Insider Knowledge: Top Tips for French Property Buyers

Insider Knowledge: Top Tips for French Property Buyers

We asked our select estate partners and property experts for some top tips to help you with your search in France. Here’s what they have to say:

  • Knowing “where” to buy is very important. France is a huge and varied country and it is paramount that you do your research and know which area you want to buy in. This may mean going on a few trips to France to experience different areas before you even start looking at property.
  • Plan your house hunting trip “out of season.” You will get more attention from your estate agent in the spring, autumn and winter months since in the summer the market is flooded with people combining their holiday with some house viewing. You will also see your future home when the sun isn’t shining and the damp patches are showing! Bargains are more readily found during the colder months of the year as well.
  • Choose your property type wisely. Look for something which has some unique aspect but is manageable. Barns to renovate may be cheap but they will take a considerable amount of money and time to transform them into your dream property. Although you shouldn’t be put off renovating a property you like, be careful that you don’t overspend making it impossible to resell the property for a realistic price should you need to. Land is also very cheap in some parts of France but this doesn’t mean you should buy a whole hectare for yourself. It will be a frequent job to maintain the lawns and again could be pricey.
  • Have a clear brief. Make sure that you have clear objectives about what you want both for the price and type of property. Be sure to clearly explain your brief to your estate agent to prevent wasting both yours and their time. You should have a set budget and be clear about whether it is “all in” to include both the estate agent fees and those of the notaire or not.
  • Don’t get caught out by improvisers. Always ask to see the Carte Professionelle of the estate agent or property finder you are using. Although they are few and far between, unlicensed agents do exist in France.
  • Consider using a property professional. Even if you are fluent in the French language, you may not be familiar with some aspects of French law, the buying process or the local area and it may not be possible to go to France each time a property becomes available. Property professionals can be particularly helpful when making that viewing trip saving time and money – being on the ground and setting up all the viewings for you makes the chances of finding that dream property first time far greater. However, a good property professional will not only save you time and money but help you through the buying process.
  • Be aware of French property pricing. Make sure you have seen a good cross section of the market as you’ll find it easier to judge what a fair price for a property is and what a good property for your budget is. Prices are notoriously difficult to value in France and that is why different agents can market the same property at different prices. Be aware of estate agents’ individual policies. For example the owner might want €250,000 for his house. Agent A charges 5% and so will put it in his window for €262,500, while agent B charges 10% and will be marketing it at €275,000.
  • Don’t let language be a barrier. While some estate agents may not be as friendly or speak English as well as others, don’t let it put you off viewing their properties since, you never know, they may have the “one.” There is also an increasing number of English speaking estate agents in France ready to assist English speaking buyers through the whole buying process from finding a property to finding a local artisan. At FrenchEntrée we have English speaking premier partners.
  • Don’t waste estate agents time… Do not waste estate agents time if you are not in a position to buy. Be honest with them and they will be happy to show you a few houses or let you know the market situation.
  • Don’t rush into buying The most important thing to remember when you are buying a property in France or in fact anywhere, is that it is a large investment and making the wrong decision can be costly. Take you time and be sure that the property you have seen is the one that suits you best in as many ways as possible. Do you really want to be miles from the shops? Do you really want no neighbours? – If the house is to be left unoccupied for long periods of time then does having a neighbour to keep an eye out for you outweigh the need for total tranquility? Over time your priorities may change and moving quickly in France is not always possible.
  • Maximise your spending power. If you are buying property in France, maximise your spending power through foreign exchange by familiarising yourself with the different contracts that you can get with currency brokers . Whether you are transferring money now or in two years time, the type of contract you put into place can mean the difference of thousands of pounds. From one-off transfers to forward purchases and regular monthly payments, there are different types of contract to suit your needs, and help you get ahead of the game.
  • Don’t get into debt for a purchase of a second home. Don’t necessarily expect to be able to let your property. Even in a popular tourist area you may not be able to let your property for more than four to six weeks during holiday periods. A good purchase is a property you can afford with no letting and without a massive loan. Many British buyers in France have had to sell their French home since they bought something they couldn’t afford but thought they would be able to rent out to make up the financial shortfall.
  • Be prepared to move very quickly for the right property. Make sure that you have your finances in place before you start your search. The banking climate has changed, even if you qualified for a second home loan a year ago that might not be the case now. Be honest with your estate agent about your financial situation. Too many buyers say they are “cash purchasers” when they do need loans or have a house that needs to be sold, this can cause problems later on in the transaction when a contract is prepared and the vendors suddenly find that their “cash buyer” has morphed into a less desirable state.
  • Get your mortgage pre-approved. If you are planning to complete your purchase using a French mortgage it is a good idea to get preliminary approval. This ensures you have the funds in place and serves as proof to the vendor, giving you a strong hand in negotiations. It also provides you with additional peace of mind and enables you to complete the property purchase quickly.
  • Avoid getting gazumped. You may think that you have time to sort your finances out after you have had your offer accepted or that there is no hurry to get the contacts signed but beware – it does and can happen in France. Remember that your offer is not official until the compromis de vente has been signed by both yourself and the vendor.
  • Use a good notaire. Notaires not only vary in price but also in quality. You can choose your notaire so don’t forget this. Recommendations are a great way to find a trusted and reliable one. Remember that the notaire acts for the state and if you want your own legal representative you are entitled to use one. You are also allowed to do a pre-purchase survey on the property and RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) qualified surveyors are increasing in France.•With thanks to our estate partners and property finders in France.

For further information or for help with your property search, please call our consultants at +44 (0)1225 463 752 or email [email protected]

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Sylvia is a freelance journalist based in France, focusing on business and culture. A valued member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia is a regular contributor to our publication.

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  • pomhorn
    2014-09-12 11:11:50
    Hi Ideally , when one has determined which region one prefers, it would be advisable to spend a month in a gîte on the spot ( and preferably not in the holiday season, also because of weather questions ) to check properly how it would be to live in the area before signing a "compromis de vente".