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Buying Old Property In France

Updated on December 1, 2015
Princessa profile image

Wendy moved to France in 2005 where she fell in love with everything French

Real Estate In France

France offers some of the best value for money properties in Europe. Probably it is the only country where you can still afford to buy a renaissance castle in the countryside or a large barn with acres of land, lake included; for the price of a studio apartment in London.

It is mainly foreigners who have made buying old property for restoration in France fashionable. The young French generation prefer to buy new property. They prefer to move from their little sleepy villages to bigger towns or cities where they can find better job opportunities. Most foreign buyers come from England, escaping the cold weather and the high prices. There are a few young couples who are starting a family and come to France to buy an old barn to restore it. Mostly though, it is retired couples who undertake this adventure of moving abroad, buying a dilapidated countryside house and converting it into what they have been dreaming about all their lives.

House with watermill
House with watermill

Why Should You Buy An Old Property In France?

Old houses in the French countryside are very affordable. You can have a larger property for less than the cost of an average sized property back in the UK. Because the younger generations are moving away from their villages there are not many people buying countryside houses in remote areas so the owners are more likely to sell for a lower price. Also, prices have fallen since the recession in 2008.

Another thing to consider is the cost of living. Daily expenses are less compared to the UK. Good quality food is, on the whole, cheaper. Wine is almost given away for free, and utility bills can be considerably less expensive.

Besides economic reasons, it is the French lifestyle to consider. In French villages, people live at a lower pace. There is no hurry; everybody takes their time to enjoy their lunch and dinner (all three courses and wine). If you have to work in France, you will find out that you have more paid holidays and less working hours than ever plus many social benefits (though ultimately you get what you pay for). If you have small children, you will find that the French education system is of excellent quality and the health service unbeatable.

Prices have fallen since the recession in 2008,

Barns And Houses By The River For Sale In France

Barns for sale
Barns for sale
Houses by the river
Houses by the river

French Property

Property in France can be loosely divided into:

  • Property in towns or village centres; cottages, terraced houses, apartments, houses.

  • Farms and barns.

  • Chateaux and large country dwellings.

Most of the old property which is interesting for renovation purposes is located in the countryside or on the outskirts of towns and villages. This is because houses in towns are usually narrow and with no gardens. So unless you can afford to buy two or three terraced houses (very possible in terms of price) and demolish one to create a garden, you will need to be very imaginative. For example, you could take the roof out of a second floor and create a terrace. But you will need to inform yourself very carefully about building permits before envisaging any work.

Property for renovation.

The term "property for renovation" is very broad. It could involve minor decoration and rewiring, or it could mean a new roof! When you are visiting one of these properties always ask about electricity, water and sewage. Sometimes these utilities are so far away that it is not viable to connect them to the property. Always inform yourself thoroughly about the work needed in the property you want to buy.

Buying Property in France

Some Useful Terms When Looking For Old Property In France

Prevoir Travaux: This usually means that there is major work involved before you can move in.

Aménagement: This usually refers to relatively minor work like installing central heating or new plumbing in a bathroom.

Compromise de vente: This is your agreement to buy and the seller's agreement to sell . When you are ask to sign this document in presence of a notary you have to pay a 10% deposit. This is a legally binding document and gives you full protection against gazumping. You are also legally allowed 7 days to change your mind. The buying process takes a minimum of 3 months.

Permis de construire: Planning permission. Any exterior renovations for changing a building from a barn into a house (ie. a change of use or changement de destination) needs planning permission. You get the form at your local town hall and you must provide photos and full plans. The process is long and laborious.

We needed full planning permission just to paint our façade, and it took us six months, several visits to the town hall plus the approval of 3 other administrative departments to get things moving because our village is a protected heritage area. This is the point where you realise the building laws are open to different interpretation by different bodies and are often contradictory. Be very careful that your paperwork is correct because every submission and rejection/approval takes about six weeks. Nevertheless you will likely be rejected at least once just due to the stifling, multi-layered bureaucracy. Don't despair though because it is exactly this cautious process which has protected much of the heritage of France from being destroyed by over-eager architects and planners (unlike the often insensitive, fast-tracking UK experience). You must inform the town hall when work starts and finishes and a notice board with your name and details of the work must be prominently displayed outside.

Splendid Barn Conversion

The Barn was completed using stone obtained from a medieval castle that once stood on the site, and built in a traditional French style. It lies in an acre of land reached by a lane serving just the barn and one neighbour.
The Barn was completed using stone obtained from a medieval castle that once stood on the site, and built in a traditional French style. It lies in an acre of land reached by a lane serving just the barn and one neighbour.
The same barn as above showing the interior converted.  A spectacular vaulted room with mezzanine, retaining all the original beams and some stone walls. Window to front. contemporary open style staircase to mezzanine & cloakroom. Solid pine floor an
The same barn as above showing the interior converted. A spectacular vaulted room with mezzanine, retaining all the original beams and some stone walls. Window to front. contemporary open style staircase to mezzanine & cloakroom. Solid pine floor an

Buying A Barn

Conversion of any non-dwelling buildings (barns, workshops, wine cellars and garages) into buildings for dwelling need a Permis de Construire before starting works. Make sure that the Town Hall in the area is giving this kind of permit because sometimes changing the use of the building is not allowed or it is restricted in some communities.

The above also applies to opening up windows where none existed or enlarging existing windows. In some cases you might even require your neighbour's written authorization if the window is less than 3m from his property.

Markets of Provence

The Problems Of Restoring A French Property

Finding an idyllic property in France is easy. The problems come when you start restoration works. If you are not a DIY enthusiast you'd better think about buying something else because a lot depends on how much of the work you can actually do yourself. If all the work is to be contracted to a builder and other professionals you might end up paying more than what your home is actually worth.

For some reason renovating property in France is very popular with the British. They like to restore dilapidated buildings into the rural retreats that will turn their friends back in England green with envy. They also like to renovate for B&B purposes. We have plenty of British friends who have done that. It is though a monumental task that takes full time dedication for several months (sometimes years). If you are planning to do this, make sure you have enough money to keep you going until the works are finished. Renovation works are expensive, do not be mislead. If possible have the property you are planning to buy, studied and quoted for renovation. This way you will have an idea of how much extra you will be investing.

Property in France

The French Property Buyer's Handbook

"The book is for anyone looking to buy a property in France to use as a holiday home, to work from, or to start a new life abroad.It can be used as an active reference guide when "on the ground" in France (...). But can also be used by people thinking about moving to France in the future, but who are not quite ready to make the move yet. This book highlights all the issues that you need to consider." Amazon Editorial review.

Buying and Renovating a Property in France: A Comprehensive Overview for Those With Little or No Knowledge of Buying and Renovating in France

This book by by Richard Whiting emphasizes the verification of the materials used in the property under consideration. The book is designed to provide you with sufficient knowledge of French building methods and materials for you to understand estimates and evaluate what work should be done, and by whom.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Wow, great post. I lived in France for couple of years and then moved back to the state. Since we had a wonderful time there my wife always asks me whether I can find (or transfer) a job in France. Renovating an old property sounds very attractive. literally, I've never though about this. Anyway, thank you for such a great post.

    • Craan profile image

      Sheila Craan 

      6 years ago from Florida

      I am American and I speak French fluently.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      Craan: What nationality are you? Rules and regulations for living in France depend a lot on your nationality.

    • Craan profile image

      Sheila Craan 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Thank you for creating such an informative hub. I have always dreamed of living in France. I speak French and love its culture; however, since I am not a French citizen, I think I will not be allowed to live in France because of its immigration laws. Can you please tell me, how I will be able to live in France and not be only a tourist?

    • free-seotools profile image


      7 years ago from Portugal

      Very nice hub, I wish someone had written a similar thing 5 years ago when I moved to Portugal. it would have been very useful indeed.

    • A Hightower profile image

      Alexis in Brooklyn 

      7 years ago from New York, NY

      Princessa, your hub is Fantastique! You are inspiring me to reach into my grandest dreams and to wake up with a dream house! Look forward to reading more of your hubs! Merci Beaucoup!

    • profile image

      Ozaki Makoto 

      7 years ago

      South of France is a nice place to buy property to renovate. A couple of subjects seem to be trouble in renovation one is that you will most likely get ripped off in prices and the other is the language barrier... A lot of people don't seem to get what they paid and asked for when they want to renovate a property!

      And.. thats were I come in! I am a Constructor / Renovator for traditional French houses.

      I'm a native French and English speaker,it makes communication so much easier. My prices are the same as for local people. I'm always a stranger some were so I know it hurts to get ripped off!

      If you are looking to renovat or build a house from scratch for an honest price I'm your guy!

      You can either call me or send me an email

      "33" 06 26 04 44 91


      a bientot!

    • jacques.gim profile image


      8 years ago from Lancashire

      I agree with you, you could not purchase a similar property in England at the same price there is still a big difference. I come from the south of France near Perpignan, but we bought a property to renovate in the gers good food foie gras can't wait to go back. French life de retour dans mon pays natal dans deux ans peut etre?

    • Daniel Belize profile image

      Daniel Belize 

      8 years ago

      France is certainly a magical place. Which regions would you recommend? Brittany or the Loire? Or the "classic" expat destination of Provence?

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      9 years ago from France

      London F: Cheese and wine... my péché mignon :)

    • profile image

      London Flats 

      9 years ago

      I hope so, I love France, love the food and the wine lol

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      9 years ago from France

      thetravelbug: Thanks for the invitation.

      London F: Your dream could come true easier and sooner than expected :-)

    • profile image

      London Flats 

      9 years ago

      This is my total dream, to find a beautiful house in the south of france and do it up - The french know how to live lol

    • thetravelbug profile image


      9 years ago from Bulgaria/France

      Hi! I wonder whether you would like to publish a shorter version of this article/hub or maybe a series of articles on my blog at under 'French Property'. It was mainly geared at property investment in Bulgaria but as I now split my time between France and Bulgaria, and am looking to buy in France, I am changing the blog a little. Just moved it to wordpress so please excuse any broken links - I am working on it.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      9 years ago from France

      creativecaravan: I hope you can do it one day. It is exhausting but very gratifying.

      Jessay: There are contractors but they are always busy so you need to wait until they are available. Another consideration is the price, they can work out rather expensive. There are lots of work that you can DIY if you have the energy and motivation but there are other works like electric and plumbing jobs for which you need professionals for the sake of your home insurance policy.

    • Jessay profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      It is amazing to think about renovating an old home in France. Are there contractors to hire or is it best for do-it-your-selfers?

    • creativecaravan profile image


      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks for a great hub. I've always had a dream of renovating an old barn and converting it into a characterful family home. I'm also taken with France and deep down hope to one day combine the two dreams together.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      9 years ago from France

      Hi Patrik, of course I don't mind :) Thanks for stopping to read and for leaving a comment. It is right that one can still find plenty of bargains in France, anything from old barns and abandoned castles to new apartments and condos. It is just a matter of finding your area and reaserching it for the best deals.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      10 years ago from France

      Honestway: I know what you mean. We bought in Spain 8 years ago, the prices were so cheap it was incredible. Thanks for your comment. I hope you are enjoying that Spanish sun :-)

    • honestway profile image


      10 years ago from Spain

      What a great hub! I know exactly why people do move away from the UK to buy in another, warmer country - I did it myself! Ok, I chose Spain, but the principle's the same, or at least it was 7 years ago when I came here as prices were still very cheap. Now they're as sky high as most of the UK, although they burned out and are now falling as no one is buying any more.

      France still looks a very good place to buy especially as it is so close to the UK if people need to return for any reason.


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