The moment when the keys to your new French property are handed over is always momentous. Whether the property in question is going to be a holiday home - une maison secondaire - or a full time residence, it marks the start of a new adventure.
Unlike the UK where you can have Building, Contents or Building and Contents insurance, in France insurers provide just one policy - assurance habitation. Most premiums are calculated according to the number of rooms and the size of the property. You don’t need to declare kitchens or bathrooms (unless the former are over a certain size) but you do need to include all the other rooms. So for example, if you have three bedrooms, a sitting room, an office and a library you will declare six rooms - pièces principales - and this can mean that premiums vary for similar sized properties with roughly the same square meterage but different numbers of rooms.
An assurance habitation policy is obligatory if you are a tenant or a co-propriétaire (an owner of a property in a ‘copropriété’ such as a block of flats for example); owner occupiers outside of this are not legally obliged to take out a policy (only the public liability part of the insurance is mandatory in that case), however failing to do so is obviously a very risky strategy! The most common policy offered by the majority of insurers is known as assurances multirisques habitation (MRH). This covers damage to the property from events such as fire, frozen pipes, water ingress, burglary, broken windows, natural disasters and so forth. It also includes what is known as ‘la responsabilité civile’ which is similar to public liability cover but for your home and private life, so should a water leak from your property affect your neighbours your insurance will cover it. In general professional equipment or vehicles will not be covered by an MRH policy and will need to be added on or insured separately.
You can obtain insurance cover through your bank, an insurance company or agent, or via a broker and obviously it is sensible to shop around and compare policies. You will need to provide the insurers with all the information they will require in order to calculate the premium. This will include the location of the property, its value, the surface area, whether you are an owner or a tenant and the amount of excess (franchise) you are prepared to accept; a higher excess will usually mean lower premiums. Once you have the quote(s) and a detailed breakdown of the cover provided and any exclusions, you will need to check and double check the T&C and make sure that you are comparing like with like.
You will also need to declare any work you do on the property going forward (installing a pool for instance) as failure to do so may well mean that you are not covered should the worst happen. This doesn’t automatically result in an increase in premiums but if you are renovating or improving, you should keep your insurers up to speed with any work achieved and this also applies to outbuildings. You also need to remember that French insurance policies almost never cover accidental damage so this also means that they will almost certainly refuse to pay out any claim that doesn’t have an identifiable source. So, for example, if your freezer breaks down they won’t pay for the contents despite that being listed on your policy. If however, your freezer contents are lost due to a power failure or other ‘identifiable’ reason, you should be covered!
Understanding the way French property insurance works and reading through the small print is where it gets tricky. Unless you are both fluent in French and understand legal jargon, it makes sense to use an independent english-speaking insurance broker who is able to both select the best policy for your individual circumstances. It may also be possible to provide all the documentation written in English.
This is why we recommend Fab French Insurance - you can obtain a quote online and chat through your personal requirements with a dedicated English speaking team.
If you're approaching the point of signing your 'act de vente', here's one top tip to look out for for added peace of mind:
When buying a property and signing the ‘acte de vente’, always check that the property has remained insured right up until the moment the paperwork is signed and the keys change hands. Failure to do so could mean that in the worst case scenario, the entire investment could be lost were something to happen to the property.