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Top tips for buying a property in France

Brittany Dinan

As I stood looking in the window of an immobilier (estate agent) in France last week, I heard someone say in English: “I want that one”.

It is something I hear a lot. I travel all over France and love to look at the properties advertised in the windows of the immobiliers, sometimes I go in and ask how business is and what sort of punters are looking at the area. As a travel writer I like to know these things.

The last few years have seen the “crise” (la crise enconomique, the recession) affect property sales in France. Sellers have had to work hard to shift their properties, and even though prices have come down on the whole, buyers have struggled to get finance.

La France Profonde

France offers a very traditional way of life. Rural, picturesque villages, medieval towns, a gorgeous coastline with fishing villages and seaside resorts as well as vibrant cities. Daily street markets selling fresh, local produce are an everyday aspect of life here as are artisan boulangeries, fromageries and patisseries.

Property is on the  whole, far cheaper in France than in the UK – which takes me back to that statement “I want that one”.

You can buy a gorgeous mini chateau style manor house here for a fraction of the price you would pay for something similar in the UK.  It is easy to look at a picture in a window and fall instantly and irrevocably in love with a property – I should  know, I’ve done it myself.

I’ve learned a lot from interviewing numerous expats in France about their homes and lives. One thing I’ve discovered is that we can all be swayed by a beautiful photo that tugs at our heart strings and says “buy me, I’m yours – you know it”. Another thing I’ve learned is that it’s best to do some homework…

Top tips for buying a property in France

1. By all means fall in love with the photo – emotional connections are important, that saying “An Englishman’s home is his castle” is apt. But also, look at the area, the village, town, neighbours, facilities. How easy is it to get to? If you have to spend a whole day to get there and back and you only have weekends to spend there, then you need to take travel into consideration. Do flights run all year round to the area you’re considering or only from April to November (this is not uncommon).

2. Location, location, location – Kirsty and Phil are spot on with this adage. Think about what else you need from your purchase other than the bricks and mortar (or torchis). Do you crave a village shop, bar, boulangerie? Are they in the village or do you have to drive miles for them?

3. Stay in the area  before you buy. If you’re considering an area you don’t know well, book a weekend close by and visit the area to get a better feel for the ambience.

4. Visit the local Mairie – the town hall. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re looking in the area and just came by to say hello. In rural areas in particular this will be much appreciated and you will get a feel for how the locals will view a foreigner joining their community. They might even have tips on property for sale in the vicinity.

5. Renovation reality check. Falling in love with a rundown old French house: there is something about an abandoned property that we all love; it brings out the interior designer/architect/nurturer in us. However, it’s worth spending a bit of time just working out how much you’ll need to spend on the renovation versus the cheap asking price. You might find that it’s more economical in the long run to buy something less derelict and spend more up front.

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