Finding an area to live
I will assume that you already have a region of France in mind before thinking about moving. I will assume also that you have visited the area several times, in all seasons of course so you appreciate that France is not non-stop sunshine.
You know know that the area will meet your requirements in terms of climate, accessibility (airports and roads) and the facilities available in the area. I assume you haven’t really, but that is how (in theory at least) you should start your search. In reality France is just too large for a working person to explore even a few areas in detail before making this decision.
In recent years, new improved transport links have opened up a lot of France that was previously inaccessible. The low-cost airlines fly to several destinations in France from several UK airports. But if you are buying somewhere ONLY because it now has good links to the UK with a low-cost airline, do bear in mind the possibility that the route may close if it is not profitable in the future.
I recommend you think carefully about year round climate if that is a large part of why you are moving or buying a second home. Nowhere in France is sat in blazing sunshine all year around, and in the south of France temperatures can fall very low in the winter. A week spent visiting in January when the temperature is -10 and there is a howling gale might deter rather a lot of people I think.
Finding a property
Searching through property listings on the internet is a good way to start to get an idea for the property prices in an area. But on viewing, many of these properties will be close to a road, a neighbour or a pig farm. Many of the properties will simply not be very nice orwill not be in a nice area. Until you actually get out to France and start looking you won’t really know what to expect. Estate agents usually have several ruins that they don’t post on the internet – they prefer to show the newly renovated ‘show houses’. Perhaps because the estate agent commission is not very much on a £30,000 wreck. So don’t be put off by a seeming lack of properties in your chosen region until you have actually asked a local estate agent what they have available.
First thing is to consider the type of property that you want to buy. Generally the properties covered by the term ‘properties for renovation’ can be described as ‘habitable but run down’ or ‘complete wreck’.
Habitable but run down: retains most of the fabric of the original building, has a roof and is generally dry. This type of property will usually have a greater feeling of authenticity, and there might be ‘period features’ to retain and restore. It is much easier to have a sense for the origins of a building if there is already a complete building to start with. This will be a big help during renovation work.
Complete wreck: this type of property will allow more of a ‘clean-sheet’ approach. You will have greater flexibility over the internal layout if there are currently no internal walls. It is easier to make major changes – for example underfloor heating or complete rewiring if there are no existing floors. Newly built extensions can blend harmoniously with existing walls if they are built in the same stone and repointed at the same time.
It is important to realise that cost is often not the issue when deciding what condition building to buy. You will pay less for a ruin or a complete wreck, but then spend more money on the renovation work. Renovation costs are discussed elsewhere on this site, but it is impossible to make a general statement that it is cheaper to buy a ruin – try the cost exercise on the costs page as a guideline.
You will need to look at several properties before you are able to compare adequately. It may be the case that the first one you see really is your dream home. Possible, but unlikely. Most of us can not see a complete ruin and have an immediate vision of how the finished property will look, so try to look at several ‘already renovated’ houses to get a feel for the local style as well. You might even find a bargain and decide not to bother with renovations!
The celebrated ‘original features’ (fireplaces, beams, stone sinks, quarry tile floors etc) may look shabby when you first look at the property, but later they will become the centre-piece of the room. These are very desirable! Location of the property is of paramount importance, as in all property purchases. Try not to be over-influenced by the garden, but remember that established trees are a desirable feature. A good view is worth a very great deal.
You will probably want to be in the countryside, but not isolated. A beautiful house with stone fireplaces and original sinks, but a 15 kilometres drive from the bakers, is usually not a good idea.
As always with an important purchase, let your heart rule your head, but not completely. Return for a second look, and a third. In the countryside this is still important. If your first visit is a calm wind less day, it may only be the second that you discover you are adjacent to a goose farm or fertiliser treatment plant. Roads that seem quiet on a tuesday afternoon in October may be dangerously fast and busy at 9.00 or in the summer tourist season. Actually write down on paper the advantages and disadvantages of the property and compare that with your wish-list.
Most properties for sale are clearly unsuitable as soon as you first see them. A week on holiday in an area is not usually sufficient to find the perfect house. I would say never, but my wife bought our house on the day she arrived in the local town – although she had spent a few weeks in the neighbouring towns first. Don’t allow the estate agents to pressure you into a purchase about which you are unsure – the French estate agents are not usually high-pressure salesmen, but they do still want to sell you a house. Seldom is it actually necessary to make an offer the same day!
Check the second part of this article for more information.
Also read about the Home Buying Process – Are you aware of the basic steps that comprises a home buying process?