Buying Property in France
Buying property is one of the most major investments we make in our lives. For yacht crew, it’s rarely for a primary residence, which makes the considerations for buying a little different.
Location will always come first, but when using property as an investment, yield should be a very close second. This is the net annual rental income (after all costs) divided by the value. One of the biggest reasons why property is considered the best investment is because it’s possible to leverage, or borrow, to buy it, especially when interest rates are low. For example, if you buy property for €200,000, and it gives a rental income of €8,000 per year, a four-percent yield is realized. If you only invested €40,000 and borrowed the remainder at three percent interest, then you immediately double your yield to eight percent. This is a compelling reason not to invest all your capital into a property. Even if interest rates are higher, it may still make sense, as it’s often possible to offset the interest against rental profits to reduce income tax.
Buying property in France is very popular amongst yacht crew, especially near the yachting centers of the Côte d’Azur. This is because the property can be a great escape in the winter when the yacht is in port or the yard, and also gives a great seasonal rental yield in the summer, the time when crew are hard at work.
These areas also are very sought after and selling a property is rarely difficult. The costs of buying in France are quite high; government taxes and notary (legal) fees total approximately 7.5 percent of the purchase price, and agent fees (when you sell) can be five or six percent. This means 13 percent growth on the property is necessary to make any capital profit, which is why property should be seen as a long-term investment and why rental yield is important. Annual taxes also apply and vary depending on where the property is located and its size. Borrowing in France is still possible for yacht crew, although it’s getting a little harder as banks tighten their rules. Generally, crew can borrow 75 (sometimes 80) percent of the purchase price. This means you need approximately 32.5 percent deposit (including notary fees) to start your property portfolio.
French lending laws allow you to be up to one-third of your income in debt, so if you earn €3,000 per month, you cannot spend more than €1,000 on your debt repayments. Over 20 years at three percent, €1,000 per month equates to a loan around €185,000. For tax-resident yacht crew (in France or any other country), the loan-to-value can often be higher as tax documents make banks feel more comfortable about lending. Any rental income is taxable in France, whether you are resident or not, and capital gains tax and inheritance tax will be initially liable in France, too.
There are many considerations when buying property, so seek good, qualified advice especially if it’s part of an overall plan; a mortgage broker should be able to find the best terms for you, often at no cost.
Producing Income from Your Investments
If you’ve managed to put aside money for your retirement, good job — no one else has been saving for you. But how do you change the balance of your assets to be able to draw an income to supplement a smaller, land-based income or to pay for your lifestyle into retirement?
* Restructure your investments before you need the money. This gives you time to ride out any difficult market years before you retire or move ashore. Crises in stock markets always affect stocks in pre-retirement worse, so protect the value of your funds in the few years running up to taking an income, but keep one eye on inflation as this will reduce the buying power of the “pot” of money you’ve built up.
* Consider the total value of your retirement assets — shares, pensions, funds, investment properties, cash and bonds — as one entity. Then ask yourself, “If I had all of this as cash today, what assets would I buy to give me the income I need?” This question helps you reassess all your assets and bypass any loyalty to a certain asset type, such as property. If Dave bought an apartment nine years ago for €180,000, rented it out and paid off the mortgage, and the apartment is now worth €280,000 with rent at €1,000 per month, after management charges, this works out as a 3.8 percent yield. Dave may do better using the money from the property elsewhere, perhaps by reinvesting in bonds.
* Once the income starts, look at each asset class in terms of income stream and cash flow rather than capital appreciation. It’s important to try and grow the “pot” to beat inflation, but the income is paramount. Yields on equities today are outstripping most government bonds; the capital may fluctuate but the income will remain. To draw an income of €3,500 per month, you need an asset pot of approximately €900,000. With €42,000 per year, a proportion of the cash can be put in longerterm assets (property, equities, etc.) to help grow and replace the funds you withdraw.
Many yacht crew have a large proportion of their assets inside insurance bonds, as they offer tax-advantageous growth and income. However, some don’t offer a way to take a “natural income,” as the funds are all accumulating-type funds. The income that you draw down by cashing in fund units affects the underlying balance and needs to be rebalanced with a steady internal income stream.
No one wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I must start my pension planning today.”a “I must start my pension planning today.” I’ve not even done that, and it’s my job! Perhaps if someone had pointed out to me 15 years ago what the impact this thought process may have had on my own financial future, I may have listened and (may have) done something about it.
Let’s consider the rather simple examples of two people who joined the yachting industry at the same time, with similar careers, but different saving scenarios.
Scenario 1: James took his first job as a deckhand at the age of 23, earning €2,000 per month. His income went up by a healthy five percent each year, every year until he left yachting at 45 with a final salary of €7,300 per month.
From the very start of his career, James invested 25 percent of his salary every year. This means that by the end of his yachting career, he had earned a total income of €1.25 million and had put aside €310,000. He had managed to achieve an average annual growth rate of five percent on his invested money, which meant his savings pot was now worth €495,000. If he leaves this to grow for another 15 years before using it as a pension scheme, he will retire at 60 with a fund of just over €1 million — a very healthy fund.
Scenario 2: John had a very similar career, but only started saving 25 percent of his salary after being in the industry for 10 years. Even though he still had earned €1.25 million over his career, he only had put away €225,000, which, with the same growth as James, was now worth €290,000 due to the lesser amount of time to compound the growth. Leaving this amount to grow for another 15 years would give John a pension fund of €600,000 — quite a bit shy of James’s healthy fund.
In the real world, yachting salaries rarely grow in a straight line, but this simple example shows how delaying the start of a long-term savings program has a massive effect on your long term wealth and control. In order to retire with the same fund as James, John would have to save approximately €1,500 per month, every month from when he leaves yachting. If he is now working on shore, this could be difficult to achieve as costs normally not associated while aboard will now be added, such as rent, food and every day expenses.
It’s interesting to note that James still actually spent more than €930,000 over his 23 years in yachting, which is an average of €3,400 per month for that period. Are there many yacht crew who actually spend this much on living costs, and if not, could he have saved even more for his long-term future? The answer is obvious.
Should I use a Financial Adviser?
Creating a financial plan is not complicated; it’s an audit of where you are today, financially, and where you want to be at different life stages. This requires creating a list of what you have, earn, own and owe and deciding to put something aside to cover different goals for the future.
I have met yacht crew who have worked for 20 years without implementing a financial plan, and when they want to leave yachting, they have no pensions and minimal savings or investments, leaving them with a simple choice: live on very little or keep on working.
We can agree that having a financial plan, however simple, is important, but why have (and pay) someone to help you bring this together?
The process: Although creating a plan is quite simple, a financial adviser will ensure that all areas are discussed and re-examined so nothing is left out. All of the horrible “what if” questions should be covered.
Implementation: A good adviser will have access to thousands of products for different clients with different needs. The more choice available, the more assistance you will need in choosing the best ones, but also, the more independent the advice will be. A small advisory firm is likely to have only a few products to choose from and will display less independence.
Professionalism: If we are ill, we go to a doctor — financial advisers have qualifications to diagnose our financial problems and help put together a plan to make us better. And as with a doctor, a financial adviser should have qualifications in his or her trade, even specializing in certain areas.
Regulation: A financial adviser will be regulated by a government body and will have to display a certain competency and have insurance in order to practice.
Knowledge: Qualifications don’t guarantee knowledge; good advisers should continually improve their knowledge and should be able to prove this through their ability to explain complex issues.
Humanity and perspective: Most importantly, you need to trust your adviser. This person or firm should be your trusted adviser for most of your life; they need to be able to empathize with the different situations in which you’ll find yourself over the years. They should be able to draw on experience from other clients to help solve issues you face; they should be able to offer perspective on the decisions you make.
This last point is the hardest to prove and is probably best achieved through a combination of your own gut instinct and referrals from friends and colleagues. Do your own research on all of the above factors, ask around, and keep asking around until you have a short list of advisers to meet. Then follow your own feelings about whether you can trust them; the relationship should be a long-term one, and you will end up telling them a lot of very personal information over time.
Looking at financial stability throughout your yachting career
While I have discussed strategies for individual investments, banking and insurance, I wanted to present what I believe to be the “Basic Rules,” which, if followed throughout your yachting career, will maximize your chances of financial success.
- Have a bank account in the same currency as your income.
- Have other currency bank accounts if you spend considerable time in other currency jurisdictions.
- Use a currency broker account to move money between accounts; this gives you control and saves money on the exchange rate and commissions.
- Clear debts as soon as you can, especially those with high interest rates.
- Check the medical cover available to you from the yacht; offer to pay a small supplement if it doesn’t cover you during holidays or when not on board.
- Conceptually plan out different financial “pots:”
- Understand your tax residency status: Keep an accurate diary of where you spend your time. The places where you are most likely to be considered resident are:
- Save at least 25 percent of your income for the long term; you don’t pay any social security. If you worked on shore, your salary would be at least 25 percent less due to this.
- Invest time in your own financial education. Read my column in Dockwalk every month, look at investment websites, learn about inflation, property leverage, risk and compound returns.
- If in doubt, take advice. Understand your limitations and build a team of trusted advisers in different fields; speak to other crew about what they do with their money (but don’t follow just one).
* Emergency: at least three months’ salary in a bank account (preferably six months)
* Education: when and how much (is it for the next course?)
* Spending money: limit yourself to a set amount each month
* Property purchase money: how much will you need for a deposit, and when
* Long-term money: 25 percent of your salary
* Your country of citizenship
* Where you own real estate
* Where you spend the most time
* Where your “dependent family” is based (your home)
When you get to the time when you want to leave yachting (be it after 5 years or 25) it is great to be able to do so because of the way you have managed your own resources… many people cannot leave the industry at the time they want to because they have not taken control of their futures.
Follow every one of these simple rules and you I am certain that you will get the most out of your yachting career…and will leave it feeling that it not only gave you great memories and friends but helped you look forward to a long and fruitful second career or retirement.
This article is for information only and should not be considered as advice.