Things to consider when viewing a French apartment
PUBLISHED: 16:15 11 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:15 11 May 2018
If you’ve spotted an apartment in France you want to buy and have booked a viewing, use our French apartment viewing checklist to help make sure you find the perfect flat for you
Before you go inside the apartment...
Does the apartment come with parking? If yes, make sure you check it out. If it doesn’t, what are the nearby options and what are the associated costs?
Which direction does the property face? It’s an important point but one that easily escapes the check when trying to look at everything during a viewing. This would be particularly important if you’re looking to rent the property (a south-facing sun-flooded living area/terrace will be more attractive) or if the building is particularly exposed to winds or harsh weather that might impact its upkeep.
The roof – even if the apartment you’re viewing isn’t on the top floor, asking about the roof of the building is important as costs can be huge if it isn’t in a good condition. For copropriétés, ask to see the état d’entretien de l’immeuble (the building’s maintenance booklet), which will list past work carried out to the roof and other common areas.
Make a note of the communal areas and shared facilities. For city apartments, are the communal lights working? For holiday development flats, is there a pool or garden? Does it look well cared for? What is the rubbish and recycling set-up? Ask where the bins are located and have a look at them. Are they overflowing? How often are they collected?
It’s impossible to tell what your neighbours will be like from one or two property viewings but look out for bad signs. Noise, of course, and mess around their front door or outside space.
When you’re inside the apartment...
Are there any signs of damp? Scan the ceilings, windows and walls. Look out for dark patches, curling wallpaper, blown plaster, rotting wooden frames... anything that might suggest that the property has a leak. Keep in mind what time of year you’re viewing the property; damp might be harder to spot in warmer months.
Measure the rooms. This is so simple that it can be overlooked, but it’s important, not only so you can remember them and compare them to other properties, but also in case you have any specific furniture you’re hoping to use, so you don’t have to take a gamble.
Plumbing. Always turn on a tap. See how quickly the hot water flows and find the boiler and check its condition. This is an easy thing to miss and an expensive mistake to make.
Noise and sound is particularly important when viewing apartments. Can you hear your neighbours or the nearest road? How good is the internal insulation between rooms? If you’re viewing a city apartment on what looks to be a busy road, ask for a morning viewing so you can hear the road at its loudest. For bigger complexes, think about the time of day you’re viewing. Is it quiet because everyone is at work/school/on holiday?
Is there a good internet signal? This is extremely important for both a permanent residence and holiday home. In most cases, there’ll be no problem and you might feel silly for double checking but how relieved will you be that you asked if it turns out you’re viewing a property in a well known bad connection spot.
Make sure you understand the external space and any additional areas that come with the property, from small balconies to storage spaces. If you’re viewing a city apartment on the first floor, it is possible that it’ll come with a cellar. Top-floor apartments might benefit from a roof terrace. Consider the upkeep and costs of these too.
Ask to see – or have a copy sent to you afterwards – the apartment’s technical diagnostics; compulsory items on this form include lead risk, asbestos report, termites report, natural, technological and mining hazards report and more.
Take videos. Photos are valuable too, of course, but nothing beats a video on a viewing. It is rawer and if you’re viewing quite a few apartments on the same day, it’ll help transport you back instantly to how you felt at that particular moment in a way that photos just can’t.
Questions to ask during the viewing...
Why is the vendor leaving? What is their position? Try and get a feel for the vendor and their property situation. Are they ready to go? Are they mixed up in a long chain?
Are there any planned developments? Pose this to the estate agent and the local town hall if you can. What is the foreseeable evolution of the neighbourhood? Ask to see the plan local d’urbanisme. For city apartments, look out of the windows, check building projects nearby that might cause disruption. If looking at an apartment in a block or holiday development, scan the surrounding land for the start of any future builds that may impact your future property.
Is this a listed property? Ask whether the apartment is located in a périmètre protégé. Buying a listed property can seem like the dream but there are some harsh realities that come with a protected building, such as certain restoration commitments.
What fixtures and fittings are included in the sale? This is dependent on the seller, so make sure you know what goods you’ll have to budget for. It is not unusual in France for vendors to take absolutely everything with them, from lightbulbs to – can you believe it – their fitted kitchens.
What are the copropriété annual charges? If the apartment you are buying is a coproprieté (co-ownership) then you will become joint owners (copropriétaires) of the building’s common spaces such as corridors, walkways. This means you’ll have annual charges to pay for the maintenance of these spaces. These fees are usually paid to the building’s syndic (manager). How much is the taxe d’habitation (French residence tax) and the taxe foncière (property ownership tax)? Don’t get caught out by unknown costs. Make a note of what your annual costs will be after the property purchase.
What are the estate agent fees? An important question, as agency fees are a lot higher in France than the UK, and they vary from agent to agent. The advertised price should include agency commission (FAI means frais d’agence inclus) but it’s worth double checking. Also, don’t forget to budget for the notaire’s fees.
Finally, I’ll end on this. Listen to your gut. After you’ve ticked your ticks and crossed your crosses, go with what you’re feeling inside. Go with those first impressions and lingering feelings. When combined with some solid knowledge too, they rarely let us down.
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