Many people head off to search for their dream home in France with little more than a sheet of paper from the estate agent, but with a modicum of careful planning, you too can separate the dreams from the nightmares.

In France, properties are rarely surveyed before purchase. If you have experience of the construction industry, doing your own survey is not likely to be too much of a problem, but but what if you have little knowledge of property and you break out in a rash at the sight of a screwdriver?

Well, you’re not entirely powerless. For instance, you could prepare a checklist, to make any future decisions easier to compare. This will also help you decide if you want to instruct a surveyor and help direct him or her to any points you’re concerned about.

As a quick guide, check the physical boundaries of the property and any obvious pipes or cables. Can you see signs of pathways across the land?
Look at the walls from a distance to see if they stand vertical: are there any obvious cracks and are they well pointed?

Inside the house, obvious signs of damp and the smell in the rooms will give you a good idea of the condition of the building. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings produces excellent pamphlets concerning period properties, including ‘The Control of Damp in Old Buildings’. Contact their online bookshop for details.

How old is the electricity meter, when was the wiring in the house last checked and is there sufficient heating for winter time?

Country homes often use a septic tank (fosse septique) for the drainage of wastewater. It is costly to get these fixed if they have not been taken care of, so find out when it was last maintained, run water in the sinks to see if it drains away quickly and are there any strange smells?

There is a useful property checklist on the BBC website that will allow you to compare houses and give you an overview of property.

But if you want to turn to a professional, what options are open to you?

Because the act of surveying a property is not common in France actually finding someone to do the work can be a challenge. However, there are some chartered surveyors in France and many can be found through the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors .

Local builders could also be an option, especially if your property is likely to need a lot of work, they will be able to provide a written quotation. As in any country, it is best to get several quotes, though in rural areas that could be more difficult.

One way of tracking down builders can be to look out for current work being undertaken; in any major renovation project, you will see a board outside with contact details of those doing the work.

Another possible source is UK-qualified surveyors based in France – but make sure they are experienced in French building techniques. Ask them for examples of their work, get an estimate of the report’s price and make sure they are up to date with new building practices.

There are some French-based UK surveyors on the Internet, such as Surveyors en France , Property Advice Online and Surveyors in France.

Often prices can be a little higher, with a detailed structural report costing around £1000 – £1500, but you will not need a translation of the document and it can save you money by providing you with some leverage if the report does highlight any defects.

You can also place a ‘subject to survey’ clause suspensive in your compromis de vente contract, to make sure everything is to your liking.

Whichever option you take, make sure you are clear what you will receive from the survey, how much it will cost and when it will be delivered.

See also:

Craig McGinty is editor of This French Life . The original version of this article, along with many others on a wide variety of subjects can be found on his website

Steve Mansfield-Devine’s images can be found in his online gallery .

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