By George East
Make up your mind exactly where you want to buy. France is a big country, and prices vary depending on location. Also, you may like the idea of being deep down south in grape-growing country with fabulous weather in the summer, but how far do you live from the south coast of England, and how long will the journey take on the other side? Generally, the further away your holiday home is, the less often you will be able to visit it.
Decide on the sort of property you really want at an early stage. In my experience, (and as any French property estate agent will tell you) most people end up buying an entirely different type of property from the one they originally thought they were looking for. Couples often go over the Channel afire with the idea of living in isolated splendour in a restored farmhouse or derelict chateau, but sensibly opt for a more realistic village property with much less to spend on restoration (see 3. and 4.), no huge area of land to worry about keeping in order, and neighbours to get to know and keep an eye on your investment while you are away.
Set a price limit and try to stick to it. It’s so tempting to go over budget when you see what just a few thousand more pounds will buy. It may be a sensible move to spend more on a property which is fully restored, but you should definitely beware the siren call of a ruined castle with bags of potential costing less than your modest home in the UK. And don’t forget all the ‘hidden’ costs, like the fees and taxes you, as the buyer, will have to pay when you find your dream home. They may well not be included in the asking price!
Think carefully about borrowing money to realise your dream, and even more carefully about who you borrow from. Apart from having to make the repayments, you may find all sorts of ties and conditions associated with a holiday home, and the exchange rate may not do you any favours if you borrow in France.
Don’t underestimate the cost and challenge of restoration. A very general rule of thumb is that a full restoration of a derelict property will cost at least three times the asking price. Sometimes it is much, much more. You may think you’re a master builder because you can put a shelf up fairly safely, but have you ever fitted an entire new roof including rafters, or installed a septic tank? The cost of skilled labour can be even higher in France than in the UK, and communications can be difficult if your restaurant French can’t cope with telling a plumber you’d rather have the sink unit in the kitchen than the sitting room.
Think very carefully about the downside of sharing the cost of your dream home with friends. The idea of halving the outlay and running costs by buying a property with another couple may seem a perfect proposal, but just wait till you get to the nitty gritty of what colour and style the curtains should be, let alone what sort of property you want, and where it will be.
View your potential purchase in the winter, at least a dozen times, and in the sober light of day. I know people who bought their home in France after just one viewing visit, and lived to regret it. The story about falling in love with a place and buying it on sight sounds fine, but love is blind, and all those little problems like deathwatch beetle and subsidence can be missed if you are full of enthusiasm or red wine.
Be sure your partner really shares your vision and dream. You may start off thinking that you both agree on exactly where you wish to buy and what you want from a holiday or retirement home, but are you sure? All too often in my experience, one partner will agree to the other’s fantasies to keep the peace, and the truth will emerge only when it is too late.
Remember your property will usually take much longer to sell than it was to buy. Unlike in the UK, it can take two years or more to sell your French property if you need to. Buyers are spoiled for choice, and may not share your idea of a perfect holiday home.
Take your time. It’s so easy to settle quickly for what looks like a perfect holiday home at a crazy price. There may well be an even better buy just around the corner, and besides, looking is part of the fun!
Copyright George East