Australians Sharon and David Stratford on buying in France

The StratfordsAustralians Sharon and David Stratford fell in love with France on their first visit to the country in 1995. On subsequent visits they realised that purchasing their own little piece of France wasn’t out of the question, with rural property prices relatively affordable. The Stratfords have since gone on to purchase three properties in France and have built a business, French Desire, to help other Australians through the French property purchasing process. Sharon has also written a book (called My French Desire) in which she shares their property purchasing journey as well as their trips to France.

What is it about France that made you fall in love with it?

So many things – the food, the history, the landscape/countryside, the architecture, the culture/lifestyle, the language (David has learnt to speak fluently)…

Was purchasing your first property on the other side of the world a daunting process?

Not so much a daunting process more a long and frustrating one but we got through it in the end which is why we now want to help others to avoid some of what we went through or at least know what to expect. We were a little daunted when we first contemplated buying five years earlier when we discovered how relatively inexpensive places were there. We were looking then at places worth $25,000 AUD which we could have purchased with our credit card but were unaware then of the foreign ownership restrictions – we subsequently learnt there aren’t any (and those same places are worth 2-3 times that now, so it is definitely a shame we didn’t look more seriously into buying then.

What were some of the lessons you have learnt along the way?

One major lesson was that the French don’t have our same sense of ‘time being of the essence’ with contracts. There are many processes which need to be adhered to which take time, and don’t try to rush settlement, especially during the summer holiday months of July and August as not too many people are around to help.

David and yourself now run a business to help other Australians purchase property in France. What are some of the formalities and legalities that someone purchasing a property in France should be aware of?

French publically appointed notaires handle the purchasing legal process which is a different system to ours, as are the inheritance laws (where children automatically inherit property on the death of an owner) and types of property taxes (of which there are a few to be aware of).

What services does French Desire offer to help make the property purchasing process a smooth one?

For a start we have a free fact sheet you can obtain from our website www.frenchdesire.com.au but we also sell guides and offer a consulting service to help people. We also run property purchasing workshops and tours to France.

With the recent Global Financial Crisis and the weakening of the Euro, is French property still as affordable as it was when you made your first purchase?

It is actually probably a better time for people to buy now than when we purchased. Property prices dropped after the GFC but have now recovered – in fact, property in France was less impacted by the GFC than many countries as French banks’ lending practices have always been relatively conservative. The strong Aussie dollar and low mortgage interest rates in France (for those like us who want to borrow money for their properties) make it a more ideal time. Our first place cost us €50,000 which at the time, five years ago, was equivalent to $80,000 AUD. Now it would have only cost us $65,000 AUD.

Do most of your clients purchase their properties with a view to renting them out for short term holiday lets and if so, how do they go about managing their properties from afar?

While some want to buy to keep the place for themselves/friends, most want an income from their holiday home when they are not there themselves. France, being the most visited country in the world with 80 million tourists a year and a growing number of them Australians, means holiday rentals are not that difficult to obtain and local property managers are definitely the way to go as it is hard being 20,000 kilometres away in a different time zone and not necessarily speaking fluent French to try to manage it yourself.

What are your five top tips for someone considering purchasing a property in France?

1) Amour – buy for your love of France
2) Combien – different regions/types of property etc have different prices, so do some research beforehand
3) C’est la vie – be prepared to say this a lot but don’t worry, you get there in the end
4) Je ne regrette rien – just like the Edith Piaf song, don’t look back or get too concerned if not everything goes totally to plan
5) Joie de vivre – this is how ecstatic you feel when you finally own your dream place in France.

Interview by Carolyn Schonafinger, founder of www.holidaystoeurope.com.au

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