Buying in France: should you go for the problem house?

Buying in France: should you go for the problem house?

A Property with a problem can be a blessing in disguise

In a buyer’s market, house hunters have the luxury of being picky. Most buyers in France currently don’t want to take on renovation projects or and as soon as they find something negative about a “problem” house they skip it and continue the search for their dream house. Although I agree that certain problems should always be avoided, others could in fact be a blessing in disguise – as long as you know exactly what you’re doing or have a local property expert on your side!

Deal breakers

Problems that always should be deal breakers are those things that you have no control over and can’t change, such as a house that is on a busy road, has a smelly business activity nearby, or with unattractive views. Now matter how much of a bargain it is, one day you’ll have to sell up and the same problems will haunt you.

Perceived problems

Properties with perceived problems are my favourites. Homes with unusual colour schemes, extreme clutter, or overgrown gardens tend to chase away most buyers. Although these issues are easily remedied it requires a lot of imagination to see the house underneath the clutter. Such superficial problems are ideal tools for buyers when it comes to negotiating down the purchase price. The risk with such houses is of course that the seemingly innocuous problems can hide more serious issues. A critical and experienced eye therefore remains essential.


Legal problems

And then there are the houses with legal problems, such as awkward rights of way or disputed boundaries. Buyers should be extra careful in those instances, but they can offer a good bargain for those willing to take on the problem head- on.


On a recent search in the Luberon I came across a house with a very unusual problem. The gorgeous property seemed to exactly fit the requirements of the clients but its low asking price made me suspicious. The agent explained that the house had almost been sold countless times in the last four years, only for the buyers to get cold feet at the last minute every single time. The house had three acres of land surrounding it, but the lawn between the south-facing terrace and the pool was owned by the village. I think that would be a deal breaker for most of us.

The Luberon is a protected regional park and the plot in question had a spring on it, explaining why the village had never wanted to sell. When the owner’s father had the holiday home built, he had accepted the situation with a Gallic shrug, but his daughter was now paying the price and was unable to sell the property. The mairie luckily had recently agreed to sell the most important part of the plot, while retaining the section with the spring, located down the hill and out of the way. The owner unfortunately could not afford the extortionate price and the house had been lingering on the market at a hugely reduced asking price.

The clients were not the types to shy away from a problem like this and once they saw the property fell head over heels in love with it. While this busy couple was back at work in London we negotiated the transaction so that their purchase of the partial plot from the village would be a condition precedent to the purchase of the house. At a total price even lower than the asking price! What a happy ending – the village got to keep the spring, the owner had finally sold the house and the clients own a gorgeous property in a sought-after location for an amazing price.

SOPHIA MOSESophia van Woensel-Mose is a lawyer and licensed property professional. She lives in Aix-en-Provence and is the Provence search agent with The French Property Finders, France’s premier network of buyer’s agents. You can contact her on [email protected] or +33 (0)9 81 12 45 63.

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Sophia Mose is a licensed buyer’s agent in southern Provence and runs Provence Search, covering the Aix-Avignon, Alpilles and Luberon areas of Provence. Before moving to France in 2005 tri-lingual Sophia was an international finance lawyer in New York and London.

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