Been there, done that, ruined the T-shirt
The first rule to remember if you decide to follow this course is not to pay too much for your heap-of-wet-stones in the first place. Property prices in rural France can be erratic and never more so than when you come to the desirable stone house that is certainly not habitable and needs a fortune spent merely to make it so. These splendid old wrecks are usually owned by the previous inhabitants’ children, or even grandchildren. They are local of course, they have their own houses, they probably have no pressing need to sell and they will certainly ask as much as they think they can possibly get away with. Sometimes an immobilier will prevail and the prices will be reasonable, after negotiation they may even be cheap. Unfortunately it’s more likely that the will of the stubborn paysan prevails and the asking price is way beyond what the property is actually worth. He’s chancing his arm, there may be somebody out there who’ll fall desperately in love with the view and be prepared to pay any price for it. Unfortunately for us more often than not there will be. He’ll be a cold, damp foreigner of course, too busy for lengthy negotiations and too wealthy to worry unduly and so the prices continue to rise. But take heart, all that’s needed is some good in-depth research. There are some fabulous properties out there, at very reasonable prices; all you have to do is find them.
The first step to ensuring you don’t pay too much – whether you can afford it or not – is to look at the prices of fully renovated properties like the one you intend to buy. Be careful here too, the new owners may not be beyond a little arm-chancing themselves. If you have a selection of some twenty properties in the right area you should be able to gauge the average price. Make sure your intended pile-of-wet-stones costs significantly less. A good guide would be less than half the amount of the finished property for a farmhouse with sound stone walls. If you’re buying a barn with absolutely everything to do it should be less than that. (Our property sales pages will help you here) Bear in mind not only the cost of the materials to renovate but also your time. If your property has no roof, no plumbing, no electricity and dodgy walls you will effectively be re-building from scratch. It will take a long time and time is money whether it’s yours or a professional builders.
The second rule is to consider where you’re going to live whilst you’re renovating. Some people opt for a caravan or camper van on-site, which is perfectly viable of course, but in the winter months it may be a tad uncomfortable, if you have children it could be downright disagreeable. Have you considered a long-term let? Properties that are let out in the summer months as holiday gites can often be rented at incredibly low prices during the off-season. Another option is to buy a small village house, with all the essentials, and sell it again when you’ve finished. Naturally you’ll need a little more to be able to follow this option, but village houses can be surprisingly cheap, especially if they have no garden. They can even turn out to be a long-term investment as they can be rented out in the summer months. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have the plans in place before you go ahead with a possible purchase.
Third rule. Get your finances in place. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many people get into a pickle at this stage because they’ve been carried away with the beauty of their intended new home and perhaps not yet got a purchaser for the old one? Be sure to make allowances for all the annoying setbacks that are bound to occur. The planning permission being turned down first time round for instance, meaning that you have to pay for three months more rental accommodation than you originally bargained for. In the end lengthy transactions are usually not too much of a problem, vendors will probably wait, and immobiliers won’t lose the chance of a lucrative commission unless the world caves in on them, but it can all be incredibly stressful.
Finally make sure you have permission to do whatever it is you are intending! Not all previously inhabited buildings can be renovated without planning permission. If you’re intending to install new windows or doors in old stone walls, you will certainly need revised permission. If your desirable-heap was once a barn you will need full planning permission. Introduce yourself to the local maire. He can be of invaluable assistance in all the formalities and can also be a staunch ally if things start to look dicey. He will be local and he’ll know just who to go to if you need help or advice. If you don’t speak fluent, or at least half-decent French try to find a local Notaire who speaks English, it will make long-winded bureaucracy so much easier. Then, before you embark, bone up on the essentials. Read all the latest books on the subject (see our recommendations ) and absorb the advice of those who’ve been through it and come out the other side relatively unscathed.
Now, providing you have the skills for the job – or know a man who does – you should be all set. How many T-shirts have you got?
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