Buying a house in France: ten top tips

This one needs some work

See also my articles: Surviving in France: 10 top tips (click here) and Eat well in France – 10 top tips (click here). 

The inspiration behind this article is the fact that it is exactly 13 years ago today since we first saw our house. We saw about 25 houses in five days and there were only two we could consider buying – one of which we now live in. When I started this blog, I thought I wouldn’t give advice about property buying in France, since I wanted it to be more about how it is to live here once you have got over that hurdle. On reflection, we learned a huge amount when we bought here, which I feel might benefit people who haven’t yet taken the plunge.

So here it is, with the usual caveat about not being an expert etc, and the fact that we did it a long time ago. All of this is just common sense and the way you’d approach buying a property in the UK, or wherever you live. Why is it, then, that we leave our brains behind when we come to France to look at houses? Answers on a postcard, please.

1. Location, location, location: trite but true. No good buying a château next to a pig farm. Or an isolated farmhouse when what you really want is to live in a village. Be very clear about the environment you want to live in.

2. How far away is the nearest (real) airport? Some areas of France became property hotspots in the early 2000s because of low-cost airlines opening up routes to previously unheard-of airports. But those airlines are just as likely to close routes if they’re unprofitable or if they don’t get the deal they want from the local airport. So make sure that you have realistic alternatives if you need to travel regularly by air.

3. Rights of way: a very thorny issue and one you sometimes don’t find out about until you have actually moved in. Does someone have the inalienable right to move his/her cattle along your drive? If you want your privacy, make sure someone else doesn’t have the right to infringe it.

4. The neighbours: basic common sense, but try to find out about them before committing yourself. What are their foibles? Do they like foreigners? Is the vendor moving because s/he can no longer stand the noise of the grain dryer?

5. Does it have central heating? In the blistering temperatures of August, this might seem ridiculous, but believe me, there are few places in France – Nice, maybe – where you can get away without central heating. If it’s not a big house and it’s well insulated (few stone houses are) you might get away with a couple of wood burning stoves. But if you want to live here all year round, you really need to think about this. Some friends of ours were told they only needed to heat the house for 2 months in the winter – lies!

6. Do you really want a swimming pool? These come near the top of most people’s list. OK, nice to have in the exceptional summers of 2003 and 2009, but unless they are heated you get probably 4 ½ months of swimming if you’re lucky. During that time, you spend a fortune on chemicals (if, like us, you have an old-style chlorine pool) and most of the summer cleaning them. And you are obliged by law to have a security system.

7. How many acres (or hectares) do you want? Folies de grandeur works with a vengeance here, too. It’s nice to have land, but it’s hard work too, especially in the spring when it’s difficult to keep up with everything that needs to be done. Don’t take on more than you know you can cope with.

8. Don’t overstretch yourself: a very important lesson we learned from a French agent. Ruins are seductive, but potentially disastrous. They always cost more than you expect to do up. A lot of unfinished properties are on the market because people didn’t allow enough margin for error.

9. Don’t over-develop a property: another very important lesson from a French agent. Every property has its maximum value – whatever you do to it after you have achieved that is wasted in terms of increasing the property’s value. So, if it’s basically a two-bedroom cottage with half an acre, trying to turn it into a manor house with gold taps in the bathroom is on a hiding to nothing. You’ll spend a lot of money but won’t recoup it.

10. Get the succession sorted out: In France, you cannot disinherit your children. There is a very strict line of succession to property and, although there are ways around it, you would be well advised to make sure that you have thought about all this before buying. In these days of extended families, second or third marriages etc, inheritance is very complicated. Please don’t write in, I’m not an expert. You need to get advice to make sure that nobody loses out.  New EU regulations have changed things since I wrote this five years ago, so definitely look into it and make your plans according to your personal circumstances, your succession objectives, etc.

As usual, I sound like a real wet blanket but these things really are important.

Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved

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