Avoid the French property pitfalls

PUBLISHED: 12:46 09 April 2019

There's much to think about when buying a property in France (© Getty Images/iStockphoto/turk_stock_photographer)

There's much to think about when buying a property in France (© Getty Images/iStockphoto/turk_stock_photographer)


Whether you’re buying a French property as a holiday home or plan a full-time move across the Channel, you can enjoy a smooth start in France with this overview of the process

Don’t rush contracts

One of the biggest pitfalls is not checking all commitments when you sign a contract, something which can be easy to do if you’re given a contract in a foreign language. Even if your French language skills are reasonable, using a translator is advisable. With the aid of a translator you’ll be able to understand exactly what you’re signing up for and what your commitments are. Don’t feel rushed into signing contracts either. It’s fine to ask to take documents away with you to process in your own time.

Don’t just go private

While dealing with a private seller may have its benefits, such as a lack of agency fees, it can also have its problems. The seller may also overstate the price of the property due to the lack of agency fees.

Be sure to visit estate agents in the area where you wish to purchase property and check out online property sites so you’re aware of all your options. An experienced local agent could ease the process and help you avoid any misunderstandings, especially if there is a language barrier.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that agency fees tend to be a lot higher than you would pay in the UK (expect to pay between 5% and 10%) and fees you see quoted will rarely include legal fees.

Remember notaire fees

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to avoid paying notaires’ fees. While it is normal practice for both buyer and seller to use the local notaire, you can use your own, which won’t cost you extra. This might be worth exploring if you want an English-¬speaking notaire. Both your and the seller’s notaire would then share the relevant fees.

It is also worth noting that some notaires also act as agents, so you may see property advertisements in their window. The level of commission charged is quite often lower than that of an agent (5¬6%), so it is worth exploring when searching for your dream home.

Visit in winter

If you visit the area you’re planning to purchase property in during the winter months, you won’t be under any illusions about what living in your dream destination will be like year round. You’ll also be able to find out whether or not you’ll have any neighbours during the darker months or if the area of your choice is packed full of holiday homes. It may also be useful to know which restaurants, shops, and bars stay open for the entire year.

Unsure? Rent first

Purchasing a foreign property is a big step to take, and if you decide you’ve made the wrong move you’ll have to go through all the hassle of selling it again. To avoid running this risk you could try renting a property in France before buying. It will give you an idea of what it’s like to live in the area, and also give you more flexibility to search for your perfect property if you are in the country.

If you’re unsure where to start, or where in France you would like to live, renting first is a great option. Additionally, by becoming familiar with the town and the locals, you may be able to find out about properties that aren’t being advertised through estate agents, which could prove to be a huge money saver.

Make the most of trips

Even if you decide not to rent in the area first, it’s likely you’re going to want to visit France and seek out prospective property before you buy.

Try to limit how many trips you take over, and condense your property viewings into a couple of trips (or as few as possible) as multiple unsuccessful trips to France in search of property is a waste of time, effort and money and could even put you off the endeavour.


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Use the internet

While there’s no substitute for visiting potential properties in person, the internet is a great place to start your initial research. Something you may want to start with is looking up historical property prices in the areas you’re interested in. By checking out price trends you’ll have a better idea of whether you’re purchasing when prices are at a peak or in a trough. Looking into current property prices will also give you a better gauge of what you can expect to pay and fair market value. Making use of something as simple as Google Maps and Street View can be extremely helpful and save you time in the long run as you’ll already have some idea what the area is like when you eventually travel over to France.

Be clever with currency

You’ll probably need to move money to France to fund your property purchase, but how you choose to do this can make a big difference as to how many euros you have to spend. Using a specialist currency exchange broker will give you access to more competitive exchange rates and help you avoid fees you might otherwise be charged by banks. You’ll also be able to benefit from expert guidance and regular market insights, helping you pick the best time to make your currency transfer.

Furthermore, currency brokers offer services such as forward contracts, which allow you to fix a rate up to two years ahead of making a transfer – great if you want to know exactly how much you’ve got to spend and want to protect your transfer from exchange rate fluctuations.

Don’t underestimate renovation costs

Even small renovation projects in France can cost you more than you might expect, so it’s important to have contingency funds to fall back on. Before you decide to buy a rustic barn in the French countryside to convert into your dream house, take a step back and see you if you have the proper funds and time to tackle this momentous task.

Another thing to bear in mind is whether or not it’s feasible that you will make your money back on the renovation if you wish to sell the house in the future – you may want to consult a local estate agent for their thoughts.

As long as you’ve done your research and seek expert support where needed, the process should be smooth sailing. Good luck in the search for your perfect home!

Millie Empson is a currency analyst at TorFX

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