The dream of moving to france becomes a little bit more real as my husband has booked for us and our eldest daughter to go to France to vie houses and a school next week. We will probably rent with a view to buying in the future as discussed here. As we’ve thought about moving for some time and have looked at properties before hand, family difficulties have meant we’ve had to put plans aside before, I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt before here.
Don’t just search with estate agents – try the notaires!
I first saw a previous house we were interested in with an estate agent. However I have found the same house on the notaires website for €10,000 less, so it’s with them I’ve made the appointment to see it with my husband. If you want to find a notaire in the area you are thinking of to look at property prices then you may wish to try this link.
However a local estate agent can be considerably less expensive than houses advertised on sites targeted at the English market specifically, so be sure to do your homework. The good thing about French property is that it is a buyers market (not so good if you’re trying to sell mind) so don’t be in a rush and do your homework.
One of the ways I do this is put the village in to google with ‘maisons vendre’ and look at the images layout. You inevitably find the same house on another site or sites and inevitably find different prices for it. One of the houses we are currently interested in has already been reduced by about €150,000 and is actually considerably more expensive with the notaire than the estate agent! Knowing this history gives us an idea of how to pitch any offer.
Location, Location, Location
As my parents already live in France and one of the reasons for our prospective move is to be closer to them the decision of location has to some extent been made for us. However they made a considered purchase and ensured the area they chose was close to links with ferries, trains and several airports – including those that cater to low budget airlines for any visiting guests. Additionally other amenities such as supermarkets are also within easy reach.
Day to Day Life
For us considerations have been a local shop as we intend to move with small children and, no matter how well you think you’ve written your shopping list, there are often nappy and other emergencies. Therefore a well stocked local shop is essential. In the house we were previously interested in there was a local village shop less than two kilometres from the house which had lots of groceries including fresh bread, magazines and newspapers, baby essentials to name a few. It is also opened from 7am to 7pm – you don’t expect that in a French village! If we can just find that again….
As well as local supermarkets the village also had a nearby pharmacy, doctor, dentist and other healthcare practitioners who all speak good English. Again this is something I’m looking for again as despite the fact that I have been studying French for some time and I’m more than happy to attempt to converse in it I think this is essential as, heaven forbid there is an emergency or a serious health complaint, panic may make my command of the language flee!
Shortly after my parents came to France my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, as well many of his male ex-patriates, and the fact that their doctor was able to speak English was of considerable comfort at the time. I must add that we are convinced that my father’s condition wouldn’t have been picked up in the UK in time as it was at an advanced stage so we are very grateful to the excellence of the French healthcare system.
Other things to consider is the social life that you can enjoy around you. My husband and I are home bodies and when we go out it tends to be to restaurants. Are there some good ones within the area? Do they close completely during low seasons as well as in high when family vacations are taken? Are there nearby towns there are some foreign cinemas, if we should ever get a babysitter, as well as good beaches, museums, markets and the like?
Unlike in England we are not looking to relocate to better our chances in the postcode lottery of school selection as France’s schools have excellent standards across the board. However as we are wanting to move to rural France there is the consideration that any small village we choose may have had their école closed down to be submerged into a larger school nearby.
This is one of the reasons we have chosen to look into a catholic privée school, the others are listed here.
If you can it is advisable to view the areas you’re thinking of in different seasons prior to placing an offer anywhere. This has been considerably easy for us,p,due to our family connections, but I would recommend it to anyone thinking of moving here after just one season in the place they’re thinking of purchasing. After all it could be a very expensive mistake!
Le Marie and I had thought we had refined our area to the seaside villages close to my parents – he loves living near the sea. However when we returned to drive around them on a New Year visit he found them cold and unwelcoming. Unlike our current home by the sea the shops were shut due to a lack of seasonal trade, as was the local cinema, and the result was a swift change of plan!
In comparison a property we viewed before we had seen for the first time in September. It was a very wet day and the house is down a road and at first sight seems to be completely isolated – especially on a misty day as it was then. He liked the house but felt it too isolated, particularly as he thought that snow and other bad weather scenarios would leave us vulnerable.
However, after realising that a coastal home wasn’t for us, we returned there in the January too and his fears of isolation were allayed on closer inspection by noting where nearby farms where as well as the realisation that we had been to it several times and the entrance road was very robust.
Many of these other considerations can be made prior to your even viewing a property even for the first time through research based upon the village name given by the immoblier (estate agent) or notaire. Although you should be aware that the property area given by an immoblier may be very vague as in France contracts between vendors and immobliers aren’t binding and someone else can approach the vendor losing the immobilier the sale. Your research could be affected by this. Nevertheless it does give you a chance to narrow down a field of possible properties to see if you can find the property online beforehand.
Once you have viewed a property once, if you can, it’s best to go and take a closer look at the amenities within the area. Go into any village shops and try your, perhaps, limited French on the shopkeepers to see if you are welcomed with warmth or an air of resignation or indifference. France is a very polite society with greetings being conveyed to everyone as people enter shops, try to do the same no matter how nervous, but there may be a frosty reservation in those areas where Les Anglais have come on mass and are felt to be unwelcome.
I must say though that when we’ve gone to village shops previously we have always been pleasantly welcomed – and our attempts to get our daughter to say bonjour and aurevoir have been met with good humour – especially as she says it upon leaving the shop and then very loudly turns to me and says ‘I said aurevoir mummy!’.
I hope this helps any of you considering buying/renting in France. For anyone who’s done it I’d love your advice and some may be interested to read Catherine Berry’s advice in my previous post.