One of the biggest difficulties in the Paris property market is gaining access to information. There are centralised online listing services that greatly ease the search for the right property in most major markets; but not in Paris. This lack of information makes finding the right property hard work, especially for non-locals without a good knowledge of the market. 'One of the more surprising results of this haphazard system is that nearly half the properties in Paris are sold directly by the owner, without involving an agency,' said Miranda Bothe, managing director of Paris Property Finders. This is where property search services can be extremely useful. Despite these difficulties, buying a property is a relatively straightforward process that takes about three months to close. The role of the notaire, who must handle the legal aspects of the transaction, is crucial in this process. Buyers with no knowledge of French are recommended to find an English-speaking notaire. Peter Vines, senior consultant France at CB Richard Ellis, said: 'There are no real legal issues for buying in Paris.' Legal protection for buyers in France is strong and several types of inspection are required by law before a property can be sold, but some buyers prefer their own surveys for extra reassurance. The main cost will be the notaire's fee, which is the tax on the transaction, and will be 7 to 8 per cent of the purchase price. Although this might seem high, Susie Hollands, director of Bonapart Consulting, said annual property taxes paid in France were relatively low and would work out to about Euro1,000 (HK$9,896) a year for an average property. However, Ms Hollands said, because most properties on the market were old, buyers would normally need to take into account a budget for renovation of about Euro1,500 per square metre. Most foreign buyers of property in France take out a mortgage with a French bank. The process requires more paperwork than is the case in some other markets, but the advantage is that French banks are willing to lend to buyers. Mortgage advice service francehomefinance.com managing director Tahminae Madani said foreign buyers had to make a minimum 20 per cent down payment and repayments must not exceed one third of income. It is also necessary to set up a bank account in France for mortgage repayments.