How you can decide whether to move to France, where to live and successfully buy a bargain French property.
Here I share with you my experience of house hunting in France, tips on how to find a cheap French house either for permanent residency or as a holiday home.
If you’re looking to buy a house in France in the future then the resources and advice which I include here, as well as the experiences of others and the ways which they learned to save money, will be useful.
Making your decision
This is obviously an incredibly important step. What is your “Why” for moving to France? What is it about France that is so appealing to you? What are your hopes for the kind of life you envisage having if you make this move? You can read more about my own journey to answering this question here.
Once you know why you’re doing something it tends to be a lot easier to do it, and if you are unsure whether you want to move completely, then – if affordable – perhaps you could buy a property as a holiday home to test it out. This wasn’t an option for us, as we wanted to move to France before Brexit happened – but if you have more time then this could be a way to slowly ease yourself into living in a different country.
If you know that you can keep the links that you want to, or are not as concerned by keeping connections with your old home, then perhaps this will be easier for you. For those who are making the decision to move earlier in life, moving to France does not have to mean the end of ambition and career, not everyone is here to retire. This opportunity is, like so many things, what you make of it and you have a large hand in how it turns out.
What will you be leaving behind? If you worry about caring for family members or missing children and friends it does not necessarily have to mean the end of your French residency dream.
Where to live?
Choosing to live close to a ferry port or airport could mean that your journey from your new home could take less time than if you had moved within the UK. For example, we chose to live near Limoges airport because it has strong travel links with London and Bristol. Although the airport doesn’t serve Bristol all year round, we are able to have friends visit in the summer – or take trips to see family – via budget airlines, so not only is it only 1.5 hours to Bristol, we have had tickets for as little as £5.99 one way. It’s worth factoring in if the distance is an issue (just remember your flight route might not be there forever, so don’t let it be the only reason you choose a location).
Also, it means that those who commute back to the UK for work could continue on in current jobs while spending their downtime in their French home. We have a friend who did just this while we were working in IT in London. He stayed in hotels in London a few days a week and then spent the rest at his home just outside of Paris. His commute via the Eurostar took less time than it had been previously from the north of England, and he was able to live his version of the French dream.
Considering the size of the country, you have a lot of choices. It can feel overwhelming if you don’t have an area already in mind or a particular holiday location that you want to spend more time in. When we were at this stage we had very little experience of France and tended to spend most of the short weekend breaks we did have in the southeasterly corner of France known as the Côte d’Azur. We loved the heat, the Italian influenced architecture, the sea, and the beautiful plants which grow in the microclimate. We looked into property prices, even bought a map so that we could figure out which areas we definitely would, or would not want to live in.
Unfortunately, the price of a life on the coast near to Monaco was too rich for us, and realistically we could only expect to trade our three bedroom semi-detached house in Bristol for a studio apartment in Menton. This realisation came as a bit of a blow, but fortunately, we recovered quickly and started investigating affordability in other areas of the country.
We settled on the place that we now live for a number of reasons:
- as previously mentioned, travel links with the UK from Limoges are strong
- property is cheaper
- we love the countryside
- we wanted a large garden to grow vegetables and have pets
- we wanted some shops, but we largely shop for specific things online
- the climate is very much like the south-west in the UK, but the seasons are more distinctly defined (i.e. colder, hotter!)
- the cost of living in a rural area is cheaper
How to find a house
You will need to come to France, full stop. While it is fantastic to be able to view property advertisements online and find leads for gorgeous looking properties, you will absolutely, 100%, no questions asked need to see them in person. Not least because sales in France can be very much based on the relationship you build with the people whom you buy from (be that agent or direct from the vendor) but in addition, the reality is that properties almost never look as good as they do in the pictures. There are absolutely exceptions to this (the very house we bought and that I sit in as I write this is one of them), but in my experience that is rare, and we managed to avoid getting too attached to properties by seeing them in the flesh, and realising that they didn’t suit us for one reason or another, that something glaringly incompatible with our way of life had been omitted from the description or pictures (plenty of these…) or, they were just unrealistic projects for people of our budget and renovation ability or inclination.
Do not underestimate the power of the internet to sell you a dream! But in reality, without doing your homework, that dream could well become a nightmare.
Where to look?
The cheapest way to buy a house in France is to buy it directly from the vendor without the use of an estate agent. It’s quite common to see signs erected which state “A Vendre” or “AV” – For Sale – and for a number to be included on the often handwritten advert. If you find a property which you love and it’s advertised in this way, great, you can avoid paying the estate agent’s fee – which in France is more often than not paid by the purchaser.
You can also enquire at the office of a Notaire (a French solicitor) to ask whether they have any properties on their books for sale, and again you will avoid agent’s fees. The thorn in many people’s sides with these methods of purchasing is that you will need a very decent level of the French language to be able to engage with these individuals. They will likely not speak English, and it is unwise to engage in something as serious as the purchase of a property without a firm grasp of the negotiating language.
This is where choosing a house that is marketed with an agent is advantageous, and perhaps worth the extra cost. If the property is with an agent, you’ll be able to view with them, they’ll already have the information on the house and – being commission-based – they are incentivised to help you with the purchase. However do not forget, the agent works for the vendor, you merely pay their fee, so do keep your wits about you when communicating.
Our own agent was a wonderful French young man who spoke little English (why would he?!) and we did much of the purchase in my beginner French, and the help of Google Translate. This is not for the faint-hearted. Being the hugely willful and determined person that I am we made this work, but it was very hard, and I will admit that spending a full 8 hours typing out my property Diagnostic (a sort of survey) into a translation service because it could not be copied and pasted, nor scanned in as a pdf was a low point in the buying process. I believe we were able to buy our home at a lower price than it might have been with a bilingual agent because the market it appealed to was smaller.
There are also agents who work in both English and French, which target the anglophone market. These properties are often those being sold by anglophones themselves who have chosen to work in English for their sale, or who have renovated property with a UK, US or Australian buyer in mind. In my opinion, these properties tend to cost more, perhaps because they are less neglected properties which earn their price tags (than perhaps French inheritance properties which can stand empty for many years), and of course, you are paying for the service of translation throughout. If that is something which you need to feel more confident about your purchase then you might choose only to view houses with anglophone agents, and that is fine – it just may mean that you do not see the cheapest properties on the market.
What websites should I look on?
There are a number of excellent websites for viewing houses online. I will mention the more generic platforms rather than specific immobilliers (estate agents), and I would also highly recommend that you join Facebook and use groups to get a feel for the value of the kind of property you’re looking for.
Rightmove (international property section) https://www.rightmove.co.uk/overseas-property.html
Facebook Group French property for sale under £50k https://www.facebook.com/groups/176214252957053/
Facebook Group French Property for sale in France for £50k – £155k https://www.facebook.com/groups/187438785456000/
There are of course many many more elements to buying a property in France which I cannot include here due to the sheer wordiness of the process, but I am currently compiling my experience, and the experiences and learnings of my friends here in France, into a book which will be released later this year (2020).
If you would like to know when this is available to buy then sign up to my mailing list below to receive a notification upon release, and my monthly newsletter with hints and tips on French money saving!