Choosing the right property in France

You may have dreamed of a stately ch�teaux or a quaint cottage but a new-build might be more practical, says Penny Zoldan...

When you decide that you would like to buy a property in France, there will be a number of decisions to make. For some where it is’ is the all-important question, for others what it is’ is more of a priority. You may have dreamt of owning a ch�teau, a manor house, a mill house, a thatched cottage or a property from a particular period of history and France can offer you the opportunity to buy all of these and more.The choice is huge – from former railway stations to presbyteries, lock-keepers cottages to substantial maison de ma�tres, you can find anything and everything in France. Some of the more sought-after properties include mas, which are plain rectangular stone properties found mainly in the south, and bastides which are more impressive but of similar structure to mas – with thick walls and smallish windows. In the north, thatched cottages and half-timbered homes (colombages) are the most popular, while chalet-style properties are the kings of mountain resorts. Villas, both old and new, with their Provencal red roof tiles, covered terraces and wooden window shutters are popular too, as are terraced townhouses, perfectly situated for popping out for a caf� cr�me and a croissant in the morning.If you love the look of these more traditional houses, but can’t face the maintenance and draughts that go hand in hand with character properties, then you can even have a replica with all the mod cons built to your specifications. Alternatively, there’s nothing stopping you from building a contemporary, super-modern property or a green’ home.Apartments too come in different shapes and sizes, some in converted old buildings, some in brand new purposebuilt blocks with state-of-theart facilities.Remember that even the plainest of properties can be made to look chocolate box’ pretty with artfully placed pots oozing brightly coloured flowers or a carefully trained climber, such as bouganvilla or virginia creeper.You may have fixed ideas about the style of property you are seeking, or it may not bother you, as long as the accommodation and location suit you. But, when you are searching for a home in France, it might help to heed the following five steps...1) LocationIf you have a certain style in mind, then you may need to be flexible about your location; it’s no good expecting to find an Alpine chalet and mountain views in Picardy. Certain areas offer specific architecture, for example there are some areas where stone was never available and therefore there are no stone properties – Pas de Calais and Seine-Maritime are two such areas, where you will find brick built or colombage properties, whereas if you look further west into the Manche department or Brittany, you’ll find that stone properties abound.2) AccommodationThe style of a property usually dictates certain characteristics, that may or may not fit your brief. For example, many older properties in the south have small windows as they were designed to keep the house cool – no good for someone looking for a light and spacious’ property. Some will have a sequence of rooms leading from one to the other (no good for a B&B) or low doorways – not ideal for those over six foot! Terraced houses in towns and villages generally have narrow staircases and accommodation may be spread over several floors, not great for the elderly, disabled or toddlers.3) Running costsConsider the running costs of the property, for instance, a thatched roof might cost more to maintain than a tiled or slate roof and a poorly insulated stone house could cost a lot to heat. You may find that there are not enough bathroom and toilet facilities or that the wiring is truly ancient, all additional costs to take into consideration.4) SpaceWhether new or old, make sure there is sufficient space for your needs. You’ll also need to consider that your life in France, and therefore your accommodation requirements, may differ from your life in the UK. For example, in the southern half of France, much of your time will be spent outdoors, so a lovely covered terrace could be more important than a spacious dining room inside. If you are buying a second or holiday home, an open-plan kitchen might be more appealing than it would in the UK, as you won’t want to be shut away in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun.5) The great outdoorsThe style of property often dictates the amount of outside space that is likely to be attached to the house. For instance, apartments don’t always have balconies and terraced village houses often have no outside space at all. Meanwhile, ch�teaux and manoirs may have acres of land that you really don’t want and which will be expensive to maintain. Be aware that gardens are a responsibility and that, unless you love gardening, you may be destined to spend all of those supposedly relaxing holidays toiling away just to keep the weeds in check.If you don’t have green fingers, but still want some outside space, it may be worth considering property within a development, where the communal gardens will be maintained by the management company on your behalf.