Wednesday, August 25, 2010
My top 10 tips for buying property in France
I'm often asked to share some of the knowledge and ideas that I have picked up over the years and so have set out my top 10 tips for those looking to buy a property in France this year.
1. Choose your location: France is a huge country offering seaside resorts, skiing, cheap equestrian property with acres of land, plush penthouses in Paris and much more. It’s essential to do your research and find your ideal area before beginning your house search. We made four or five trips to France without seeing a single property before we decided on the Charente. Buying a house is a huge investment and a good location is the most important part of the brief. Speaking of which:
2. Decide on your "brief": If you're vague with agents then don't be surprised if what they show you doesn't take your breath away. The more thought you put into this the better the results. You should know your budget and it’s important to communicate this to the agents. Make sure they know that this is “all in” to include both their fees (unless you’re buying privately) and those of the Notaire.
Make a list of those things that are “must have” and those that are “would be nice”. If you want a garden do give an idea of size. If you have small children then issues such as safety (roads, rivers, garden wells) and schooling come into play.
3. Make sure you see a good cross section of the market: You'll find that some agents are friendlier and more knowledgeable than others but don’t forget that you're buying a house not going on a blind date. The grumpy one who doesn’t speak a word of English may well have the best house for you.
Most agents I know around here are incredibly knowledgeable and offer good value for money. For those really brave (fool-hardy?) souls who aren’t scared to tackle language, procedural and legal barriers then you should know that every second house purchase in France is actually a private sale and done without an agent.
If possible use a buying agent (see 10). We were recently described as “The miracle workers” by The Times. While that may be a little over the top, having your own “Phil or Kirsty” acting on your behalf should save you both time and money.
4. Get your finances in place: It's pointless finding a little gem if you're not in a position to buy it. This is a simple thing to do and will save masses of heartache.
There are plenty of banks in both the UK and here in France who will be happy to help. Click here for a "best buy" table.
When you are ready to move money across use a reputable FX company to get the best rate. I use these people.
5. Try looking out of season: The annual Brit invasion usually starts around Easter and you see prices rise accordingly with viewings continuing over the summer.
Why not plan a viewing trip for October or November when there are less people around to compete with?
6. Don't deal with an unlicenced agent: Despite President Sarkozy’s best efforts there are still plenty of sharks around.
Ask to see the carte professionelle held by the agency or you could get your fingers burnt.
As I said earlier, most agents I have met are professional, licenced and fully legitimate but believe me when I say that I have also seen some rogues. The FNAIM (www.fnaim.fr) is a good starting point for a list of agents in the area you are interested in.
7. Use a good notaire: Quality differs among notaires and you 100% have the right to choose (don't be told otherwise), ask around and find one you are comfortable with.
Be aware that the notaire acts for the state and not the buyer or seller. If you want your own legal representation then there are plenty of UK based practices that will be delighted to act on your behalf.
Similarly there are a growing number of RICS qualified surveyors who offer pre-purchase surveys like you are used to in the UK.
8. Try and collect as much comparable evidence as you can: Houses are notoriously difficult to value in France and it's often the owner who sets the price. This is why it is so common to see the same house at different prices on the same high street.
For example, the owner might want €200,000 for his house. Agent A charges 4% and will put it in his window for €208,000 while agent B charges 8% and will be marketing it for €216,000.
Visit as many "similar" properties as you can and use this comparable evidence to help negotiate a good price.
9. Don't be greedy: It's tempting to get more land than you need (you'll live to regret it) or to buy a house with masses of barns (roofs cost a lot to repair).
Land prices are generally far lower in France than they are in the UK and all males secretly fancy playing at being Jensen Button on their sit on lawnmower. Remember though that grass and weeds grow quickly in most parts of France. If you’re buying a holiday home then you’ll need to find someone to look after the place while you’re away. If you’re planning a full time move then having to spend four hours a week mowing the lawn seriously cuts into your leisure time.
Similarly the reason that most tumble-down barns are cheap is that locals know only to well the costs of renovation.
It’s easy for the owner to dismiss it with a casual wave of the hand but it’s critical that you’ve done your homework before signing on the dotted line.
Sometimes less is more.
10. Use a buying agent: Let's face it you may well not be fully conversant with the language, laws, process and local area. Buying a house is a huge commitment and a good buying agent will save you time & money as well as give you peace of mind.
If you’re not sure where to begin then go online to www.frenchentree.com/french-property-finders/ and you’ll find a dozen fully licenced property finders stretching from Bayeux in the north to Nice in the south and from Lorient in the west to Chamonix in the east.
Alternatively you can visit the website of our national federation (The Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs Immobiliers) who have a list of members on http://www.fnci.fr/