5 Top Tips for Buying Property in France.

Paul Hajek | 19 Mar 2010

Guest Blog by Buying Agent, Graham Downie

This is another guest blog in our series Spot on Friday. If you are thinking of buying a property in France, you will find interest in Graham’s wise words

I moved to Cognac in SW France in 2003 having worked in the central London property industry for 20 years. Here are my thoughts on why “location, location, location” is just as important across the channel as it is in the UK.

Why move to France:

A recent poll by International Living (a US lifestyle magazine) showed France as the best country in the world to live for the fifth year running. The authors perfectly summed up life over here when they said:

“Its tiresome bureaucracy and high taxes are outweighed by an unsurpassable quality of life, including the world’s best healthcare.”

It’s no surprise then that France is also the most visited tourist destination in the world with 75 million people a year coming for the gourmet food, beautiful scenery, clean & sandy beaches and top ski resorts.

Properties vary enormously but how about this historic four bed family home (pictured) which sits opposite the 12th century church in St Meme les Carrieres near Cognac. The owners are selling it privately and are asking €240,000. 

The current market in France:

Traditionally the French property market has been sheltered from the volatility seen in the UK and other markets. General figures are always misleading (how can the country house market in SW France compare to apartments in downtown Nice?) but the official “Notaires de France” site (www.immoprix.com) offers the following guide to price rises/falls for a traditional family home: 

2004/5 +14.7%
2005/6 +12.0%
2006/7 +7.2%
2007/8 +2.7%
2008/9 -7.6%

My 5 Top Tips for Buying Property in France:

1. Overall the process is not too dissimilar to that in the UK but of course the devil is in the detail and you should always seek professional advice. The transactions are overseen by a “notaire” and it’s important to understand that they do not act for either party but are there to make sure that the sale goes through legally and that the relevant taxes are collected.

2. Research, research, research. If you have done your research properly you will be able to give a good brief to the agent and you will waste less time looking at unsuitable properties. Use the internet to find out what the different regions have to offer and approximate property values in the areas you like….www.frenchentree.com is a good starting point with interesting articles and thousands of properties for sale.

3. Consider using a “buying agent” to act for you and to find the right house. They usually charge between 2-3% of the purchase price but often use their local expertise to save you far more. They will also scour the private market (50% of all property in France is still bought & sold privately) which would save you 6-7% in agents fees.

4. Once you have found a house and had your offer accepted the buyer must pay for a series of obligatory tests called the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT). Up to seven surveys must now be undertaken. These are for asbestos, electrics, energy efficiency, gas, lead, “natural or technological risks” and termites. You get to see the results before you exchange contracts (compromise de vente).

This is the time to have the house fully surveyed by an RICS qualified surveyor who practices in France (there are plenty, try a quick google search).

5. Once you have exchanged you have a seven day cooling off period before the contract is binding. Once the seven days are over you are committed to buying the house unless you have specifically situated that it is subject to certain conditions (obtaining a mortgage, planning permission etc). Use this period to make sure you are fully committed to the purchase. If you want to back out you must send a recorded delivery letter to the notaire or agent but you don’t have to give a reason.

You will then be given a completion date by the notaire which is usually 2-3 months in the future. Once you have signed the completion (acte de vente) you collect the keys and the house is yours.

Graham Downie has 20 years property experience with both Savills and Chesterton. He now runs a property buying agency covering the charente and charente maritime www.cognacproperty.com – email him at cognac.property [at] gmail.com

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