Estate agent Trevor Leggett shares insider tips to preparing in advance of your house viewing trip in France
As Confucius once said, a few centuries BC: “Success depends upon previous preparation and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”
Who am I to argue with one of the most famous teachers, politicians and philosophers of all time? These words are not only inspiring, they are also a word of caution.
So, you want to come across to France to look at a shortlist of properties to buy? Let me share my experience of many years as an estate agent here and help you to make sure that your trip is successful.
I’m going to assume that you have been to France a few times before and know the area in which you want to go property hunting. If this isn’t the case, I would argue that your time would be better spent exploring the different regions than actually visiting houses.
France is such a wonderful, varied country and you want to make sure you have chosen the area that best suits your needs. Climate, landscape, food, culture, accessibility and, of course, house prices will all play a part in deciding whether you want to be in an old rural farmhouse or a swanky villa on the Med.
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
The very first thing to do is to look at your finances and the budget you have to spend. Every day the newspapers report on how tight the lending criteria are at the moment and you shouldn’t just assume that you’ll be able to raise the same amount of money that you were promised last year.
Speak to a specialist mortgage broker or go into your bank. Look at all of the options available – whether to borrow from a French or UK lender, for instance – and make sure you fully understand the maximum budget you have to play with.
At our agency we have seen sales to UK purchasers rise by 31% already this year but we have also seen a number of potential sales fall through because the purchaser hasn’t understood their borrowing capability. The end result is a disappointed buyer, a doubly disappointed vendor and a very frustrated estate agent.
Next up, you should check that your budget matches your expectations. There’s no point coming across to buy a ski chalet in Chamonix if you only have the funds to buy a rickety old barn in Creuse. You can do this by logging on to the Notaires de France website (www.immoprix.com) which has the average prices of each region, department and major town.
Be aware though that these figures can be misleading as international buyers usually want a property that is in a prime location and therefore more expensive.
You would also get an excellent overview of asking prices by simply trawling through property websites. By spending some time researching the market like this (and even picking up the phone and speaking to some agents out here) you will get a good feel for what the prices are like in the area you are interested in.
FOLLOW THE SIGNS
This leads me nicely on to choosing which houses to view. The world has changed enormously in the last few years and you will no longer be at the mercy of an agent taking you on a wild adventure at madcap pace to see totally unsuitable properties.
Just about all agencies in France now have websites with at least a couple of photographs showing the house. Some have even introduced virtual tours on their websites so that you can really understand how a property flows, where it sits within its grounds and what the neighbours are like.
Spending time understanding the properties you want to view will mean you won’t waste your trip visiting houses with too few bedrooms, looking at kitchens that don’t suit your taste or walking round gardens that don’t meet your needs. Of course, any house may still not be the one for you but you’ll have a much higher chance of success.
Speak to the agent before your visit so that he or she fully understands your brief. If you are able to give them a written specification of what you want then so much the better.
List out what are ‘must-haves’ and then add on the ‘nice-to-haves’ so that the agent understands your priorities and what would constitute a deal breaker. For example, if you really need four bedrooms or more to accommodate all your family then make this clear to your property finder.
OUT AND ABOUT
So you have decided on an area, scoured the internet and briefed your agent. What’s left?
Well, I’d suggest that you pack a compass (the sun doesn’t shine every day and you may want to know which way a house is facing) and a camera to take photos so that you can remind yourself which house was which. Take a map with you as well so that you always know where you are in relation to the nearest towns, motorways and airports.
Try to keep in touch with your agent too. If you’re running late, give them plenty of warning and never decide you’re not going to attend a viewing without giving notice. It may not seem like a big deal to you but I assure you that such impoliteness doesn’t go down well with agents or vendors.
Remember that France is a huge country and some of the rural roads can be slow. Don’t put yourself under pressure by booking in too many viewings in a day. It’s tempting to cram a lot in but far better to take your time understanding each property.
Doing your research in this way isn’t rocket science, and as our old friend Confucius says: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”.
Trevor Leggett is chief executive of Leggett Immobilier (www.frenchestateagents.com)