Mythbuster: French prefer renting to buying

A few years ago a UK daily newspaper ran an article on how English people ‘see themselves as kings of their own castles’ while the ‘Germans and French prefer to rent’.

25 July 2017
By Connexion journalist

This is still a common belief but it is increasingly untrue. In fact recent figures from the EU statistics body Eurostat show a slightly higher percentage of home ownership in France than in the UK: 2015 figures (the most recent available) show the UK at 63.5%, compared to France at 64.1%.

Trends have been going in opposite directions in the UK and France for a few years.

In France home ownership rose from 60.5% in 2007 to 65% in 2014, according to Eurostat, with a small tail-off the following year.

On the other hand home-ownership in the UK has dropped steeply from 73.3% in 2007. A UK parliament briefing paper published in June this year estimated that around 65% of households were owner-occupiers last year, with the rest roughly divided equally between  private and social housing tenants.

Over the last 10 years in the UK social rental has declined but private rental has increased, the paper said. Owner-occupation is lowest in London (where only half of homes are owner-occupied).

In fact, home-ownership in England is at a 30-year low. This has been attributed to a growing gap between wages and house prices, a situation now not only true for London but also for other cities like Manchester and areas such as Yorkshire and the West Midlands generally.

While ownership has in the meantime been increasing in France, in fact neither France nor the UK hits the EU average of about 69% ownership. Germany is the EU country with the least, at 51.8% in 2015, while Romania has the most at 96.5%.

The president of the large French estate agents’ federation Fnaim, Jean-François Buet, said: “The French are attached to bricks and mortar and often dream of becoming homeowners, but it’s frequently the  price that makes the difference. “In cities, we see for example in Toulon or Annecy a rate of 55%, 54% in Nice, or 50% in Tours, 49% in Lille and 45.6% in Paris. However if we look at rural areas, in the Saône-et-Loire department it is 80%, in the Vosges it is 79% and the department with the most is Eure-et-Loir with 86%.

“In rural areas it’s just easier to become an owner – there’s the prices, and in addition there are always plenty of homes available.

“There are also specific factors at play in certain towns – for example Reims is small and has certain constraints in its layout which means a lot of people live outside the town itself; in Caen there was a lot of reconstruction after the war and the council built a lot of social housing, so there is less available to buy, which explains why there is only 39% ownership there.”

Mr Buet said in recent years the government’s interest-free loan scheme and low interest rates helped more young people to buy. While the loan has latterly been reoriented more towards new-build, it may still be possible to have one if you buy intending to renovate, he said. “We thought it was going to be too restrictive but in the end it works all right,” he added.

As for the current Macron government, the promise to abolish the taxe d’habitation for 80% of people (starting next year) could help – though he said there are fears that they could recoup it by putting up the taxe foncière.

Mr Buet added however: “We, as estate agents, aren’t necessarily in favour of 100% ownership, as when rates are high it limits mobility, to change or find work elsewhere. So there need to be rentals too. And some people prefer it so as to move more easily, pay less, and have fewer constraints and taxes.”

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