Here at Compass Immobilier a number of our team members are British. We love it here, adore our jobs and wish to carry on living and working here regardless of Brexit and the form it may take. Some of us have children (ranging from toddlers to late teens) so safeguarding their futures here too is essential. The advice from the British Embassy and the French Interior Ministry (the French equivalent of the Home Office, the body who deals with all of this so what they say we take seriously) is for British nationals residing in France or moving to France this year to apply for a residence permit, a 'carte de séjour'.
Victoria, our MD, started the process of applying for French nationality in 2016 via naturalisation. She has been here a long time and had felt for a while that obtaining French nationality would represent the level of her integration and committment to her life in France, as well as entitling her to vote in all elections, something that is very important to her. She obtained it, via the Prefect's Office, 'Préfecture', in Toulouse in September 2017.
Following the referendum vote obtaining French nationality was of the upmost importance to Victoria and the agency due to the fact that Victoria is the MD and holder of the agency licence, 'carte professionnelle', which is a legal requirement to run an estate agency in France. There are criteria to be met to obtain a licence as it is a regulated profession with the licence being renewed every 3 years. The rules are not the same for obtaining this licence between EU and non-EU citizens so becoming French was absolutely necessary for Victoria.
For other of our teams members, Philippa obtained her 5 year residence permit last year. It is the local Prefect's office in the Gers (32) that processes the application for residence permits. This guarantees her right to live and work here in France. She is now applying for her permanent permit having been here for 5 years now. The process has been straightforward and quick. The people at the Prefect's Office have been pleasant to deal with and helpful. Philippa is also in the process of exchanging her driving licence for a French one, a largely on-line procedure which has so far proved relatively simple. In the event of a 'no deal' Brexit British driving licences may well no longer be valid in France so this aspect was also essential for Philippa to ensure no difficulties in the immediate term and reducing the risk of delays later on if left to the last minute...
Neelam attended the Tarbes (65 - Hautes Pyrénées) Prefect's Office the other day as this is where she lives (she looks after the Trie-sur-Baïse area). She was intending to apply just for her residence permit but the very helpful and open lady who met with her said that she meets the criteria in terms of time spent in France for applying for nationality and that she more than meets the language requirement as they chatted at length! She advised her to submit her French nationality application at the same time.
Talking with British ex-pat friends and clients (all sorts of profiles - working, retired, students) here in the Gers and Hautes-Pyrénées, by and large their experiences seem to mirror ours, namely that the authorities have been welcoming and helpful with not too many obstacles (other than the usual form-filling and paper trails which they have assisted them through for the most part). This is good to know in these uncertain times! Toulouse is a big city with big city considerations so Victoria found the Prefect's Office there somewhat less friendly and open, let's put it that way..., but she got there in the end, as did a number of other ex-pats she knows living locally, some of whom she met at her official ceremony (the champagne and canapés were really rather good, exactly what one would expect from the Gers with its great food, wine and hospitality).
If you would like to talk to us about your concerns we are more than happy to share our experiences and knowledge. Just get in touch!
Firstly, I do concede that this is not the most thrilling blog title around... However, with Brexit approaching and the possibility of a 'no deal' scenario being increasingly discussed, for British people selling their French second homes forewarned is indeed forearmed...
Here at Compass we have been in the business and involved with buyers of all nationalities, and particularly Brits, for a good number of years. I had to obtain a 'carte de séjour' (residence permit) when I first arrived and set up my own business (I still have it somewhere...). There are no restrictions in France on who can buy a property. For British people living or moving to France in the future there is likely to be some sort of permit requirement but that is not the object of this article.
Not so long ago, and certainly well within our recent memory, any non-residents selling a second home in France had to appoint a fiscal representative ('représentant fiscal') upon sale of property for the purposes of calculating and ensuring payment of capital gains tax (CGT) - 'Impôt sur la Plus-Value'). This was the case even where there was no gain... This obligation applied to British people too when their individual interest in a property exceeded 150,000 Euros. This meant that it was not the notaire who handled the purchase who looked after this aspect but usually a company with specific accreditation to do this (naturally for a fee...).
Then things changed and the appointment of a fiscal representative for residents within the EEA (European Economic Area) was no longer required so for the last few years this has not been an issue for many individual sellers (rather than companies). Evidently, come March 2019 this could well become 'a thing' again.
So if you are selling, or thinking about selling, your second home and live in the UK be aware that shortly the rules could well change back. If you wish to prepare yourself then have a look on-line and inform yourself about companies that offer this service (and their fees) so that you are ready if need be. Most importantly, make sure that you get your original invoices, details of the firms and proof of payment prepared for major work that you have done. In our experience the fiscal representative firms are very strict about what they will allow as offsetable against the liability (one of the main reasons being that their financial liability is engaged if the tax authorities decide that the seller owes more than has been declared).
One of the firms, SARF, has produced a leaflet in English with some further details that you can find easily on-line. Here is an extract about who is affected by this requirement:
Aerial views are tremendously useful when property hunting. From a buyer’s viewpoint they show up all sorts of important details – geographical location, proximity to neighbours, nuisances and can even give a vision of the property from the public domain using the ‘little man’ function (the latter works much better in urban areas as he tends to get lost in wheat fields in the depths of the countryside!) A site that has become an indispensible tool for buyers and estate agents alike is geoportail.gouv.fr. This site enables you to superimpose the land registry parcels (cadastre) on to the aerial view. But sometimes this can reveal issues…
We recently sold a property where the owner had made his garden coming up to 30 years ago in the farmer’s field… The two neighbours had never really cottoned on to this fact. The encroachment was something like 600m² on a pretty much rectangular parcel of land of about 4,000m² (along one length and one width). On the ground and with the land registry plan (plan cadastral) it was not really very visible but on ‘geoportail’ the difference was blindingly obvious… One could potentially have said that it was not really of significance on such a large parcel (after all the official surface area sold came from the title deeds and so was correct) but the main problem was that the access to the back of the building, as well as the drains for the septic tank, was rendered much more complicated because one would have had to go via the other side which would have been much less practical. Plus naturally the buyer wanted the garden as he had seen it and did not want to inherit a problem of this nature.
To resolve the issue we needed the intervention of a land surveyor (Géomètre) to re-draw the boundaries and insert boundary stones (bornage) and create two new parcels from the larger ones belonging to the neighbour (arpentage). Very fortunately the neighbour agreed that the owner purchase the 600m² from him (finally he added in a bit more to make angles easier to work with by tractor) at the price of agricultural land (he had recently purchased land close by so there was an exact reference for the price). Everything went smoothly but it was a relatively complex situation that could quickly have become tense and potentially evolve into a ‘ransom strip’ type scenario…
Given the time necessary the situation was resolved at the same time as the sale of the property went through subject to a condition precedent in order to protect the buyer. The seller acquired the new parcels and then immediately sold them along with the rest to the buyer. The fees for the land surveyor were approx. 1,400 Euros incl. VAT.