The French luxury market is unique in terms of the quality of its property portfolio, in cities synonymous with living the dream for international investors. Despite its legendary red tape, France remains a top destination thanks to its status as the ultimate value when it comes to high-end real estate. Franco-British lawyer Tony Van Hagen, specialised in property investments in France, gives us his expert opinion.
Why invest in France?
Tony Van Hagen: Paris is an international reference. Today it has regained the position it held 40 years ago as the nerve centre of Europe, on a par with London. Foreign investors had their fingers burned by Former President François Hollande and his improbable tax reforms, but the situation was remedied with the election of Emmanuel Macron as President in 2017.
Is the French wealth tax (previously the “ISF”) an obstacle for potential buyers despite being renamed the property wealth tax (“IFI”)?
It’s true that foreign residents in France are subject to this tax. But the real problem for them is the wording. “Property wealth tax” is an inapt title. My clients accept the basis behind the tax, which is entirely justified. They often have similar taxes in their home countries, just under different names. Basically the French government needs to rename the IFI, which is essentially a property tax. The level of taxation, imposed on the net value of the property, after deduction of amortised outstanding loans, is, in fact, reasonable compared to other countries. In the end, it is a populist tax, designed to appease those used to the imposition of a wealth tax on “high net-worth” individuals...
What advice would you give foreign investors looking to buy in France?
It is important to steer them towards sound investments, those in the very best locations. In Paris, for example, clients should focus on specific areas of the 7th arrondissement, just as they should select the best-placed properties in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Monaco, Saint-Tropez and Cap d'Antibes.
Is the 7th arrondissement the only neighbourhood of interest in Paris?
Not at all. Paris’ most elegant neighbourhoods tend to be protected and listed. Which is what makes the city so unique. The 5th, 6th and 7th arrondissements cannot, by definition, be extended, which means there’s no risk of them being spoilt by new constructions. But if you want to guarantee the long-term value of your property purchase, the area between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Assemblée nationale in the 7th arrondissement is your best bet. I would even go one step further and say that the focus should be on the left bank of Boulevard Saint-Germain, up to the River Seine!
What motivates investors?
Our clients generally have budgets of over €5 million. Investing in luxury real estate in France is like buying a work of art for them. Buying a townhouse in Paris, a château on the banks of the Loire or a Belle Epoque villa on the French Riviera follows the same rationale as the acquisition of a masterpiece. With the experience of French art de vivre to boot, quite rightly reputed across the globe. International investors tend to have little time to spend at their secondary residences. They are more often than not active entrepreneurs, self-made individuals who want to stay in the most exclusive districts of the most beautiful cities in order to live every moment to the full. While being sure in the knowledge that their investment will make them money in the long term.
2020 and the various lockdowns that came with it have led to the widespread digitisation of the acquisition process. Has virtual become the new norm in the very high-end segment?
Yes and no. Part of the pleasure of buying real estate in France is visiting the properties, spending time in Paris or on the French Riviera. My clients tell me how much they enjoy meeting the owners, chatting with them, learning more about the history of their house or apartment. It’s not quite the same on Zoom! However, virtual viewings naturally help save a significant amount of time by doing away with unnecessary meetings.
What countries will foreign investors and buyers in France hail from in 2021?
This year we’ll see the emergence of new fortunes in the tech and health industries, in other words mainly Americans. Generally speaking, Anglo-Saxons find it easiest to adapt to French culture and lifestyle. That’s why they love to buy châteaux and vineyards, which is set to be the big trend in the coming years.
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