Whether you have dreamt about it for years, or perhaps recent events have made you want to escape to France and start afresh, if you are looking to begin househunting in France here are some tips to get you started. Having viewed close to 30 properties before finding our French home, and currently working for an estate agent, I share some advice from our personal experience with you below.
Decide on the lifestyle you are after
France is a pretty big country. Over twice the size of England in fact, whilst being more sparsely populated than the United Kingdom. There are therefore many different areas to choose from. Depending on what lifestyle you are after, it may be that some areas are better suited for you than others.
If you haven’t already decided on a specific area, decide on the lifestyle you are looking for in France.
Do you want to be in a town? Or in deep rural France surrounded by wildlife and country views?
Do you need to worry about work? If you need to find a job, being closer to big cities will help, if you hope to run a self employed business make sure you househunt in an area that clients will find you.
It really helps to narrow down an area for your search, especially as it can take a long time to travel from one area to another when househunting, even within the same department. If you are househunting with the kids, we found tablets, food and playing “i spy” for hours on end helped keep the kids entertained during all the driving we did.
We moved from a busy city, to rural France. It is what we wanted as the kids were only 4 and 7 when we moved and we wanted them to experience the freedom we had known in our childhoods when living in rural spots. However it has been quite an adjustment moving away from takeaways, coffee shops and an all-round 24/7 lifestyle.
Make a List of Criteria
Once you have decided on the lifestyle you’re after, and have an idea on what area you would like to move to, start putting together a list of criteria. And keep referring to this list throughout your search.
This list may change throughout the process, and you might realise that some are flexible whilst other criteria are non negotiable.
This will really help you in search, and estate agents will be grateful if you can provide them with a clear idea of your ideal home.
For example, our main criteria were:
- 3 bedroom house that was immediately habitable, with no structural work required
- separate gite that we could rent out and use for family and friends
- a good sized garden, bigger than the 60m2 we had in Bristol
- Good travel links (road / plane / train), so friends and family could visit easily, guests to find the gite easily and for us to explore and travel easily too
- quiet location but with plenty to do on our doorstep
- Options nearby for schools for the kids now and as they grow up
Decide on Your Budget
As in the UK, different areas in France will offer you more or less for your budget. When we started looking to move to France, our budget was lucky to stretch to a one bedroom flat in Provence, whilst we could just about get a three bedroom house in the Alps where I grew up.
However in the Vienne (86), we were able to get a three bedroom house that did not require any work, with a renovated two-bedroom gite, outbuildings and a garden of over 1000m2 (and a bonus 2 cats much to the children’s delight!). Our house in Bristol sold for £275 000 (June 2018), and our French home cost us 179 000 euros (September 2018). We were able to move in, get on with work straight away and rent the gite out within the following month.
We then bought the house next door for 55 000 euros with a small mortgage, which gave us a second gite, a garage and a separate plot of land for an allotment. This was a separate purchase, one we had not intended on making until the house came on the market. We also did not expect to be granted a mortgage, but when the bank approved our loan application, it seemed too good an opportunity not to take it.
Our criteria meant that there were limited options within our budget. Being cash buyers, we had no flexibility on the budget. The longer it took us to find a home also meant digging more and more into our budget as we had to pay for rented accomodation.
If you are happy to take on renovation work, you can get a lot more for your money.
Everyone’s personal and financial circumstances are different, so it is important from the start to really get clear on what you ideally want, and how much you are prepared/able to pay for.
Getting Carried Away
When we started househunting, I remember looking at grand homes such as Maisons de Maitre, with high ceilings, grand staircases and big windows. I do love big windows… I spent many hours on Rightmove looking at these.
My mum’s reaction though was to ask how would we heat it and afford the running costs for it? I remember at the time thinking this might be an overaction… However having lived in our 1790 French farmhouse with no central heating, I can confirm that the cost of electricity with electric radiators and gites is quite honestly, horrendous!
As much as I love those properties, I am glad we didn’t go for one of those as the running costs would have made our lives rather difficult… Our preferred lifestyle was to live in France, have the kids become bilingual and travel more. We wanted to spend our money on travelling more, not on renovating a property or running a home with high living expenses.
In a similar way, I often see clients at work asking for lots of land, only to sell a few years later as they realise just how much work it is to maintain it all.
Again, everyone will have different projects for their new home in France, it may be that a renovation project and lots of land is exactly what you’re after. Having set your list of criteria and budget early on, and referring back to it on a regular basis will help you keep on track and find your dream home.
When househunting in France, the main fees you will be liable for are the Notaire’s fees (legal conveyancers). These are based on a percentage, calculated from the total sale price. You can calculate an estimation of the total costs on here: https://www.immobilier.notaires.fr/fr/frais-de-notaire.
With regards to agency fees, this can vary from agency to agency, depending on what type of agreements they work on. So either the buyers will be liable for their agency fees, or the sellers will be. Your estate agent can confirm how to work to you. In any event, properties advertised through estate agents will be inclusive of agency fees, irrespective of who pays them.
Be Honest with Your Estate Agent
We had made contact with estate agents from the UK before our move, and then popped into our local agents when we arrived in the area.
Make sure you share your wishlist (and budget) with the estate agent, and be honest with them during your househunting journey.
If you feel your agent doesn’t really understand your search and criteria, don’t hesitate to seek help from another agent. This could save you a lot of time and frustration.
It is also not uncommon for properties to be on sale with more than agency, and as a private sale at the same time. So if you don’t get on or trust one agent, another local agent may have the same properties. However if you have seen a property with one agent, you will not be able to see it with another agent afterwards.
Be sure to also ask the estate agent for their opinion, for example if they think your wishlist and budget are realistic for the area. We did, and I remember the agent telling us that whilst we may not have many properties to choose from, with time she was convinced we would find our dream property. And we did a little while later, with her.
At the time, I also made it known to her that I was looking for work, and they also offered me a job several months later. So get chatting 😉
Plan Your Trip in Advance
There is nothing more frustrating in my job than having to turn people away because they did not arrange a visit in advance. Since the first lockdown, we have been constantly busy, and in order to ensure we can book you in to view the properties you want to view, advance warning is always recommended.
We also need to make arrangements for keys or with the owners for certain properties, so advance warning helps us make the necessary arrangements in time for you.
Visit At Different Times of the Year
We had been to France at various times of year, but usually to the Alps in the Winter, Bordeaux in the Summer, and city trips throughout the year. We had heard of how beautiful the Charente was in the Summer with its rivers swimming spots and sunflower filled fields everywhere. So we decided to come over in March, when it was grey and filled with rainy days. There had also been many floods in the area the previous month. Our reasoning was that if we liked what we saw in the Winter, it bode well for the Summer.
Becky from Wild Oak Wood shared this advice on Instagram stating “look in the winter. Everywhere looks amazing in the summer”.
Visiting outside of the busy househunting months may also mean that you have less people to contend with, and potentially have a little more negotiating power when making your offer.
Take Time to Discover the Local Area
Moving to a new area can be a great source of adventure, but also a little daunting.
In my previous post, I explained why we moved to France when we did with little research of the area. The unknown and new adventure was part of the excitement for us. However once we were ready to start househunting, we made the decision to find temporary accommodation in the area.
A good tip we received, was to contact gite owners directly and see about negotiating a long term stay with them. We initially stayed in a lovely gite near Villefagnan, and then one in St Macoux up until we completed on our house. The last one we stayed at was close to our new house, so we could sign up the kids to our local school to start in September, in anticipation of us moving to the village.
It also allowed us to start taking part in local events, and meet people. By the time we moved into our house, it felt as though we had already started to settle in the area.
We have since offered similar long term rentals with our independent gite. Having a tenancy agreement and bills in your name (thereby official documents showing proof of address) also helps people get set up with their businesses and various other French administrative taks.
About Making Offers
One thing that struck us when househunting in France, was the difference in pricing from one property to another. In our Bristol neighbourhood, when looking at a 3 bed semi-detached property, they would all be the same price. Here in France, the properties we viewed would vary largely in price.
Here in rural France, it can really vary. From some estate agents that have a tendency to overprice many of the properties they take on, to property owners who may have rather ambitious expectations on what their property will sell for, to large groups of family members who inherited a house and can’t agree on a sale price… it can be a bit of a minefield!
We were also surprised to see that some properties remain for sale for several years. Having sold our UK home within 10 days of the advert going live, this was quite a shock to us.
There can be various reasons as to why properties have been up for sale for a long time.
Again, this is where having a good, trusting relationship with your estate will come in handy, as they can help you navigate through all this successfully.
Househunting is always stressful, and househunting in France is no different. The stess of moving abroad, getting the most for your money, all whilst househunting with kids, can become overwhelming.
Remain calm, and patient. Keep checking in with your checklist and reassess on a regular basis. You may get lucky and find your home after two visits, or you may view close to 40…
At some point, we widened our criteria to see what we could get if we dropped the gite requirement for example. But when reassessing what we wanted after those visits, we eventually came back to our initial wishlist.
You may also want to keep notes of the properties you view. We viewed so many, that when we actually moved into our new home Barry discovered we had a second living room, which he had completely forgotten about! I also see this often at work, where clients have viewed so many properties they start to lose track of which property was which.
The length and success of your househunting can depend on so many things, and will vary from one family’s search to another. Hopefully these tips will help you get started and find you your dream French home.
Join me in my next post as I talk you through the process of buying a house in France, from making an offer through to completion. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me here.
If you are househunting in France and have some questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
If you would like to share your family’s househunting and moving abroad journey on the blog, we would love to hear from you. You can contact us here.