Buying a real estate in Languedoc : The 30 most important things you need to know
Clarify your objectives
Buying real estate in Languedoc-Roussillon, south France is a major financial decision, so be crystal-clear about your objectives. Are we talking pure investment, relocation, retirement or holiday home? Answering these questions will help identify the type of real estate best suited to your needs, and its ideal location within the Languedoc.
Where to buy
Languedoc-Roussillon is a big place. It covers five départements in the south of France – Lozère, Gard, Hérault, Aude and Pyrénées Orientales – and boasts a variety of landscapes and climatic zones (check out the Geography Section within our About the Area pages for the nitty-gritty details). So narrowing down your search area to just one département (OK, two at a push) is key to buying real estate here.
Location within Languedoc Roussillon is all-important when buying real estate. You can renovate, restore, modernize, extend and transform a house, but its location cannot be altered. Prefer real estate in reasonable condition in a popular, accessible area to a dream home in a remote spot? Being stuck in the back of beyond is great for hermits, but not so handy for holidaymakers to the south of France.
For retirees, sunshine may be a “must” (and if you’ve opted to buy a retirement real estate in Languedoc Roussillon, you’ve made a good decision, as the region is reputed to have more than 300 days of rays per annum). For young families, access to schools and amenities can be important. Take into account your current needs and how they may evolve as years go by. You may be DINKY (Double Income, No Kids Yet) right now, but these things can change, y’know.
Real estate prices
In Languedoc Roussillon as in the rest of France, the closer you are to a major town or the coast, the higher real estate prices will be when buying. Real estate is at its cheapest in the countryside; city homes can cost two or three times as much. In some rural areas of the Languedoc it is possible to be find yourself buying an old property in need of extensive work for as little as €50,000, but budget at least the same again to make it habitable. For a home in habitable condition with several bedrooms, a garden and pool, allow upwards of €150,000, depending on the area.
Before settling on buying your Languedoc Roussillon real estate, ask yourself: how long will it take to get there, door-to-door? Are there any direct travel options? How much are they, and how frequent, year-round? Let me tell you a story: when we bought our home in Montpellier, we made our decision partly on the convenience of British Airways flights from Montpellier to London Gatwick. What we had overlooked is that these flights are seasonal: in the bleak mind winter months of October to March, if you want to fly back to London from Montpellier, you’re looking at the Ryanair route into Stansted, and frankly that’s not anything like as handy for visiting my folks in Sussex. Ah well. You live and learn. At least there is an alternative, even if it does involve schlepping all the way round the motorway from deepest, darkest Essex.
Renting before buying
Unless you know exactly what you want, and where, it can be wise to rent a home in Languedoc-Roussillon before buying real estate here. Give yourself time to experience an area, its inhabitants, weather, services, amenities and cost of living, throughout the year. When we first moved to France, from London, we plonked ourselves (two adults, one small child) in a tiny (375 inhabitants) and slowly dying village in the Aude. Big mistake. We wandered lonely as clouds around the deserted streets, and were bored out of our tiny minds. Our rural idyll (don’t you hate that over-worked phrase?) was horrid. And rented. So we upped sticks and moved, pronto. Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with small villages in the Aude (there are some very lovely, lively ones) but you do have to experience life there, year-round, to know if it’s going to suit you. So hurrah for looking before leaping, and renting before buying real estate in Languedoc.
Real estate types
Languedoc Roussillon offers a wealth of real estate types, from older, period homes with charm to newer constructions with all mod cons. A third option is buying a brand new, off-plan house (reserve a home within a development and then wait for it to be built); for those prefer made-to-measure, a maison individuelle can be built to your specific design. We lived in an old stone-built village house (huge, but badly insulated and very dark) and then a 1980s-built villa (small, but with central heating, good insulation and lots of natural light) before buying a 19th century conversion that combined the charm of the old with some modern conveniences. Figure out which real estate type works for you (try renting, if you can spare the time and money) before putting pen to paper
Buying an old home
To buy Languedoc real estate with character, ripe for renovation, with land and maybe outbuildings, you will inevitably be looking at an older (pre-1945) real estate. Remember that renovation or modernisation costs are nearly always higher than estimated, and the price of many restored properties does not reflect the time and money invested. As a rule of thumb, spend half your budget on the house, and the same again to renovate. And remember: for all their picture postcard, chocolate-box charm, older buildings inevitably cost more to maintain.
Buying near a listed building
If your Languedoc dream home is near a listed building or site, there may be restrictions on the extent to which it can be altered or renovated; check with your local Mairie and also Bâtiments de France, the organisation which is responsible for issuing and enforcing restrictions.
If after buying your real estate in Languedoc Roussillon you want to make any external alterations, you’ll need planning permission (permis de construire). Make sure a conditional clause (clause suspensive) is included in the preliminary sales contract (compromis de vente), stating that the purchase is subject to obtaining planning and building permission.
Most rural homes in the Languedoc have individual sewerage systems (fosse septique). Have an approved specialist carry out an inspection before you agree to buy, and get a cost estimate for any necessary work.
Building your own home
Buying a plot and having a home built to spec is popular in Languedoc Roussillon. If you want to follow their lead, you will need to obtain a certificat d’urbanisme (confirming that the land may be built on) and planning permission. Be prepared to supervise the construction, or hire an architect to do it for you. Building costs vary from €500 – €1,500 per square metre, depending on design and build quality.
Known as terrains à bâtir or terrains constructibles, building plots are usually 1,000 – 3,000 square metres, and cost between €10,000 and €40,000. Prices vary according to location, and whether mains services are connected. They can be bought from estate agents, direct from the owner, or from builders (insist on separate contracts if you opt for a package deal from a builder).
Buying off plan
There are lots of off-plan real estate developments popping up all over the Languedoc, so you may be tempted to go down this route. Advantages of buying Languedoc real estate in a development that has yet to be built include price (off-plan properties are often cheaper than homes that already exist); brand new fixtures, fittings, insulation, ventilation and heating systems; lower deposit and registration fees, and exemption from real estate tax (taxe foncière) for two years from January 1 following the completion date.
Buying a new (i.e. modern, as opposed to brand new) home in Languedoc-Roussillon, south France means you see exactly what you get. The value will depend on the build quality and design, the age of the real estate and how well it has been maintained. Resale homes within mature developments may offer the benefits of well-established services and amenities.
Buying into a copropriété
Any home with common parts shared with others (e.g. apartments, or homes on a private estate) is owned through a system known as copropriété. Owners own their homes but also a share (quote part) of areas such as hallways, stairs, lifts, gardens and swimming pools, and share the cost of their upkeep. Check the financial implications of buying into a copropriété (for resale homes, ask to see details of service charges for previous years). We own an apartment in a copropriété: this year we will be paying our contribution towards work that has to be done on the lift so it conforms to safety norms. For this, we will be coughing up a little under €4,500. Something tells me we’ll be eating more potatoes and less foie gras this year.
Buying Languedoc real estate to let
Lots of folk rent out their Languedoc holiday homes to help cover their costs, but don’t be fooled: owning a second home in the south of France is not the same as a guaranteed source of income. Ensure that the rent you charge will cover any mortgage repayments, running costs and voids. Rental rates and potential vary dramatically according to location; study the market carefully before buying. Gross rental yields (i.e. the annual rent as a percentage of your home’s value) vary from 5-10%; deduct expenses to calculate net yields, which are 2-3% lower.
Known as bail commercial or propriété allege, leaseback schemes are designed primarily for investors. They apply only to new homes which are always located in popular resorts (which is why there is lots of leaseback real estate in the Languedoc); their main attraction is the refund of the 19.6% VAT included in the selling price. The buyer leases the real estate back to the developer for 9-11 years, for an annual return (usually 2-3% of the real estate’s value), and 2-4 weeks personal use per annum. If you sell your home within 20 years of purchase, you will have to repay a proportion of the VAT rebate.
Estate agents and fees
Estate agents’ fees are worked out on a sliding scale of 5-10% (the cheaper the purchase, the higher the percentage) and are usually included in the purchase price. You may be able to persuade an agent to reduce their commission, or the vendor to reduce their price, but always check that the price you are discussing is commission comprise.
A structural survey is not legally required as part of the French real estate purchasing procedure, and most French buyers do not bother with this step. However, foreign buyers of old Languedoc properties are advised to have a survey carried out by an English speaking surveyor or other qualified professional.
The purchase procedure – conveyancing
All Languedoc real estate sales are handled by a French government representative called a notaire. He is responsible for checking paperwork and ensuring that the correct procedure is followed, but he will not protect or act in your interests, so hire your own notaire to do this (the fees are shared, so this will not add to your expenses) or solicitor.
The purchase procedure – contracts
The first step in the purchase procedure is the signing of a preliminary sales contract (most commonly, a compromis de vente) and the paying of a deposit (5% for off-plan, 10% for an existing real estate). The contract commits vendor and buyer, but the latter has a seven day “cooling-off” period in which they can withdraw, by registered post.
The purchase procedure – completion
Completion typically happens three months later, and involves the payment of the balance of the purchase price, and the signing of the final deed (known as the acte de vente or acte authentique).
Languedoc real estate taxes
As the owner of a French real estate or a plot of land you will be liable for real estate tax (taxe foncière); owners of new homes are exempt from this tax for two years from January 1 following the completion date. Anyone who resides in a real estate (owner, tenant or rent-free) with a rental value of over €4,600 is liable for residential tax (taxe d’habitation).
Premiums are generally higher for holiday homes than for main residences, and are usually based on the number of days a real estate is occupied each year, and the length of time between each occupation.
Capital gains tax
Capital gains tax (impôt sur les plus-values) is payable on the profit made on the sale of a second home in France, up to 15 years after purchase; as a non-resident EU citizen you will be taxed at 16%.
French laws relating to real estate ownership, inheritance and taxes can be tricky for the uninitiated. Get it wrong and you could be trapped like a trap in a trap. So here’s the first piece of advice: take some. From a professional legal advisor, I mean (not just from a website, even if it’s a really good one like this). And just like the times, as Bob Dylan (almost) sang, the laws they are a-changin’. Any legal advisor worth their salt will be abreast of changes in French real estate law, but you can help yourself by being well briefed. Read on…
Keep your cool about the pool
All Languedoc real estate which is used for business purposes (and that includes letting) is supposed to have swimming pools “enclosed” to the necessary standard since May 1, 2004, and all other private pools should now comply with this rule (since January 1, 2006). Of course, not everyone plays by the rules, so if you’re buying a real estate that doesn’t comply, you need to get a clause inserted in the initial sales contract stating that the vendor will undertake the necessary work before completion.
All Languedoc real estate for sale must now have surveys covering termites (un état parasitaire), asbestos (amiante) and lead (plomb). When buying a real estate in Languedoc Roussillon, all sale contracts will provide for this, but you need to know how to interpret the reports and what to do if they reveal anything. In June 2006, rules are being introduced that require sellers to disclose any seismic risks in the locality. A contract that fails to mention such risks could be rendered null and void, or the seller might have to reduce the sale price.