We’ve started to look for houses to buy. It’s going to be a long process; we’ve found out we can’t get a mortgage in France as my husband has his own business and French lenders are very strict on who they give their money to. So this has meant that our house in England which we rented out before we left has to be sold, but we can’t give notice until the tenants have been living there six months (mid-February), and then we have two months until they have to vacate.
We’ve seen four houses so far ranging from the described ‘à restaurer’ (to restore), ‘à rénover’ (to renovate) and ‘à aménager’ (to convert). The first can mean anything from a crumble down hovel which is going to cost a small ransom to bring up to speed – beautiful, but unless you’re a millionaire…
The second that the house has a small habitable space with some sanitation, but the remainder is dilapidated. We went to see a property like this with a market price of €185,000. The house had been a beautiful farmhouse and had been lived in by the vendors owners. It had a new boiler, very expensive in France, and a new kitchen with the downstairs which was liveable. However when the vendor took us upstairs there where rooms which we, as adults, felt unsteady walking in let alone bringing our two children there; and those were the rooms we actually dared to walk on the floor!
Other parts of the property had stone structures that were unsafe which presented other hazards to small children and would be costly to even corden off. We knew that the cost of renovation would be three times the asking price and still the beauty of the place meant we left and spent the night dreaming ‘could we just….’. But we must be practical!
You must be wary too of those advertised as to convert if they don’t have the proper permissions.
Many old properties in France are advertised with the vague date of pre 1800, but it actually means that the property could be much older. It is referring to the fact that it’s age, before there were records kept, means they cannot be exact about the date of it’s build. We therefore looked at the following…
The first thing he looks at is the roof. In particular is it sagging in the middle, as this would suggest the underlying wooden structure was not secure.
Also whether the tiles seemed secure, or if there are gaps because some are missing, or they’re damaged, or whitening in the case of slate ones as this indicates they are crumbling and letting in water – check particularly for those on the end. Check too the mortar along the ridge and the flashing around the chimney stack as if these are unsound then water may have come in causing damp. Although a roof can be fixed it will probably be very expensive and you may find any bargain turning into a money pit if it’s damaged the structure underneath.
At this time check too whether the chimney stacks have caps on them, again because of rain.
Are the walls straight? Any signs of leaning, bulging or cracks in the walls can mean that they have serious defects and correcting these could be as expensive as tearing down the building and starting again!
If there are cracks outside make a note of where and check if they are on the inside too as this would indicate a more serious threat. Also look to see if cracks may be the result of any large trees growing too near the building as the roots may have damaged the foundations.
Inside the house you should be examining for damp patches which could indicate, well, damp. Starting to look now damp may not be evident, but we plan to have second viewings when we’ve put our house on the market as they wouldn’t have had time to dry up over a hot summer; so it is worth considering the time of year you’re going property hunting in France. A slow market means viewing in different seasons isn’t a waste of time either.
Also, look under any old, peeling wallpaper – which is well worthwhile doing as it may not be from age that it’s peeling!
Damp can be treated, but it’s good to be aware of it as it will add to your bill for renovation costs.
Taking a look at the types and condition of the windows is very important – particularly if you’re planning on living there whilst any renovations are taking place. Are there any gaps between the windows and their surrounds? If they’re made of wood is it sound or rotten? Are they double glazed? In this particular house some were metal windows – good and sturdy until and if we decide to update to double glazing (thankfully no listed status in France) – and some double glazed.
On examining properties we look for radiators and piping ( which can suggest if the heating system had been well maintained). How radiators are run and their condition is important; older, thicker radiators are actually better for heat.
It’s important too to check the age of boilers as well as electric alternatives and working chimneys. The age of the boiler is essential to ascertain as replacing boilers in France is very expensive – friends of ours were recently quoted €8000!
In rural properties it is essential to check how water is supplied as it could be from a neighbours water source and therefore rights of usage could be disputed. However as it is mains supplied, surprisingly, it is a real bonus in the consideration of the property as you don’t have to pay for connection.
Rural properties have sceptic tanks (fosse septique) – which may not sound great but does actually benefit you in relation to taxes. However, in relation to any such properties we will be sending an email requesting when it was last checked to ensure they comply to the latest standards.
Due to the ages of the houses Le Marie and I are assuming that the electrics will need to be updated and are mentally adding that into out costs for renovations. However, we are making sure each house looked at have an electrical connection. Obviously this may not have been the case for a potential conversion.
These were our initial concerns, but we know there will be more research to do on any house we like, along with second visits to be made with further checks – after all any rectification to be made in France will not only be expensive, but be more trouble than in England due to the language and cultural barriers; so we’re taking even more care. I’m certainly not an expert in this and I’ll be looking for advise from loctal artisans on possible prices and difficulties. In the meantime if you have any thoughts or tips I’d love to hear them!