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Expats moving to France will find plenty of reasonably priced, comfortable housing options. The standard of accommodation in France is similar to other Western European countries, with comfortable but small living quarters dominating the housing market.
Housing in France varies from studio apartments and condos to cottages, farmhouses and even châteaux. It is generally best for expats to know well in advance the type of accommodation they're in the market for.
Types of accommodation in France
The type of accommodation available in France depends largely on the region. Most cities offer apartments and studios, while as one travels further from the cities, iconic French châteaux, farm cottages and stone houses are more readily available.
Expats should be aware that unfurnished accommodation in France, as opposed to many other destinations, does not usually include any white-label appliances such as refrigerators or washing machines. Air conditioning is not a common feature, except in the south of the country, while an adequate heating system is essential for the country’s cold winters.
While shipping furniture to France is a viable option, expats can rest assured that they won't have much difficulty finding furniture after arriving in the country. Paris in particular is wonderfully shopper-friendly, boasting a famous range of second-hand and antique stores, as well as a number of modern superstores.
Some of the types of accommodation available in France include:
By far the most common type of accommodation in French cities, apartments are usually rented out on a monthly basis. They vary in size from small studio apartments to sprawling high-end condos, with an equally vast range in price.
Cottages are more common in the rural areas of France. These are usually for sale, but some are rented out on a short-term basis for holidaymakers, especially near the coastal regions in the south of France. Cottages in rural France are also frequently available as renovation projects. These can be bought for a low price but are usually in need of considerable restoration.
Cottages vary considerably in price depending on their condition, location and size. They can be suitable for expat families planning to live in France for a long period of time or those who want to avoid the fast pace of city life.
Expats with a slightly larger budget may consider buying or renting a stunning château, many of which have rich histories dating back to the Middle Ages. Most have been renovated over the years and have all the amenities expected of a modern home.
Finding accommodation in France
Besides scouring online property sites and social networks, one of the best ways for expats in France to find accommodation is through the classifieds in various print and online publications. These adverts often include a time and date for interested parties to view the property.
Expats may find it difficult to secure accommodation in France before moving to the country, as most landlords and property owners prefer doing business with people they've met. It is usually also best to see the property in person before committing to a lease.
For these reasons, another way to find accommodation in France is networking. Due to extremely high competition among potential tenants, some of the best properties available may not be advertised publicly. Expats are advised to make connections and ask around to find out if anyone in their social circle may know of something.
Expats who don’t mind the extra fees or don't want to deal directly with a landlord can always use a real estate agency. This option is good for expats who are in a rush and don’t have time to browse the market themselves.
Renting accommodation in France
Most expats will probably decide to rent property in France. Expats will find that housing costs are mainly determined by location. The golden rule is that the closer the accommodation is to the city centre, the higher the rent will be. As a result, it is not uncommon for expats to seek accommodation in slightly outlying districts of French cities. These areas often offer bigger properties that are in better shape and boast more creature comforts, like air conditioning and double glazing, than anything available in the downtown areas.
Furnished vs unfurnished properties
Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available in France. Furnished options are inevitably more expensive and more likely to be available for short-term rental. Unfurnished accommodation rarely includes appliances such as a fridge or stove. It is always important to take a full inventory of the apartment's condition on arrival. This not only simplifies matters for both tenant and landlord but also demonstrates responsibility.
Making an application
Expats seeking accommodation in French cities will need to act swiftly once they find a place because of the intense competition and demand in the city, with listings sometimes being taken down minutes after going up.
A good impression with a prospective landlord can be the difference between signing a lease and having to continue the search, especially when there are dozens of other eager candidates. Expats should come prepared with all the necessary documents so that they can get the ball rolling as swiftly as possible.
Standard leases in France are generally for 12 months. It is possible to negotiate shorter leases directly with the landlord but most property owners are reluctant to do so.
The law in France mostly favours the tenant, meaning that eviction or raising the rent can be a difficult task for a landlord. A letter must be sent to the tenant at least six months prior to a rental increase, informing them of the landlord’s intentions. The landlord also has to show that the rental increase is in line with the market value of the property.
When signing a lease, expats should be sure to read the paperwork carefully in order to understand what is included in the rental price. Tenants are usually responsible for paying their own utility bills, but in the case of short-term rentals, these could be included.
French law also requires tenants living in apartment buildings to take out inexpensive rental insurance to protect against theft, fire and damage to the communal areas. The local town hall can provide more information on what this involves.
The deposit for an apartment is usually one month's rent, with the expectation that the tenants will provide two months' rent in advance in addition to this. Tenants wanting to move out must provide at least three months’ notice to the landlord, but a clause can be added to the lease to shorten this requirement. If the inventory shows no damage upon the departure of the tenant, the full deposit should be returned.
►Learn about the French healthcare system in Healthcare in France
"Housing is hard to come by. It’s a fast market, and you often have to respond to ads within hours of them being posted. There are a lot of options to fit budget, taste and needs. I recommend using an agency. It costs, but it’s a more secure route. I opted not to, and I had property owners cancel contracts on me last-minute. One apartment in particular, I had even started moving my books into the room when the owner changed his mind! I was stuck with two days to find an apartment, and had to choose one far from central Paris. There are a lot of ways to save money while living abroad; finding your perfect home is not one of them." Read more about Canadian expat Dorian's experiences in France.
Are you an expat living in France?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to France. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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