How to pick the perfect second home in France

How to pick the perfect second home in France

Not much beats the thrill of turning up on a well-earned holiday and unpacking your case ready to go off exploring. Not much, except the excitement of turning up to your own home far from home.

Just think, your summer clothes that you only get to wear in the warmth of southwest France would already be in your wardrobe, your favourite toiletries waiting on the bathroom shelf  and you’d know the kitchen was equipped with every knife, gadget and dish that you miss when you book into a gîte.

And then there’s the fasttrack start to your holiday. You already know which bars and restaurants you want to visit, which towns make for a gentle afternoon’s sightseeing… and which don’t warrant a second glance. A quick trip to your (favourite) local supermarket to stock up and you’ll be in a deckchair in no time.

Location, Location, Location…

There are three key considerations when you start your property search: location, price and property size. Knowing your area is a massive head start as you begin looking for your bolthole. For most of us, the decision to buy follows idyllic holidays in a place that ticks all our boxes. If you aren’t already in love with one particular area, take time to do a recce and make a shortlist of the places that really speak to you. For us, from previous holidays we knew that the Charente/Dordogne borders were an area with much to recommend it. The gentle, hilly landscape, the rivers, the white stone farmhouses – it all called to us.

We took a two-week holiday to scope in more detail the areas and villages that we preferred. Some 20 years later I still have the map with rings drawn around villages and towns we liked, crosses through those we had ruled out and long, looping ovals along scenic routes where we thought we could happily find a home. It helped us focus and it certainly helped our agent get us to the right place more quickly.

Make a wishlist

Of course, if the property is more important than the actual area then that opens up a much wider world of possibilities. A detailed property spec (musthaves, nice-to haves and no-nos) is extremely useful to an agent supporting your property search. Keeping the must-haves and no-nos as brief as possible will give you the widest choice. And stay open-minded. Time after time we see people fall in love with properties they wouldn’t ever have picked out on a website.

One thing you will want to consider is accessibility. Being near an airport (and by ‘near’ I mean within about an hour), a TGV station or major road routes will make zipping back and forth to your heart’s content easier. And if you are going to be renting your home out to help cover the costs, ease of access will add to the appeal.

Setting a budget for your French property

One key question you need to ask yourself is how much you want to spend. This could affect where you start looking and, although there are no hard and fast rules, in general the further south or the nearer the coast you go, the higher the premium on the property price. And in between there will be pockets where prices are higher, say, around key towns with airports, such as Bergerac, or near tourist hotspots such as Sarlat in Dordogne or Carcassonne in Aude.

Most properties are advertised with fees included and you will need to budget for around 8% notaire’s fees on top. That includes what would be known as stamp duty in the UK. The rates vary a little depending on the price of the property and you can ask for a quote if you need to be precise when making an offer. Bank on 8% and you won’t be too far out as a rule of thumb.

Competition for good properties is hot right now so you can help yourself secure a deal by being ready by knowing how you are going to fund the purchase. If you need a mortgage or a loan on a UK property, get that lined up ahead of time. Even an agreement in principle will help you be taken seriously as a committed buyer. You should expect to be asked how you will fund the purchase and even to provide proof of funds at the point of making an offer (for example, a mortgage or loan offer or a bank statement showing the funds are available).

Deciding on the perfect size for your property…

You’ll want to consider the costs of having a second home and that includes things such as heating (if you want to use it year-round) and help with garden maintenance.

A home that sleeps two, four or six will be easier and cheaper to run than something larger and if you are considering letting the property, there is a good market for smaller homes.

Other things to factor in are garden maintenance, if you will be away for long periods, and pool upkeep. Whether or not to have a pool is a very personal preference. They make summers fabulous, especially if you want the family to visit. If you want to rent the property, a pool will mean you can charge more per week.

And then there is land size. Land is plentiful and cheap in France. Up to 1,000m2 is plenty for most people. Less is pretty attractive too, and a courtyard garden of 100m2 can be a no-maintenance joy!

Starting to search

So, you’re ready to start the search? The first port of call for almost everyone is the internet and since the health crisis, property details are becoming more enhanced, often with video, 360° tours and great quality photos.

If a property you like the look of doesn’t have a video, ask the agent to go and do a walk-through for you. Even better, if the property has good internet access, ask them to do a live viewing via Whatsapp or Zoom so you can take a good look around, stop and ask questions and get a real feel for the property’s features and surroundings.

If the vendors are present, you also have the chance to ask them about local services and events and what they have loved about living at the property. You can use online resources to narrow the search, then take a trip to see your shortlisted favourites. Get your dates booked and make sure your agent knows when you’ll be on the ground and able to view. Then sit back and let them arrange what could be the trip of a lifetime where you find your home from home.

Written for French Property News magazine by Julie Savill, the Marketing Director at Beaux Villages estate agency in France

Looking for more property-hunting advice?

Every issue of French Property News magazine delivers in-depth regional buying guides, sound and trusted advice from leading experts, inspirational real life stories, renovation tales and lots of lovely properties to browse. FrenchEntrée is your go-to online resource for buying property and living in France.

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