Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Last Bastion of Bureaucratic Nightmares?

I first lived in France in 2002, then again in 2005. Since I came back in 2009, I've repeatedly been pleasantly surprised by how much easier many administrative procedures have become. I remember the galère me and my assistant friends went through to obtain a carte de séjour, open a phone line or access the healthcare system in 2002. By 2009 I had no problems obtaining either a landline or a mobile phone, and instead of sending off endless documents to the sécurité sociale for each medical appointment, in most cases you can now be reimbursed automatically by both la sécu and your mutuelle just by handing your carte vitale over to healthcare providers, and access and change your account details online at the click of a button.

Then Understanding Frenchman and I applied for a mortgage and I discovered that French bureaucracy can still be a total nightmare.

I won't go into the details here because it's really, really tedious, but here is an example of one of the many things which have gone wrong. To obtain a joint mortgage, we needed a joint bank account. UFM's bank branch not being open on a Saturday, we went together to mine. Unfortunately, when UFM told his advisor last suller that we had got married, the advisor neglected to update his customer profile, meaning that we couldn't open a married couple's account. And the ONLY person who could make this change (on a computer system accessible to all branch staff) was that one advisor in the other branch, who wasn't back at work until the middle of the following week.

In France, when you buy a property, you sign a compromis de vente (agreement to sell) with the sellers, then you have three months before the signature of the acte de vente, which is when the property actually changes hands. This is to allow time for the sellers to provide certain documents, for the mairie to make sure they don't want to exercise their right to buy the property for public purposes and for the buyers to get their mortgage agreement in place. Over the past three months we have been efficient with our mortgage application to the point that I was signing documents from my bed in the maternity hospital. The bank, meanwhile, have wasted days and days ate every step by taking a week to send documents through their internal mail (you could literally have walked and delivered the envelope by hand in less time than it took them to send a letter from Paris to Nanterre), then sending repeat copies of things we had already signed, requesting things they didn't actually need and leaving absolutely everything to the last minute. Last week it got to the point where our final date for signing the acte de vente was coming up and it didn't look as if the mortgage was going to be in place in time.

In theory, this meant that not only would the sellers be perfectly within their rights to sell the property to somebody else, but they would get to keep our deposit (10% of the price of the property, so a tidy sum) as well.

Luckily my husband is awesome, and after an hour on the phone one afternoon telling the bank in no uncertain terms exactly how useless they were, our case was being "discussed at the highest level" and our file "passed through as urgent", and (touch wood) it looks as if we will have the funds in time to stop the sellers heading off into the sunset with our hard earned savings and leaving us with nowhere to live.

But it has been unbelievably stressful. UFM has been taking charge of the whole thing because he has done this before and has insider knowledge of the system, and I have been somewhat preoccupied with a certain other matter over the past nine months, but even experiencing his stress second hand has been tough (and he is normally a very calm person). I haven't been able to give him any real advice or support, as if he can't make things go right, there is absolutely no chance that I will do better. That doesn't feel good either.

Because another nasty mark that this experience will leave on my mind is the awareness of how much worse it would have been if I had been doing this by myself. Not just because I'm not as knowledgeable, organised or efficient as Understanding Frenchman, but also because as a foreigner, it's so much harder to complain. If I had had to make that phone call, not only would I not have had the gumption to carry on insisting for a whole hour that they do something to sort out the mess (because we Brits feel embarrassed about these things), but they would have heard my petit accent and my words would automatically have carried less weight. After all, who am I to tell the French what is and is not normal in their own country?

I hope that none of you will have to go through what we have if you are ever buying property in France, and luckily our experience really isn't the norm. UFM had a previous mortgage with a different bank and the whole thing was processed within a month, while many friends and acquaintances (French and other) have had an easier time than we have. Just in case you ever do though, I leave you with what is apparently the worst insult that you can possibly hurl at a large international company that supposedly prides itself on customer service: "votre façon de travailler, c'est la sécurité sociale des années 80, quoi!"

It's particularly effective when that company likes to describe itself as la banque d'un monde qui change.




6 comments:

  1. Ugh, that is insane. Fingers crossed it all comes through in time! We had a pretty similar experience - both my bank and C's bank dragged their feet right up to the last minute (Mine actually sent their reply a full week after the signing date, despite me telling them repeatedly we absolutely needed an answer by then, and then they were surprised that we didn't pick them).

    We were told by friends that most banks now wait until the very last minute to submit their offer to you so that you have no time to come back and negotiate the taux. :/

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    1. That's very sneaky! We were lucky that the rates have been falling the past couple of months, so the one good thing about all the mess was that we did end up with a better deal than we were originally offered.

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  2. Oh I didn't know that to get a joint mortgage you need a joint account. We bought a land in 2014, I did all the banks during my pre-natal maternity leaves including with Meilleur Taux. My husband did the last negotiation with our own bank. We were in rush to sign the act before 2015 as the taxes were going to increase. The bank did a lot of mistake and we were going to miss the dateline, my husband decided to hand the mortgage documents to their main branch. The notaire received the money one day before we signed the act.

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    1. To be honest, I can't remember if we actually had to or if we just thought it would be easier ... not knowing all the trouble that lay ahead!

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  3. Wow - sounds like a worrying time. We have just been refused a mortgage - I still have 0 credit history rating here in Canada and when my partner and I opened a joint bank account I hadn't realised that it would cause his credit history rating to go down :( nothing left to do but to reapply in 6 months- a year I guess.

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    1. That's really annoying! I hope you get something sorted out soon.

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