How to start a property search in France
- Credit: Aliaksei Lasevich - Fotolia
If you are planning to buy a property in France then you need to prepare before embarking on a house-hunting trip. Here is our guide to starting a property search in France and finding your dream home
You’ve dreamed for years about buying your own little pied-à-terre in France, and 2015 looks like the year when the dream could become a reality. So far, so good and SO exciting! You probably already have in your mind’s eye just the sort of property you are looking for, but there are a few things you can do to make the search a pleasant voyage of discovery.
1. CHOOSE AN AREA OF FRANCE
First up, and most important, is to get a grasp of just how huge France is. Roughly three times the land area of the United Kingdom, but with the same population, this is a big country where you can cover considerable distances if you are not sure in which area you want to end up. Before you start booking viewings, take a road trip and check out a few of the areas you have earmarked as possibles. Have a good old-fashioned paper map with you; circle the possibles and cross out the places you dismiss.
2. VILLAGE OR COUNTRYSIDE?
You don’t have to pin it down to a precise village or even one department, but start with a rough area with a radius of an hour’s drive, and once you know whereabouts in France you want to be, try to refine the sort of location you are looking for. If you want to turn up, park the car and not drive anywhere for the next week, proximity to a village will be key. Bear in mind that competition for edge-of-village properties is keen, and as a result, you’ll be one of many asking to be able to walk to the nearest baguette. A village with a boulangerieand a bar will attract even more attention, and if you throw in a restaurant and shops, then competition really starts to hot up.
Many people have a wish list that starts with ‘edge of village’ and goes on to list ‘no near neighbours’. On the whole, you don’t get the one without the other, so perhaps you’ll need to buy a bicycle or decide to consider neighbours as an aid to learning French and integrating into the local community.
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At the other end of the spectrum, splendid isolation can seem the perfect antidote to UK city or suburban living. You want your own space, to be able to play your music loud and not worry about disturbing anyone. Here we come back to how big France is. It is perfectly possible to find a property that is absolutely isolated – but that might mean a 20-kilometre drive to the nearest village shop, and even further to medical support or emergency services. Isolation can be a lonely way of life, especially if you are used to having shops and services in a nearby town. And, if you are hoping to rent your property out for part of the year, your guests will appreciate a shorter drive for the weekly food shop.
Privacy, on the other hand is a different issue, and there are countless properties that will give you the best of both worlds. Consider properties that are a short drive from a town or village but which have a good-sized garden and are not overlooked by neighbours. They’ll offer the seclusion you seek, but with the convenience of a community and services close to hand.
3. NARROW DOWN YOUR CRTITERIA FOR A PROPERTY
Enough about the area; one of the most satisfying things in this process is deciding exactly what you want from your property. This is where you need to start some more lists.
List 1: ‘Must-haves’:
List number one should be things that are absolute must-haves for you. So, if you wouldn’t consider a property that didn’t have a barn, put that on your list. Have a think about condition: would you renovate, change kitchens and bathrooms, do a bit of decorating? Or do you just want to turn the key and move straight in? What about property style? Do you want a traditional stone longère or a modern low-maintenance bungalow with room to expand?
And then there is land. The temptation is to go for as much as possible as land in France is relatively cheap. Think first though; would you be happy spending your days mowing the lawn, or would you rather be relaxing in a deckchair? Lots of land, even a big garden can be a burden if you are not there to maintain it. If your move is full-time then it’s less of an issue. A couple of sheep or goats will help, and you’ll be there to care for them.
List 2: ‘nice-to-haves’:
If a feature would be a lovely bonus, but isn’t absolutely essential for your property search, put it on this list. If outbuildings would be handy, they go on this list. If you would like a pool but would put one in given enough space, put it on this list.
List 3: ‘absolute no-no’:
List number three should be the complete barriers to a purchase. You might want a property completely on its own – so neighbours would be a no-no – or alternatively, you might want the security of being in a sociable community, in which case isolation would be off-limits. If you have horses, being on a main road could rule a house out, etc.
In all of this list-making, bear in mind that every absolute you add to a ‘must-have’ or a ‘must-not-have’ list reduces the choice a little more. Until you have actually viewed some properties and got a feel for how much choice there is at your chosen budget, try not to limit yourself too much. Time after time we see people start with what feels like a very clear idea of their ideal French home, only to end up buying something completely different.
3. KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR BUDGET
Keep an eye on the exchange rate and how that might affect your search. Two years ago the pound and the euro were heading for parity, but in January 2015 the rate went through €1.34 to the pound. That makes all the difference to how far your money will go, and if rates are fluctuating, it’s never too early to get some advice on how a currency broker can help you get the best value.
Before you start the property-buying process read: 12 things you should know about buying a French property