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House-hunting in France: How to find a place to live

House-hunting is difficult, no matter the location - and France is no exception! Whether you are looking for an apartment or a house, to rent or to buy, finding somewhere to live can be one of the most difficult aspects of moving to France. But with an open mind and a bit of preparation, finding your dream home in France doesn't have to be as stressful as you think!

Our guide to finding a place to live in France is full of ideas of options, where to look, and advice on what you need to make your housing search a success!

moving boxes

  • Finding a home in France: the basics
  • You will need a permanent address for many of the most basics steps of settling in France: getting a visa, a mobile phone, etcetera
  • Finding a place in France will take a bit of patience and tenacity, but isn't as stressful as it seems as first
  • Don't forget the importance of your dossier, and of your networks!

Before You Move: Looking online

man with a plan

There are many places you can search for a house or apartment online. Some popular websites include:

Apartment/House-Hunting Websites

  • LeBonCoin: the French version of Craigslist. You can find almost everything here, including apartments! However, watch out of any offers that appear "too good to be true" - they probably are!
  • Appartager: flatmate-searching website. It is free to join, but in most cases you will have to pay to access phone numbers and email addresses.
  • SeLoger: online real estate portal that lists both rentals and properties for sale. Many listings are posted by agencies.
  • Particulier a Particulier: online real estate portal that lists rentals/properties for sale by "particuliers" - meaning no agency fees. You may need to pay to access contact information for certain listings.
  • Property in France: Search for rentals & properties for sale with French-Property.com.
  • FUSAC: Anglo-Saxon community online magazine with a Paris focus. Apartments are listed for free, and you do not have to be a member to access contact information.

Finding a Place Once You're Here

Many people moving to France find it difficult to secure a place to live before arriving to France (not to mention prefer seeing a place with their own eyes before committing to renting or purchasing it). It is quite common for people moving to France to rent an AirBnB or hotel for a few weeks before they find a place to live. The most popular ways to find a place to live in France once you've already arrived include:

  • Online
  • Through an agency: (see below) while a more expensive option than looking on your own, an agent can help you find a place to live more quickly
  • Newspapers: look for Le Journal des Particuliers, La Centrale des Particuliers, La Semaine Immobilière, real estate sections in national or regional newspapers, etc
  • Bulletin boards: (in French: petits annonces) if you are coming to France to study, check to see if the school keeps a bulletin board where people may post places for rent. If you're in Paris, some people have found places via the American Church in Paris
  • Keep your eyes open: many properties in France are sold privately, meaning that the only way to find them is to visit the area you’re interested in and keep a look out for à vendre

Agencies

Whether you are looking to rent or to purchase a home, hiring an agency can be well-worth the saved time and energy! Keep in mind that not all companies work the same way - some may charge a fee regardless of whether you find something through them or not. Others may facilitate the entire purchasing process, if you are buying. Some rental agencies may charge the equivalent of one month's rent for their services, but others may bill differently. Check with the agency beforehand to see what is included and what they charge.

Other Ideas

The most effective approach to finding a place to live in France is to search as widely as possible. Don't underestimate the power of networks, either - a friend of a friend of a friend might have a lead that brings you to your perfect home in France.

Networking

facebook

Various groups exist on Facebook for cities and towns throughout France for people looking to rent/find flatmates, so don't forget to do a quick check to see what's out there. Online forums (Couchsurfing, TripAdvisor...) may also be a good source for leads. Just stay vigilant to avoid scams - never agree to any ads that require you to pay money before you see the living arrangements, and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Student Residences

cnous crous

There are two types of student residence options: public student housing via the CROUS (Centre régional des œuvres universitaires et scolaires), or in private student residences. Student housing through the CROUS can be very cheap, but as a result is very popular and can be difficult to obtain. There are different CROUS agencies for each region in France, so search CROUS + the area in France you are moving to for specific information about housing eligibility and requirements.

Private student residences (foyers étudiants) can sometimes be a good option for students moving to France, particularly for those who want to find somewhere to live before arriving. While private student residences are generally more expensive than CROUS residences, they are popular amongst both French and foreign students as a convenient means of finding accommodation. Many of them have less strict dossier requirements, making them a good option for students who are struggling to find a way around not having a French garant (guarantor). Make sure to check house rules before signing up to make sure you will be comfortable.

Foreign Student in France?You'll want to check out these three websites:
- Campus France: provides important visa information, as well as some advice on housing
- CNOUS: the national version of the CROUS - find out information about financial assistance (bourse) and housing here
- CAF: depending on your living arrangements, you may be eligible for financial assistance from the Caisse des allocations familiales (CAF)

Homestays

Renting a room as part of a homestay is also a popular option for many people coming to live in France, especially for those who are staying for a few months. This can be a great way of getting to know French people and practicing a bit! A homestay can also provide you with that all-important justificatif de domicile: a letter that states you are living at the address, known as an attestation d'hébergement. However, keep in mind that you will be living in somebody else's home, and must follow their rules.

There are a few French websites that list rooms to rent, also known as chambres à louer or to louer une chambre chez l’habitant called Roomlala (spare rooms and flatshares) and Cohebergement.com. You may be able to find announcements for homestays at French language schools (Alliance Francaise, etc).

Another homestay option is to look for inter-generational living arrangements, in which elderly people rent a room in their home to students for very low rent in return for some help around the house (the level of responsability can range, but can include tasks like sharing dinner responsibilities, doing the grocery shopping, housework, etc). There are many associations that organize these programs, and the best way to find one is to search logement intergénérationnel + the city you are moving to.

Next Steps

Unfortunately, the journey to settling in France is not quite over once you've found somewhere to live (though you can relax slightly now you've got the hardest bit out of the way). Once you've found a place to live in France, you will need to:

Advice About Buying or Renting a Home in France

A few important phrases will help you in your search of a place to live in France. A few of the most important words and phrases include:

  • Immobilier: real estate
  • Location: rental
  • Colocation: apartment-sharing (flatmates)
  • Meublé/équipé: furnished
  • Pièce: rooms, not including kitchen & bathrooms

Taxe d'habitation and housing insuranceAll people residing in France, whether tenants or owners, must have household insurance for their property. Similarly, the occupant of a house in France has to pay the taxe d'habitation (habitation tax), regardless of whether he/she is the owner or not.

Renting an Apartment in France: What you need to know

Looking to Rent in Paris?Is your rent fair? After investigation into rent prices in the city, the Paris Prefecture has published a guide to average rental prices in Paris (per square meter). All information is in French, but this can be a useful tool to determine whether the rent you pay is fair.

It takes most people about two to three weeks to find an apartment to rent, though some cities (notably Paris) can be very competitive. French landlords often ask for some documentation (known as a dossier) from prospective tenants, which typically includes:

your rental dossier is important when looking for an apartment in France

Your dossier is an important element in searching for an apartment.

  • Proof of identity (e.g. passport)
  • Proof of earnings and employment status (employment contract, tax filings from the year before, salary slips)
  • Proof of sufficient resources
    • Sometimes landlords ask for a "garant" (guarantor), which is someone who makes more money than you and will agree to pay rent on your behalf should you ever miss a month. The guarantor is usually required to provide proof of their employment/resources, along with a letter confirming their agreement to guarantee rent for the renter. Many landlords prefer a French guarantor, though some may accept one living abroad.
  • Copy of your RIB (bank account details - some landlords may ask for a larger deposit if you do not yet have a French bank account)

For unfurnished apartments, the maximum deposit amount a landlord is allowed to ask is for the equivalent of one month's rent, "charges" (utilities) not included. There is no maximum deposit amount fixed by law for furnished apartments.

Bail

The "bail" outlines the terms and conditions of your rental agreement, including rental rates, term, etc. The bail must include the owner's name and address (including those of the agent, if one has been used), contract start and end dates as well as the length of the term, rental amount & terms allowing for increase (if applicable), deposit amount, type of dwelling (i.e. appartment, house, etc), and description of the property.

Etat des lieux

Before signing the bail, the landlord and tenant should also draw up an "état des lieux" (inventory and condition report) at the beginning and the end of an accommodation contract, by mutual consent.

Download a free état des lieux template

There should be two copies of the état des lieux (one for the tenant, the other for the landlord). The inventory can be done by private agreement between the landlord and the tenant (or by a designated third party such as a real estate agent), or by a judicial officer. The états des lieux reports must describe the accommodation and its equipment (appliances, fittings) in detail. It should include a meter reading of individual heating systems or hot water tanks, if the property has them. The états des lieux is important because it is assumed that the accommodation otherwise was in good shape, which can be problematic if something goes wrong. Any disputes about it should be referred to the conciliation commission (CDC). If the conciliation does not succeed, you can proceed to court.

As a tenant, you have 10 days after the start date of your contract in which you can request for a modification to état des lieux if you notice something about the state of the accommodation and/or its fittings. You may also make a change to the état des lieux during first month of the heating season if you have a concern about the heating system. You have the right to call the appropriate authority (the commission départementale de conciliation - CDC) if the landlord refuses to change the états des lieux.

Learn more about the état des lieux in our guide.

Household Insurance

Tenants are required by French law to have household insurance to cover the property. Household insurance will cover things like broken windows, theft/vandalism (usually to set amounts), fire damage, weather-related risks, etc.

Buying a House in France : What you need to know

Purchasing a house in France is relatively straightforward; buyers are considered to have made a contractual commitment once their offer has been accepted by the seller (this applies to verbal offers). Property transactions are overseen by a notaire (notary public), who is responsible for legalising property purchase transactions. While typically there is one notaire that acts for both parties in a property transaction, you may choose to hire a notaire to work on your own behalf.

It is a good idea to hire an English-speaking notaire to act on your behalf if you are are not confident with your level of written French comprehension. A notaire can also advice on French inheritance law.

It is possible to sign a contract for purchase of a property in France through a real estate agent, but it is safest to go through a notaire, to ensure that your purchase is legally sound.

The purchasing contract is called either a promesse de vente or a compromis de vente. There are a few small differences between the two: a promesse de vente can only be done with a notaire, whereas a compromis de vente can be made with a notaire or with a real estate agent.

The French Notaries Society has some more information about purchasing a home in France as a non-resident. Buyers must pay a deposit of up to 10% of the purchase price is made upon signing the agreement, but have seven (7) days during which they can withdraw from the agreement without penalty. There are typically 6-8 weeks following this contract during which surveys may be performed on the house and during which the buyer may secure any additional financing needed.

At the end of the waiting period acte de vente finalises the sale. This contract passes ownership from the property seller to the buyer, who must pay the balance of the purchase price to the notaire.

Typical documents required to purchase a house in France include:

  • Copy of birth certificate
  • Copy of marriage certificate, if applicable

Property sellers must have certain property surveys done on their homes, but buyers may request additional surveys at their own cost.

  • Diagnostic Performance Energétique (DPE): energy performance survey (required)
  • Amiante: asbestos survey (required for all homes that had planning position prior to July 1, 1997)
  • Termites/Etat Parasitaire: Termites/fungal and Insect (larvae)-related damage (not required, but recommended for house that are over 25 years old)
  • Loi Carrez: certificate of surface area (required for apartments in a copropriété - shared property)
  • Etat de l'installation intérieure de gaz: gas installation certification (required for installations that are over 15 years old)
  • Assainissement Non Collectif: Private waste-water (including sceptic tank) drainage conformity (required for homes with privately-owned waste water treatment plants)
  • Electricité: electricity (required for installations that are older than 15 years)
  • Etat des Risques Naturels et Technologiques (ERNT): natural risks (a notaire can advise if a property may be susceptible to damage from natural causes )
  • Diagnostic Bâtiment: structural survey (not required, but can be done at buyer's cost if requested)
  • Diagnostic Immobilier: real estate survey (may include some of the previously-mentioned surveys)

Taxe Foncière

Property owners are required to pay a land tax, called the taxe foncière. If they are living in the property they must also pay the taxe d'habitation, but if they are renting the property the tax is charged to the tenant.

French House-Hunting Vocabulary

French House-Hunting Vocabulary
French Phrase English Description French Phrase English Description
A vendre For sale A louer / Location For rent/rental
Pièce Rooms (not including kitchen & bathroom) T1, T2, F2, etc T = apartment, F = house. A T1 is a studio apartment, a F2 is a one-bedroom house
APL/CAF Housing assistance Colocation Apartment-share (flatmates)
Ascenseur (asc) Elevator Balcon (blc) Balcony
Calme Quiet Cave Cellar
Caution (or dépot de garantie) Damage deposit Charges Building charges/utilities
Chauffage Heating Cuisine americaine Open kitchen
Digicode Security code Frais d'agence inclus (FAI) Includes agency fees
Hauteur sous plafond (HSP) Ceiling height honoraires d'agence Agency fees
Hauteur sous plafond (HSP) Ceiling height honoraires d'agence Agency fees
Immeuble (imm) Building immobilier Real estate
Jardin (jard.) Garden Loyer Rent
Meublé/équipé Furnished Préavis Period to give notice of intention to move out
Quartier (quart) Neighbourhood Rez de chaussée (RDC/rdc) Ground floor
Salle de bain (sdb) Bathroom Salle à manger (sàm) Dining room
Salle de séjour (séj ss) Living room Sous-sol (s.sol, s/s) Basement
Salle de séjour (séj ss) Living room Sous-sol (s.sol, s/s) Basement
Surface habitable (SH) Legal term defining "habitable" space (excludes floor area where the ceiling is below a certain height) Superficie totale Total floor space