Top tips for buying a property and enjoying life in France
Posted on 17 January 2024
If you are looking to buy a property in France for a holiday/second home or rental investment, it is a big decision; even more so if you are taking the bold step to move and live permanently there.
If you get it right, as thousands of British people have experienced, buying a French property and the accompanying lifestyle can wonderfully transform your lives for the better. However, the wrong decision can be catastrophic in terms of financial loss, stress and inconvenience.
Financially, you need to note that if your French adventure doesn’t work out and you need to re-sell your French property, you will lose about 13% of the purchase price (based on average 7.5% notaire fees and 6% estate agency commission), with historically little chance in the French property market of any gain in property price to offset this.
So what are the top tips for success?
Jerry Green, who has lived with his family for 18 years in southwest France, running the successful estate agency Clé Rouge (selling more than 600 properties to people from the UK), gives us his personal advice.
FOCUS ON LOCATION, NOT PROPERTY
Stop looking at properties online and concentrate on scientifically researching which region of France is actually right for you. Otherwise you risk (as many people have) falling in love with the right property in the wrong place, which is unlikely to end well.
The main aspects to consider are as follows:
- Climate/weather: For me, and most of the British clients to whom we have sold properties, the most important favourable difference between life in the UK and in France is the weather; it’s simple, more sunshine and less rain makes you happier! There are lots of good websites to look at (such as https://weatherspark.com/countries/FR), but note that it’s not just sunshine that is important; look at wind strength and direction, fog occurrence, and relative humidity, and consider the seasonal weather variations all year round.
I’m lucky that the area where I live (in the ‘Golden triangle’ between Bordeaux and Bergerac) is blessed with an extraordinary microclimate, so we have similar sunshine levels to Provence, but with cooling westerly breezes from the Atlantic and similar relative humidity to southern England… that has to be climate perfection!
- Property prices: Obviously prices vary dramatically in different regions of France; there is no point in dreaming of a villa on the Côte d’Azur if your budget is €200k. The Notaires de France publish useful information on property prices at https://www.notaires.fr/fr/immobilier-fiscalite/prix-et-tendances-de-limmobilier.
Think carefully about what you are prepared to sacrifice in terms of the property you buy in favour of other aspects of your life. For example, a smaller house in a much nicer place could be a good decision?
- Communication: For a holiday home, or if you will be living permanently in France and have relatives and friends in the UK, being able to travel easily and affordably will be very important. Look at proximity to airports (and are the routes you need available all year round?), travel distance/time by car, or possibly access by the TGV.
- Lifestyle: How will you spend your time at your French home, and are the amenities you need available locally? Think about access to health resources, leisure activities, social life etc. For example, if you are a golfer, a good and accessible golf course will be important, and these are not as common in France as they are in the UK. If you have friends and family (and you like them!), will they want to visit you in France? Our adored daughter Olivia visits us very frequently, but to be honest it is mainly because she can get easy and cheap flights from London to Bordeaux or Bergerac, she is pretty assured of sunshine all year round, and she loves going to the nearby City of Bordeaux!
- Language: If you don’t speak fluent French, don’t assume it will be easy to pick up the language; your life will generally be easier and more enjoyable in an area where there are other English-speaking residents.
KEEP YOUR PROPERTY OPTIONS OPEN
Once you’ve narrowed down the choice of region, of course you will want to visit. My advice is to still not get fixed on specific properties on the internet, but make contact with a good (preferably English-speaking) estate agent in your chosen area, and arrange for them to show you around so that you can see the most suitable towns, villages or rural locations. Also, tell them about your requirements in term of amenities etc.
Rather than giving the agent a list of properties from the internet to visit, tell them your budget and basic requirements and ask them to show you (on screen or perhaps with drive-bys) a selection of available or recently sold properties, and keep an open mind on age, style and location of property at this stage.
READY TO BUY?
You’ve picked the right area, checked you can afford a property there (even if you’ve maybe had to compromise a bit), and now you are ready to seriously hunt for the perfect property.
Note, however, that unlike in the UK, in France you can’t make an offer on a property unless you are in a position to proceed contractually; this means one of the following:
- You have (and can prove) cash in the bank
- You have (and can prove in writing) an offer in principle from a mortgage lender
- You have exchanged contracts on the sale of an existing property in the UK or elsewhere (and can prove this with a solicitor’s letter).
In most desirable areas of France, it is not a buyers’ market, so if you visit properties relying on the sale of an existing property, you risk finding your dream home but for it to be then sold before you can find a buyer and exchange contracts on your existing home.
Once you are a qualified buyer, It is a good idea to establish a relationship with an agent in the area, and ask them to work with you to find the right property, either from their existing portfolio, or by specifically finding it for you. Few properties in France are for sale exclusively with one agent, so if you spot a possible property on another agent’s website, your agent can probably help you assess/view it. One in four of the properties our agency Clé Rouge sold in 2023 were never listed, but were specifically identified and sold to individual clients’ requirements.
If you would like to chat about your requirements or have questions about any aspect of buying a property or adapting to life in France, Jerry and members of his team will be available on Stand 55 at the French Property Exhibition in London, and will be delighted to meet you.