How to Search for a property in France
As elsewhere, looking for your perfect French property can be achieved with the help of an Estate agent, or property finder. You can also buy via a Notaire (lawyer) – the advantage to this being that there is no buyer’s fee as with an estate agent, the disadvantage being that most notaires’ don’t – generally speaking – have lots of property on their books and don’t always advertise it. However, if you know where you want to buy, you could go to the local notaire’s offices and you’ll find details of properties on their books pinned on notice boards outside.
The advantage of going through an Immobilier (estate agent) is that they will often speak English or be able to provide an English speaker, they will have much more property on their books and they will be happy to find out directly from you exactly what you’re seeking and they will proactively search it out and bring it to your attention. When you go to an estate agent, check that they are registered with an authorised body such as FNAIM, SNPI or UNPI. This will often be obvious by means of certificates on the office walls – estate agency in France is taken very seriously and there are professional qualifications that must be achieved before being allowed to practice.
You should always try to go the estate agents’ office if you can to make sure that you’re happy with their set up and their staff. We found that by going there and introducing ourselves, the estate agent was happy to give us a list of addresses to view and we went off alone and took our time and looked around – this doesn’t always happen though. Sometimes agents will insist on coming with you and won’t give you the address as they don’t want to lose their commission if the property is listed with several agents.
The internet is a great source of information for buying properties particularly as many people choose to sell directly in order to cut out estate agent fees making their property price a little lower and hoping to sell that bit quicker – you’ll still need to pay the notaire’s fees though.
If you don’t live in France and are travelling to specifically view properties always try to line up appointments before you get there to avoid disappointment, its often quite difficult to just look in a window, get a street name and go and look on your own, we found that street names are rarely used in window advertising and as I said, the agents won’t always give you the address details – check with them before hand to see if they will do this if you don’t want to set up defined appointments.
When you find the right house, buying it is not a complicated affair. It’s often worth making an offer (the same as anywhere else), and you can discuss this with the estate agent or Notaire before doing so if you wish.
The price – if you buy from an estate agent – will include fees of anything from 4-10%, certainly in our experience it’s more likely to be the higher end of the percentage. This is not inclusive of the notaire’s fees which you should ascertain separately. Usually the estate agent will recommend a notaire whom he will have worked with often which can save you time but you should be sure that you’re happy with his/her choice before signing up. We found it is not always easy to find a notaire online in your area of interest – the French Yellow Pages (Pages Jaune) for your area is a good starting point or ask your agent to supply a list of notaires in the local vicinity.
Survey in France
It’s not usual to have a full survey done in France as it is in some countries i.e. UK. The estate agent may provide a survey to you with the basics – ours certainly did. You can of course arrange your own full survey, there are a number of English speaking surveyors in France and you can find them online.
You could also get a builder in for an expert opinion of what needs doing and how much it might cost – again find them online or in the Pages Jaunes – if you’re keen to have an English speaking builder, there seems to be no shortage but France is a big country so depending on where you are you’ll need to consider travel costs as well. If you want to move quickly but still want a survey done you don’t want to lose time, you can ask the notaire to insert a clause into the first part of the contract (Clause Suspensive – see Compromis de Vente) stating that the deal is subject to a satisfactory survey (you may wish to specify what is not satisfactory to be sure). We haven’t come across anyone who has done this but it is a well-known practice.
Before you sign anything or go to the meeting with the notaire to sign off, make sure you see the plans of the house and its land called cadastral in France. You can get the cadastral plans from the estate agent or your local Town Hall (Mairie).
In France, there is no search application regarding private planning permission so you should check at the Town Hall that there are no private or communal plans to build other properties, office or agricultural buildings close to your house – ask to see the Plan Communale. You can ask your agent to do this if you’re not able to visit the Town Hall. Make sure that the plan of the house matches what you’ve viewed. As we said on our property home page, this is not always the case and it will avoid problems later to make sure that everything is correct
At our local Town Hall all the planning applications are filed and available to anyone who asks to see them – if you do this yourself it’s a useful opportunity to meet your local Town Hall staff and Mayor which is a good idea as you’ll get a feel for their attitude to newcomers and you may find that they can be very helpful with all sorts of things when you have a home in France. As an example our Town Hall staff helped us with understanding tax bills for the house, putting in for planning permission, finding an architect and explaining how the rubbish collection works!
Once you find the property that you want its time to buy click here to go to our guide to buying a property in France