House Buying in Southwest France in 1997

First, thank you to new readers for subscribing and following my journey through life in Southwest France. It’s been a busy couple of weeks here at La Lune, hence no blog post during that time.

This season is always hectic, since there’s a mad scramble to get the garden under control against its best efforts to run wild. Then there’s the French tax return, which is akin to pulling teeth without anaesthetic. Ours ought to be relatively simple, but the online declaration system always throws up some glitch that requires one to re-input the information.

However, in the midst of all this, we found a moment last week to celebrate the 26th anniversary of seeing our house for the first time.

First view of La Lune

Twenty-six isn’t a greatly memorable number, but it brings home how long we’ve been here. The years seem to have gone in a flash, but that is probably a sign that it was the right move for us, despite being a leap in the dark.

We remembered our first view of the house as we drove up in the estate agent’s car. The house almost looked as if it had grown here, and we agreed that it was a magical spot. After some disappointing viewings of houses that bore only a fleeting resemblance to the sales particulars, this one seemed to have what we were looking for.

We were enchanted by the typical Quercy architecture, with an integral pigeonnier (dovecote) and covered balcony and by the rolling, deeply rural setting. You can see more about our house in the links below.

Winter 2017

The trees were covered in fresh spring green, and the grass verges were a riot of wild flowers. A cuckoo called repeatedly in the nearby woodland. In fact, the birdsong that morning was exuberant, something that, sadly, has changed noticeably over the years. The number of migrant birds is fewer, as is the number of blue tits and sparrows that nest in the walls of our house.

House buying 1997 vs 2023

This anniversary also made me reflect on how much simpler house selling and buying were in 1997. Since then, life in France has become increasingly regulated and governed by norms. Property transactions are no exception.

In some respects, this isn’t a bad thing. The regulations are there to protect consumers and the environment. Principal among them is the requirement for vendors to commission and pay for a series of diagnostic inspections of various aspects of the property and supply them to the buyers.

When we bought in 1997, the estate agent told us, “Nobody bothers about surveys”, unlike in the UK, where you are well advised to have a full structural survey, especially of an older property. Who were we to argue? So we didn’t. The house hasn’t fallen down or sprouted cracks since then.

Fast forward a few years to 2003, when we bought our barn, 30m from the house. By that time, compulsory checks for lead in the water pipes, termites and asbestos had to be carried out. An expert came along, had a quick look round and gave the barn a clean bill of health on those three counts.

Our barn

Diagnostic tests

Forward another few years, and a whole raft of tests was added to those, including the property’s energy performance and greenhouse gas emissions. I won’t bore you with the details, which you’ll find on the Ministry of the Interior’s website.

The system has some downsides. First, the inspection fees are not regulated, so specialist firms can charge what they like. In practice, competition means that the prices eventually coalesce, but it may still be worth shopping around.

Second, the inspection results are of varying durations of validity. So, for example, the energy/emissions one lasts for 10 years, while the termite inspection is only six months. If the transaction takes longer, you have to have the termite test re-done.

If we ever sell La Lune, which is a subject I tend to avoid because I love it here, we will have some work to do to bring the house up to scratch, especially for energy performance. While we have already done quite a lot to improve this, you damage the character of the house beyond a certain point. However, we have to accept that we live in a passoire thermique (thermal sieve), which needs to be addressed.

Tomorrow is le premier mai, an important public holiday in France, celebrating la fête du travail. Shops and businesses close, and people offer one another sprigs of lily of the value (muguet) for luck.

I wish you a Happy May Day. I doubt if we will manage another 26 years at La Lune, but we’ll do our best.

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Copyright © Life on La Lune 2023. All rights reserved.


  1. Yes, I remember the fact that surveys were non-existant in France when we bought back in 1991. If you were lucky, one of the local builders would come and jump up and down on the floors to see if they were OK 🙂 I’ll have to look into all the links in the comments – I can’t see how you can make old houses energy efficient without changing their character, unless you have very deep pockets. That said, the energy surveys for houses which don’t have any form of heating tend to come up with A ratings, so …
    Heading to Beaulieu on Wednesday, hope that there’ll still be some candles burning!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was just replying to your email when your comment dropped into my inbox!

      1991! You have been here a long time. I agree about changing the character of old houses. The problem is that they will eventually become unsellable as the energy requirements tighten up. Francis’ comment with all the links is very interesting and illustrates the problem of trying to impose one-size-fits-all solutions on properties no matter what their age and structure.

      The candles will almost have burnt down this week, and they will dismantle the sculpture on Sunday, I think. I’m sure it’s still worth seeing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Vanessa. What a great history you have with your home. No wonder that you love it. Fascinating to hear how things have changed on survey front. Even on our humble shack we were presented with a dossier if diagnostics!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never lived in a house for as long as I have in this one! The diagnostics are here to stay, and the energy efficiency/emissions requirements will become more stringent. Looking back, it’s amazing how nothing like that was required when we bought. Caveat emptor indeed!


  3. Dear Vanessa,

    Thanks for your wonderful blog.It’s always an interesting and
    informative read.

    I thought I’d alert to some current issues concerning the passoire
    thermique status of traditional buildings.In England, thanks to the
    Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation & of the Society for the
    Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Government is reconsidering its
    advice about insulation affecting buildings built of traditional
    materials before 1919.Here in France, the Maisons Paysannes de France
    (MPF) & others of the ‘G8’ (that pass in France for quasi-statutory
    amenity bodies) have stepped up their call for better understanding & a
    more sensitive approach to the upgrading of traditional building built
    up to 1949. Not always so tactfully they are trying to ‘bust the myths’
    about traditional buildings & what was too often dismissed as
    jerry-building & not complying with current ‘normes’.I found these when
    I typed in ‘Maisons Paysannes de France, préjugé, passoire thermique’
    into Mr Google.

    Click to access 2017_accompagnerautorehabilitation_leroymerlinsource.pdf

     Obviously the advice is wordy &, in the French way, refers to plenty
    of other equally prolix documents but it does explain the issues.The
    SPAB advice is simpler & more hands-on
    .The IHBC advice is less user-friendly (/eg/. ), and some of it less
    tactful!(/eg /see John Preston’s paper under
    /.(amazingly long link).


    And but anyway, when do you think you could trek over here to visit
    Zadkine & Les Arques?

    All good wishes….Francis

    Francis Kelly
    Lieu-dit Richard
    46310 Uzech-les-Oules
    Lot. France.
    tel. 05 81 70 12 23
    mob. 06 22 41 45 01

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Francis,
      First, thank you for the kind words about the blog. I’m a sort of Jill of all trades and mistress of none, but I’m always interested to hear from people who know far more about a particular subject than I do. It’s interesting that you should raise the issue of historic buildings, since there was a reportage on the TF1 news recently about just this point. A lot of municipal buildings fall into that category. Some mairies are finding themselves with bills of hundreds of thousands of euros to make energy improvements in order to conform to les normes. And, as the links you have supplied indicate, you have to be very careful not to (a) damage the character of these buildings, and (b) introduce additional problems with lack of ventilation, etc.

      I haven’t had a chance to look at all the links, so I shall save them for a rainy day.

      A visit to Les Arques is long overdue. May is not on for various reasons, but we should have more time in June. I will keep you posted.

      Best to you both.


  4. 26 years! That is worth celebrating, even if not a round number. Congrats!
    Yesterday we got the keys to our new home. I hope May 1st is as auspicious a date for us as it was for you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ooh, you must be excited to take possession at last. I hope you’ll be very happy there. I expect you’ve posted about it. I’ll pop over and have a look when I’ve a mo – life a bit hectic right now!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, the joys of buying and selling. We had the ” no survey needed” spiel from the estate agent back in 2010. One year later, we had to replace the roof!
    Selling was, as you say, regulated to an inch of impossibility. Unfortunately, back in the UK, the love of regulation exceeds even that in France – virtually need to rebuild the house to get a wood burner installed!
    Terry & Shirley x

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m tempted never to try to sell, if I can help it! The trouble is, this house isn’t made for the elderly. The difference between France and the UK is that the buyer commissions and pays for the survey, whereas here, the seller has to organise and pay for the diagnostics. Good luck with the wood burner!


    • It never gets any easier, does it? Our main bugbear is the 3916 foreign bank accounts. Every year, whatever we do, it deletes the data so we have to put it all in again. You’d think they would have sorted out the glitches in that form, since everyone has difficulty with it!


  6. Well this is a bit of a warning for sure. We are just back from France checking on our own project there which has gone wildly over budget and become much more involved than ever imagined. Not a new story, and sort of to be expected. I wrote to you before, once. I did manage to find some good appropriate revegitation grass seed (instead of lawn seed) at the RAGT Jardiniere.

    So we’ve owned the house for 35 years and all these new regulations and inspections are news to me, and have me a little nervous. Our house too is a passoire thermique! But we are really not outfitting the house for year-round use. Down at the bottom of our valley, the winter is not the time to be there and it was always a summer place. The house has never had electricity and while we are installing a modest solar system for lights, we are keeping our gas refrigerator and will continue to use lots of candles as it is part of the charm of the place. This thought of having to do a lot of upgrades to it (again) when we sell it is terrifying. Since we don’t have kids, we will eventually probably sell it. I’ve sent you post to our contractor for his thoughts on this.

    Thanks for the warning and let me know if you can add anymore to this.

    Jody Rhone
    Le Moulin D’Olque

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember our exchange about grass seed. I’m glad you found some in the end.

      Sorry to be the bearer of worrying information. But I guess it’s better to find out now than for it to come as a shock later on. I can’t really add more than I’ve already said in the post. When we bought, the inspections were not a requirement, and we have never sold, so I am no expert on them. I can only direct you to the link I gave above to the Ministère de l’Intérieur’s website, which gives full details of what’s required.

      I should have thought that your contractor would know all about the requirements and what is needed to conform to them.

      Bon courage!


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