A room of one’s own

It’s not the size that counts! Apart­ment liv­ing in France of­fers more than you might imag­ine, ex­plains So­phie Gardner-roberts

French Property News - - Contents -

From sea­side bolt­hole to Parisian pad, our low­down on apart­ment liv­ing

In France, you’ll find a whole dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude to liv­ing in an apart­ment. It’s much more wide­spread than in the UK and it is not un­com­mon to find apart­ments in small towns and large vil­lages as well as the cities. In con­trast to the UK, where flats are of­ten seen as sec­ond best to houses, across the Chan­nel apart­ments are seen as a prac­ti­cal and com­mu­nity-in­spired way of liv­ing for all.

In large cities such as Paris and Lyon, you’ll find pe­riod apart­ments, flooded with light and boast­ing el­e­gant orig­i­nal fea­tures – or brand new swanky sky­scrapers, with the lat­est mod cons and sleek interiors. In Toulouse, the sleek Tour Oc­c­i­tanie, set to be city’s tallest build­ing, will of­fer up to 120 apart­ments by 2022.

In sea­side towns like Mar­seille or Nice, apart­ments tend to of­fer the best views, es­pe­cially if your bud­get can’t stretch to wa­ter­front vil­las. In ski re­sorts, they are the norm, of­ten housed in large at­trac­tive chalet-style build­ings, and de­vel­op­ers are con­stantly striv­ing for new heights in lux­ury pent­house liv­ing.

Through the years French ar­chi­tects have dis­tin­guished them­selves with apart­ment projects; con­sider Au­guste Per­ret’s con­crete cre­ations in Le Havre, for ex­am­ple, or Mar­seille’s Cité Radieuse, brain­child of Charles-edouard Jean­neret, known as Le Cor­bus­ier. Both built to house peo­ple en masse af­ter World War II, they are now im­por­tant UNESCO World Her­itage sites.

The eco­nomic ad­van­tages of an apart­ment shouldn’t be ig­nored ei­ther – if you’re on a tight bud­get, it wouldn’t hurt to con­sider this op­tion when hunt­ing for a French prop­erty. Here are a few things to think about.

Lock up and leave If your plan is to pur­chase a hol­i­day home, per­haps re­lo­cat­ing to France in the fu­ture, you’ll want some­thing that is easy to main­tain and open up when you visit. When you can’t get to France as of­ten as you’d like, it’s nice to know you can lit­er­ally walk through the door, un­pack your suit­case and start en­joy­ing your hol­i­day im­me­di­ately, rather than hav­ing to go round a big old house, dust­ing and per­haps check­ing for leaks, cracks or damp…

Se­cu­rity is also a plus point for apart­ments. When you leave you can rest easy know­ing that you’ve left your prop­erty safely in the hands of the other oc­cu­pants of the apart­ment block or the prop­erty man­age­ment com­pany. Ru­ral iso­la­tion can be bliss but when you can only make the cross­ing a cou­ple of times a year, you may worry about the prop­erty, even if you have a neigh­bour look­ing out for any prob­lems.

Run­ning costs You might think that as apart­ments are smaller, they should be cheaper to buy than a house with land and out­build­ings. This is not al­ways the case though, as their lo­ca­tion in cities or tourist hotspots can bump up the prices per square me­tre. How­ever, where apart­ments do tend to be more cost-ef­fec­tive is when it comes to main­te­nance and taxes.

Apart­ment own­ers usu­ally share some main­te­nance costs with the other own­ers. Some build­ings may even in­clude a flat price for water or heat­ing in those costs. Liv­ing in a house means you are re­spon­si­ble for all these ex­penses your­self. And, with more space, houses can be more ex­pen­sive to heat and main­tain. The most re­cent fig­ures avail­able from INSEE date back to 2008 but they in­di­cate that main­te­nance costs, in­clud­ing heat­ing and re­pairs, are on av­er­age 60% higher for houses than for apart­ments.

Lo­cal prop­erty taxes – taxe d’habi­ta­tion and taxe fon­cière – are cal­cu­lated partly on the size of the prop­erty, in­clud­ing out­build­ings, so a house, with a larger liv­ing area, will in­cur higher taxes than an apart­ment.

When bud­get­ing for an apart­ment, take

into ac­count its lo­ca­tion within the build­ing. Re­cent re­search by Meilleurs Agents found that top-floor apart­ments in France cost up to 25% more than the same-sized apart­ment on the ground floor. The pres­ence of a lift will also in­flu­ence prices; the study re­vealed that, in a 10-storey build­ing with no lift, four in 10 buy­ers would pre­fer to be on the sec­ond floor.

Shar­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity When you buy a French apart­ment, you and the other own­ers will be a part of a co­pro­priété. While you own your own apart­ment, the com­mon parts of the build­ing (cor­ri­dors, stair­cases, en­trance etc) are owned pro­por­tion­ately by all own­ers ac­cord­ing to the size of their apart­ment. Sim­i­larly, main­te­nance costs are also shared pro­por­tion­ately.

Matthew Cameron, a part­ner at Ash­tons Le­gal Solic­i­tors, ad­vises that it is im­por­tant to re­view the pre­vi­ous An­nual Gen­eral Meet­ing min­utes to find out whether any prob­lems have arisen in the past. “The whole build­ing will be gov­erned by a rule book known as the Rè­gle­ment de Co­pro­priété,” he ex­plains.

“It is sen­si­ble to un­der­stand this doc­u­ment as it will cover mat­ters such as what rights and obli­ga­tions ex­ist in re­la­tion to each owner, even down to mat­ters such as not block­ing cor­ri­dors, abil­ity to let out one’s apart­ment, re­spon­si­bil­ity for guests and oc­cu­pants and so on.” Though it may sound bur­den­some, co-own­er­ship has ad­van­tages for sec­ond-home own­ers who wish to leave their prop­erty in safe hands with the added bonus of po­ten­tially in­te­grat­ing into a com­mu­nity from day one.

Re­turn on in­vest­ment If you en­joy hol­i­day­ing in your own apart­ment, the chances are other hol­i­day­mak­ers will do too. Pur­chas­ing an apart­ment in a sought-af­ter hol­i­day spot can be a wise in­vest­ment and one that will quickly bring in in­come if you do things right. Of course, there are var­i­ous op­tions, from rent­ing out your prop­erty on a ca­sual ba­sis to friends and fam­ily to run­ning it as a fully fledged hol­i­day let. With plat­forms such as Airbnb, it has never been eas­ier to rent out your prop­erty for short pe­ri­ods of time. Just make sure your tax sit­u­a­tion is above board. Bear in mind that as of 1 De­cem­ber 2017, prop­erty own­ers will have to de­clare their Airbnb list­ing to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and will be able to let their prop­erty on no more than 120 nights a year. Buy­ing an apart­ment also opens the door to long-term rentals which will yield less per week but po­ten­tially more over­all in­come, par­tic­u­larly if you buy in a dy­namic city with plenty of work op­por­tu­ni­ties or large stu­dent

pop­u­la­tions. Apart­ments in a lease­back or ‘ rési­dence de tourisme’ de­vel­op­ment, usu­ally lo­cated in a hol­i­day hotspot such as a ski or sea re­sort, of­fer a guar­an­teed in­come, al­beit usu­ally at a lower yield than if you man­aged the rental your­self. This gov­ern­ment-backed scheme gives the owner a set amount of per­sonal use of the prop­erty while the rest of the time it has to be avail­able for rent. As long as the con­di­tions are met for the min­i­mum pe­riod, the VAT is re­funded, so these prop­er­ties can be an at­trac­tive op­tion. Ev­ery­thing is man­aged for you, in­clud­ing rentals and main­te­nance. How­ever, lease­backs have had some bad press re­cently, par­tic­u­larly in cases when the de­vel­oper or man­age­ment com­pany has gone bust, so do your re­search and choose rep­utable com­pa­nies with good track records.

Think­ing ahead

If you don’t know France well and want to be sure you are buy­ing in the right area, you can al­ways ‘try be­fore you buy’ for a year or two. Liv­ing in some­thing small like an apart­ment be­fore you buy your dream house could be an ex­cel­lent way to fa­mil­iarise your­self with life in your cho­sen area, and in France in gen­eral.

Some peo­ple rent a prop­erty be­fore buy­ing, but pur­chas­ing an apart­ment might be more in­ter­est­ing in the long run as you could even­tu­ally rent it out your­self or sell it on once you find your per­ma­nent home.

Holly Howard and her hus­band Alas­tair moved to Béziers, in Hérault, in or­der to ease their tran­si­tion from Lon­don to a slower life in France. “Our fo­cus was to buy in a small city af­ter liv­ing in Lon­don,” says Holly. “We knew the move it­self would be a big enough change so we wanted a daily ‘ur­ban life’ that felt fa­mil­iar to us. This nat­u­rally lent it­self to buy­ing an apart­ment over a house. Apart­ment liv­ing is so com­mon­place in France and so we felt re­as­sured that we were re­ally in­vest­ing our money into a home rather than a stop­gap. We would like a house in France one day though!”

Al­though you won’t find as many apart­ments in the heart of ru­ral France, you could per­haps buy an apart­ment in the clos­est town to use as your base for get­ting to know the area. Peter Elias, di­rec­tor of south-west­ern agency Allez-français, rec­om­mends that you con­sider the re­sale price of your prop­erty too. “Apart­ments in France are prob­a­bly best pur­chased in the most pop­u­lar cities such as Paris and Bordeaux,” he says. “Here, you will al­most be guar­an­teed a good re­sale mar­ket, and prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­ence ris­ing prices.”

Where to buy In Paris, prices have reached record heights, ris­ing by 6.6% year on year and reach­ing an av­er­age €8,670/m2 for re­sale apart­ments, ac­cord­ing to the No­taires de Paris. Kathryn Brown, of agency Paris Prop­erty Group, re­ports that the mar­ket is buoy­ant at present, with buy­ers keen to snatch up a Parisian pad be­fore the UK leaves the EU.

“The Paris real es­tate mar­ket con­tin­ues to ben­e­fit from im­prov­ing con­sumer con­fi­dence, a stronger job mar­ket and at­trac­tive in­ter­est rates,” she says. “We’re see­ing a real uptick in Bri­tish buy­ers who hope that, as a prop­erty owner, they will avoid any po­ten­tial travel re­stric­tions af­ter Brexit. They tend to look in

the ar­eas on the north and east sides of Paris with good trans­porta­tion con­nec­tions with Lon­don. Hap­pily, these ar­eas also en­joy some of the most rea­son­able prices in Paris.”

More than ever be­fore, the French cap­i­tal is one to watch as the up­com­ing ex­ten­sion of its un­der­ground and sub­urb trains net­work – Grand Paris Ex­press – will bring in­ter­est­ing in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties fur­ther from the cen­tre, and the 2024 Olympic Games will stim­u­late ur­ban plan­ning.

Kathryn says the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th ar­rondisse­ments are par­tic­u­larly hot right now, though for longer term in­vest­ment, con­sider the 19th, ad­ja­cent to the Buttes-chau­mont park and near the hip Canal St-martin.

Prices of apart­ments are ris­ing all over France, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­port by the No­taires pub­lished in July. Year on year, apart­ment prices have jumped by 3.2% over­all. Bordeaux con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate the mar­ket, with prices for re­sale apart­ments ris­ing by an in­cred­i­ble 15%. How­ever, you should also keep an eye on Be­sançon, Stras­bourg, Nancy, Mar­seille and Lille, all of which have seen apart­ment prices rise be­tween 5%-10%. Fur­ther­more, the re­cently opened Ligne Grande Vitesse train line has made cities such as Rennes and An­goulême eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from Paris and, there­fore, from the Eurostar.

If you’re look­ing for a sec­ond home, French real es­tate web­site Ex­plorimmo reck­ons the French coast is the place to be though. One of their re­cent sur­veys re­vealed that the Bassin d’ar­ca­chon in Gironde was the most de­sir­able place to own a hol­i­day home, with prices for an apart­ment av­er­ag­ing €4,740/m2 in Ar­ca­chon it­self. Close be­hind were Deauville in Cal­va­dos, where av­er­age apart­ment prices hover around €4,170/m2, and Cas­sis, just along the coast from Mar­seille, with an av­er­age of €4,780/m2.

Com­mu­nity spirit In France, apart­ments aren’t al­ways housed in a block of flats. While Paris has its el­e­gant Hauss­man­nian build­ings, you can also find large man­sions and châteaux di­vided into apart­ments across the coun­try. So, if you can’t af­ford to buy a château, you can still live in one! Peter Elias says that his Bri­tish clients par­tic­u­larly like this type of prop­erty. “Of­ten the fa­cil­i­ties in­clude shared swim­ming pools and ten­nis courts,” he says. “This also makes such an in­vest­ment the per­fect place to ‘lock up and leave’ of­fer­ing peace of mind.”

Choos­ing an apart­ment also gives you ac­cess to a com­mu­nity of peo­ple liv­ing closely to­gether, al­though the level of in­ter­ac­tion varies, of course. This is en­grained in French cul­ture in many ways and has in­spired many au­thors to set their sto­ries within the walls of an apart­ment build­ing. The award-win­ning novel L’elé­gance du Héris­son by Muriel Bar­bery beau­ti­fully por­trays the many char­ac­ters of the Parisian build­ing it is set in and how these in­hab­i­tants in­ter­act with each other. More re­cently, Bri­tish au­thor Fran Cooper’s first novel These Di­vid­ing Walls also un­cov­ers the se­crets be­hind the walls of Parisian flats. With its short 90-sec­ond episodes, the pop­u­lar French TV se­ries Nos Chers Voisins also of­fers a glimpse into the lives of the wacky in­hab­i­tants of an apart­ment block.

There is even a na­tional fête des voisins – neigh­bours’ day – which en­cour­ages those who live in apart­ments to so­cialise with mu­sic, games and food. Some nine mil­lion peo­ple took part in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial web­site. Holly Howard has found peo­ple in her apart­ment build­ing in the south of France to be very wel­com­ing. “Ev­ery­one is a lot more forth­com­ing, which has been lovely af­ter Lon­don,” she says. “We met our neigh­bours above us within days of mov­ing in.”

There are many pros and cons about buy­ing an apart­ment, as there are for houses. The im­por­tant thing is to buy the prop­erty that suits your life­style. But with so many in­vest­ment op­tions, at­trac­tive cost-shar­ing mea­sures and a ready-made com­mu­nity, apart­ment liv­ing might suit you a lot more than you ever imag­ined.

Bordeaux’ prop­erty mar­ket is boom­ing; now is the time to snap up an apart­ment in the Gironde cap­i­tal

Above: El­e­gant Hauss­mann apart­ment build­ings in Paris

The Bassin d’ar­ca­chon is the most pop­u­lar place to own a sec­ond home in France

The new LGV train line puts Rennes much closer to the Eurostar ter­mi­nal in Paris

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