We asked FrenchEntrée regular readers to share the benefit of their house buying experiences with others looking to buy a house in France. It was interesting to find that a reoccurring piece of advice was to be aware of the area as many have experienced their village or town to be far noisier than anticipated. Here is a selection of what they had to say…
Watch out for the French commercial law that stipulates the right for the leaseback operator to claim compensation should you wish to end your lease – even at the end of a 9 or 11 year term. Few professional leaseback operators do this, but no one ever mentions this possibility to you when you buy the property!
Do not part with UK property as we did and then buy. Rent, stay in a campervan, caravan or camp first in the area that you may choose and research the potential property; farm traffic, dogs and cockerels all may not turn out to be the French idyll or dream that is hoped for.
Apart from the obvious (check for mains drainage, electricity, water) location is very important. Don’t be bowled over by the most wonderful house only later to find you are miles from the baker and grocery shop. It may not seem so important before you move in, but being able to walk to basic food supplies (bread, milk) can seem far more important when you are actually staying there. Yes of course you can do a major drive to the supermarket, but it’s a real pain if you find you’ve run out of milk.
If you are thinking of buying a house, take off those rose tinted spectacles and think long and hard about how much time and money it’s going to take. It can take years if you are doing all the work yourself, and could become a chore rather than a pleasure. Having said that we would still do it all again!
We were lucky because we bought a house from another family member in a village that I have visited for 20 years and my wife for 45 years.
However I would recommend other people to try renting a house for a year near where they want to buy to discover just how good or bad communications are, the local’s attitude to the English and, if you want to live in an Anglophone enclave – what are the English like?
One of my cousins recently bought a house in an area with a large Anglophone population (after over 20 years with French second homes she still can not shop in French), but cannot stand most of the English neighbours!
My one piece of advice when buying French property is to check out as far as possible your immediate neighbours as regards their potential reaction to ‘foreigners’ moving in next door. This is not always easy to do. I have been very lucky in my small village in the Mayenne with kindly advice and help on many occasions from immediate neighbours and even those further away in the village. This is probably obvious advice; however, I have heard of quite a few Brits who have experienced a distinct lack of cooperation in their locality.
In my experience, all attempts to speak French are welcomed and if in French company it is polite to speak French to your partner and use your native language as a last resort. You’ll be surprised at how helpful people will be when they find you try; don’t hesitate to ask them for help and encouragement as they’ll often be pleased to give it and enjoy your novelty value.
If there is an AVF (Acceuil Ville Française) in your area, join it, it is a few euros a year and is an organisation that welcomes newcomers to an area and has lots of activities to join in, so everyone will be new(ish) like you. We met the other English speakers who live here, made lots of new French friends and have weekly conversation groups. You will also learn about the area, its traditions and get first hand help with any problems you may face. We also got invited out to meals, fetes and for aperitifs soon after joining.
Give local practices a try: gathering shell fish, fishing for shrimps and finding the best places for picking seasonal hedgerow fruits are all fun; again the AVF will introduce you to the local experts and show you how to do it safely.
Finally, take time to talk to neighbours and greet strangers politely when they pass if you live rurally as it will pay dividends. Send a Christmas card to every neighbour; it’s not a local practice but it’s one they really like.
The advice I would give to anyone buying a property (be it in France or the UK) is to really be aware of the immediate area before purchasing. Visit the house often and at all times of day and night. We thought our village was a peaceful little haven but how wrong we were. Huge Lorries trundle past our door along with noisy thundering tractors that serve the goat farms that surround us – hence the flies! We have a night club up the road and off a beaten track. This means that every Friday and Saturday night we resign ourselves to staying up all night as the cars stream (sometimes nose to tail) to the club up until about 3am, and then start returning as the club is open until 6am. Do your homework. Don’t rush into buying. Be aware of vacant plots as they can be built upon.
I have been in the Sarthe region of France for 5 plus years now and it hasn’t been all plain sailing, but I wouldn’t go back to the UK now.
You do need an income and a placid personality I think. If you have a pension or have an income from the UK, or where ever, then it can be great here, but there are huge drawbacks if you are planning on working. The French have a closed shop as far as working here is concerned. My daughter and her husband are going back as they find it too dull here! They run a successful gîte business but find there is not enough happening here for them. No takeaway food places and local restaurants are shut mid week and in the evening, except for the bigger towns like Le Mans.
There’s no doubt that nothing can be done in a hurry, the French don’t know the meaning of haste! Customer service is very poor, and I’m not sure the European Union exists in France! Having said that, I like it here because of the space and pace of life. There is mostly farming and forests in this region, with the exception of the racetrack.
The supermarkets have a limited choice and it’s not cheap in France for food or artisans, so my advice is grow what you can and do the work yourself.
A word of warning about planning permission…
An English couple who bought a house near our village did the work on their house, and added a balcony and hot tub etc. However, they forgot to tell the local mayor, and now that they have applied (retrospectively) for permission they have been turned down. They now have to take down the balcony, which they had built into the roof, and get rid of the hot tub because it is visible from the road!
Don’t listen to the dream sellers and try before you buy. Make sure you have a solid business plan in place to fund both your property purchase (don’t forget renovation costs if applicable) and your new lifestyle. If that means selling up in the UK or remortgaging your property in the UK then my advice would be don’t – rent it out until you have spent at least 2 years over here and are 100% sure it’s what you want.
I’m sure that this will be advice from many others, but I would strongly advise using a UK solicitor (one with the specialist knowledge of course) as well as the obligatory notaire, especially if you are not onsite in France. I would say that the extra few hundred pounds are a wise investment, even if your French is good and even if you are buying through an English estate agent.
We did this with our first French purchase of a holiday home and the UK solicitor spotted that the estate agent in France hadn’t asked for our necessary “cooling off” signature. She was also able to speed-up what was a slow moving process, ensuring that we had actually exchanged contracts by the date we were due to arrive at our property with the furniture. She also arranged so that we could exchange contracts without actually being present in the notaire’s office. Plus, she advised on the inclusion of the “clause tontine”, which is about joint ownership of the property and the passing on of ownership directly to the surviving spouse should one of us die.
We DIDN’T do this when we tried to sell that home and buy another. This transaction involved the same estate agent and notaire for both parts of the transaction and we had contacts in France acting as our go-betweens/agents. I think the French system is pretty sound since safety clauses and break points can be incorporated in the process to protect both parties. The buying part went fine but the selling was disastrous, because, unknown to us, neither the French estate agent nor the notaire secured the deposit from our buyers, who pulled out AFTER the contractual date agreed. This left us with a house full of packed boxes, a removal man to cancel, wasted time on discussing renovation of the new house, and several months before we could get our own deposit back – there was a few hundred euros deduction for which we still haven’t got an explanation (notaire’s fees I guess?). In theory, we should have been compensated in these circumstances – the buyer’s deposit allows for this should the buyer default. In this case, there could be no penalty on the buyer because they had never paid a deposit.
I am convinced that this wouldn’t have happened if we’d trusted our instincts not the advice of our local contacts and engaged a specialist UK solicitor again. So this is my key strong piece of advice!
A big thank you to all you readers who sent in advice!