The three essential contacts you need to buy a property in France

So, you’re dreaming of owning a beautiful ski chalet in the marvellous French Alps. To help you turn that dream into a reality, we recommend three essential contacts to help make your buying journey as smooth, secure and straightforward as possible. Those three contacts are: an estate agent, an English-speaking lawyer, and a currency specialist.

An estate agent

Front room with mountain view in Alpe d'Huez, France.

In France, estate agents take on a more hands-on approach than those in the UK. A search for a ski home tends to start on our portal, browsing through and making a note of properties that you could see yourself settling into happily. Even if buying still seems a long way off, it’s advisable to reach out to an estate agent as they can help you to refine your search. They can advise on what you can realistically purchase within your budget and where there are bargains to be found.

Perhaps you’re torn between Alpe d'Huez and Chamonix. Maybe you’re considering buying a new build. Once you have a better picture of the kind of home you’re seeking, an estate agent can let you know when a home becomes available. 

The next step to buying a home is to book a trip to France to see properties in-person. Your estate agent will meet you there and walk you through potential homes. They can also offer more local and comprehensive knowledge on the property market and the area that you are buying in.

As helpful as an estate agent can be, it’s still really important to rent a car and view the area you’re interested in. Beyond the excitement of the slopes, you’ll want to envision what your day-to-day will be like. Have an independent explore and find out where you’ll get your groceries, your morning coffee, your local transport routes.

In France, all real estate purchases take place through a notaire, who oversees the purchase on behalf of the state. They offer an impartial perspective on your documents, which ultimately means that the buying process is better regulated.

An English-speaking solicitor

Exterior of a ski property in Chatel, France.

It is advisable to find an English-speaking solicitor once you have found a property and are ready to make an offer. Some estate agents, especially those used to working with overseas buyers, will be able to provide English translations of your documents. However, even if written in English, it still will not offer clarity on French law.

You will not necessarily be clear on what is absent from the documents and so on. If you’d just like a solicitor to review your documents, such as the compromis de vente (the first contract, like the exchange of contracts in the UK) and handle any issues that arise from that, then this will cost around £1,000-£1,500. However, if you’d prefer more comprehensive help from the very start of the buying process to the keys being in your hand, then the payment for this would be upwards of £2,000.

In France, though possible, it is not commonplace to use a surveyor. So, for some, having an English-speaking solicitor to check all the paperwork, from the diagnostic report to the energy efficiency of the property, can make up for this absence.

It is recommended that you visit your property in-person at least once before you make your purchase. However, if you are unable to be present for some document signing, then your solicitor will be able to do that for you. 

A currency specialist

Exterior of a ski property in Sainte-Foy, France.

You might be planning to make your property purchase directly through a bank. However, the experience offered by a bank is purely transactional and exposes you to considerable financial risk. Every day, influenced by socioeconomic events, the exchange rate shifts. As a result, in the time that it takes you to pick a ski home and then become its owner, the price of it can change too. For example, say that you were purchasing a €1,000,000 chalet. Due to economic data altering the value of the pound to the euro from €1.15 to €1.12, your ski home now costs you an extra £23,300.

A currency specialist like Smart Currency Exchange can eliminate this risk by organising a forward contract. This allows you to lock in an exchange rate for a set period of time. If you are quite early on the process, you might choose to lock in an exchange rate for twelve months. If you are purchasing an off-plan home, you might opt for twenty-four months, as this is around the amount of time it will take for the development to be completed. What a forward contract effectively does is make your budget stable and fixed, giving you peace of mind. Your currency specialist will be able to send money directly to the notarie, estate agent and lawyer in France.

Furthermore, once you are settled in France, your currency specialist will be able to assist you in sending money across at an exchange rate suited to your needs. This could be for a mortgage, maintenance, and utility costs.