Show business

Catharine Higginson has some useful advice on how to make the most out of a visit to a French property show

House-hunting for a French property is an exciting business. It can also be exhausting and time-consuming so anything you can do to minimise the costs and the strain involved is usually a good idea.

Visiting a French property exhibition is a great way to get information on a large number of properties within a short space of time. You will also be able to speak to a large number of agents, developers and other experts. There are now several shows being held throughout the year across the UK and attending at least one is a must for anyone who is seriously considering buying a home in France.

Although entry costs are usually very reasonable and may even be free if you book in advance, you will also need to factor travel costs into the equation and if you live some distance away, you may want to stay overnight so that you can get the most out of the trip. Attending a property show is a commitment in terms of your time as well as money so it makes sense to plan your visit to get the most out of the day.

Before you go, you should spend time doing some background research. If you haven’t yet decided on a particular area, try to get as much information as possible on the different regions and the types of properties that are available within your price range. Tourist boards will often have a stand at the larger shows, such as the France Show at Earls Court in January 2011, which is a great way to find out about things to do and see in a particular area.

Regional property agents will also be able to tell you more about their region and chatting to people like this is a great way to get a feel for a region. Even if you think you are certain that a particular area is right for you, it pays to be open minded. France is a large country and there may be places that you have never considered, simply because you are unaware of their potential.

Property magazinesMost buyers will have at least an idea of their intended budget so it makes sense to look at what you can get for your money in different regions. Research like this can easily be done beforehand, either online or by looking at advertisements in French property magazines.

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This may also affect your eventual choice of region and property type. For example, if you have always yearned for a spacious house with land, there will be far more choice in more isolated rural areas. Equally, if you want to be close to one of the large cities or the coast, prices will be higher and you may have to compromise on the property type to get the location you want. If you have a clear idea of the going rate for different types of properties in the areas you are interested in, you will be far better placed to avoid anything that is over-priced and hopefully, also be able to spot a bargain.

If you do not already have finance in place, now is the time to think about how you plan to pay for your purchase. Representatives from various mortgage lenders and independent financial advisers will be in attendance at a property exhibition, so if you are going to require a full or part mortgage, try to work out some rough figures beforehand and take any necessary information along with you.

It also makes sense to create a wish list. Start by listing any elements that you consider essential. Once you have created a rough list, you can then number these points in order of importance. Obviously everyone’s list will be different. For example, for some prospective buyers, the view will be the single most important factor whereas others may be happy to compromise on the view if it means the property comes with more land or better outbuildings. There is also the coup de c�ur factor which may mean that you fall in love with a particular property that takes you by surprise.

Creating a list like this, combined with research into area, average prices and finance options, should give you a pretty good idea of what you will be able to get for your money. This will allow you to set a budget and fine tune your property search at the show.

Most of the bigger shows will publish a programme of events beforehand. This will include any seminars that are being organised as well as listing the main agents, developers and experts that will be in attendance. Seminars are often free to attend but you will probably need to reserve a place in advance or on the day. They tend to be hugely popular so do make sure you book early. They are a great way of picking up information and tips from experts on matters such as inheritance law and tax planning. Once you have decided which, if any, seminars you would like to attend and reserved your tickets, it’s time to start planning the rest of the day.

Highlight agentsIf you know which regions you are interested in, highlight all the agents that deal with those areas so that you can make a must-visit’ list. This is invaluable and will save you from wandering aimlessly and being distracted by the hustle and bustle of the show.

If it is a large venue and the programme includes a floor plan, work out where the agents on your list are located and plan your visit accordingly. Attending the show can be tiring so any pre-planning like this that you can do will save you time and effort on the day itself. It also makes sense to write a list of any questions that you have for agents or other experts.

Take one large notepad with all your questions written down and leave spaces to fill in any answers and make further notes. If you plan to visit properties in the near future, take your diary having blocked out any time that you have ear marked for viewing trips; this way you will be able to arrange appointments.

When you arrive at the show, make sure you collect a programme and spend a few minutes getting your bearings. Go and visit any agents or developers that you have previously targeted and see what they have to offer. Agents will be delighted to chat to you about their areas and the properties they have available.

If there are properties that look interesting, ask when you would be able to view them and make a note of this. At the end of the day or after the exhibition, you can then make a list of possible houses and agents and arrange a viewing trip. If you find the perfect property, you may want to make an appointment to see it there and then, but it makes sense to wait until you have visited a number of agents and seen what they have to offer.

As you work your way around the exhibition, mark off any agents that you have seen in your programme and put a line through any whose areas or properties are not relevant. It’s a good idea to take frequent breaks to review who you have seen, what you have discussed and make notes on any conversations you have had. Besides, there is usually a wide selection of delicious French food and drink to be tasted and enjoyed so a short break is a good excuse to indulge in something tasty.

You can also use these breaks to make sure you have the contact details for all the agents you have spoken too and it is sensible to record these in your notepad, just in case you lose their business cards. It is also a good idea to write yourself a little reminder as to who is who. This will help jog your memory after the event which can be vital if you have spoken to multiple agents.

If you don’t find your dream home, don’t despair. Many people spend years searching for the right property and having attended the show, you will have a much better idea of what you would like and what is available for your budget. With this information to hand, you can then target agents who deal with the type of property that you would like and you will be far better placed to carry on looking.

After the show, don’t forgot to: review your findings; contact agents and check agency and private sellers in your target area advertising in Living France and on

Top tips

Wear comfortable shoes

Exhibition centres can be hot so wear layers of clothing that you can slip off if needed

Take a bottle of water with you – talking about property can be thirsty work!

Carry a large bag for all the property details and information sheets you will pick up

Keep an eye on the time so that you don’t miss out on attending the seminars

Frequent breaks for a drink or a snack will help get the most out of the day

Don’t forget to enjoy the process – after all, it’s the first step on the journey to becoming a French property owner Image � James Higginson