of that lawsuit.

Alice Watson-Smith of Fine & Country says that there is a lot of transparency in the transaction and owners are obliged to disclose any damage that could potentially cost repairs. However, do note that while sellers would be held liable for damage or problems they deliberately hid, they are not obliged to pay for any upgrades unless otherwise negotiated in the agreement. Therefore things like swimming pools or septic tanks that need some TLC need to be checked out before you agree to the purchase and negotiated into the price.

Jenny Willett of Nice Homes also prompts her overseas clients to consider the exchange rates. Some currency exchange companies can hold a rate for a few weeks and therefore potentially save you thousands of euros.

Securing your Finances before the purchase

Both Kristin King of Riviera King and Jenny Willett of Nice Homes recommend speaking to several banks and possibly engaging a mortgage broker (courtier) to get the best mortgage rates. A mortgage broker has access to different bank loans and can undercut even the banks themselves to give you the best deal. They will typically charge about 1% of the loan they manage to secure for you but you’ll save in the long run if they manage to lock in a much lower interest rate for the duration of your loan. Again, your agents should be able to recommend a good company they trust to you.

Banks will sit you through a lot of information and calculations to get the percentage of interest for your mortgage but you shouldn’t feel cornered into taking the deal on the spot because of all the time they invested with you to get you the mortgage rate. Talk to at least 2 banks and tell them about the rates that the other bank has offered and see if they can do better.

Also, while banks are usually quite reliable once they have given you an interest rate, some deals may still fall through due to unforeseen administrative issues so it’s always good to have at least 2 options before you make an offer on a property. If you have made an offer it is imperative that your notary has a written condition concerning the loan so you may walk away without any penalty in the case of your mortgage falling through.

If your mortgage falls through after having made the offer, you will have to take the next best option available. Unless you can prove that 2 banks rejected your mortgage, you will still have to go through with the purchase.

Selling your property on the French Riviera

Tips to Optimise the Sale

Alice Watson-Smith of Fine & Country advises to make a good first impression – do a spring clean and clear away all the clutter and personal items before the photo or video session begins.

A professional photoshoot is not necessary but will go a long way to help your property stand out from others. A lot of properties also have videos these days that do a walkthrough of the property (which helps a lot in imagining the layout versus pictures and is especially helpful to overseas buyers who may decide to line up their visits based on online descriptions). If you have a villa or a larger area of land that can’t be captured in photos, consider hiring a professional drone photographer, you’ll be amazed at how stunning those videos turn out.

Alice also mentions that it’s probably best, as the current owners, to not be present during the viewings, especially the first few visits, as the seller’s presence may make the buyer uncomfortable and prevents them from imagining themselves as the owners of the property.

Kristin King of Riviera King says to get all the necessary information ready like the diagnostics, the last three years of General Assembly notes, property taxes, building management fees, receipts of works done in the property over the last 10 years, annual water and gas bills, and rental receipts if you’ve had tenants. Anticipate anything the seller may want to know to help them get to the decision faster.

Finance to consider when selling a property

Pricing & Desirability

Alice goes on to say that your property is the most desirable during the first few weeks of marketing when interest will peak, so you have to take advantage of this period and ensure that your property looks as attractive as possible during this time and the price matches the public’s expectations.

Jenny Willett of Nice Homes urges sellers to do their homework and talk to a few people about the expectations of their sale price. Be wary of going with the agent who supports a much higher valuation of your property than others, they may be doing this to get the exclusive contract with you and your property may end up sitting on the market for much longer than it should be.

An apartment that has been on the market for too long is not attractive, this invites buyers to negotiate down the price, knowing that you would probably be keen to sell after such a long period of time and therefore more likely to budge much more on the price. The longer your property sits on the market, the more buyers may think there is something wrong with it.

Kristin King of Riviera King also cautions against engaging with multiple agencies (simple contract and non-exclusive) as agents will use different images and different pricing, repetitive diffusion on the same sites that damage the image and reputation of the property. The inconsistencies could brew mistrust or further negotiation to drive down the price.

A unique agency will be in charge of ensuring an exclusive image of your property through multiple channels and with an exclusive contract. Thanks to MLS (Multi-Listing Service), agencies have access and can publish your apartment on the largest shared networks in the French Riviera along with the platform Apimo, which connects to hundreds of other agencies in the region thus accessing the clients of other agents through a collaboration. Your agency will diffuse on different channels such as Se Loger, Green Acres, Figaro, Maisons et Appartements etc). The myth of putting your property in multiple agencies to increase visibility is countered by exclusive diffusion which is much more effective, and reputable and ensures a maximum diffusion.

Jenny Willett of Nice Homes adds that it’s worth checking which websites the agents are advertising on – they should be disseminating the advertisement of your property on as many channels and sites as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask and that could determine which agency you end up with.

Fees & Commissions

Jenny reiterates that there are 2 contracts – Simple (where you engage multiple agents) and Exclusive (where you work with one agent who helps you connect to other agencies). You can expect to pay 4-6% of the sale price for the agency’s commission

More often than not, it’s the seller who absorbs the commission for agents (while the buyer has to deal with the notary fees). This isn’t always the case though and the commission can also be shared with the buyer (albeit at the expense of adding more fees to the buyers which might make the price less attractive).

Sellers also need to consider capital gains taxes, which is something your notary can walk you through.

Renting on the French Riviera

The buying and selling processes are usually very regulated and transparent so there’s not a lot of drama involved unless you have last-minute drop-outs which can be disappointing. The rental market, on the other hand, is a cautionary tale and there are many red flags you need to look out for. There are so many scams out there and if you throw a stone, you’ll easily hit someone with a horrible experience of renting, be it the owner or the tenant.

I’ve split this segment in two again, one for owners and the other for tenants, as both need to look out for different red flags to protect themselves.

Owners

It is well known that France gives a ridiculous amount of protection to tenants. If you are not already familiar with this culture, please talk to other owners or agents to understand the risk of renting to tenants.

Without going into too much detail, you have to be aware that if a tenant stops paying, the process to get them evicted could typically take a year, possibly more. You do not get any reimbursements or breaks on paying your mortgage because of a squatter so you need to take multiple precautions to guard yourself against this happening to you.

Vet your tenants

The ideal tenant would have had a permanent contract for more than 6 months (past their probation period) and earn more than 3 times the monthly rent (this is the insurance’s standard). They should also be able to provide you with receipts of their last payments from their landlords.

However, in my experience, a lot of tenants do not come to you in a tidy package. In fact, most tenants I’ve spoken to always had something out of place. They may be foreign retirees with no income in France to show for (but they have payments coming in every month from overseas). They may be just moving from a foreign country and have cash to pay upfront but they cannot legally do so and insurance agencies will not cover them. They may be refugees fleeing war in their country and have savings to pay for rent but again, insurance agencies will not cover them. They may be in between jobs but need a place to live, or they may already have changed jobs but are on probation. They may be working remotely and their income is being paid to a foreign bank account and they have a foreign contract.

There’s a myriad of situations where you, as I was, may be tempted to help someone in need, but please understand the risks that you will be undertaking by people who also know how to manipulate the rules. Do not give the keys until you have a signed contract and deposit (and even then, if they default within the first few months, it will still be a long and upward battle to get your apartment back). If you don’t feel comfortable with someone, trust your gut and move on to the next applicant, it’s simply not worth the risk.

Having said that, most tenants are not out to cheat you and the rental market on the French Riviera will give you a return that most places will find hard to match. If you are set up with a professional agency such as Sunlight Properties, you reduce a lot of your risk as an agency has a lot more structure and experience in dealing with tenants.

Tenants

Having understood why landlords can be extremely demanding of tenants, you’ll need to prepare yourself to look like the most outstanding tenant they can take on. The market is extremely competitive as well and nice apartments with lovely landlords drop off the market very quickly. Here are some tips on how to stand a higher chance of getting selected but also some red flags to look out for.

Tips

Prepare a folder with all the necessary information that the landlord will ask you for. These are pretty standard but some might ask for more: ID, last three months of salary and your work contract, last three months of receipts from your previous landlord, proof of current residence (justificatif domicile) such as an electricity or water bill, bank details (RIB). Some may ask for your previous year’s taxes as proof that you have been working throughout the year. If you show up with this folder and a cheque for the deposit, you’ll show the owner that you are very serious about the process and are ready to make a decision.

If you do not fit the holy grail requirements for a tenant, but are a fit tenant, you can speak to garantme.fr, they provide guarantees for foreigners who have foreign income or otherwise non-conforming profiles but are worthy tenants.

Always do a thorough inventory check of the apartment (l’état de lieu) when you first move in, do not take this lightly. Note every sign of damage so that the landlord doesn’t try to pin it on you later as a reason to refuse to return your deposit. Take as many photos or videos and make sure you keep the proof that you sent it to them or the agency.

Common things to look out for

Before you visit, always ask if there is a lift if it’s on a high floor, buildings in the old town usually do not come with lifts

If you get an apartment in the old town, be prepared for a lot of noise during the weekends and in the summer if your windows are directly above a pedestrian road or bar/restaurant

What charges are included (beware of individual heating if it’s not included, that can rack up a huge bill if you only have electrical heating)

Housing tax (taxe d’habitation) is paid by the tenant if they’re living there on 1st January (you pay for the whole year regardless of how long you’ve lived in it).

If you have a car and the apartment doesn’t come with a parking space, you may end up paying 80-150€ for a garage (not necessarily a close walk to your apartment) in the centre

If you’re dealing directly with the owner, your rapport with them is an important gauge. A difficult landlord can create a lot of problems for the tenant, from refusing to issue receipts or to fix inconveniences in the apartment, to refusing to return your deposit for the smallest things. As much as you are trying to win them over, they should be the same too. If a landlord is overly arrogant, dismissive, condescending, unreasonable or just otherwise unpleasant from the get-go, that’s a huge red flag

Where to look for apartments

You can find the most number of posts directly from owners (no agencies) on www.leboncoin.fr.

Pap.fr is a site used specifically to bring owners directly to tenants but I’ve found that there were ultimately very few good apartments listed for this region.

There are many Facebook groups which are great resources to deal directly with owners. Facebook’s Marketplace, on the other hand, is predominantly posted by agencies.

I’ve noticed that the best apartments (in quality and value for money) are with agencies. While you do have to pay about a month’s rent in fees to the agency, you’ll save long-term if you have access to properties that are generally lower in monthly rent. You’ll also have peace of mind knowing that documentation and legal issues are all handled accordingly as well as any problems in the apartment will be handled professionally by the agency. You also won’t have to worry about getting along well with your landlord.

Payments – what to expect

Deposit: 1 month for Unfurnished and Up to 2 months for Furnished

Agency fees (if any): 1 month

First month Upfront

Total: Be prepared to pay 3 months upfront if you use an agency and 2 if you’re dealing directly with the owner.

Termination of the Contract

As a tenant, you can terminate the contract with a month’s notice at any point of the contract. As an owner, you can only terminate the contract after 1 year for a furnished apartment and 3 years for an unfurnished apartment. There are 3 exceptions for the owner to terminate the lease before the contracted time:

Reason 1: The landlord (or their immexdiate family including the spouse or the spouse’s children or parents) is going to move into the property

Reason 2: Sale of the property

Reason 3: The tenant has breached the tenancy agreement

You will still need to give 3 months notice for a furnished apartment and 6 months notice for an unfurnished apartment. For an unfurnished apartment, the tenant will also have the right of first refusal – meaning the owner will have to give the tenant the first opportunity to buy the property and can only move on to other potential buyers if the occupying tenant refuses.

Conclusions

Across the board, the feedback I’ve gotten is that unless you are very familiar with the market and procedures of the real estate industry, the best option is to go through an agency that will guide you through the procedures and help you through any issues that might arise across the different parties involved (banks, mortgage brokers, notaries, other agents). Having an exclusive contract connects you to more options, promotes a good reputation for your property, and will reduce the hassle of juggling agencies.

Having said that, run with an agent that you are fully comfortable with and who demonstrates that they are paying attention to your needs and are going the extra mile in getting your property posted on multiple websites or defending your interest as a buyer or renter.

Josh

Josh

Salut, I’m Josh! I love skateboarding, cooking, photography and learning – even though I was a terrible student back in the days. Moved to France with Robin in 2018 and we have together been working in marketing for over a decade.

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