By the end of 2006 there were over 500,000 British people who had their principal residence in France. Attracted by lower property prices, the lifestyle, and in the case of the Côte d’Azur, the climate, more and more people have been making their stay on the French side of the Channel permanent. However, in addition to bureaucracy, notarial requirements, problems in finding local lawyers with the relevant expertise, there are also certain other restrictions that could impact on people’s renovation or decoration plans for their new home.
In the same way that restrictions are placed on “Listed” buildings in the United Kingdom (restrictions dependent on whether the building is listed as Grade I or Grade II), France also operates a system of protection of buildings considered to have particular historical and or artistic value. It is undoubtedly a ‘boom’ business, so there seems no better time to offer a few words of advice on the benefits, and the pitfalls, of investing in French property.
Two kinds of “registration” are possible in France for historical buildings and monuments. You can either register your property on the additional list of historical monuments (inscription sur l’inventaire supplémentaire des monuments historiques), or register your property as an historical monument (which involves a “ranking” system) (classement monument historique).
Access to one list or the other depends upon the level of historical and/or artistic interest of the property as well as the value of the property, and the biggest differences will be felt when the owners start to think about renovating the building.
Where it might be in the public interest, for instance an archaeological site, or a building from a particular historical period, the site can be registered as a historical monument.
Where there is a historical and/or artistic interest, for example the home of an historical figure, or a place that witnessed historical events, the property can be registered on the additional list.
1. Registration as a historical monument
A registered historical monument property gets more help from the planning and heritage authorities (equivalent to “English Heritage” in the UK) regarding the necessary care and renovation works, but on the other hand the authorities control and have more rights over the property.
If landlords are contemplating renovation works on the property, they must inform the authorities prior to any kind of work, although there is no need to obtain a building permit.
Then, the authorities may supervise and/or survey the flow of work.
Furthermore, once the property is “listed” (“classée”), this registration remains permanent, whoever is landlord. The building can still be sold however. Public grants for approved care and renovation works, may cover up to 50% of the total cost of the works. Certain tax breaks are also available to the owner of listed properties, although in order to qualify for the most generous of these, the building has to be open to visitors. This is unlikely to be applicable to the majority of people who invest in property abroad.
2. Registration on the “additional historical monuments list”
Relationships between property registered (“inscrite”) on the additional list and the authorities have some key differences.
– Public grants can only be awarded up to 40% of the cost of the works.
– Any renovation or refurbishment works must be authorised by a building permit.
– The heritage and planning authorities control the progress of the works, although the landlord retains the right to employ the contractors/subcontractors.
A request to be either registered or listed must be sent to the prefect of the region.
The procedure for registration in either case can be very slow, although if an application is made for a building to be listed, consultation with a range of experts is required. The Commission only sits twice a year, and it can take up to a year to get a response. A description of the property, detailing the historical/ artistic interest must be provided together with the request.
Practically speaking, it is recommended that you first get in touch with the “Historical Monuments Regional Office” (Conservation Régionale des Monuments Historiques), which is part of the Cultural Affairs Management Committee (Direction regionale des Affaires Culturelles) of the region where the property is located. The prefect’s office will directly forward the request to this office, which will be in charge of considering the case in the first place.
Even if the explanation of the above procedures inspires you to go out and invest in French property, it is only fair that this article carries a little health warning with it. As in England, and possibly even to a greater extent, French builders tend to work to their own timescales. The notion of the long lunch is often stretched to its limit, and there may well be hiccups along the way. Even so, for the chance to live in the home you have always dreamed of, the journey could be worthwhile.