Buying Old Property In France
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.
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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
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
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.
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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.
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