Having a French home built to spec has distinct advantages and is gaining British fans.
It's a fact that having a house built for you is common place in France, where the ultimate home is often considered to be a brand new, purpose-built structure. Down in the Languedoc, for example, a drive around the outskirts of almost any town or village will reveal the lotissements (housing estates), résidences (developments) and terrains (building plots) that have slowly crept out from the edges, and single and two-storey structures with all mod cons (villa is the catch-all term) are popping up all over the place; if an Englishman's home is his castle, then a Frenchman's home is his villa - complete with garage, patio, pool and cuisine d'été (otherwise known as a barbecue area). Similarly, French developers (George V, Cogédim, Kaufman & Broad and Marignan are major players, to name but a few) are building résidences in practically every French city worthy of the name, with many apartments selling before the foundations have even been laid.
If having your home built to order is all the rage in France, there are far fewer takers in the UK. However, it appears we are finally starting to catch on, albeit abroad rather than at home. Figures recently released by Abbey National France reveal a significant increase in the number of Brits investing in French property, and Sébastien Duquesne, Head of Marketing - International Buyers, confirms that there is a definite move towards new build. "The most recent figures show that for the British buyers' market, the percentage split for new vs. old property is about 75/25," he explains, "and in response to this growth in the new build sector, Abbey National France offers a deferred payment mortgage specifically for those who want to buy off-plan."
So what are the advantages of buying a brand, spanking new home? First, you get to choose the type of property; in some instances you may even be able to specify layout, and this can be adapted for special needs e.g. for those with disabilities. And of course, once completed, a new property is ready to move into, unlike older houses that may require months of costly renovation before they are inhabitable. Repairs and on-going maintenance costs are likely to be low or practically non-existent for a new build project, and construction and structural guarantees bring buyers peace of mind; features such as double glazing, sound proofing and thermal insulation often come as standard and add to the all-round comfort.
When it comes to money, the cost of having chez vous built to spec can be lower than one might imagine. In some cases, this option can even be cheaper than renovating; new build costs are generally easier to define than renovation costs. Additionally, if you buy a plot of land as a private individual and then have a home built on it, you will only be liable to pay notaire's fees for the purchase of the land (the logic being that as the owner of the land, you are automatically the owner of whatever is built on the plot), and these will be around 7-9%, depending on the purchase price.
Another built-in benefit to new build is that payments are staged. Normally, 5-10% is due on reservation, with a further 20% payment (to a total 25% of the price) made on completion of the foundations (the percentage and stages may vary from one developer to another). Essentially, you should expect to pay 35% (including the deposit) when the foundations are laid, followed by 30% when the floor goes down, 5% when the roof is put on, 20% when the doors and windows are fitted, 5% on completion, and a final 5% when the premises are made available to you, with handover of the keys. Lenders usually release funds in line with the staged payments, so interest is only paid on the money released - and in the case of the Abbey National France mortgage mentioned above, repayments are deferred until your new home is delivered.
Gordon Roughan of French new build property specialists Maison Individuelle highlights another advantage of buying off-plan: "New build means good news on the tax front - there's no taxe foncière (property ownership tax) to pay for the first two years, and no capital gains tax payable on resale, either. Value-added tax (known as taxe à la valeur ajoutée or TVA in French) of 19.6% is applicable to new constructions, but many developments offer leaseback schemes that allow you to claim back the VAT by letting the property through them for a fixed time period, which means you can enjoy your holiday home for specific periods, as well as having guaranteed rental income."
When planning a new build project, there are important decisions to be made. As with any property purchase, location should be high on the agenda, along with careful consideration of the purpose of your new house - will it be a holiday home or permanent residence? For your private use, or to rent out? The answers to these questions will impact on the design and location of the property, as well as the choice of fixtures and fittings.
It's important to consider the investment and resale potential of your new residence and avoid over-speccing - in other words, building something that costs more than it will ever be worth on the open market. Those solid gold bath taps may look lovely to you, but whether anyone else will be prepared to pay top dollar for them is another matter. Prioritise the way your budget is spent; the specification of the kitchen and bathrooms may be more important than say, landscaped gardens or a top-of-the-range pool complete with underwater lighting. Naturally, when budgeting for a new build project, it's essential to consider the total expenditure, including not just the land and building costs, but also the finishing and contingencies.
If you want a home built from the ground up, there are essentially three choices in terms of style and cost, the first and cheapest of which is buying off-plan in a new development. This is a relatively straightforward option, and the involvement of other buyers puts pressure on the developer. Houses of this kind offer a limited choice in terms of site and design, but they are usually well-equipped, and finishings can be specified by the buyer. UK-based company A Place in France specialises in this option; company MD Patricia Fevrier elaborates: "The starting price for an off-plan purchase is around €70,000, depending of course on location. For example, €73,500 will buy you a one-bedroom terraced house in south Brittany, or at the other end of the scale, we are currently selling three-bedroomed apartments on the Côte d'Azur for €410,000. Notaires' fees for off-plan properties are cheaper, as the notaire's involvement is limited to registering the title of ownership."
A second and more expensive choice is the turnkey solution, which is arguably the best way to commission an individual villa. You can either find the plot of land yourself and then commission a builder, or hire a company to handle both the plot search and build. You then select your plan; there is usually a fairly wide choice (from approx. 90-150 square metres), with a reasonable spec of build and finishing's. Once you have agreed the details, the planning application is submitted, and building work will start once the purchase of the plot is completed and planning permission granted. The advantages of this option are that it is strictly regulated by the industry; delivery dates are more trustworthy and payment schedules are fixed by law, making it a safe choice. Prices generally start from around €700-900 per m2, excluding the purchase of the plot itself.
Finally, those who want a truly bespoke approach can commission an architect to design a property exclusively to specification. The obvious benefit is that you get exactly what you want, but this comes at a price, starting at €1800-2200 per m2 for a fully-equipped home. This option is more difficult to control, so it's wise to find an architect who will manage the entire project, or appoint a maitre d'oeuvre to oversee the proceedings and report back to you on a regular basis. New generation constructeurs can offer almost bespoke designs on individual plots, managing the whole project through to delivery, which makes for a safe and easy option that is slightly cheaper than hiring an architect, or you can find the best of both worlds through Architecteurs, a nationwide group of French architects and builders who help clients build to spec (as well as renovating or enlarging existing properties).
At the risk of stating the obvious, with all three options - off-plan, turnkey or bespoke - the purchaser has to make a leap of faith and use their imagination to visualise the end result. Not everyone finds this easy to do, but artists' impressions and architects' drawings can help reassure nervous buyers, as can visiting other completed projects built locally.
About the Author
Louise has lived in France, in the city of Montpellier in the
Languedoc-Roussillon for the past 5 years.
Louise writes for a number of French life magazines and was asked to write a number of articles on life and experiences in France by French real estate agents Vibo Immobilier, based in the wine village of Fitou.
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Having a French home built to spec has distinct advantages and is gaining British fans. It's a fact that having a house built for you is common place in France, where the...