Brexit: Borders, Benefits, Bureaucracy

ukeuropemap (2)I’ve lived in France for 10 years now but I still watch UK television. I tried French TV for a few weeks and in French hotels, I still get a dose of it for a few hours and I’m afraid it just doesn’t do it for me. I think the last straw on the back of my camel was an episode of French Countdown, ‘Des Chiffres et des Lettres.’
Therefore, the next few weeks’ television will consist of debate after debate; news item after news item; documentary after documentary about the so-called Brexit. Most supporters of the exit will (quite wrongly, in my opinion) concentrate on the 3 B’s above. They are by far the most emotive words bandied about by mainstream and social media alike.
I suppose I have a vested interest that is somewhat different to those still living in the UK, in that I will still be living in Europe if the UK decides to leave. But I will still have a British passport and I will always have one; I have no intention of changing that.
I’m going to have a go at suggesting what it might mean for the current British expat; nobody is absolutely certain what it will actually mean. I won’t discuss the people who are thinking of becoming expats, nor for those giving up on the life and leaving France. The status of the former group is even less certain but for the latter group, they will be subject to the same benefits (no, not that word!) or problems of suddenly being outside Europe. I say suddenly but I’m fairly sure that the exit will not be immediate; I believe it could take up to 2 years to ‘leave the building.’
I suppose that those wishing to return right now may find it difficult to sell up. It depends on the type of property they are selling but potential buyers in the UK may be reluctant to take the plunge at this point in time. The same obviously doesn’t go for buyers from other EU countries. But bon chance if that is what you are trying to do at the moment.
I don’t know the exact number of British expats living in France but the number seems to be approaching the 200,000 mark. Let’s split up these numbers in terms of demographics; retirees and those of working age, with or without children. I am not going to attempt to give financial advice to anyone, I am nowhere near qualified; I’ll keep it as simple and as uncertain as it seems to me.

• When I say retirees, I really mean those receiving pensions – I feel it is a kinder word than pensioners. At the moment, the state pension can be paid into your UK or French bank account. If it is a UK bank, there will obviously be no change. The change may come if it is paid into your French account. It will still be possible but will bank charges be higher? Will exchange rates be better or worse?
• One partner is claiming a pension and the other still working and you are therefore paying income tax. There is currently a ‘Double Taxation Convention,’ an agreement between France and England which ensures you will only pay tax on income once. So if you are paying tax on your UK pension in the UK, there will be no more to pay in France. I know this seems obvious but the point is, you can choose the country in which to pay your tax at the moment and it is this that may change.
• You are employed or you have your own business in France. Scaremongers have said that this will not continue, expats will not be able to have a French business. Our value to the French economy means that this is highly unlikely. Similarly, I’m quite sure that employees of French companies are just as valuable to them.
In all cases though, we may have to revert to the old way of registering our French residency, the so-called carte de sejour. This ought not to be a great hardship, I know a few American citizens who need to go through this process at the moment.

I have not tackled the subject of reciprocal healthcare arrangements for those not working in France and for those in the French health system who fall ill when spending time in the UK. I’m assuming that there will have to be changes as the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is only valid in EU member countries. This is one of many current agreements that will have to be renegotiated.
To summarise then, a “Yes” to exit the EU will mean some changes, but I think that these will take some time and won’t be too drastic. I think. I hope!
For what it’s worth, and this is my personal view, not just from the point of view of an expat; I will be voting to stay in. I may well follow up this article with another, nearer the time, to explain why. What I need to do first is to fully research the real issues involved – ALL of them! I urge you all to do the same before you vote.
I will use this method: https://www.gov.uk/apply-vote-proxy.
Any British citizen who has lived outside the UK for less than 15 years can vote.
Another way is this: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-a-postal-vote.

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Do you have TV production or presenting experience?

tv-productionWe’re working on a new online TV show based around French property and would like to hear from anyone that can help us turn the project into great television. Ideally you should be based in or around the Limousin area or don’t mind travelling.

This is not a salaried project but that will change once the show is sponsored.

Please email editor@thefrenchpropertyplace.com

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The idiosyncrasies of banking in France

french bank

The French high street banking system holds a great deal of mystery not to mention irritation for the average Brit buying in France. Before you can complete on your house you will need to have your French banking in place, and you’ll need it to set up your gas, water and electricity services.

A couple of years ago my Parisian grandmother passed away having reached  the ripe old age of 100. She had spent the last 80 years living in the same elegant apartment where my mother was born, in Pigalle. It’s thanks to her that we have been able to buy our house in France, returning to my roots which she would have loved. 

To avoid losing vast amounts in foreign exchange transactions I tried to open a French bank account from the UK before the inheritance was finalieurossed and in readiness for finding me dream house. I spent numerous hours on the phone to numerous French banks, being passed from pillar to post, to no avail. I contacted uk banks with branches abroad as well as international banks trying to get a euro account. HSBC and Britline.com are helpful but still it was ridiculously complicated.

The thing to do, I subsequently discovered, is just to open an account in France. A surprisingly easy thing to do when you are there on holiday or house hunting. Even as a non-resident it’s simple and straight forward.  You will only need 1euro deposit and your passport as ID and proof of address – in the UK is fine. Had I known that at the time, it would have been cheaper for me to fly to France for the day than to pay the foreign transfer charges I ended up having to cover both ways.

There is a wide range of high street banks to choose from

There is a wide range of high street banks to choose from

When you choose your account though, be it with BNP, Crédit Agricole, Crédit Lyonnais, Société Genérale  or any of the many others, you’ll want to find out about charges as banking in France is  not free. Every facility such as having a check book or bank card is chargeable as are many transactions such as direct debits and standing orders. You will be allocated a bank manager who will personally look after your account.

Carole and I are now on first name terms – not common in France where respectfully you will be addressed by your title and surname everywhere you go. Whenever I have a problem I call her and she is most helpful. Carole set up my home and  contents insurance and organises my internet banking – by hand. I can’t set up a new payee on line from the comforts of my Scottish home as I don’t have a French mobile phone to verify the transaction…. so I email Carole and she does it for me.  Wonderful customer service – unless she happens to be on her two hour lunch break, on holiday, out of the office or it’s close to midnight which is when I usually get round to doing my online banking.

You won't be able to access your money from all branches.

You won’t be able to access your money from all branches.

You’ll also want to find out about accessing your money before you choose your bank, which will be quite surprising compared with UK practices. My account is with the Credit Agricole and I opened it in Bergerac in the Departement of the Dordogne because that is where we were staying  when we were house hunting. Having subsequently bought my house 20 minutes down the road in the neighbouring Departement of the Gironde, I discover that I cannot withdraw money at the counter from my local branch. I’m limited to £600 Euros a week from a cash till – which, thankfully I can access across the country, but if it is not a Credit Agricole cash till, there will be  a charge.  Needless to say 600 euros every 7 days doesn’t go very far when you’ve just bought a house, so I  have to cross the river back to the Dordogne to get access to my cash.

When I get to the charming village of Port St Foy, fortunately just over the bridge from where we stay, there is a bit of a queue – after all its market day. Eventually its my turn to meet one of the clerks, we shake hands. The previous 3 customers in the queue were warmly greeted with an embrace and a kiss on both cheeks by their bank manager. Certainly not the norm in any RBS branch I’ve frequented.

The Bridge linking me to my funds

The Bridge linking me to my funds

A pretty and efficient looking bank employee, Melle Duval takes me to a private meeting room – there is no open counter here for doing your transactions. We sit and chat.  After  questioning as to why I need to  remove over £2000 euros in one transaction – to pay the electrician, the plumber and the odd job man – after all we are doing renovations – she loads up 2 bank cards and hands them to me.  I now need to go and put these into the cash till at the front of the branch where, in return, I’ll access my money. There is another long queue. Fortunately the carpark isn’t metered so at least I won’t be getting a ticket.

I’s the second time I’ve been to this branch in the neighbouring Department to access my funds. On the first occasion, a Thursday, I was told  cash was only distributed on Tuesdays and Saturdays… It’s a good thing my tradesmen are patient people.

Aveline Evans

www.frenchcountryhouse.co.uk

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Buying a home in France is no more difficult than buying one in the UK….

I have an old dog eared map of France that has probably been with us on every holiday for the past 20 years. It pre-dates Google evidently. On it, I have marked all the beautiful areas, villages and hamlets we visited and where I would like to own a house – half knowing that it will probably never happen…

Last summer when we went to France for our two week holiday we forgot the map – but bought a house.

A welcoming country kitchen

A welcoming country kitchen

It was the second one we saw and the whole thing could not have been easier! Yes, there was stress, problems, irritations and delay but we sold our family home in Scotland the previous year and bought in Edinburgh, and that was no less stressful or difficult.

Les Galineaux is in the Libournais, near St Emilion, (Gironde/Dordogne area) because that’s where you can get direct flights to from Edinburgh, last minute, when you are hacked off with miserable weather here – who needs research!

Having said that, I had been looking at properties on line since February. Spending hours on really poor French property website where terrible photos gave you no idea of what you might be buying and the search facilities were very limited.

The Libournais area near St Emilion & Pomerol

The Libournais area near St Emilion & Pomerol.

Price was a big issue for me. The Languedoc Roussillon area and Midi Pyrenees is more affordable than most other parts of France and the sunshine pretty much a sure thing. With Carcassonne being so popular among the Brits and the Pyrenees close by for skiing it was also a good choice for a house that was going to have to earn its keep through holiday lettings. There are a number of airports that serve that area including Beziers, Carcassonne, Toulouse and Poitiers. The Limousin is also a very good area for value but more difficult to access in terms of airports.

At short notice though Bordeaux was where we could fly to.  We rented a great village house for two weeks in Issigeac, an impressive ‘bastide’ 15 minutes south of Bergerac. The British owners, who run a holiday letting business in Yorkshire http://www.oldoakcottages.com/ and ‘know their onions’ (as the French say) had spent three years trying to find their dream French holiday home. Amanda was really helpful and put me in touch with local agents who had helped her. We had lined up a few appointments to see houses before we set off but in the end I mostly organised viewings in situ. As it happens, all the agents I came across were British so language really was not a problem. The French don’t seem to have got the hang of real estate as the British have and with commission rates so high, it’s a good business for British settlers, especially in areas popular among their fellow countrymen. If you are renting in France while doing your investigations make sure you take a place with good WiFi access!

On the Dordogne. Having lots of activities close by was key for our holiday house.

On the Dordogne. Having lots of activities close by was key for our holiday house.

The French system is very different from the UK. The buyer pays the agent’s fees and the commission can be up to 10% of the selling price! But remember this is very much negotiable. The market in France is stagnant and an agent won’t want to loose a sale if he has an interested party. Our agent, Sue Adams, offered us a set fee which was reasonable and made it all much easier to calculate the costs. On top of this you will have the Notaire fees. This will vary according to the value of the house, and is not negotiable. It works out around 8% or so but covers the tax – similar to paying stamp duty and solicitors fees here. Usually the advertised house price includes the agent fees. Having a good relationship with your agent and working with someone you can trust is really important. You might find that some properties are advertised with more than one company so make sure you are dealing with someone you feel comfortable with before going to see the house. If you change agents after you have been introduced to a property it will lead to all sorts of complications.

Sunflowers for miles around.

Sunflowers for miles around.

I made it clear to the various agents I dealt with that I had a set pot to spend and I was not too bothered how they split it between vendor, agent and Notaire as long as it was clear my budget and offer was “all inclusive” ! I found it all a bit cloak and dagger as although the buyer is the one to pay the agent, in truth they are acting for the seller and also trying to get their own commission up. Each individual agent manages their own very close guarded portfolio and you may find they have to pay an introduction fee to a third party if you did not come directly. Even within the same office individuals would not talk to me about a house that was not on their books. A number of agents in Britain play this go-between role including Healey Fox and French Entree. They speak English and guide you through the system but in the end they have not usually seen the properties they have on their website and you want to deal with agents locally, who will know what is going on.

Sue Adams, our agent was with Imorama but basically they all work independently. She was great, knowledgeable and helpful. Sue has now set up French Properties Direct. This is a clear and easy to use website, with good photography, which puts sellers and buyers together and by-passes the exorbitant agent fees that the buyer has to pay. Well worth a look http://www.frenchpropertiesdirect.com/

In the heart of one of the world's most famou wine regions

In the heart of one of the world’s most famous wine regions

We followed Sue’s advice, based on years of experience, in terms of selecting the Notaire and – as is done in France – used the same  person as the vendors. I’m a trusting soul so was not worried about conflicts of interest. In the end, it is very much an administrative function. Having said that it is worth going through the Compromis de Vente with a fine tooth comb. This is basically the Missives so you want to make sure you know what you’re buying.

There are a number of searches and ‘surveys’ that need to be done including electricity, rot, and drainage. 70% of rural homes in France manage their own waste and as the authorities are trying to update sewage systems, transfer of property is the time to do it (more on that next time as this is something we did have a problem with…). These surveys are paid for by the vendor so you can’t decide who does them for you. In certain instances the Mairie will appoint the inspector so you really have no say and can anticipate considerable delay. RICS Surveyors can also be found in France. They have set up in many areas to reassure British buyers. My personal experience of in-depth surveys – here in the UK – is that when you discover a considerable problem after making your purchase, pages of disclaimers tell you the survey could not cover this… A good option if you have a concern is to get a local tradesman to look over the property. A British one might be easier in terms of language but that will come at a premium, and they will not necessarily be any more trust worthy than the local French builders….

On the day we got back to the UK we got gazumped! It made me realise how much I really wanted this house. I refused to give in, upped my offer and the vendors, who were decent people and had liked my children accepted. 10 weeks later we had the keys!

Aveline Evans

Les Galineaux, French Country House

Gironde

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Enter our brilliant photo competition

If you own a gite, B&B, a renovated property or have a place for sale, enter our photo competition and win three months free advertising for your property.

To enter, send us a photograph that you have taken in France over the past 12 months. The photograph can be of a person, a place, a building, wildlife, plant or just something that caught your eye.

 

A winning photograph will be chosen by the editor of The French Property Place.

The winner will receive three months free advertising in The French Property Place (so you don’t have to pay the ten per cent commission on any bookings or any fee to advertise your property for sale).  Your property will also be promoted in The Sussex Newspaper. To enter, click here. Competition ends 28th March 2015.

Enter your photo here

Competition rules here

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Christine Kavanagh, Sarah Thomas, Gijs Van Breugel, Hildegarde Osper and Neill Weatherill join The French Property Place team

 

writers-small2

christineChristine Kavanagh

Christine Kavanagh, born Christine Kelly of Cheshire, is now living the dream in rural France. After spending 30 years in the world of business and traffic jams, Christine has given over her life to running a charming and welcoming Chambre D’Hote in the beautiful Dordogne Region of France.

Armed with school girl French, Christine copes by using her wits and her thirst for growth….. ‘I will learn French’ is her mantra (along with ‘I will earn enough money from this B & B to employ a cleaner’).   Both are currently works in progress.

After successfully working in both the Public and Private sectors, Hospitality was her next big adventure.   Being passionate about travel and having first-hand knowledge of what excellent customer service should be – Christine, and her husband Nicholas, began to look for their little piece of heaven on earth and after a five year search in many regions of France finally found a home which is now ‘Le Grand Chemin de la Vie B & B’. (Literal translation ‘The/A Great Way of Life’.

 

SarahSarah Thomas

Sarah grew up in a small town on the Surrey/Hampshire/Berkshire border. Her childhood was spent mostly outside: climbing trees, building dens and making friends with any passing animal, bird or insect. She grew up into an artistic adolescent, studying, with the sureness of the young, to become a composer of classical music. At 22, she graduated with flying colours from The University of Surrey and entered an economically unstable world.

Having always excelled in everything she set her mind to, it was disheartening to find herself, after years of study, filing personnel paperwork alone in a dark, dank room in Aldershot. However, she made the best of a bad situation and within 9 months had secured a PA position in London. Certain that the road ahead was paved with gold, she packed up her things and moved with great excitement to start her new life.

The position was only a 12 month maternity cover and, as the 11th month rolled around, Sarah was getting that uneasy feeling again. A roof over your head doesn’t come cheap in the capital and she knew she wouldn’t last long there without a steady income. Just in time, her hours of job searching paid off and she was invited to take up a PA position within the Household of one of the most famous families in Britain.

Sarah loved her time working in London and was genuinely sad to leave when, in 2012, she made the decision to move to France to be closer to her French boyfriend, Guillaume. She said farewell to the life she’d known for 4 years, packed her bags and started, once again, a new life in a new town. This time, she didn’t even speak the language.

This is where we find Sarah now, with a backdrop of rolling fields, hayricks and cows, not to mention the outstandingly beautiful Lot River. Life in France has not been without its difficulties but, for this expat, it’s been worthwhile. Now working predominantly as a wedding planner, with a dash of music and literacy teaching on the side, Sarah has settled into her third life with the gratitude of one who has already lived two others.

 

GijsGijs Van Breugel

Terra France was founded in 2007 by Gijs Van Breugel. Gijs (43) is the owner and driving force behind Terra France, an entrepreneur, and former attorney specializing in real estate law.

Gijs moved to France from his home in the Netherlands to begin working as an estate agent to build his company. He has spent the last seven years using his language and legal skills developing a business designed to help international buyers purchase homes in France.

Living in Romilly sur Andelle near the most beautiful city of Rouen in Normandy, happily married to Irma and enjoying life as we all should.

Gijs is passionate about supporting his clients along every step of the buying process – and making sure they find the home of their dreams …

„If you have not yet found the answer, you have not yet asked the question … to the right person …”

 

HillyHildegarde Osper

Born in London in 1955 where I grew up and followed a fairly ordinary childhood. When I was 16 we moved from my comfort zone of North London to what seemed to me to be the dark side of the moon, rural North Norfolk, where I enjoyed the dubious privilege of being one of the first full time day-girls in the local boys public school. My two priorities – a career and escaping from North Norfolk as quickly as possible  – influenced my study choice and I ended up as a Speech Therapist working in some of the tougher areas of North West London; I burned out after 5 years, contacted my history teacher and said ‘Ok you were right, will you give me a reference if I find a course?’; he did.  Three years and a joint honours degree in American History (with an official minor in British history that was really in American Studies) later found me living in Norwich a few blocks from mum and both of us wondering why we were living in the lousy British climate. This was the year of the ‘big blow’ that poor Mr. Fish dismissed as unlikely to happen, of humid hot summer days when the roses in my garden rotted at ground level and of a winter when my Citroen Dyanne disappeared under the snow for 3 days.

So we moved to Avignon.

I’ve been here now for nearly 28 years. I’ve worked as an EFL teacher with primary school children and with adults in the context of the french right to ‘continuous training’ or to ‘reconversion’ if you lose a job. I taught nuclear engineers, quality control and production managers in a pharmaceutical company, tourism managers and many more.

A few years ago I took a ‘Maîtrise’ in American Literature at the local university for the fun of it.

Ah yes, but I had to work for a living so…I used the money I had from selling my house in Norwich and bought into a franchise selling tableware, cookware and decorative items. My shop was in a small town near Avignon, I loved the shop but after deciding to leave the franchise and going it alone for a few more years, I decided that being in one place all day was not for me. Which is how I fell into the real estate business.

I work for www.michel-dourdin.com  specialist in prestige properties in Paris and in Provence.

I’m a member of an international women’s organisation (Soroptimist International) and try to get as involved as my life allows with the projects that we pilot.

What else? single, no kids but a cat (much easier). I live in a house with a wonderful view over the Rhone valley 10 minutes from Avignon.

 

NeilNeill Weatherill

My wife Teresa and I moved to France in 2005 with over 20 years’ experience in Information Technology. With very little building experience and a very rusty command of the French language, our intention was to set up some accessible holiday accommodation, which was and still is very difficult to find in France.

After a few months’ search, we found the ideal property and spent 2 years transforming one end of a 250-year old barn into “Les Rossignols d’Ancheyra”. There were many challenges, from finding the right people to help us realise our dream, to completing our first building project in another country. The combination of getting to grips with the language and France’s unique administrative culture cannot be underestimated.

Since then, I have been working with our local Tourist Offices to try to facilitate and promote disabled tourism in the area. At times, this has been met with responses ranging from apathy to bewilderment, it is proving to be my biggest task yet but one that I really want complete.

If anyone else is considering a move to France, whether on a permanent basis, as a holiday home owner or simply as a summer visitor, particularly if you have accessibility issues, I am more than happy to share my experiences with you.

 

 

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Buying a Property in France

Once you have found a house you have fallen in love with you will need to make and offer to the vendor – via an estate agent or directly.  After you have agreed a price you will need to to draw up a ‘compromis de vente’ (a preliminary sales contract).  You will then take this to the Notaire who will start the formal process of arranging the contract.

The compromis is the most common sales contract, but you may also be asked to sign a promesse de vente or a promesse d’achat. Most agencies have a standard compromis de vente, but it is advisable to consider your own personal circumstances carefully before signing this.  It is also common that the purchasor puts down 10% of the agreed price.

It is possible to insert conditional clauses (clauses suspensives) into the compromis, such as making the purchase dependent on obtaining a mortgage, planning permission for certain works or on the sale of your UK property. Vendors in France are required to provide a series of diagnostiques, which are reports covering matters such as lead, termites and energy performance, but surveys are not commonplace. However you can still have one carried out, and a satisfactory survey can also be made a clause suspensive but the vendor does not have to accept this. Clauses suspensives will postpone completion until each condition is fulfilled. If a condition cannot be fulfilled, the relevant party will generally be free to withdraw.

You should also take this opportunity to consider inheritance tax planning. There are measures that you can take to secure greater control over your estate, and reduce potential inheritance tax liability for inheritors. You may need to adopt more than one solution and the precise mix will depend on your own circumstances, aspirations and needs. Take professional advice, preferably from different sources, which may include your legal and tax advisors, your bank and your notaire.

Once the compromis has been signed there is a seven-day cooling-off period, during which time the buyer can pull out of the sale for any reason. If you wish to do so, you are required to send a recorded-delivery letter to the estate agent or notaire giving notice of your withdrawal. However after the seven-day period has elapsed the compromis becomes legally binding.

THE ROLE OF THE NOTAIRE

By law, all French property transactions are overseen by a notaire, who is employed by the government to ensure a property sale is above board and to collect the various taxes. The notaire is involved throughout the buying process, and you have the choice of using the same one as the vendor or to appoint your own. Your agent can recommend a notaire or you can find one at www.notaires.fr.

The notaire is under a legal obligation to make sure that you understand what you are signing, and may speak English if your French doesn’t quite pass muster. However there is no obligation for the notaire to speak English, so ideally you should select a bilingual solicitor who is familiar with both French and UK law. Don’t pretend that you understand something if you haven’t got a clue!

When all the enquiries have been completed and funds are in place, then you will be invited to the notaire’s office to sign the deed of sale, the acte authentique. Only notaires are authorised to prepare such a deed, which guarantees legal transfer of the property. In the notaire’s office, the notaire reads through the acte de vente and both buyer and seller initial each page. The last page is signed along with the words bon pour accord or lu et approuvé to confirm that you understand and accept the terms of the document.

The notaire will give you the attestation de propriété, which is a certificate to show that you are now the legal owner of the property. You will also be given the keys to your new home. The notaire registers the property with the land registry (le cadastre), where the deed of sale is stamped.

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