Property viewings are an exciting stage on the road to buying a property in France but remember to think with your head as well as your heart. Here are 10 tips for successful property viewings
1. Do your homework before you leave
It is essential to book appointments before you travel. Don’t expect to walk into an agency and arrange viewings then and there, as the chances are the agent or vendor will be busy. Note that properties you’ve seen online may have sold by the time you arrive, especially in a busy market. If you need to arrange finance to buy a property, do it before you leave. Having a mortgage in principle puts you in a much stronger position to negotiate.
“Do as much research as possible from the UK before you come to France – don’t waste your precious time in the country.” Peter Elias, Allez Français
“Before you leave, check out the weather forecast, traffic and French school holidays.” Patrick Joseph, My French House
“Make sure that the properties you will be viewing are in the locations (and have the aspects) you want.” Wendy Bull, Wendy’s Houses
2. Choose agents carefully
If you’re using several agents, take care they don’t show you the same property. It may be worth choosing one or two agents and building good relationships with them. If your French isn’t that good, make sure they can speak English, and well enough for you to feel comfortable discussing things such as budgets and contracts with them.
“Group appointments for individual agents as it’s better to be with an agent for a day than an hour here and an hour there.” Charles Miller, Charente Immobilier
“Choose your agent carefully – go with those offering detailed information about properties and good quality photos.” Peter Elias, Allez Français
3. Prepare the timing of your viewing trip
Don’t be tempted to cram in too many viewings each day. Allow plenty of time to travel between properties and to do the viewings themselves. Is it a good idea to combine a holiday with viewing trips? It can work, but you need to set aside definite times for property hunting, and perhaps don’t drag the whole family along. Ideally, a dedicated property viewing trip is best. It’s also preferable to visit out of season. Not only will agents and vendors be more likely to be available, roads will be quieter and travel and accommodation will be cheaper. And, of course, if you like a property in winter, you’ll love it in summer!
“Weekday visits are much more productive; avoid visits on Sundays.” Patrick Joseph, My French House
“Have definite times and a schedule of viewings booked in advance of arriving with your chosen estate agencies.” Wendy Bull, Wendy’s Houses
“If you are running late call the agent – he or she may have other appointments.” Charles Miller, Charente Immobilier
4. Take time to explore the area
Presumably, by the point you’re ready to book appointments with agents, you will already have decided on a general area (or maybe several). If you’re not familiar with the specific areas (perhaps you know the region but not the particular village), work in some time to explore the locality. You can do plenty of research online before you set off for France, but nothing beats actually being there. If possible, arrive a day before the viewings and leave at least one day at the end too, for any second viewings.
“Select an area and view properties in that area only. Don’t dash around France viewing one here and one there.” Jane Smallwood, Agence l’Union
“If you’re buying as a couple or with other people, make sure you’re all present to avoid too many viewings.” Matthieu Cany, Sextant Properties
5. Talk to your agent beforehand
You can make appointments to see agents to discuss your requirements, making it clear that you will want to view properties while you’re in France. French agents often prefer to work with clients, matching their properties to buyers’ requirements. In France, the agent will almost always accompany you on viewings – they will meet you there or even drive you to the property. Meet the agent at their office beforehand; you can discuss your requirements if you haven’t already and check out their set-up including their carte professionnelle certificate, which shows they are correctly registered. It goes without saying that you should always use a qualified and reputable agent.
“Visit the agency’s office as shortlisting and preparing visits with the agent in person can save you a huge amount of time in the long run.” Charles Miller, Charente Immobilier
“Before you view talk to somebody who has actually seen the property. Too often buyers select a property from the website thinking that it matches their wish-list, but without talking to an agent who has actually visited, they don’t always get the full picture.” Jane Smallwood, Agence l’Union
“If possible, get in the same car as the agent – you can pick their brain mercilessly about all aspects of life in France!” Julie Savill, Beaux Villages
6. Be properly equipped
It makes sense to dress comfortably and wear sturdy shoes – you may be exploring uneven gardens, climbing lots of stairs or stepping over broken floorboards in a renovation project. Don’t forget a raincoat or umbrella, sadly the sun doesn’t always shine in France! Take a notebook to record the pros and cons of the different properties, what you like and don’t like. A camera is an essential tool, it will help you remember all those details that merge together after a few days of property viewings. On full viewing days, the chances are your agent will have built in time to stop for lunch, but it might be worth taking along food and drinks just in case.
“At the viewing take a photo with your phone that tells you the location so you can easily find it on a map later on.” Sally West, Leggett Immobilier
“Take your time to visit the house, at least 30 minutes. Fast viewings mean another viewing will need to be arranged to check what has been omitted at the first one.” Matthieu Cany, Sextant Properties
“If hiring a car, check out the driving regulations and have your sat nav up to date with all the relevant maps.” Patrick Joseph, My French House
7. Ask questions
Pick the agents’ brains, about both the area and the property itself. You may want to ask why the owners are selling and how long the property has been on the market, and if there are any major infrastructure developments planned for the. Continue your questions once you reach the property. How long has the vendor lived there? What work has been done to the house? When were the electrics/plumbing/roof last replaced? What fixtures, fittings and furniture are included in the sale? Is there mains drainage or a septic tank, and if the latter, where is it? What are the neighbours like? Can the adjoining land be built on? Does anyone have a right of way over the land? Is good broadband available? What local amenities are there?
“Ask for a cadastral plan so you know the boundaries and can check these out during a viewing.” Sally West, Leggett Immobilier
“If you wish to rent out the property after purchase, ask for a rental evaluation in advance.” Wendy Bull, Wendy’s Houses
“Check when the property will be available, especially if it will be a main residence.” Matthieu Cany, Sextant Properties
8. Be honest with your agent…
What if you realise quite quickly that you don’t like the property? You should be honest with your agent, without being rude to the vendor, of course. As politely as possible, tell them the property is not suitable for your requirements so that you don’t waste everyone’s time or get the vendor’s hopes up. As you go through the different viewings, make sure you let the agent know what you like and don’t like, as this will help them to select further properties for you to view.
If you haven’t found a property you want to buy, make sure you give clear and honest feedback to your agent(s), in order for them to ensure any further properties they show you will be suitable.
“If an agency shows you details for a property you have already seen you should tell them straight away.” Julie Savill, Beaux Villages
9. …and trust your agent!
If you have a set budget, but also have an extra amount in reserve that you’d stretch to for the perfect property, let the agent know. It would be a great shame to miss out on your dream home just because the agent thought it was out of your price range. Seek the agent’s advice on whether the vendor will be open to negotiation, and if so, by how much. Although the agent is mandated by the seller, they should be able to advise you professionally.
“Don’t rule out wildcards – something that doesn’t look good on paper can often be completely charming in the flesh.” Julie Savill, Beaux Villages
“Remember that the properties you think you like may not be the ones that are right for you so allow time for the agent to find better suited properties so that you can view those too.” Jane Smallwood, Agence l’Union
“Be open to suggestions from the agent as they know their properties and the local area and as they get to know you they are in a great position to help.” Charles Miller, Charente Immobilier
10. Compare the properties you’ve viewed
Remember to think with your head as well as your heart, it can be easy to get carried away. Don’t be tempted by properties that are impractical or over your budget. Look through the photos you took during the viewings and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Go through the notes you took and make a list with pros and cons for each property. Also compare your notes with your original wish list: which property ticks more boxes?
“Make a list of your must-haves and after each viewing give the property a score for each element (you will soon see which one you really want to buy that way!)” Sally West, Leggett Immobilier
“Define what you want to the point of knowing exactly what you need as a minimum, and those areas that you cannot compromise on.” Peter Elias, Allez Français
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