Britons rush to buy in France before full impact of Brexit

Tourists take a stroll around downtown Nice
Nice, on France’s Côte d’Azur, remains a popular destination for British people moving to France

One estate agent said ‘the phones have not stopped ringing’ as Britons look to buy property in France before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31

There has been a considerable uptake in Britons looking to secure French property before the cut-off when British people moving over will cease to benefit from the advantages of EU citizens, says a leading estate agency.

From January 1, 2021, the UK will leave the EU's single market and customs area meaning new arrivals to France are treated the same as those coming from anywhere in the world.

Joanna Leggett, head of marketing at French estate agency Leggett Immobilier, said this has had a major impact on the market this year.

She said: "Our sales to Brits at the beginning of the year were up 38% [year-on-year] until March, 85% of them were for main homes.  Our website hits are up 87% for the English-language version of our site and enquiries on properties are going completely mad.  We have so many Brits with reserved bookings coming from July, we expect the next three months to be our busiest ever."

There are known to be at least 150,000 Britons in France, according to figures from France' state statistics office Insee, but that number appears to be growing. A study published by the Berlin Social Science Center found that the number of British people moving to EU countries is at a ten-year high, with a noticeable increase since the 2016 Brexit referendum. 

Ms Leggett said that she is seeing signs of this on a daily basis. “I think the mad panic does seem to be that the British want to get here and they want to find their property and to be in it to qualify for the residency that we get at the moment,” she said. 

With travel restrictions due to Covid-19 now easing within the EU, she said she expects the period from July to September to be extremely busy. 

“We have said that it does take three to four months for a sale to complete, so if people do want to be in their house they need to have made an offer by the end of September to be able to complete by December,” she said. 

Read more: Is it a good time to buy a holiday home in France?

Suzanne Jenkins-Pearce, who runs Normandy-based estate agency Suzanne in France, reports a similar picture. She said she is bracing herself for the arrival of British people from July as they look to beat the transition period deadline.

She added that the number of people coming last year was already very high, and she expects that to continue this year.

However, not all estate agents gave the same feedback. Robert Welton of Bel Air Homes, an estate agency based in Brittany, said that for them business has been stable and they have not noticed any particular effects of Brexit.

What will change for buyers from next year?

There remains some uncertainty about what exactly will be different for Britons looking to buy in France after the end of the transition period, as some factors are still to be negotiated.

They will still have the right to buy and rent out homes in France, as that falls under French law and not the EU. They will also have the right to stay in France visa-free for 90 out of 180 days. For longer stays visas will be required. 

If Britons move to France before the end of the transition period, then they will retain all their rights in areas including residency rights, healthcare and uprating of UK state pensions.

For those who move after, much will depend on how negotiations go between the EU and the UK. For example, there may be additional healthcare costs and pensions may not be up-rated each year. 

Ms Jenkins-Pearce said that there have been a lot of worries among her clients about how Brexit will affect them.

“There are a lot of people here who are not properly in the system having never actually established themselves with a carte de sejour etc. Many are panicking about this and continued access to healthcare,” she said. [Note: a carte de séjour will not be an obligation until June 30, 2021, but obtaining one earlier as an EU citizen was considered advisable].

Ms Leggett said that despite the fact that there may be some added complications, she is advising Britons looking to move to France not to panic. 

“They will still be able to move here [after the transition period], there may be a little more paperwork than would previously have been required,” she said, comparing it to the situation of someone moving from the US or Australia. 

France, the new no.1?

With a combination of Brexit and the global pandemic causing disruptions to travel, Ms Leggett believes that France may overtake Spain as the top destination for Britons moving abroad.

She said that the fact that France is drivable in a day for many Britons is making it that bit more attractive a destination. 

“If you can get in your car, go through the Channel Tunnel and be in your house without having to see anyone except passport control, that’s actually a really good option for people now,” she said.

“I have seen some of those clients that we’ve spoken to saying, ‘we’re thinking of France now’. It’s purely because they can drive here.”

Read more: Most popular places to own a holiday home in France

Heading back home

Some Britons are also considering a return to the UK. Ms Jenkins-Pearce said that as people get older and possibly get ill, they may consider moving back for health reasons.

They may also be worried about income after the transition period ends.

“I think a lot of people are concerned about the instability of sterling. For many it was already tight living off a pension, this is not helped by the pound weakening,” she said.

Ms Leggett said she had not noticed huge numbers of people looking to move back to the UK but added it was possible there may be some cases where people cannot prove their income for purposes of obtaining a residency card and so have to go back [Note: France has said it will be flexible on income and this is expected to be very rare].

As for what will happen after December 31, Ms Jenkins-Pierce believes the demand will slow.

“I think there will be a period of time in which people stop and reflect and wait to see what is actually happening in reality to their hopes of moving over here.”

Ms Leggett said she is unsure of what will come next, but does not expect the demand to dry up.

“From the conversations we have with people at webinars or seminars, many people want to move to France, to its countryside,” she said. “It is always a lifestyle choice. It’s never an investment, it’s always the lifestyle.”

Looking to move to France or already own property here? Take a look at our 'Owning a Second Home in France Help Guide.'

The 132-page guide gives an overview of owning a second home in France, including changes to be aware of post-Brexit, information on property taxes, rules for renting and reader FAQs. Take a look and see what's inside

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