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Buying Older Property in France

Buying Older Property in France

QUICK LINKS: France Guide - France Discussion Forum - France Property Listings

It is becoming increasingly popular to buy homes in France, but often the decision of whether to buy new or old is a hard one. Well, of course it is all down to personal preference, but there are many plus points to buying an older home.

An older home offers plenty of character, often with original features, exposed beams and stone walls. These features all help to give the house (la maison) an individual personality and make it feel more like a home.

France has many of these older homes for sale, ranging from complete ruins requiring total renovation to homes available to move in to immediately. Many people with time on their hands often choose to buy a renovation project (un projet de renovation). This can be for a variety of reasons. Some want to buy a home cheaply to fix up and rent out to earn income while others are also looking for cheaper homes to fix, but to use for their own holidays. There are those that want to put their own stamp on the property as they are planning to live there full time once the work (les travaux) is completed.

A renovation project can prove costly and budgets should be planned carefully. A certain amount should always be set aside for contingencies as there are always going to be hidden costs, or extra problems that were not foreseen in the first instance. Having said all that, renovating an old home can be extremely rewarding.

Buying a property that is structurally sound is the best option, a new roof (un nouveau toit); re-plastering (faire le plâtre) and retiling (couvrir de tuiles) can all be done fairly easily. If the property is suffering from subsidence (la subsidence), then underpinning it can prove extremely costly, and often no mortgage (une hypothèque) or loan can be secured on a property in that condition as it is deemed worthless until the problem has been addressed.

Taking on a renovation project also has other benefits, particularly for those who plan on staying in the home full time. Working on a property in order to make it a home will bring the buyer into contact with local business men, and it is preferable to use the local workmen (les ouvriers) as they know all the building regulations and codes that need to be adhered to. It is also a way of getting to know people and integrating into the community.

Some of the smaller villages further out in the country might not be used to having foreigners living in the area, but most areas of France are becoming accustomed to the influx of expats. There are many culture differences to consider, and while the buyer may have holidayed in the area several weeks a year for 20 years, there is a difference to living there full time.

The neighbours may not take kindly to certain rebuild ideas, particularly if they are not in keeping with the area. And while it is true that the buyer, as long as there is the correct planning permission (le permis de construire) approvals, can do what they like with their property, it may not be worth sparking a war with the neighbours (les voisins) before even moving into the home for the sake of adding a window (une fenêtre) that overlooks next door, or chopping a tree that may have been there many years.

Getting on the right side of the neighbours early on in the process will make things so much easier for the future. The locals will know everyone, and if ever the buyer needed help with anything, a friendly neighbour could be the first port of call.

So the buyer must think long term before taking on a renovation, but once the creases have been ironed out and work is underway, there is much satisfaction to be had watching the original shell of a house being turned into a beautiful and tasteful home.

Buying an old home that has recently been refurbished or is otherwise ready to move into is a good idea for those who do not have time to oversee the building project, or who don’t want to waste time sorting through the legal red tape (la paperasserie) planning permissions could cause. It is also ideal for those who want to just be able to walk into the home with a suitcase of clothes and begin their new life. France is filled with homes that have been renovated in the last few years and many have the original features that expat buyers will be looking for.

Buying a traditional country home with a good sized garden (le jardin), of which there are plenty all across France, is an ideal scenario for those with children or a family pet or two. The French countryside (la campagne) is the perfect place for children to grow up, with plenty of fresh air and a certain amount of freedom and many expats are drawn to the country for this reason.

Works on a renovation project can usually be arranged through the estate agent (l’agent immobilier) handling the sale, they can recommend local workmen, and some even undertake the project management for a fee. The works can also be arranged independently, and this is where friendly neighbours come in handy. Everyone in the area will know a plumber (le plombier), electrician (l’électricien) and a builder (le constructeur); they may even work these trades themselves.

Taking advice on workmen is good, it is always better to use a tradesperson who has been recommended by those who have used the services themselves, and of course, if they do a good job, then it is always worth keeping the number for future works when you know the workman is reliable. Using workmen in France can be a learning curve if you are not used to it. The lifestyle is so different there and they approach their work in a laid back way, which is difficult if you are used to hiring a tradesmen and having the work done quickly. Be prepared for any work you have done in France to take longer than you might think.

When carrying out there are a number of things to take into consideration and a number of regulations that will need to be adhered to. Advice on this can be obtained from your lawyer when you purchase the property, though if you are hiring a reputable builder they should be aware of all the regulations. Information on the regulations and the steps you need to take to obtain the necessary permits can be obtained from the local authorities in your area. You will need to apply first for the Certificat d’Urbanisme which gives permission for work to be carried out. Projects which are deemed to be construction projects require a building permit that will need to be obtained from the local authorities. You will also need to have insurance on the project and be aware of the tax (les impôts) implications of a renovation.

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