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A guide to apartments and flats in France
There are as many different reasons for buying a property in France as there are people who want to do so. (Why buy property in France.) Some people (frequently the ones who write the charming stories of their new French lives and publish them in books which the rest of us Francophiles eagerly read), buy the classic idyllic French farm house, or other renovation project deep in the French countryside. These intrepid souls spend at least the early years of their "idyllic" new life in France knee deep in mud, cement dust and builders' bills... believe me, I know, three years on and I am still living with it!
There are, however, another very significant number of people who seek and buy a very different type of French property. Unimpressed by the graft and mess of renovation, their dream involves not the crumbling pile in the country, but ease of occupation, minimal or non existent maintenance work, state of the art facilities and instant access to amenities. They are seeking, in fact, a flat or apartment in France.
There are three main types of area where you are likely to find flats and apartments in large numbers in France. These are, in no particular order, beside the sea (French Riviera Property - an insider's guide, Property near Sailing Ports / Marinas in France, The French Atlantic Coast from Biarritz to Southern Brittany), in the ski resorts (Ski Chalets for Sale in France), and in the cities. The reasons, at the risk of stating the obvious, are that the seaside and the ski resorts attract a high percentage of second home owners, for whom an apartment or flat is a straightforward answer to their requirements. In the cities, the reasons for the popularity of this type of property are different, being more concerned with ease of access to amenities, good transport links, proximity to city culture and entertainment and, of course, cost.
There are apartments, and there are apartments. They run the whole range from luxury suites to tiny cupboards... and have price variations to match. When you first begin your search it can be daunting as the French use a coding system to describe the types of flats and apartments (and new build villas too) which can leave the uninitiated completely confused. In simple terms, it works like this.
If the advert offers a "T1" apartment, what you are looking at is a studio apartment. This will have a bath or shower room (a salle de bains or, more likely, a salle d'eau) and one other room which does duty as a living room with a sofa bed for sleeping, and a small kitchen space for cooking and dining.
The next step on the ladder is a "T1 bis". This is still a studio apartment, but with extra space, usually in the form of a corner designed to house a bed and to form a "bedroom corner" which can be partially screened if you wish.
After this it is simple, with a "T2" apartment having one bedroom, a bathroom and another living/kitchen room; a "T3" having two bedrooms plus the bathroom and living room, and so on up the scale.
As a point of interest, new build houses are also described similarly, but with the prefix of "F" instead of "T". (NB. This can vary in some areas with the "T" system used for both flats and houses).
Many flats and apartments in France will form a part of a large building, and this creates a particular situation which has its own laws and conventions. Quite distinct from time-share or part ownership properties, these communal properties in France are owned outright but are subject to certain rules and restrictions, according to the management of the building, the community committees and the residents agreements.
Communal properties have some distinct advantages over other types of property in France, such as additional security, simply by being part of a close living community. The building is unlikely to be left unoccupied, and this can help keep insurance premiums lower. Other advantages include the often very high quality facilities such as swimming pools (usually far larger and more luxurious than those found in private detached residences), beautifully maintained and planted gardens (without you having to lift a finger or get your hands dirty!), lower property taxes, companionship of other residents and frequently a better location than can otherwise be found or afforded.
There is, however, a downside too, and there are certain things to consider which may or may not bother you. There is less privacy in a communal building, and however excellent the facilities, they still have to be shared. The swimming pool is large for a reason you will realise, when it is high summer and all the residents and their guests want to swim at the same time! Other residents may be on the noisy side, particularly if they are holiday makers renting a flat for a week or two rather than permanent residents or owner occupiers, so it may make sense to look for an apartment in a block which has a high proportion of permanent residents rather than consisting largely of rental apartments.
In any form of communal living in France there must be rules and regulations, and as an apartment owner you will be subject to these of course. Communities and managers will usually agree on issues such as pet ownership, sub letting and times for use of pool etc. and you need to accept that you may not always be on the majority side when votes are taken. It is worth remembering, though, that in France the law states that restrictions can only be imposed for a fair reason, therefore if your committee wants to ban pets and you would like to own a dog, if you can show that this will not inconvenience anyone else in any way then you may be able to overturn the ruling!
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about communal property is that there will always be some community charges levied. These can vary wildly, from negligible in certain circumstances, to extremely high in luxury developments where demand is high and maintenance requirements significant. On the upside, it is important to note that high community charges are not necessarily all bad. The value of a property of this type depends to a great degree on the condition of the buildings and facilities, so if the high maintenance charge reflects the high standards maintained, the owner can benefit in the long run.
What sort of person, then will find an apartment the answer to their French dream? Clearly not the avid gardener whose passion is to grow all his own fruit and veg, nor the handyman who longs to breathe new life into a wreck of a farmhouse. The person who will find an apartment admirably suited to his needs is someone who prizes convenience, who thrives on company and enjoys being close to the action. Those whose passions lie in sports such as skiing or scuba diving, can devote all their time and energies to their hobbies if they live in such a place, and also live far nearer to the slopes or the sea than they could ever afford should they need to buy a detached house. (Sport in France.)
Similarly, a city centre apartment is a real possibility whereas a detached home in that sort of prime location would be beyond the reach of any but the fortunate few. Apartments are good news too for those who are buying a holiday or second home. Easy to lock up and leave, you don't have to worry about frozen pipes or overgrown lawns while you are away. Even better, an apartment in a desirable location can be a great rental prospect and help you to offset the costs of ownership through short term letting when you are not in residence. Buy-to-let Property in the South of France, Leaseback Property in France.)
Finally, apartments are beneficial for those who don't have a lot of money to spare. A "T1" or "T1 bis" can be purchased very reasonably, particularly in a city location, and can be a great help in getting that first foot on the French property ladder.
Other articles which may be of interest:
Buying a French Property - The Fees
Life in France
Property Near Golf Courses in France
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.
I am on the verge of buying an apartment, however, there are a number of questions that have occurred to me for which I haven't found an answer. For example:
1. Most apartment buildings are run by syndics with each owner having a vote. However, lots of the French rent so that may mean there may be a landlord who has a number of apartments in the same block which are rented. Is this a worry or not?
2. Do you get a survey on a French apartment and if so what sort? Houses I understand but apartments may be another matter.
3. In the UK there are more and more people being socially housed in private blocks bringing with them "issues". The French are equally as "social" as we are in the UK and I wondered if this too was cause for concern in France when looking at specific apartment blocks?
4. What happens if a neighbour is very noisy or creates a mess?
These may seem like odd questions but I have yet to find an answer.
Some of the things I have found out may be of interest, for instance you can get access to the syndic minutes before you buy to see what works have been carried out and what maintenance is planned - that was new to me. Perhaps there is a forum somewhere that is particularly good?
Thanks for contacting us. I have been in contact with my colleague Joanna in France who says:
"1. A landlord owning a number of apartments in a block could be a worry, as he would have more say in matters, but not sure it is likely to be a problem. I wouldn't necessarily anticipate one, most landlords seem to be ok, and renting is important here and clients usually very well looked after in law so rogue landlords are rare.
2. I think surveys are becoming more common now in France... they didn't used to be common at all. However, as apartments can be of varying build quality, it is probably a good idea even if the seller tells you this is not common practice. Most people when we bought didn't have surveys done on ordinary houses... the feeling with old houses is that if it is standing after 100 years or more it will probably continue to do so! But I would go with a survey on an apartment.
3. I think with social housing, you will have to survey the area or town or specific quarter you want to buy in. Just like in the UK, there are rougher areas and better ones, you'll just have to do the research. I don't know the figures for this, HLM are the most common trouble areas but I'm not sure you are talking about these council flats. I really think a feel for the area is the most important, and local research.
4. Re: noisy neighbours, I think this would be the same as in UK - speak to the neighbour concerned first, then speak to the manager of building if there is one or community/residents committee, then police if it continues. But local village or town laws may also cover this if the building itself doesn't. In our village there are strict laws about noise at certain times etc. No noisy work on Sundays and so on. Other than that, if you think it is likely to be a problem ask first to establish the position in the particular apartment block, maybe talk to other residents. And if possible, rent before you buy at a busy time of year to find out... but if the apartments are being rented out as holiday flats it will all depend on who is renting at that time."
I hope this information will be of some use - good luck with your apartment purchase! (Incidentally, a good forum for most things is Total France.)
Today I had an inexplicable episode. I wanted to rent an apartment in Montpellier and because I work in an international organization and I am exempted of tax, the insurance company of the agency refused to allow me to rent it. The solution that they proposed is to find a person to rent in my name, i.e: to lie. I would appreciate if you can inform me whether this procedure is normal with foreign persons that work in international organizations in France.
Thanks for contacting us. I have been in touch with my colleague in France and both she and I have never heard of this happening before. We suggest you speak to the company you work for to see how this can be resolved, or contact a legal advisor, perhaps using the following page of our site:
Alternatively it may be easier to find another apartment with another agency, which does not impose such odd restrictions.
I have a question: We live in Paris and our apartment was damaged by demolition work in the apartment above us that was being renovated. Both us, and the contractor who did the work above are insured with AXA. The insurance company says they will pay only 70% of the lowest estimate claiming that some of the walls in our apartment and the windows were not damaged and therefore it is not up to the insurance company to pay for painting those areas even though the entire apartment will have to be painted. So my question is this: By French law, can I do the work myself and still get paid by the insurance company? Thanks for your help!
Thanks for contacting us. I have been in contact with my colleague Joanna in France, who says that she is unsure as to whether you would be re-paid by the insurance company, as they are usually very particular about who can and who can't do the work. Possibly the cost of materials you've used might be re-imbursed, if proper receipts are available, but even with this it would be difficult for them to know what has been used for what work, if you are doing more work than they want to provide reimbursement for.
You may wish to contact the following agents, who may be able to advise you more fully:
Claire Martinet or Frank Haloche
37 Rue Amiral Courbet
Tel: 02 43 05 21 82
They speak excellent English and and are very helpful.
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