Author, Andrew Gibson
Selling your property in France is a big step. But there are simple things you can do to boost the sales price, make the process quicker and cut your costs.
You don’t need to be a property expert, handyman or tax guru to follow my advice.
In fact, a lot of it comes down to common sense and understanding how you can turn the sales process to your advantage.
Heard of the ‘8-second’ rule?
Most property buyers lack imagination – myself included.
They only see what’s directly in front of them and are very quick to make up their mind.
You might have heard estate agents refer to the “8-second rule”.
The rule simply states it takes only 8 seconds for someone to decide they want to buy a property.
Whether it’s really that precise or not, I know I am guilty of forming quick judgements.
I imagine many other people are too.
You get an immediate feeling – sometimes it’s ‘wow, this is nice’, and sometimes it’s ‘argggghhh, get me out of here’.
Buying a property in France is primarily an emotional decision.
Most of the time, buyers are relying on ‘gut’ feel not logic.
With that in mind, it’s critical to give potential buyers of your French property a great first impression.
Here are 3 ways to improve the presentation of your property:
1. Create kerb appeal
You hear property people mention ‘kerb appeal’ and it’s because many buyers are already noticing small details even before they have set foot on a property.
Here are some cheap and easy ways to maximise kerb appeal:
- Have a nice sign or number for your property.
- Plant some fresh shrubs or flowers.
- Repair any steps or pathways.
- Mow the lawn.
- Clean the shutters and windows.
- Brush away dirt and cobwebs.
- Put a little two-seater bench in a nice spot.
All of the above can be done for a few hundred Euro’s at the most and will create a positive feeling when buyers arrive.
A little love can add a lot of value
2. Clear away the clutter
When I was selling my last house, I remember asking the agent “what would you like me to clear away?”.
He said “everything…if that’s ok?”
I couldn’t believe it. I thought I had impeccable taste. In my kitchen, I even had one of those flash looking Dualit toasters.
I said “what, even the toaster?”. He said “yep”.
The point is that buyers don’t want to see your things.
You are selling your property, not your stuff. Clearing away the clutter keep the buyers’ focus on the property.
Buyers are trying to imagine themselves living the French dream – not imagining who is currently living there now.
Postcards on the fridge, dirty dishes, bills on the kitchen table, your amazing teaspoon collection – they’re all eyesores for buyers.
3. The quickest (and cheapest) way to add thousands
It’s no surprise that an orange ‘feature wall’ or tired, peeling wallpaper will put many people off.
However, walls recently painted in neutral colours appeal to just about everyone.
You see it time and time again: A quick paint job can transform a place.
It can turn a dark and creepy cave into a light and airy cottage.
Painting is one of the most effective ways to add thousands to your property.
While you can do the painting yourself, I’ve found painters are one of the more affordable tradespeople to hire.
Every time I’ve sold a property, I’ve had a painter give the high traffic areas a refresh. I’ve not regretted it once.
Why small repairs make a big difference to the sales price
If you’re a British expat selling property in France, there’s a pretty high chance that the potential buyer could also be a British expat.
British expats tend to be either retirees or those looking for a holiday home.
They are searching for a slice of the good life.
Repairs will put many buyers off.
If a potential buyer spots that you haven’t bothered to fix the obvious things, it will make them think there are far bigger issues lurking in the background.
Many buyers will just walk away and look elsewhere.
And those that remain interested are going to ask for a big price discount to compensate them for the cost of known (and unknown) repairs.
You don’t want your property to be marketed by your agent as a ‘development opportunity’.
That’s the kiss of death.
It’s a polite way of saying it’s in terrible condition. The “knock it down, start again” variety.
It’s always a better option for you to deal with noticeable flaws.
If you think about it, the seller is in a much better position to co-ordinate repairs than the buyer.
You have local knowledge and can more readily find a painter, plumber, electrician, builder, handyman or whoever, to sort out any snags.
By keeping your French house in good condition, you won’t give a buyer an easy excuse to change their mind or renegotiate a large drop to the listed price.
Finding out what your French property is worth
I think it’s a good idea to get a feel for what your French property is worth before you start contacting estate agents.
The tighter your search criteria, the better, because your area is a big factor in the sales price.
Another way to gauge the price trend in your area is to check out a new website launched in May 2019 by the French government’s Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The idea is to create greater price transparency in the French property market by giving everyone access to the information.
The way it works is you select your region and town from the drop-down menus and then download the data into an Excel spreadsheet.
It provides a comprehensive amount of price data stretching all the way back to 1971 and shows how your area has performed relative to national and regional trends.
It may ultimately help agents to provide more accurate valuations for sellers as they will be able to access detailed data.
How to spot a good estate agent
Let’s face it, estate agents aren’t the world’s most trusted profession.
But I personally think they can make a big difference to the sale process.
Like any industry, some agents do a lot better job than others.
To pick a good agent, I’ll always start by asking around. There’s nothing like a bit of ‘word of mouth’.
Your aim is to find out which agents get properties sold, not the ones with the most properties listed.
Once you have made a shortlist, meet them face-to-face. If they impress you, then chances are they will impress potential buyers too.
I have tended to go for an agent that is well-presented, sincere and confident.
When they visit your property, I like to see them looking around and noticing all the details. That’s because I want someone with a passion for property, not a salesperson.
What do French estate agents charge?
The commission rates for selling a property in France can be anything from 4% to 10%.
The highest commission rates would normally be payable on lower-valued properties because there is often just as much work – so the agent needs to make a reasonable fee.
Generally, on higher-end French houses expect 4%-5% commission.
Bear in mind; the agent’s commission rate is negotiable. It is not a regulated number.
As a tip, smaller independent agents are more likely to be open to negotiation than the large, national networks.
If your property is well presented and in a decent location, it will also help you lower the agent’s fee.
The reason is the agent will think they can sell it quickly and easily, so should be more willing to accept a lower commission.
You will also be able to get a lower commission rate if you agree to sign exclusively with one agent.
Multi-agent rates in France tend to be higher as the agents normally agree to split the fee.
I have heard that some agents claim they will get the buyer to pay their commission, so you need to pay nothing. It’s one of those too good to be true sale pitches.
The buyer is already forking out for the property, the notary and a whole bunch of taxes. Adding the agent’s fee to the bill is rubbing salt into the wounds. All it will achieve is to send buyers off elsewhere.
My advice on negotiating tactics
The offer stage can be the most stressful stage for the buyer and the seller.
When you get an offer, it can feel like a high stakes game of poker.
I’m not a fan of hard-ball negotiations. The point is not to break the other side.
Stubborn negotiators often win the battle but lose the war – meaning they don’t give an inch but then miss out on the sale over a trivial amount. That’s a loss, not a win. You want to find the middle ground.
At the point of receiving an offer, the agent often acts as a counsellor or confidant to you. It’s only human to turn to them and ask “what should I do?”. But I try and avoid doing this.
As a property seller, you shouldn’t assume the agent is on your side – even though you are paying their fee.
The primary motive of an agent is to get a deal done. That is their job. I don’t resent them for that.
At some earlier stage, your agent probably asked you why you are selling, when you need to sell by and what would be the minimum price you would accept? It’s not idle chit chat.
What they are really asking is “how desperate are you?”
I don’t like to reveal too much to an agent, so I keep my answers vague:
“We’ve been thinking about it for a while and decided it’s time to move on. I’m in no particular hurry. Let’s get it on the market and see what happens in terms of offers”. Autocue answers. Cards close to the chest.
When you get an offer, ask your agent about the buyer. Are they paying cash? How long have they been looking? How many viewings have they had? You are trying to assess their keenness.
If the price offered is way below what you’re asking, I have tended to tell the agent “it’s a polite no”. I don’t counter-offer on low ball bids. Let them come again.
If the price offered is near to what I want, I make a counter-offer – usually 24-48 hours later. I don’t want to rush back, but also want to keep things moving along.
Some people find negotiating the offer price awkward or risky. As long as you are polite about it and show a willingness to compromise, it can add thousands to your sale price.
I can’t account for every scenario. It will depend on how long you’ve been waiting and whether there’s been any other interest.
As a tip, set your listed price at 5% to 10% above what you think your property is worth. It then leaves room to negotiate. Most buyers love the feeling of getting something off the price (“Darling, that just paid for a new dishwasher and fridge. High five.”). Let them trim off the fat.
A simple way to sell a house in France quickly
Selling a house in France can drag on.
Finding a buyer can sometimes take many months.
Even after the pre-contract is signed, it still takes another 10-12 weeks for the process to complete.
One easy way you can speed up the process is to have all the paperwork ready.
You were a buyer once, so you know that the deal won’t get done until all the legal checks and queries are out of the way.
Your estate agent or legal representatives can help jog your memory if you don’t know what exactly you need to gather.
Having all the legal docs ready has a hidden benefit. Quick replies to the buyer’s questions, keep the sales process in motion.
Don’t forget; buyers will always have lingering doubts about whether your property is ‘the one’.
Most likely other agents keep calling them up with alternative properties to consider.
Buyers may also still keep an eye on any new listings as they come onto the market. Those property portals can be addictive.
A long, drawn-out sales process gives your buyer a greater opportunity to look elsewhere and potentially lose interest.
As they say in real estate: a quick sale is a good sale.
How to reduce the taxes on selling a French property
The standard tax rates on the gains from selling a French property are:
- Capital Gains Tax: 19%
- Social Charges: 17.2%
- Total Tax: 36.2%
The tax rates above are the same, whether you are a resident or non-resident of France.
Note that since 2015, there is no longer a higher rate of tax for non-residents. Phew!
If the net gain on your property is greater than €50,000, you need to pay extra CGT. It is banded, starting at 2% extra and going up to 6% extra on gains over €250,000.
More importantly, there are also some useful allowable deductions to lower your tax bill.
Standard 7.5% deduction for buying costs
You are allowed to add a standard 7.5% to the purchase price to cover all buying costs, which will reduce your net gain.
If you spent money on your property for repairs/renovations, you can deduct those costs too (as long as you can provide invoices from tradesman).
For property owned over 5 years, you are allowed a standard 15% allowance for repairs/improvements to the property.
All these allowances are added to the purchase price, not applied to the sales price.
No tax at all for a primary residence
Like in the UK, if your French property is your main home, then it is fully exempt from both CGT and Social Charges.
For the exemption to be applicable, you need to be registered to pay tax in France. If you move out, you are given a 1-year extension on the exemption as long as the property is on the market for sale and remains vacated (don’t rent it out). If you become a tax resident of the UK or another country outside France in the period, you could also lose the exemption.
Falling CGT & Social Charges after 5 years
From the 6th year onwards, you get a discount on the CGT and Social Charges paid.
CGT is discounted at 6% per year and Social Charges at 1.65%.
As an example; if you held your French property for 10 years, you would a 30% discount on your CGT bill and an 8.25% discount on your Social Charges (no allowance in the first 5 years).
While the Notary will calculate all the taxes due, it might be worth your while getting some independent tax advice. It will hopefully more than pay for itself and keep you out of trouble too.
Turning the exchange rate to your advantage…this could save you thousands
Most Brits selling property in France completely forget to think about the exchange rate.
Moving your money from France to the UK is often the final piece in the puzzle.
However, the Euro to Pound exchange rate can have a significant impact on the Pounds you will eventually receive into your UK bank account.
Even small, fractional moves in the rate can make a big difference on a property transaction.
If you use your bank to transfer your money from France to the UK, you could face charges of up to 5% of the money you send.
Using the example of selling a house in France for €140,000, that could cost you €7,000.
A currency broker can offer more competitive exchange rates and can keep an eye on the fluctuations in the exchange rate, letting you know when the rate moves in your favour.
With a currency broker you can even protect yourself from currency risk during the sales process using something called a forward contract. It allows you to lock-in an exchange rate in advance of completion.
So if you have already exchanged, but won’t receive the money from the sale for another 2-3 months, you can remove any currency risk during that period using a forward contract.
It will reduce your stress and worry, and enable you to work with a fixed budget if you are looking to buy a property in the UK.
You may also wish to read our article on how to Transfer Money from France to the UK.
Here’s a summary of the advice and tips for selling your property in France:
- Create kerb appeal (remember the 8-second rule)
- Clear away your personal clutter – no offence
- Consider a paint job – they’re cheap but effective
- Do any obvious repairs – it pays off
- Negotiate the agent’s fee (down)
- Negotiate the sale price (up)
- Get the paperwork ready – it will speed things up
- Don’t miss out on any available tax deductions
- Speak to a currency broker – we could save you thousands
And a little about who we are…
I’m one of the Director’s of Key Currency – a leading independent currency broker.
We regularly people who are selling a French property move their money back to the UK with great exchange rates and no fees.
We have a 5-star “Excellent” rating on the customer rating website Trustpilot, based on over 500 reviews.
The earlier you get in touch with us, the sooner we can monitor exchange rates for you and provide guidance through the sales process.
Simply click the button below to request a free quote.