You will already have had a good look around the property yourself. If the walls and roof look straight from all angles and there is no sign that water is entering the house through missing tiles, that eliminates the majority of possible problems straight away.
It is also quite hard to conceal ancient electrical and plumbing systems – look at the fuse board and behind the sink for a good idea if these systems are in need of replacing (not at the sockets – it is easy to put a new plug socket on old wiring).
None of these things are necessarily problems that will stop you buying a house, but you need to be aware of them before you buy or agree a price.
It is not usual in France to get a full structural survey done on a property before buying it. More usually, a local builder, roofer or whoever else is needed is taken around the property where he (sorry but ‘he’ is more or less always the right word here) will express opinions about the state of things. This sounds instinctively insufficient, but the long training and apprenticeship scheme and high skill level of the artisans in France means that they can usually tell very quickly whether a building needs work or not, and how much it will cost.
Given that surveys in other countries are often costly, and generally filled with exemption clauses and clauses denying responsibility, and demands for further investigations before a full opinion can be given, it is actually quite refreshing to walk around a building with a mason who will simply tell you ‘that crack is not a problem’ or ‘you need to replace that lintel and it will cost 1000 euros’ and so on.
Another example – a roof will generally either need replacing, retiling, a few tiles re-siting or no work at all. the wood will probably need treating against wood boring insects as an additional safeguard. The roofer will tell you that – what else do you need to know? A ten page report about the traces of woodworm found in the third supporting beam that may or may not still be active and certainly will never affect the structure of the house is really not especially useful, and will give you lots of sleepless nights unnecessarily.
Note that any house sold in France has to be checked for certain things that may endanger your health. These are required by law for all property sales and will form part of your purchase contract – see pre-purchase surveys for more information.
Full Structural Surveys
There are companies that do full structural surveys in France, however, if you do want one done. Often performed by UK surveyors now living in France these may give you extra peace of mind that your dream home is not about to become a pile of rubble.
More likely they will put you off ever buying a house because the list of problems will be so long, but if you have specific technical concerns about the structure it may be advised.
Of course, as always the surveyor will need to be fully registered and insured.