From France to Montenegro: comparative apartmentology of a flat owner’s life

Daria (30), a financial expert from Moscow, Russia, and her husband knew Europe well by the time they bought their first flat there: an apartment in the South of France along the Mediterranean. And just to make things even, they bought their retired parents a flat in Montenegro. With two foreign countries and flats under her belt, we asked Daria to dig the dirt on buying and maintaining property in two very different European states.

— Daria, why did you choose these countries? Were you looking to invest or for a second home?

— We did not think about the investment angle. We were looking for an apartment that we would like. It was crucial for us to find something on Europe's Mediterranean coast. They say you choose a lifestyle when you choose an apartment. In that case, the Mediterranean lifestyle is what we want. Once we selected the region, we couldn’t choose between property for sale in Italy or property in France and the language was decisive: when you buy overseas property, you have to live your everyday life there, sort out household issues and talk with local people and authorities, so you should either know the local language or be willing to learn it as soon as possible. I understand French and my husband speaks it fluently so we chose France. This apartment might become our permanent residence in the future.

Then we chose Montenegro as a vacation retreat for our parents (in their late fifties) as it meets all of our requirements: comfortable climate, no huge temperature swings, geographical proximity, clean environment, decent lifestyle and, again, almost no language barrier for Russians (Serbian and Russian are quite close), which was important.

— So you chose an apartment in a coastal town of Le Rove near Marseilles. Why there? Why not the Côte d'Azur?

— At first, we searched for property for sale in Côte d'Azur’s most classic locations — Juan-les-Pins and Antibes — but eventually we realized that we would get better value for money in Provence, say Bandol, the historic suburbs of Aix-en-Provence and Saint-Rémy, or the outskirts of Marseilles. It’s scenic, pleasant and comfortable here, there are relatively few tourists and we don’t overpay for the status or the hype surrounding the location. Even better, Le Rove is only a 15-minute drive from the international Marseille Provence Airport.

Marseille

Better than the Côte d'Azur? Buyers head for Marseilles’ coastline for a quieter, cheaper and just as spectacular Mediterranean experience in France

— Where did you buy your flat in Montenegro?

— It’s in the village of Muo on the Western coast of the Bay of Kotor, right opposite Kotor. The village is well situated so that summers are not as hot as on the other side of the bay, but the winters are more humid. It’s also a quiet place, far from the hustle and bustle of Kotor, yet close to the main sights, shops, restaurants and the airport.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Discerning buyers escape the urban push for sun loungers and majestic scenery in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

— You have flats in both countries, why didn’t you go for villas or houses?

— Because neither us, nor our parents, are going to spend more than a month a year there, so it doesn’t make sense to buy a house.

— Have your parents and you already stayed in your new lodgings?

— Not yet, we have started work on both apartments. The property in Le Rove is new so we are looking at furniture and finishing the interior decoration. We hope to have everything done by July.

In Muo, we have a pre-owned apartment. We bought a turnkey furnished dwelling but decided to renovate it, noise and sound proof it, insulate the floor, change the bathroom fixtures, replace the tiles, etc.

— How did you hear about Tranio?

— I heard about George Kachmazov, Tranio’s founder, from mutual friends, and contacted him via Facebook. He put us in touch with Tranio's managers and they handled our case. They were a great help, especially with the French transaction, the developer waited for us thanks to Tranio, but I’ll tell you about that later.

Making plans come true

— How did you choose the apartments? Did you view a lot of properties?

— We selected both properties together with my husband. And we didn’t tell our parents anything before the Muo deal was closed. Imagine their surprise when we came over and told them: “Now you have a flat in Montenegro!”

By the way, for Montenegro, at first my husband and I didn’t really share the same vision: while I had visited the country many times and fallen in love with it, so suggested it first, my husband was thinking Cyprus or Greece. Finally, I decided that it would be easier to choose on the spot, so I bought tickets to Tivat and said, “Let’s go there, you can see for yourself and then we’ll decide.” And it could not have gone better: we arrived and my husband got to see the lush countryside and luxurious views and fell in love with the place the same as I did.

We only had three days to view the properties, and spent up to twelve hours each day on visits as we had about twenty different options to choose from.

Then we spent five days in France at most and saw no more than ten properties during our visit. When we saw the flat that we eventually chose, we instantly knew that it was the one; even if the property hadn’t been built by then. There was a construction pit and pine trees around it. It was the landscape and high pine trees that made our choice for us and we only had pictures of the buildings and a plot development plan at the time! Based on those and our vision of how it would look, we decided to buy, choosing both the building and the apartment.

— That was audacious! Are you satisfied with your choice?

— Totally! We weren’t sure if the property would be commissioned on time, but the French developers were punctual beyond belief and the schedule was observed impeccably. We signed the preliminary contract to reserve the property in September 2013, it was commissioned in November 2014 and we got the keys in February this year. Not only that, the developer kept us regularly informed about the progress of the construction.

Montenegro

With swimming pools in the residence and the sea just a quick walk away, Montenegro is a great place for a summer home

— What work did you have to do here? Are you happy with the results?

— I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the interior design. Our property is more business class than luxury, but the electrical fittings are high quality and the tiling is excellent, and they were all turnkey finishings. So when we came to get the keys, we only had a very short list of comments and improvements. Nevertheless, some things still needed doing. The total area of our apartment is about 80 sq. m, which is usually makes three small bedrooms in France. However, we prefer large bedrooms, as most Russians do, so we asked to join two bedrooms to make one room. Basically, developers in France offer standard interior design and equipment, meaning the choice of tiling, bathroom fittings and other stuff might be not too big, and we wanted something more personal. At the same time, this approach is quite convenient if you can’t be there to make decisions in person.

— Does your flat have a terrace?

— It sure does. It’s the main feature. I think we’ll be spending 90% of our time there. It overlooks pine trees and hills. And we are planning to design a garden out there too.

— Sounds good. But is there anything else to do in Le Rove?

— It’s ideal for sports, walking and cycling. Moreover, Marseilles is a great start point for road trips. It’s rather easy and exciting to navigate some 300–350 km across France, especially when you have your own place to go home too. Of course, we also love the French cuisine: I like to cook and plan on developing my skills here.

Pitfalls and pleasant surprises

— Tell us more about the practical aspects of buying flats in France and Montenegro… Were there any hidden pitfalls?

— Housing in France is reserved rather quickly and often bought at the design stage. You have to make a preliminary deposit in order to make a reservation. It might be challenging for foreigners that do not have bank accounts in France, and opening an account is a complex procedure for non-EU citizens. It comes with long and thorough due diligence of the source of the funds that you deposit on the account. And accounts in other European banks will not help. It took us about three months.

We would like to sincerely thank Marina Filichkina, Head of Sales at Tranio, and Tranio's French partners for helping us and persuading the developer to wait for us to complete all the procedures and checks and not to sell the apartment to anyone else. We had some issues with finding a French notary that would agree to serve a Russian client but successfully resolved that too finally.

It was much simpler and quicker in Montenegro. Besides, unlike France, you can negotiate the price with the seller. Indeed, we used that opportunity and bickered excitedly, cheerfully and splendidly before reaching a mutual agreement and closing the transaction quickly before a notary. Moreover, we liked the simple and convenient property database in Montenegro so you can check a property for encumbrances, say, overdue utility or mortgage payments. The previous owner has some tax arrears so we agreed during the transaction that the seller would repay those debts. By the way, the Montenegrin authorities are not too strict about arrears so they can remain unpaid for years. Buyers should pay special attention to this.

— You mentioned the authorities. It is widely believed that France has many complex formalities. Did you feel that?

— Beside the issues with opening up an account, there weren’t any other complexities. Indeed, the authorities in France impose serious requirements, but it all works smoothly: there are clear rules that do not change and are well known. If you are ready to disclose full information about yourself, especially the source of your funds, and are honest and sincere it will just take some patience to obtain the certificates, get the documents translated but there won’t be any complications. And it’s a lot easier if you know French.

— Homeowners and particularly foreigners pay rather big taxes in France and utility bills don’t come cheap. How much does your apartment maintenance cost?

— Our flat is new so the apartment is subject to beneficial tax rates and we are tax exempt for the first three years. And we don’t have to pay the wealth tax. So basically, the taxes are comparable with those in other European countries.

Electricity bills are about €100 a year and property maintenance like landscaping, maintenance of public areas, changing light bulbs, etc. costs about €2,000–2,500 a year.

— What’s it like being Russian in Le Rove? Has it changed any over the past year?

— Everybody in town and the residential complex are very friendly, including the authorities: when we had to solve complex issues with the electricity company or the tax authorities, the officials were very welcoming and tried to help us with everything. This could be because my husband and I speak rather good French and locals say it was a pleasant surprise for them. We visited the place before and after the sanctions against Russia and we didn’t notice the difference.

We may be the only Russians in Le Rove. We’ve already met our neighbours and want to have a small party à la Russe with traditional Russian food when all the work in the apartment has been completed.

Two birds, one stone

— You took on two concurrent projects. Did you have trouble getting all the work done? Who manages your properties and makes sure everything is going smoothly in your properties?

— There’s a bit of fuss but it’s a pleasant fuss. Besides, my husband and I try to solve all the issues together. To reiterate, a management company is in charge of the maintenance of the residential complex in Le Rove and all the bills can be paid remotely if you have a French bank account so it’s not too difficult. However, we are thinking about hiring a person to look after minor everyday housing issues like furniture delivery for example which we have to cope with ourselves at the moment and visit the place often. It’s good to know too that you will have to visit France to plan the interior design, say, tailor-made kitchen furniture. It is virtually impossible to outsource it.

We have acquaintances in Montenegro that are Russian-speaking developers monitoring a Serb construction team. Our relationship works like this: we visit the place, order the materials, furniture etc., pay for the order and the developers accept the deliverables.

— You have properties of similar type and class in Montenegro and France. Where is it simpler to buy, renovate and maintain housing? Which country do you prefer?

— It’s easier to buy property in Montenegro and to furnish and renovate your house in France. I think that regarding maintenance and renovation expenses, living costs, airfare and other expenses, it’s about 30–40% cheaper in Montenegro.

And I can’t say which place I like best. You don’t choose which of your children you love more and it’s the same for flats.

Montenegro is definitely a getaway to take a step back from city life, have rest and enjoy calm and relaxation. France is in the heart of Europe and life is bustling there. And of course, France offers higher living standards, more entertainment and leisure activities.

— Do you plan on purchasing any property in Europe in the future?

— First, we would like to finalise our current projects and then we shall see — everything is possible. If we make any more acquisitions, it will be for investment purposes. Right now we are considering property in Berlin.

Daria, thank you for your answers!

Artyom Milovanov, Tranio