Buying a House in France – Getting a Mortgage or Prêt Immobilier

Yesterday a large fat white envelope appeared in my letterbox. After all the all the effort taken to get this far you would think that I would be dancing around the room, but the mortgage process in France has been such an exhausting journey that I gave the envelope the kind of look you would reserve for a very wilful and difficult child that has had a month-long tantrum! And perhaps thankfully I was too worn down to rip the contents out of that envelope as, had I done so, I would have surely annulled the mortgage offer inside, since in small black letters were the words,

“Do not fold or tear. This envelope is to be used for the signed return documents”

When you have lived in France as long as I have, you learn to be very very careful about all official correspondence as, no matter what, you must comply with the seemingly most bizarre requirements. I have learnt not just to read things through once, but to do it ten times, to never ever fill in a form with blue ink when it stipulates black, and always, always provide copies of every official certificate, plus a few extras, even when applying for something as mundane as a rail travel card!

But I digress!

You may remember that in September I “bought” a house without my husband ever having seen it, and underwent the scrutiny of the 87 year old owner and the notaire in a particularly transparent overview of my financial capability to buy the said house on an overhead projector screen! At the time both notaire and owner declared that the mortgage interest simulation rates obtained  so far were simply not good enough and that I needed to “have another go” at the process.

I confess to being a “detail” person, and frequently drive my husband to distraction, which is perhaps why he spends most of his time half-way across the planet, but that aside, I took the notaire at his word, and minutes after having signed the “compromis de vente“,  was striding down the main banking street of Rouen determined to come up with a deal.

There are a good 12 or so banks on the main thoroughfare, and by the end of the afternoon I had visited each and every one of them, and left with a date and time of “rendez-vous” with most and already in posession mortgage simulations from three. Last stop of the day was with the “Courtier” (mortgage broker) recommended by the notaire.

By the time I finally met with the courtier three days later I had 9 mortgage simulations in my ever expanding “dossier” file.

“Well”, said the cheerful and energetic Courtier, “have you passed by any banks yet?”

Proudly I nodded the affirmative, and proceeded to rattle off the names of all that  i’d visited, noticing that as I did so his face becoming less and less cheerful in proportion to the number of visits that i’d made.

“Vous étès sportive, alors” (you’ve been very proactive!) “what banks haven’t you seen?”

What I then came to learn was that once a client has passed directly to a bank, a mortgage broker cannot “solicite” the same bank for a further month. Since a time delay is stipulated in the “Compromis de Vente”, this put a finite limit on the length of time available to the courtier. Consequently he was left with my own bank, the post office and one “bottom of the market” bank, the only meetings that I had organised after that of the Courtier. While I held the lead players, the Courtier had his work cut out!

To cut a long story short, I selected three banks from my 9 simulations for the best interest rates and made second appointments to create a “dossier” (mortgage application) With my now enormous cereal packet sized folder, I supplied each bank manager with page after page of official documents; “Bulletins de salaire” (salary statements), “contrats de travail” (work contracts), I had several hundreds of those since each guided tour is covered under a separate contract. They photo-copied each and every one!), “relevés de compte bancaire” (bank statements), passports, electricity bills, and “attestations for Allocation familiales” (family allowance statements). I even had a “Bilan cardiaque” (ECG) up my sleeve and they took that too! And then I left thinking that that would be it……



But no!

I received emails from the bank managers; some wanted a copy of my “Carte de Sejour” (Residency card), even though EU nationals  don’t need one, others asked for “Avis d’Impots” (Tax records) going back three years, and all wanted proof of our “apport personnel” (personnal contribution), and I sent them all in and thought that would be it…..

But no!

It turned out that to take out a mortgage with a bank, we had to open up a bank account, which meant reims and reims more paperwork, no matter whether we might actually be offered a mortgage, and then the final crunch……

“Monsieur doit signer”.

Aha, I said, flourishing under their noses our “procuration” (Power of Attorney) specially drawn up by the notaire. But on this all three banks could agree,

“NON” they said, “Monsieur doit signer”

Since Monsieur was in Canada, and likely to remain there for several more months, this caused something of a dilemma. But since the “Compromis de Vente” required me to provide a mortgage offer by the middle of November, or lose our deposit, there was nothing left to do but fly Monsieur back. And Monsieur duly arrived for a whistle-stop four day “signing schedule”, and finally, the opportunity to finally see what house his wife had bought!

In France  a life assurance policy is obligatory when buying a house. A buildings insurance policy is only advisory. Having received an “accord de prêt”, a nod from the bank that the loan to income ratio is approved, the next stage is to be approved by the life assurers. This involves a detailed medical questionaire, and dependant upon the age of the applicant, a huge array of medical tests. In order to anticipate the assurers requirements, I had organised a appointment with out médecin généraliste to coincide with the “signing schedule”. All of the banks had already provided us with a medical questionaire, one of which needed completing by the doctor, and we requested that the doctor gave us an “ordonnance” (prescription) for every blood test he could think of. Husband à l’etranger lost the majority of his blood to the syringe that afternoon and the results were ready by the following morning. We duly supplied each bank with the results and questionaires, husband à l’etranger had just about time to sip one coffee in his favorite bar before he was back on the plane,  and sat back to wait for our offers….

And one duly arrived several days later from one of my banks …but with strings attached!

No sooner was husband à l’etranger back on Canadian soil than the bank, who hadn’t originally required a questionaire completed by the doctor, posted one out to us,…. and requested two further blood tests,…. and a ECG done within the last six months. When I informed the bank that there was a four month waiting list for an ECG, and provided an ECG done in the last 12 months as an alternative, the assurer gave us the standard response:

“Mais NON!, Monsieur” and the name of a cardiac clinic who could deal with the matter the same week…. France!

My own personal charms were no match for the Courtier’s contacts, and thankfully several days later I received a message that his medical assurers had no need for further information and that his bank’s offer would be soon in the post; and I sat with my fingers crossed hoping it would arrive before the ever approaching deadline.

So when the envelope arrived on saturday, you can probably understand why I was too exhausted to dance a merry jig round the hall!

After all, all that’s left to do now is to get Husband à l’etranger to initial every page and sign the darn thing and return it within the deadline, and despite the fact that I have the “procuration ” (power of attorney) to do it for him, it says quite clearly in bold black print:

“A remplir de la main de Monsieur” (to fill in in Monsieur’s own hand)

And you know what that means don’t you…?

But maybe this time he’ll get time for a second coffee!



11 thoughts on “Buying a House in France – Getting a Mortgage or Prêt Immobilier

  1. Oh my goodness! As complicated as Italy and even more so, especially as the man completely overshadows the woman here in a very pre-Emmeline Pankhurst way. Big congratulations and best wishes for your new home 🙂


    • Thank you! – though right now I am too exhausted to even contemplate the “maison avec travaux”! I’m just hoping I can organise an electrician to rewire it before we move.. I can just see it all going up in smoke when we plug in 4 kids mobile phones on simultaneous recharge!


      • Well, we’re in the middle of our huge move from Italy to our new house in France, which also needs work since we’ve found the main beam that supports the whole house has completely rotted out of the wall. Thank goodness my husband is practical enough to fix it and I’m very happy not to be facing “4 kids mobile phones” as well! 🙂 I am hoping/longing to get back to the peace and undisturbed quiet of painting.


      • I always think Italy would be such a vivacious and romantic place to live, though I think you are off to the French Italian border somewhere, and perhaps that’s the best of both worlds.I’m looking forward to your next painting!


      • We’re in the middle of SW France; Midi-Pyrenées. The allure is that I can catch a flight from Toulouse-Rome; very convenient. I’m hoping to get a painting up next week … my studio is very nearly ready! Very good luck with your move; I have to say it’s not without a certain amount of stress, but well worth it afterwards.


      • I’m just back to my blog … and I’m sorry that I didn’t notice your comment 2 months ago! Italy is the most “vivacious and romantic place to live”, but we were rather stuck there without the money to finish important works to our house there and yet more invented taxes, which were almost impossible to pay. Moving to France has amazingly given us some extra money in our lives. We are now settled into our wonderful French house and I’m back to painting … Italy will continue to be on my agenda. We’re in the Aveyron.


  2. Well that was definitely a process! And I thought handing in all my paperwork for renting an apartment in NYC was overwhelming. Congrats on the house and a mortgage loan! Could you have scanned the paperwork and e-mailed it to your husband that way? And then he could have printed it out and signed it and scanned it back to you? I’m guessing probably not.


  3. I can relate on so many levels to all of this. Monsieur et Madame (my husband and I) had both not seen the house when we stepped off the plane one Monday afternoon earlier this year ready to head to the notaire’s ofice to sign the final sale papers the next morning. All of our correspondence had taken place from Australia and we were confounded with similar logistical problems.
    It occurs to me that, just like the mothers’ groups that exist (for new mothers struggling with inexplicable and unknown situations) a non-French-native property purchasing group would produce some fascinating shareable stories and provide good ongoing moral support…in the meantime and given the distance, writing is a good start!
    Regards, Catherine


  4. I am mildly ashamed to admit so, but I find comfort in your suffering. A French national leaving in the US, I recently had the brilliant idea of purchasing a property in France. While it was not my first time dealing with French banks, it was my first time applying for a loan. Accustomed to the speedy efficiency of American mortgage brokers, je suis tombe de haut, when I begun working with French loan officers. Speaking the language did not help one bit, nor having some banking history in France since my income is now all US based.


    • Giving comfort to others hat these situations are mind-boggling and challenging is probably why I strted writing this blog in the first place. I hope your property purchase is ultimately hugely rewarding and that you love being in the new house. Good luck!


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