6 Things to Consider when Buying Apartments in France

Modern Apartments - Toulouse; Photo by Olybrius Wikimedia

Modern Apartments – Toulouse; Photo by Olybrius

Buying apartments in France follows the same overall process as that of buying houses – see our post on buying our holiday home.  The differences lie in the contract we sign for the purchase and our responsibilities to others in the housing corporation. So when thinking about buying an apartment in France you need to consider these 6 major factors.  It should also be noted that some houses can be a part of a housing corporation.

1. Buying Apartments in France – The Legal Stuff

For all intents and purposes on purchasing an apartment one owns outright the parts declared as private and personal.  However the apartment owner will have a share of co-ownership of the common parts of the corporation.  These parts include the hallways, stairs and the grounds.

Agreeing to the Rules of the Copropriété

When signing the ‘acte de vente’, the sale contract, the purchaser agrees to abide by the rules of to corporation (le règlement de copropriété).  This agreement aims to look after the benefits of all owners within the ‘domaine’ or group of buildings.  A useful place for reference is the notaires website.

  • The ‘acte de vente’ agreement will clearly state what the purchaser is actually buying.
  • These parts are called ‘lots’ pronounced “loe” and each will have a certain value or standing within the copropriété.
  • ‘Lots’ will include the apartment or house, a garage space or parking, a cellar or store.
  • ‘Lots’ are each given a relative fractional value out of 10,000 for the individual private areas and for the communal areas.
  • In this case 1/10,000 is known as a ‘tantième’.  The literal translation is fraction/part/proportion.
  • This valuation has a direct effect on the running charges one pays to the copropriété.  It also has an effect on one’s voting power for domaine business.

Example of the ‘Lots’ System

Why don’t we look at our current apartment?  We live in a domaine where there are 3 buildings (A,B and C) each with 8 apartments.  There are also 9 semi-detached and terraced chalets.  We have a 3 bedroomed apartment in Building C and an underground garage in Building B.  So our apartment has a higher valuation in ‘tantièmes’ due to its size compared to a one-bed apartment. Ours is divided up as follows:

Tantièmes Example
Description Tantièmes Comment
1. General Charges 334 We pay 334 parts out of 10,000 for general upkeep. Involves all properties
2. Garage 597 We pay 597 parts for the garage in Building B. This only involves the 16 apartments in Buildings B & C. Building A and the Chalets have their own garages.
3. Building B 37 We pay 37 parts for general upkeep of Building B. Low as this only involves a stairway into the garages
4. Building C 1692 We pay 1692 parts for general upkeep of Building C. Involves only 8 apartments in C.

Remember: a tantième is 1/10,000

2. Copropriété

The purpose of the copropriété is to look after the collective interests of everyone in the domaine.  Every conglomeration of buildings must have a copropriété by law under which it is strictly governed.

It basically is in situ so that everyone belonging to the group accedes to the norm.  However it doesn’t mean that we all have to follow everything like sheep.

  • Should an individual wish to do something different, such as install their own satellite dish, they would need to apply and be given permission by the copropriété before they could go ahead.
  • One of our co-owners of a chalet asked and was given permission to build a small garden shed so that he could tend the garden in front of his house.  We saw that it was beneficial to us all to have a little variety.  He is, I must point out, a landscape gardener by profession!
  • In our domaine the use of BBQ’s is limited to electric ones only.  It all depends on the group’s bi-laws.

As members of the copropriété we have a legal say in matters relating to combined ownership.  There is an annual general meeting (assemblée générale) where we get to put across our points of view.

  • Only one person from each household may register for voting at the meeting and if unavailable we can award our proxy to a neighbour.
  • Once again the tantièmes are used to vote so those that pay higher charges have a stronger vote than others that pay less.
  • During the meeting, an agenda is followed.  This is sent out several weeks in advance.
  • Should a member wish to include a specific item on the agenda they must wait until the first agenda arrives and then they must request an addendum by registered post immediately.  You won’t be told this of course!  To be sure you should check your own domaine’s rules!
  • The agenda covers such things as the acceptance of the budget for the year, the election of the members of the committee of the co-owners, the president of the association and the re-election or at times a change of ‘syndic‘.

3. The Syndic de Copropriété

The ‘syndic de copropriété’ is a private company that is appointed by the owners to look after the day to day running of the domaine.
They consult with the owners at the AGM and with the elected committee on a regular basis.

  • They administer the domaine by engaging companies such as gardeners, cleaners to look after the grounds and buildings.
  • In emergencies they are there to engage the necessary companies to solve problems.
  • They are given permission to do this during the AGM in which they will present the estimates of the individual companies.
  • For small matters under a certain budget they have the right to do the necessary without getting the permission of the committee.

With a newly built domaine the syndic will be appointer by the builder (promoteur).Initially this can lead to some conflicts of interest particularly if there are some disagreements between the builder and the new owners.  On both occasions that we have owned an apartment the first syndic was fired and a replacement put in place.

Difficulties will arise if the syndic is not re-elected without a replacement installed.

  • The funds of the copropriété would be frozen and no work could be undertaken on the upkeep of the domaine.
  • The consequences would be almost catastrophic.

Clearly this doesn’t happen often but I have known of one group that voted against the syndic to register their discontent.  After a discussion there was a second vote to elect the said syndic.

Throughout the year the syndic collects the charges and in some cases, payment for amenities.

4. Charges

Every 3 months the syndic calls for funds (appel de fonds) which is to cover their costs of running the domaine on our behalf.

We are obliged to pay this but it is important to verify the amounts as mistakes can be made.

  • One time we were asked to pay for work on the TV aerial for the building in which our garage is housed.
  • Other times we have been asked to pay for work on the garage block belonging to Building A which has nothing to do with us.

In some situations the syndic needs to collect funds to pay for amenities such as water bills.

  • Some older buildings may not have individual meters.  In which case legally one has to pay by the tantième.
  • In our case we have meters but the water company doesn’t want to enter the buildings.  So the syndic reads the meters and charges us.

This may seem a little bizarre as a situation and it has caused a lot of bad feeling over the years we have been here.  Initially no-one was billed for water and the water company appeared to be confused as to our existence.  Some people left and the new owners were then asked to pay for all the water used since day 1.  As you can imagine not a nice thing to be faced with!

We receive an annual analysis of the budget (Etat de Repartition) or we should do but dates in our experience have not always been consistent.

  • This is usually joined with call for more money if there is a budget deficit or  a credit note if we have paid in excess of the budget.
  • This is called the ‘Releve de Compte’.

Should an apartment be sold the seller must pay outstanding charges from the sale. This is taken from the funds of the sale by the notaire and forwarded to the syndic before any money is released to one’s bank account.

5. Pros

As with everything else there are advantages and disadvantages to buying apartments in France.

  • The syndic looks after most of the work done on grounds, building exteriors and the communal interior area.
  • The syndic engages contractors look after buildings, grounds, swimming pools, general repairs
  • Repair bills are often shared.  For instance, a new aerial or a roof repair is shared out among the owners.
  • If the syndic is good things flow smoothly and we, the owners can relax.
  • Close proximity to neighbours which can be morale boosting if everyone gets along.

As our building was the newest on the domaine the 8 families in our block had a good relationship with each other.  As people have moved away this has waned slightly but we are still a group that seems to pull together.

6. Cons

But here’s the flip side…..

  • Close proximity to neighbours: Should neighbours not get on there can be extensive friction caused.  
    • A noisy dog is one case where we were woken at 5 am on a regular basis.
    • Some domaines don’t have designated parking places.  It is not unknown for some owners to block in the cars of others if their prefferred space is taken!
  • Charges can be costly and must be paid every 3 months.  When owning a house we can set aside money in interest accounts for impending repairs.
  • Disagreements in the copropriété – who will pay for certain repairs, should these repairs be undertaken?
  • Difficulty to arrange for some amenities (billing) as mentioned in section 4.
  • Complexity of billing charges leads to errors so we still have to be on top of matters.
  • If syndic is poor what does one do?  As mentioned earlier this could have very serious ramifications.

Other References

So what about us?

Why did we buy an apartment?  The short answer in the end was that we had already a holiday home where we had bought gardening equipment and DIY materials.  We decided that working on one place was enough.

The big question is would we do it again?  What would you do?

Let us know your thoughts by posting a comment.  You can even join us on Google+


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2 Responses to 6 Things to Consider when Buying Apartments in France

  1. Steve November 11, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    Although we live in a house, we have a copropriete for our gardens and parking spaces. Three out of the thirty houses owe to the copropriete a third of the annual budget and there seems little chance they will pay up in the near future.
    As we never see a balance sheet of the accounts, I cannot see how the syndic can complete the required tasks for the year, but they seem to. I do not understand the logic.
    The syndic never mentions these debts specifically (only in the schedule of everyone’s payments and debts) and what they are doing to get these monies paid.

    • Dave November 18, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

      Hi Steve, thanks for your comment.

      I can understand your frustrations and there will always be some who are only interested in themselves rather than the group. But having said that there is a legal obligation for them to pay regularly to the copropiété.

      Are you paying more than you should in order that the costs of the required tasks are covered?

      I think some syndics are more relaxed than others about chasing up debtors – ours for instance are quick to send reminders and are willing to pursue this type of problem through legal channels if necessary. After the first reminder there is a second one sent récommandé with an avis de réception. This is billed to the owner at something like €40.

      The syndic should also be working with the copro committee to work this out. I found it useful to be on that committee!

      Don’t forget when a property is sold any outstanding copro charges are deducted from the money paid to the seller before funds are transferred to them. That’s the job of the notaire. I guess such funds should then appear on the annual account records.

      While our syndic are not 100% wonderful they are much better than the original one who were very lax in a lot of ways. So if the majority of owners are not happy the syndic can be changed. Someone will need to find a replacement ready for the AGM but that is very much a last resort!!!

      I’d be interested to hear more from you as the situation progresses.
      All the best

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