Experiences of buying a house in France

Wouter Haaijman,  Friday, 1 February 2019

Village in Burgundy 

Some circumstances made it clear to us that it was time to leave the country. For example, it became increasingly difficult to find a quiet spot, the ever-increasing crime started to worry us, we were no longer prepared to spend hours in traffic jams.

The choice of country was easy for us. As thoroughbred Francophiles, we didn't even have to think about that.

However, determining our new hometown was much more difficult. We did have ideas about that, but we wanted to be sure that we would make the right decision. Dreaming of a house in another country is a pleasant activity, but we did know that we had to stand with both feet on the ground to realize that dream. At every possible moment we discussed what we were looking for in France and gradually our list of demands and wishes began to grow. What we included on that list changed regularly, but that was all part of the fun.

We were not secretive about the fact that we wanted to move to France and we talked to several people about our plans. France is a big country, and it is impossible for one person to know everything about it. Yet in a short time, we met a large number of specialists. Acquaintances of ours had stayed with friends in the Auvergne and told that it was the most beautiful region in the whole of France. Others had camped in Provence, and for them, it was inevitable that you should have to buy a house there. A few people didn't like France at all and told us to emigrate to Spain.

Every region has its own charm, and it depends on what you are looking for. We didn't want to rely on what others told us - we were so stubborn - and that's why we started collecting information about almost every French region. We bought books - outdated when they came out of the press - and magazines, but most of the information we got was on the internet.

What many people forget is that information on the Internet can also be severely outdated, and therefore we only used reliable statistics from official bodies.

We collected information about the population density, the landscape, the climate, how best to go out, the facilities, the number of foreigners, and so on. After several months of intensive study, we chose three departments that might be suitable for us.

During the summer months, we left for France for two weeks. Our goal was to determine which department we wanted to buy a house and get a first impression of the homes. From experience we knew that looking for a house can be a depressing activity, so we had rented a lovely gîte where we could go back to in the evening. Watching back on these two weeks, renting a cozy gîte was an excellent decision.

The first week we visited three departments and drove about 700 kilometers through the French countryside, but then we knew in which department, and where we wanted to buy a house in that department.
The second week we would spend finding a house. Fortunately, in many towns, there are offices of real estate agents, and that you buy a home through a real estate agent was more or less certain to us. We didn't know any better and noticed that many foreign buyers more or less follow the same pattern.

Many real estate agents had photo books that we could browse through to get a first impression. When we wanted more information, we had the first problem. The real estate agent didn't have time, and we had to make an appointment. It was then clear that we could not just enter a real estate office to talk to a real estate agent. We lost a lot of time that week and if you only have a limited number of days off that is highly frustrating.

We did talk to five or six real estate agents that week. Some had houses they offered exclusively, but that was an exception. Many homes were sold by different brokers, and it was striking that the information about some of those houses was different every time. Selling a house by different brokers is quite reasonable in France, but we found that approach confusing and unpleasant.

Now that we know a lot more about the buying and selling of houses in France, we know that many homes in France are sold privately. There are several websites where you can find these houses, and if you buy without a real estate agent, you certainly do not pay a commission. You have to be careful when buying from a private person.

We visited a house that week that was offered to private individuals, and the owner asked 32% more than the appraisal value of that house. The owner of the gîte where we stayed had informed us of the valuation value in advance. When we told the owner of the gîte this, he made the typical French gesture - shrugging his shoulders and raising both arms slightly - and pointed out to us that we were foreigners and therefore wealthy.

One day a real estate agent took us to a house on a ridge. The house had a beautiful view, was in perfect condition, stood in a fully restored medieval village, but the shops were 15 km away at the beginning of the valley. However, we were entirely convinced that this was the house we wanted to buy and the 15 km to buy baguettes was no problem.
The next day the same real estate agent invited us to visit a fisherman's house. It was 50 meters away from a lake, and it had a large barn that could be completely rebuilt. After the renovation, you would have a view of the lake from this barn. This was a house where you see pictures of in magazines. Beautiful. After the visit, we drove to our cottage and made plans on how we could have the barn rebuilt. That evening we realized that our list of requirements was unusable. When you make a completely different choice twice in two days, you choose emotionally. You decide with your heart and not with your mind.
We then made a new list of requirements and wishes. Our house absolutely had to meet the first five criteria on that list. A home that did not meet these criteria was not even considered, no matter how attractive it looked.

One of the requirements on the list was that we should know - by visiting the house - how the house would be in winter. We did visit our current home in February when it was 11°C. We knew enough then, and a few weeks later we signed the Compromis de Vente.

After that week we went home with the feeling that we had really achieved something. We knew where we wanted to buy a house. We also knew that we had to look again at our selection criteria.

It was challenging to keep following this approach, but it gave us a great house.

It is an approach that is recommended.


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