Every interaction with a French institution teaches valuable lessons. Usually, those lessons involve learning patience. The French bureaucrat/fonctionnaire has a list and loves to check the boxes. Here are a few boxes that you need to be checking.


You have a banker, not a bank. I don't know how it is for folks with abundant resources, but we are just average folks with an income close to the French national average. That means that there's one person at the bank that handles our account, our banker. Frederick. It's a small branch with just a few employees, so there's no hand off. Frederick works on our dossier and, if he's not around, the dossier sits. (More about that later.) Get to know your banker.

Bring every piece of paper that you own when meeting with your banker to discuss your request for a mortgage. If you have been living in France, five years worth of tax returns. French tax returns. (If you live in France, you have to file whether you have to pay French taxes or not.) Proof of residence, such as a utility bill that's less than three months old. Proof of income - required even though we've been running our income through the same bank for almost eight years. If joint request with spouse, proof that you are married. In other words, bring every piece of paper that you own.

French bankers don't negotiate like American bankers. We didn't need much of a mortgage. We initially asked for a mortgage that would cover about 40% of the purchase price of our new house. (Our 'new' house, by the way, is 1,000 years old.) Between the equity in our current house and our savings just for this purpose that I'd put aside, we could easily cover the rest and didn't want to borrow more than we needed to borrow. After much typing and chin scratching and more typing, Frederick told me that we couldn't have a mortgage. He carefully went over the reasons - our age, our income, the phase of the moon. 

After several minutes of Frederick explaining why we couldn't have the mortgage that we wanted, and seeing how genuinely sorry he appeared to be that he couldn't help us, I asked a simple question. Suppose we only asked for 30% of the purchase price instead of 40%? More typing and chin scratching and typing. Yes! That would work. An American banker would have suggested adding money to the pot at least five minutes sooner.. I only brought it up because it seemed obvious that Frederick was not going to. Don't assume that French bankers are like American bankers. They're not.

You don't actually apply for a mortgage until you've been approved. That's right. We signed nothing until our third or fourth meeting with Frederick, after we'd supplied him with every piece of paper that we owned and completed an online medical questionnaire. After about five weeks of meetings and emails, Frederick informed us that our loan had been approved and that we needed to come in and sign the papers. We were surprised to learn that the papers that we had to sign were not our acceptance of the mortgage. We were to sign the mortgage application. Why waste time signing things if you are not going to be approved? But once the management of the branch approved, it's OK to sign the application.

You are not approved until the regional office signs off. Yippee! We're approved. Well, not really. It turns out that the approval of the branch isn't the final word. The dossier has to be sent to the regional office for the final checking of the boxes. A formality, Frederick assures us. Fingers crossed because, although Frederick says that we are approved, we are not really out of the woods quite yet.

There's a waiting period. French law takes cooling off periods seriously. What is a cooling off period? When buying a property, the buyer has a ten-day window after signing the purchase agreement to back out of the deal without major penalty. In the case of a loan, you cannot except the money until the eleventh day after approval - in our case, until Montpellier approves. We didn't know that until after we signed, not that it would have made any difference. But it would have been good to know. Maybe it was in the fine print. Be that as it may, whatever the schedule that you had in mind, add the cooling off period.

Frederick got COVID! I mentioned that Frederick didn't have a buddy at the bank to keep up with his customers when Frederick was sick or went on vacation. As it turned out, the day after we provided the last document that the bank required, Frederick tested positive. (He's fine, now. Thanks for asking.) Frederick was out of the office for three weeks. While we thought that our dossier was in the mail to Montpellier, in truth it was languishing on Frederick's desk. We are now waiting for the next update from Frederick, who is back at work after his bout with COVID.

It's been about ten weeks now. There's more. Stay tuned.

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