Signing on my apartment is proving to be a great learning experience. I’ve always been shy, and dealing with all that surrounds such a major purchase, in a foreign country, for the first time ever anywhere, is not at all easy for me. I don’t have a partner to fall back on when I realize I’ve misunderstood or mistranslated a term; when an advisor makes an honest mistake counselling me, I’m all the more disoriented; and so forth.
Examples: I want a fixed interest rate on my loan and the possibility to adjust payments in the future, since it’s a near certainty that I’ll get a raise. A fixed-rate loan is called un prêt à taux fixe, and a variable-rate loan is called un prêt à taux révisable. Having seen all sorts of different terms for “adjustable payments”, for whatever reason I settled on using mensualités révisables. I’m going through a broker/advisor for my loans (I won’t say which until all has finished well), and when I used this term, he stared at me and said, directly but kindly, “that’s not the right translation, if you use that term bankers will take you less seriously — it causes confusion with taux révisable. The ability to adjust payments is called la modularité.” Oops.
It was then my advisor’s turn to throw me for a loop. He requested un relevé cadastral, required for the zero-interest loan, le prêt à taux zéro. (Side note: the PTZ, as it’s also commonly called here, is great if you’re single and live in Zone A: Paris and the French Riviera. The salary cutoff is rather high for a single person living in Zone A, so if, like me, you get a good deal on a place, it can be an enormous help.) He said I could get the relevé cadastral for the new place at the notary’s, or possibly by asking my real estate agent. He wrote it down for me. This puzzled me since I had a vague knowledge, thanks to so much translating over the years, that the cadastre is the official surveyor’s office. Also knowing that the PTZ requires the applicant not to have been a property owner in the two years preceding their application, I wondered why on earth a plan of my new place would be needed. Browsing the Internet, I noticed that what actually seemed necessary was a relevé cadastral of one’s current rental accommodation. I was still stumped, now wondering what a location map of my rented apartment had to do with getting a loan. After looking up both apartments on cadastre.gouv.fr (which is free until you purchase a map, quite fun actually, and very well-designed), I was even more bewildered. However, my experience over the years has shown me that France is a welcoming country for bewilderment, as long as you’re polite. And so, having learned that the service du cadastre is found at the service des impôts (tax office), I went there, confusion and all. It turns out that there are three types of documents the cadastre can deliver: une parcelle, un plan, and un relevé de propriété (parcel, map, and property statement). As soon as the lady said relevé de propriété I understood the reasoning, and she confirmed that it was the document needed for the PTZ. It proves that I live in an apartment that does not belong to me. Other documents — quittances de loyer, rent payment receipts, of which you need 24 (corresponding to two years) — give the owner’s name and prove that I’ve paid rent. The property statement then confirms that the place does indeed belong to the same owner. And it’s free!
Hopefully everyone’s begun to understand why I say “for the love of God, do NOT ask me about how to finance real estate purchases in France.” There is good, neutral information on loans and assistance written by the French ministry of housing and cities, but of course there’s a lot more beyond that. I’ve also found this “what to know when buying” very useful. For my loans I chose to go through a courtier, broker, specifically because I recognize that I know so little. It minimizes my chances of being taken advantage of by banks, what with all the various fees, insurances, types of garantie, and so forth. Being skeptical of brokerage services too, I researched as much as possible and nonetheless decided it was the better risk to take in my case, and would save me money if all goes well (as it should). I felt much better about this choice after speaking with one bank outside of my broker — the bank’s offer seemed great, and I’d been clear with them about what I wanted in terms of fixed interest and adjustable payments. I showed it to my advisor, who looked at it and said, “did they tell you that it’s only a fixed interest rate for the first three years? And that it’s variable afterwards? With no cap?” Why no, they hadn’t, and it wasn’t written anywhere in their offer. Since he knew the bank and its “code names” for loans, he was able to see it immediately, and was indeed correct.
Returning to the subject of plans, Google has a free 3D drafting/modelling tool called SketchUp, and Ikea has their easy-to-use Planner tools (US), also available in French. Even if you don’t buy Ikea furniture, it can be nice to play with furniture that’s the same size to see how it all fits together.