Top tips for house hunting in France

What is essential to consider when buying in France? We ask the experts

Couple receiving keys to their new home
Make sure you do your homework before moving to France

Many people dream of moving to France, whether it is relocating full-time or buying a French holiday home to enjoy for part of the year. 

But what do you need to think about before you embark on your property search? 

The Connexion spoke to property experts to find out what potential movers should consider when looking to buy property in France. 

Do your homework 

Make sure you research France and its varied regions before you start house hunting, or better yet, take a trip to research possible locations. 

“France is a huge country with massively varied countryside, architecture and climate. A holiday spent touring the part that you are drawn to is good research,” says Julie Savill, from estate agency Beaux Villages, which has local property experts across France.

“Take a map and start marking areas, towns or villages that you like. Narrow down your search area before you even start thinking about viewings!” she says. 

Read more: Interest rates for loans to buy property in France continue to fall

How remote do you want to be? 

Many people dream of moving to rural France and escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, but it is worth thinking carefully about just how rural you want to be and what the ramifications of a rural life could be. 

“There are plenty of properties where you can be very rural, with no neighbours and a short or long drive to the nearest village. For some, this seems idyllic, however, you need to consider whether the novelty of seeing very few people and always having to drive to get your bread and provisions will wear off over a period of time,” says Natasha Alexander of Suzanne in France, a British-owned estate agency based in Normandy. 

“We recommend you do some research into the nearest village and large town and decide how close you would like to be,” she says. 

Read more: French town is selling house for €1

Create a wishlist 

Writing down what you definitely want in your new house can be useful when it comes to starting your property search. 

“How many bedrooms/bathrooms? Will you do renovation work or just decorating? Do you want the luxury (and the cost) of a pool? Would you be happiest in a village or do you want to be completely alone in the countryside?” says Ms Savill. 

Also consider what kind of house you would ideally want to buy. 

“Do you dream of a renovated farmhouse, a maison de maître, a pavilion style house – how do you wish to live? Is it preferable to live on one floor or do you require something that is a new-build where the energy efficiency is the best it can be,” says Ms Alexander. 

And it is just as important to think about your red lines. 

“Are neighbours an absolute no? What about modern properties?” says Ms Savill. 

Read more: What do people searching for a new home in France look for?

Research the French housing market 

Get acquainted with France’s housing market, which could be very different from that in your home country. 

“Researching the housing market is essential. Prices vary significantly depending on the region and may not be as cheap or expensive as expected, says Patrick Joseph from My French House, a UK-based company that helps house hunters find properties in France. 

“Some buyers still harbour the dream of finding a chateau to renovate or a farm in Provence for the price of a terraced house in the UK, but this is usually unrealistic. The good news is that asking prices for resale properties have been reducing over the past few months as the national market cools,” he says. 

Read more: MAP: see where house prices are rising and falling around France

Check transport links back to your home country

Those who plan to buy a second home or stay in their home country for part of the year should look into transport links. 

“Have you looked at the various routes available and the costs involved in travelling back to your home country. Are there good links back? How long will it take?” says Ms Alexander. 

“This may not be of great importance if you do not plan to do this regularly but if you are commuting between the two countries this may be a deciding factor as to where your house will be.”

Be realistic about your budget 

It can be easy to ignore your budget when picturing yourself in that beautiful chateau, but it pays to be realistic. 

“Consider currency exchange rates so you know just how much you have to work with,” says Ms Savill. “Estate agency fees are generally included in advertised prices and you will need to pay in the region of 8% notaire fees on top. This includes the equivalent of stamp duty/land registry in the UK.” 

“Setting your budget is a fundamental step,” agrees Mr Joseph. “If you need financing, apply for a decision in principle from a French bank or broker as early as possible; the criteria for mortgages are very strict. If you need to sell a property elsewhere, try to coordinate the timing of listing your home with your visits to France,” he says. 

Mr Joseph also recommends researching currency transfers and the buying process in France, for example, how exactly to make an offer and when to pay your deposit. “These will differ from your home country,” he says. 

Read more: Home renovation grants simplified in France from today

Beware of the land trap 

It is not only your budget about which you should be realistic – while many people dream of buying a property with land – consider how much you will be able to look after. 

“A lot of properties come with a lot of land. If this is to be a holiday home, think carefully about the work and cost of maintaining a big garden or even a field and woodland if you are only there occasionally,” says Ms Savill. 

Read more: New legal obligation for many French property owners on way

Natasha Alexander says Normandy, and its excellent value for money, is attractive to people who want to buy land, for example to run a business or have a smallholding. 

“Consider how much land is too much. Don't forget acres and acres need to be maintained and looked after. Do you want this burden, in particular, if you want a lock-and-leave holiday home?” she says. 

Be prepared to change your mind 

There is nothing wrong with changing your mind about what you want, says Julie Savill. 

“Be prepared to change your mind once you start viewing. That cute old stone property might just feel very dark once you get inside and a complete lack of neighbours could turn out to leave you more isolated than you anticipated,” she says. 

And be willing to see a few wild cards. 

“Sometimes really good properties don’t come over so well in photographs. Be prepared to go and see a couple of places that challenge your wishlist,” Ms Savill says. 

Read more: Tips to make the most of retiring to France

Check out the local schools

If you are moving with young children, make sure to research the local schools before deciding on a house. 

“Do you have easy access to the local primary school? While it may seem very quaint and again idyllic to live in the countryside when the children are very young. Have you considered when they become older and wish to play with friends after school?” says Ms Alexander. 

“A little planning ahead could mean that you are not spending a lot of time taxiing your children to and from various sports clubs and the school itself.” 

Read more: A guide to starting at school in France

Consider healthcare options 

It is important to think about healthcare options, whether you are planning to stay in France into old age or perhaps have a current healthcare condition that will need regular attention once you move. 

“None of us like to think of getting older or sick, but consider your local clinic for services and the closest hospital. How long will the journey be if you need regular treatment?” says Ms Alexander. 

Read more: How to register with a doctor in France and get a GP

Check the Internet connection

Something that could easily slip your mind is checking the local internet speed of the house you are looking at. 

“While many areas have fibre now you will need to check the speed of the internet connection, in particular, if you use the internet for your work,” says Ms Alexander. 

Read more: How can I find the internet speed potential of our home in France?

Find an agent

A good agent can help you navigate the process of buying in France. 

“Buying privately is absolutely possible if you feel informed and confident enough to deal with a negotiation and contracts, which will all be in French,” says Ms Savill.

“An agent will have excellent local knowledge and a great awareness of the correct pricing for your local area. Speak to a few people and find someone you connect with,” she says.