I have started writing a regular column for the online magazine French Property Place and this lead me to think it would be fun to share with you my experiences of buying a holiday home in France and the little adventures we will hopefully now have… so here is my first blog.
Buying our holiday home in France was no more difficult than buying one in the UK….
I have an old dog eared map of France that has probably been with us on every holiday for the past 20 years. It pre-dates Google evidently. On it, I have marked all the beautiful areas, villages and hamlets we visited and where I would like to own a house - half knowing that it will probably never happen…
Last summer when we went to France for our two week holiday we forgot the map - but bought a house.
This is the house that is now for rent and that you see in full technicolour on this website.
It was the second house we saw - the children loved it, and the whole thing could not have been easier! Yes, there was stress, problems, irritations and delay but we sold our family home in Scotland the previous year and bought in Edinburgh, and that was no less stressful or difficult.
Le Libournais, Gironde, France
Les Galineaux is in the Libournais, near St Emilion, (Gironde/Dordogne area) because that’s where you can get direct flights to from Edinburgh, last minute, when you are hacked off with miserable weather here - who needs research! said that, I had been looking at properties on line since February. Spending hours on really poor French property Les Galineaux is in the Libournais, near St Emilion, on the border of Gironde, Lot et Garonne and the Dordogne, because that’s where you can get direct flights to from Edinburgh, last minute, when you are hacked off with miserable weather here - who needs research where terrible photos gave you no idea of what you might be buying and the search facilities were very limited.
Price was a big issue for me. The Languedoc Roussillon area and Midi Pyrenees is more affordable than most other parts of France and the sunshine pretty much a sure thing. With Carcassonne being so popular among the Brits and the Pyrenees close by for skiing it was also a good choice for a house that was going to have to earn its keep through holiday lettings. There are a number of airports that serve that area including Beziers, Carcassonne, Toulouse and Poitiers. The Limousin is also a very good area for value but more difficult to access in terms of airports.
At short notice though, as I said, Bordeaux was where we could fly to. We rented a great village house for two weeks in Issigeac, an impressive ‘bastide’ 15 minutes south of Bergerac. The British owners, who run a holiday letting business in Yorkshire http://www.oldoakcottages.com/ and ‘know their onions’ (as the French say) had spent three years trying to find their dream French holiday home. Amanda was really helpful and put me in touch with local agents who had helped her. We had lined up a few appointments to see houses before we set off but in the end I mostly organised viewings in situ. As it happens, all the agents I came across were British so language really was not a problem. The French don’t seem to have got the hang of real estate as the British have and with commission rates so high, it’s a good business for British settlers, especially in areas popular among their fellow countrymen. If you are renting in France while doing your investigations make sure you take a place with good WiFi access!
The French system is very different from the UK. The buyer pays the agent’s fees and the commission can be up to 10% of the selling price! But remember this is very much negotiable. The market in France is stagnant and an agent won’t want to loose a sale if he has an interested party.
Our agent, Sue Adams, offered us a set fee which was reasonable and made it all much easier to calculate the costs. On top of this you will have the Notaire fees. This will vary according to the value of the house, and is not negotiable. It works out around 8% or so but covers the tax - similar to paying stamp duty and solicitors fees here. Usually the advertised house price includes the agent fees. Having a good relationship with your agent and working with someone you can trust is really important. You might find that some properties are advertised with more than one company so make sure you are dealing with someone you feel comfortable with before going to see the house. If you change agents after you have been introduced to a property it will lead to all sorts of complications.
I made it clear to the various agents I dealt with that I had a set pot to spend and I was not too bothered how they split it between vendor, agent and Notaire as long as it was clear my budget and offer was “all inclusive” ! I found it all a bit cloak and dagger as although the buyer is the one to pay the agent, in truth they are acting for the seller and also trying to get their own commission up. Each individual agent manages their own very close guarded portfolio and you may find they have to pay an introduction fee to a third party if you did not come directly. Even within the same office individuals would not talk to me about a house that was not on their books. A number of agents in Britain play this go-between role including Healey Fox and French Entree. They speak English and guide you through the system which can be really helpful.
Sue Adams, our agent was with Imorama but basically they all work independently. She was great, knowledgeable and helpful. Sue has now set up French Properties Direct. This is a clear and easy to use website, with good photography, which puts sellers and buyers together and by-passes the exorbitant agent fees that the buyer has to pay. Well worth a look http://www.frenchpropertiesdirect.com/
We followed Sue’s advice, based on years of experience, in terms of selecting the Notaire and - as is done in France - used the same person as the vendors. I’m a trusting soul so was not worried about conflicts of interest. In the end, it is very much an administrative function. Having said that it is worth going through the Compromis de Vente with a fine tooth comb. This is basically the Missives so you want to make sure you know what you’re buying.
There are a number of searches and ‘surveys’ that need to be done including electricity, rot, and drainage. 70% of rural homes in France manage their own waste and as the authorities are trying to update sewage systems, transfer of property is the time to do it. These surveys are paid for by the vendor so you can't decide who does them for you. In certain instances the Mairie will appoint the inspector so you really have no say and can anticipate considerable delay. RICS Surveyors can also be found in France. They have set up in many areas to reassure British buyers. My personal experience of in-depth surveys - here in the UK - is that when you discover a considerable problem after making your purchase, pages of disclaimers tell you the survey could not cover this…
A good option if you have a concern is to get a local tradesman to look over the property. A British one might be easier in terms of language but that will come at a premium, and they will not necessarily be any more trustworthy than the local French builders….
On the day we got back to the UK we got gazumped! It made me realise how much I really wanted this house. I refused to give in, upped my offer and the vendors, who were decent people and had liked my children accepted. 10 weeks later we had the keys, and now, after some renovations, it’s ready for holiday makers to enjoy.