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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Le viager - qu’est-ce que c’est ?


We all know what it takes to sell a home: freshly brewed coffee, the smell of baking bread in the oven - but if you're buying under the ancient French system of viager you'd do better with a pile of medicine bottles in the bathroom cabinet and a nasty-sounding cough.

Since it is a unique French system of selling real estate, I answer your 'qu’est-ce que c’est?' also in French: Le viager consiste à vendre un logement à une personne qui verse en échange une rente viagère au vendeur jusqu'à son décès imprévisible.

In other words, in a viager deal, the buyer pays a knock-down price for the property - but can only take possession of it when the owner dies.

What complicates matters is that the buyer must pay the former owner (now the tenant) a monthly fee for the duration of their natural life - which could be months, years or even decades. And if all that sounds a bit like gambling on how long a stranger has left to live ... well, it is.

Because it's forbidden to question the seller about their health, it also throws up incentives to indulge in a bit of theatrical behaviour. "Some of the sellers ham it up a bit," one viager estate agent said. "They sit on the sofa, with a blanket over their knees, and don't move. But actually they're in good health."

There have even been cases of sellers outliving their buyers (with the buyer's heirs having to continue to pay the monthly fee), and in a more recent case, a former firefighter in France was on trial for the alleged murder of a 92-year-old woman whose property he had a 'viager' contract on - with the murder weapon said to be a madeleine cake. Shades of Marcel Proust? (click here)

And then there is the famous story of Jeanne Calment. She was the oldest living human, who lived to the age of 122 and outlived her notary, Andre-Francois Raffray. He purchased her apartment in 1965 when she was 90 years old, promising to pay her 2,500 francs per month until Jeanne died. He ended up paying twice the market value for the apartment before dying himself in December of 1995 at the age of 77, leaving the debt to his widow and family. She outlived them all! (click here)

The film "My Old Lady", released in 2014, with Maggie Smith playing a dowager lady ensconced in a viager deal, and Kevin Kline the penniless son of the deceased buyer, who turns up in Paris hoping to sell his inheritance, introduced this ancient and arcane way of selling real estate - part of French law since 876 AD - to Australia where we only have the reverse mortgage as its far-from-nearest thing.

Maybe I should consider selling "Riverbend" 'en viager'! With a cancer operation and six weeks of radiation behind me, enough melanoma surgeries to play 'connect the dots' on my body, and currently on a course of anti-cholesterol pills, I wouldn't even have to ham it up.

Googlemap Riverbend