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Pool problem, ‘rent with option to buy’: Five French property updates

We also look at why sellers may not be liable for misrepresenting the size of a property and the best places to live for workers

We look at news affecting property-owners in France this week Pic: New Africa / AYDO8 / Nopparat Khokthong / saiko3p / Shutterstock

Swimming pool for grandchildren in doubt as near listed church

A French couple’s dream of building a swimming pool for their grandchildren has been delayed and potentially derailed altogether by a letter from their mairie telling them they need approval from Architectes des Bâtiments de France (ABF) first.

"We'll have to wait because our pool will be located less than 500 metres from a church that is a listed historic monument," the couple, identified only as Denis and Marie, told Le Figaro.

An ABF is a state official who has trained as an architect and specialised in modules relating to heritage. They are answerable to the prefect and consulted when work is planned on or near a listed building or in other sensitive areas.

Read more: Make sense of... Bâtiments de France

In the case of Denis and Marie, who are submitting a déclaration préalable (for pools exceeding 10m² but less than 100m²), a response could take up to two months.

Read more: The Connexion's guide to owning a swimming pool in France

If the ABF opposes the project, the pool cannot be built although the couple could contest the decision.

If there is a difference of view between the ABF and the mairie, then the local prefecture will intervene. which prolongs the process by a further two months. If there is no response during this period, then the view of the ABF is deemed to apply.

The couple could also still face a challenge from a third party, such as a neighbour, for up to two months after notice of planning approval has been granted and displayed outside the mairie and on the site.

"If the ABF is opposed to the project, we'll give up," Denis and Marie said.

Start-up offers rental with option to buy

A start-up in Nantes is offering a new way for people to become homeowners, with a rent-to-buy scheme similar to those used to purchase cars.

It is aimed at people who do not meet the traditional credit assessment criteria used by most French lenders, which are almost all based on borrowers having a long-term contrat à durée indéterminée (CDI) employment job contract.

“We aim to help people who are self-employed or independent workers who find it difficult to get housing loans from banks,” Charles Ruelle, co-founder of Sezame, told The Connexion.

“It is also very useful for people who have been working abroad and who have returned to France because they also often do not fit into the classic lending profile banks have established.”

Mortgages generally in France are growing longer and harder to obtain, according to a recent study by Observatoire Crédit Logement/CSA. Read more about it in our article here.

People interested in the scheme can approach Sezame, which will study their finances before agreeing a budget for clients to find a house.

Sezame then looks at the property to make sure it meets their criteria, which include it being in an energy use classification band for rental and not needing major renovation.

It buys the house on the understanding the client will rent it for three years, and purchase it at the end of that period, if not before.

“As with car schemes, customers have a schedule of how much the rent will be each month and how much the price will be if they buy it at any point in that period,” said Mr Ruelle.

“At the same time we work with them, their banks and mortgage brokers for them to be able to borrow the money required at the end of three years, or before.

“Three years is the length of time most lenders require to have reliable financial data on people before they give them a housing loan or a mortgage, and some of the rent money, around 10%, will also go towards a deposit for the purchase.”

He said the company will make money from the rents, which will be at market value for the area where the property is situated.

And if people change their mind and do not buy after three years, it will have a property which, hopefully, will have appreciated in value and can be sold, either on the open market or to another Sezame customer.

The company started operating in early 2022, and is on track to have a dozen or so houses bought by the end of the year.

Read also: Capital release: start-up claims to have solution for French property

Noise is increasingly important factor in deciding where to live

House-hunters in France have become more picky about how noisy a potential home may be.

According to the Qualitel, an organisation offering advice on housing quality in France, noise is now among the top five non-negotiable criteria when choosing a property behind the type of housing (first), outdoor space (second) and price (third), and above surface area and travel time to and from work (joint fifth).

Read more: Noise pollution in France costs €156billion per year, study finds

The organisation’s 2022 ‘barometer’ of housing, published in October, found that among the 68% of respondents who had been irritated by things they did not notice during viewings, a third cited noise pollution from neighbours or the street as the most annoying.

It was bad enough to make more than half of them (55%) want to move in the short or medium term.

Antoine Desbarrières, director of Qualitel, told Capital that being "as well informed as possible" before signing on a house will avoid noisy surprises.

One way is to study the property diagnostics (Dossier de diagnostic technique) thoroughly. A noise and air pollution report (Ensa) has been mandatory since June 2020, although only for housing located near certain airports and airfields. Other noise pollution risks, including motorway or train traffic, are not listed.

The relative tranquillity of neighbourhoods during Covid lockdowns has been credited with reducing French people’s tolerance for noise.

A study carried out by the Centre d’information sur le bruit after the Covid lockdown found 57% of French people now say they are more sensitive to environmental noise than before.

Read more: What can I do about my neighbour's noisy dog in France?

Seller not liable for misrepresenting size of property

If a seller states a larger surface area in a property advertisement than is actually the case, the buyer does not necessarily have recourse to claim compensation, France’s highest court has ruled.

It all depends on whether the size was willfully (ie. fraudulently) misrepresented, or simply done in error.

The Cour de cassation was recently asked to settle the case of a buyer claiming compensation for a building advertised at 155m² when it was actually 139m² – 10% less.

The seller must have been aware of this, so had knowingly tried to deceive, the new owner argued.

The judge, however, disagreed, insisting no willful deception had been proved and adding that the buyer had complete freedom to visit and even measure the property before buying it.

Under the Loi Carrez, a purchaser who notices a difference in surface area of more than 5% is allowed to claim a proportional restitution of the price. But the law does not provide for any additional compensation unless fraud can be proved.

Pau is most attractive city for working professionals

Pau, in south-west France, has been ranked the most enticing place to live for working professionals in a survey by the networking site LinkedIn.

The city, located close to the Spanish border and Atlantic Ocean and with striking views of the Pyrenees, came ahead of Nice (Alpes-Maritimes), Bordeaux (Gironde), Lorient (Morbihan) and Montpellier (Hérault), reports Le Parisien.

Read also: See the French cities where properties sell quickest (and slowest)

The platform focused on members who had changed the location of their profile between September 2021 and August 2022, before calculating a ratio between arrivals and departures for each city.

Pau, which has 75,000 inhabitants, boasted an unemployment rate of 5.8% in the first quarter of 2022, lower than the national average of 7.3% for the same period, and has a flourishing tourism industry.

Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône), Nantes (Loire-Atlantique), Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine), Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) et Paris rounded out the top ten.

Of LinkedIn’s 24 million members in France, 78% are outside of the Paris area – a figure that has increased by 40% in five years.

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