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What to Avoid

This is by no means a definitive list, but with 20 years of international property experience I see them crop up year after year. The odd thing is that they are all easily avoided. Cut out these five basic errors and you have a much higher chance of landing yourself a piece of local real estate which will appreciate in value and tug at your heart strings every time you pull up to the front door.

1. Failing to do your research:

France is an enormous and diverse country with differing prices, architecture, climate, culture and economic influences. Don’t even think about choosing a region to buy in without having visited it.

On the assumption that you have done this and have, wisely, chosen the Charente then your job is only half done. This area has a totally different character in Winter than Summer. Bigger towns such as Angouleme, Cognac & Saintes remain lively throughout the year with plenty of activities (bars, restaurants, indoor pools, bowling alleys, ice skating, golf courses, cinemas, theatres etc). However, the smaller towns, villages and hamlets can seem quiet and remote out of season…you may of course see this as a benefit.

Factor in all your requirements from access to the coast to the timings of the school bus, some of which take a circuitous route and mean extremely long school days.

The golden rule of “location, location, location” still holds good. Work out the towns/villages within the Charente you want to be near and then look for the ideal house. Don’t be swayed by a beautiful property in a secondary location.

2. Not scouring the market:

There are over 50 estate agents in Angouleme, 40 in Saintes, 25 in Cognac and countless others in Jarnac, Chateauneuf, Barbezieux, Ruffec, Aigre and all points in between.

Of course I’m not saying you need to visit them all but you should certainly be visiting enough to give yourself the “comparable evidence” you need to make a sensible economic decision. Valuing property in France is very different to the UK where most people know the value of their house give or take 5% (if you don’t then go to www.hometrack.co.uk and within seconds you’ll have a good idea for free).

There are some terrific agents in the area. Honest, professional and hardworking, they will go the extra mile to help you and you’ll find they give you a far wider range of service than their UK counterpart.

Just make sure that you give yourself a fair crack of the whip…you’re unlikely to dig out those few remaining gems without putting in the legwork first.

3. Buying when it’s sunny:

Yes, I know it sounds obvious, it’s just such an easy trap to fall into.

Think about the tricks that UK developers use to lure you into buying – visit any new development in London, Birmingham or Manchester and it will be beautifully furnished (often with three quarter size beds) with fresh flowers and lights blazing. If they could somehow make the sun come out they would literally pay millions to do so.

All of those furnishings divert your attention away from the size and shape of the rooms and help hide negative aspects of the property. Sunshine has the same effect but intensified tenfold. Fall in love with a house on a gloomy day or in the Winter and when you see it blazed in sunshine your heart will soar. Fall in love with it on a Summers day and when you see it in the Winter you may be in for a nasty surprise.

If you are viewing in the height of the Summer and can’t avoid the sunshine then at least drive back at first or last thing and view it in the semi-light. Similarly spend longer than normal looking at the roof, drainage, general condition and location – imagine it in the depths of Winter. The climate here is much better than the UK but we do still get the four seasons with rainy days and frost mornings.

4. Buying too much land:

Most UK purchasers are fairly sophisticated. They have seen the programmes and read the reports on how to renovate a house and become a property millionaire overnight.

This means that the old chestnut of buyers taking on full renovations with no idea of time, effort and cost is thankfully becoming more of a rarity, although it does of course still happen.

Yet the same principle applies to the land that goes with the house. Particularly for urban buyers who are seduced by land values in the Charente. They see an opportunity to “have a few acres” but forget all about the time and effort needed to keep these in trim….particularly if they are buying a holiday home. Beware, grass grows at a phenomenal rate in Spring and that beautiful and tidy garden you fell in love with has suddenly become a hayfield and you don’t have the time or equipment to bring it back under control. We’ve all read the books where the local farmer says no problem and pops along with his tractor but the reality can be somewhat different.

5. Not negotiating the price:

People who are willing to negotiate and play hardball in their UK day jobs suddenly do a 180 degree about turn and pay the full asking price without any genuine attempt at negotiation.

The merest hint of another potential purchaser and it’s buy at any price. Of course it’s difficult to find your dream home and once you’ve found it you don’t want to lose it but the truth is that the market isn’t as “red hot” as it was a couple of years ago.

My personal opinion (ie to be taken with a large pinch of salt) is that for properties under 180,000 euros it’s still a sellers market. There’s plenty of demand from both French & international buyers and the best houses will sell for close to their asking price. Of course there are plenty of houses that are blighted in some way or simply overpriced but if you have done your research you should be able to spot these.

However, for properties above this price demand is lower than it was and it is more of a buyers market. There’s usually plenty of choice and you are in a position to negotiate on price. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule but let’s face it, if you don’t ask you don’t get.

So there we have it, five simple mistakes to avoid when searching for that idyllic Charentaise home surrounded by vines, sunflowers and charming locals.

Of course if you don’t have the time, money, inclination or experience to come across and personally dig out the gems then you could always employ a local property professional to do it for you!

Graham Downie

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