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Five tips for dealing with real estate agents in rural France

Here's how to succeed at house-hunting in rural France, according to a woman who's done it herself.

Five tips for dealing with real estate agents in rural France
Photo: AFP
Finding your dream home in the French countryside can be tricky, says Jenny Lovett, a Brit who took the plunge and bought a derelict house in Brittany.
There's the French real estate terminology, the French real estate agents, and, well, the French real estate itself.
Here Lovett shares five tips that she learned on her journey in north-western France, which you can read a lot more about here on her blog.  
1. Ask where the garden is
When you come across the phrase “With a beautiful garden…” it can mean wildly different things. 

What you think: You will step out of the house into a beautiful garden

French translation: You will buy a garden, but this is not necessarily anywhere near your house. The house you are buying may indeed be photographed with a beautiful garden, but this garden may actually belong to your neighbour.

Your garden may be up the road, around the corner and next on the left. This was not something we found out until we spent a week in France viewing properties; we had asked for a garden or some land, we did not know that we had to ask for it to be attached to the property.

Photo: Andrea Lynn Fisher

2. Be very clear about how much work you want to do on a property

The phrase “Requires a little updating…” can also be defined in two ways. 

What you think: It needs a little bit of updating.

French translation: Requires a bathroom, a kitchen and possibly one or more walls, floors or roof adding, and no, this is not an exaggeration. We viewed a number of properties that required a ‘little bit of updating’ one of these properties was so derelict that there was no way you could move into it – even the local wildlife was too afraid to enter it.

On this occasion we had an extremely enthusiastic estate agent (who had given us torches to use and gallantly held the rickety, wobbly ladder required to get to the first floor) who was ever so excited about how we lucky we were, as we could add the bathroom of our dreams just here, and that it could be off the master bedroom that we could build just there, and once the walls were made secure we could add the window back into the original stone opening and the whole place would look amazing and how, as we didn’t have to make do with somebody else’s choices, we could really make the place our own.

A crumbling castle in central France. Photo: inkflo

3. Look beyond the photographs in French ads

Photographs anywhere else: The house is dressed and shown at its best

French photographs: Nothing in the house is cleared away and it appears to be mandatory to have a clothes maiden, complete with clothes, in the bathroom. Not just anywhere but actually blocking the view of the bathroom so that the clothes maiden is all that you really see. The beds must not be made and if possible, be covered in lots of clutter; again clothes seem to be a popular choice. In the kitchen, worktops must not be cleared, remember clutter is key.

In France it appears the photographer doesn't need to have any knowledge of what makes a good photograph, and when taking a photograph of a room, one item, preferably of clutter or an item of furniture (that is not included in the sale) must take up the majority of the shot.

Dream home? Photo: XWRN

4. Find out if the home is actually in right place

What you think: The property will be in the certain town mentioned in the ad.

In France, at least in the north-western countryside, the property will be in a 30 km radius of the town mentioned in the ad, not necessarily anywhere near it. There is a reason for this ambiguity, in this part of France many properties are left empty, so it is for safety reasons, but when you are looking for a property in a ‘certain town’ be aware that you might be quite a distance away from it.

Word of warning – Arrange to meet the estate agent and let them drive you to the different properties, you’ll save a fortune in petrol.

Photo: tpsdave

5. Get your timing right

And lastly, the phrase “We're open 9am – 5.30pm” can mean two different things. 

What you think: The estate agent is available for the entire working day.

French translation: The estate agent arrives in the office at 9.30am, but this is too early to view a property, 11.30am is also not convenient as the estate agent closes at noon for a lunch break that can last up to two and a half hours. The estate agent opens again for the afternoon but by 4.30pm it is then too late to view a property as they will close at 5 – 5.30pm.

There are very small windows of opportunity to view a property with a French estate agent, if you get one, jump on it.

Also beware Christmas holidays, summer holidays and the many, many bank holidays.

Word of warning – don’t plan on visiting too many houses in one day, and remember word of warning number 4, use the estate agents car.

Photo: Sylvain Naudin

Jenny Lovett is a British expat living in Brittany in north-west France. Click here to buy her new book “One Way Ticket to Brittany, France”. Click here to read her blog. 

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For members


Property taxes: How much will it cost to extend your French home?

Installing a swimming pool, building a garden shed, or adding a conservatory to your French home has become more expensive in 2023.

Property taxes: How much will it cost to extend your French home?

If you are planning a renovation project in 2023 you’re likely looking at rising cost for materials and labour due to inflation – but there is one other cost to consider; taxes. 

In France there is a one-off tax that has to be paid on certain building works, and the government has raised the rate for this.

The taxe d’aménagement, sometimes referred to as the garden shed tax, applies to all property development – construction, reconstruction and extension – of buildings that require planning permission or a building permit.

Garden sheds, swimming pools or extensions with a surface area of more than 5 square metres are subject to the development tax – although a 50 percent reduction is applied to the flat-rate values of certain buildings, particularly the first 100 square metres of main residences.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about installing a swimming pool at your French property

The tax is collected by local councils, who set their own percentage rates for the tax, working off the base rate set by the government.

A decree published in the Journal Officiel set the base figures for 2023 at the following rates: 

  • €1,004 per square metre in Île-de-France (up from €929 per square metre in 2022);
  • €886 per square metre outside Île-de-France (€820 per square metre in 2022).

The flat-rate values per square metre of building space, which constitute the basis for the development tax, are revised on January 1st of each year according to the latest construction cost index published by national statistics body Insee. 

Additionally, specific rates are set for:

  • €250 per square metre  for a swimming pool (up from €200 in 2022);
  • €12 per square metre of ground-fixed solar panels (up from €10 in 2022);
  • €3,000 per wind turbine more than 12 metres high;
  • €3,000 per pitch for tents, caravans and mobile leisure homes;
  • €10,000 per pitch for a holiday chalet or bungalow.

The amount of the tax is calculated according to the following formula: 

(Taxable area multiplied by the government-set base figure) multiplied by the percentage tax rate set by the local authorities. This gives the total to be paid in cents. Bills are rounded down.

So, the tax for a 30 square metre extension in an area where the combined local and departmental tax rates total 6.25 percent would be calculated like this:

30 (the size of the development) x 886 (the base tax rate outside Ile-de-France) = 26,580

6.25 (local and departmental tax) x 26,580 = 166,125 cents, more usually expressed as €1,661. 

If the total payable is less than €1,500, you will receive a bill in the six months after planning permission was granted, with details of how to pay.

Otherwise, it is paid in two instalments, 12 months and 24 months after authorisation, with a 10 percent surcharge applied in cases of late payments.

READ ALSO The hidden costs of owning property in France