Readers’ tips: What you need to know about viewing properties in France

Each week The Local asks its readers to share their tips about various aspects of living in France. This week we asked their opinion on what you need to know about viewing properties in France. Here's what they had to say.

Readers’ tips: What you need to know about viewing properties in France
Photo: AFP
Viewing properties abroad can be a difficult process to navigate so we asked our readers who have been there and done it for their tips on how to do it right. 
But before you even start visiting properties you have to decide which area you want to live in.
Siobhan McCarthy suggested that “as you can't visit everywhere” you should start by doing some research from the comfort of your own home. She advised using Google street view to help you research and “rule out” different areas.
Potential buyers should also consider the practicalities of life in the area they want to move to, recommended reader Christopher Tyle.
“Make sure there are amenities within walking distance, or at least close by. You might think a property in a charming little village is nice, only to find out you have to drive to get to stores,” he said. 
He also suggested thinking about who your neighbours will be, particularly if you’re French skills are a bit lacking, saying “unless your French is really good, consider areas where there are English speakers and activities.”

Readers' tips: Which website is the best for property hunting in France?Photo: AFP

Readers also suggested researching property prices in your chosen area to make sure that you don’t end up paying more than you should, with Caroline Middleton warning that asking prices are often inflated and “bear no relation to the true market value.”
On the topic of money, readers warned that properties can be more expensive than they seem at the outset.
Cecile Helene said that “even though agent's fees are included in the advertised price, the mandatory frais de notaire are not – factor it in. Approx. 8%.”
Should I use an estate agent or not?
Many readers also had tips about estate agents, with Joe Koehm advising you don’t choose one in a hurry.
“Make sure you get some recommendations for your agent. We didn't, and ended up paying another €4,000 for something we’re still not sure of.”
Others warned that it's important to be wary of estate agents' websites.
After organising viewings based on online descriptions, reader Alistair Chaffey said he was ”in complete despair after the first three days of actually seeing the properties. 
“We ended up buying a place that had only been on the market for 1 day and hadn't even made it to a website.”
Caroline Middleton even suggested cutting estate agents out of the picture altogether. She recommended using classified ads site Le Bon Coin to search for properties as it is where “many owners try to sell direct at the same time as listing with an estate agent or they only advertise directly.”
The vital French terms you need to know when buying a house in France
Photo: AFP
In fact, for anyone who wants to property hunt the old fashioned way, she wrote that some French sellers are so direct that they just stick a 'for sale' note up on their front door.
So, you've found a property you want to buy… now what?
One thing that may make foreign buyers uncomfortable is that in France there is no tradition of getting surveys done to assess the condition of a property before contracts are signed. In fact, surveys are so rarely done that it can be hard to even find someone qualified to do one.
But La Residence France strongly advised that buyers try to get one anyway, tweeting, “Get a survey. You'll be told that it's not the French way but there are British qualified surveyors in France that can help you identify current or future issues.
Once you’ve found a property you’re interested in, it’s also worth having a chat with the local authorities in France before you buy anything.
Both the town hall (mairie) and the prefecture (préfecture) could have useful information about properties, especially if you are planning on buying a large piece of land.
Tilou Créatif wrote that after buying a property and trying to clear an overgrown paddock on the land, it “turned out to be a protected zone humide (wetland) and the prefecture advised it had to be left as is.”
And ChrisInParis tweeted that he “once looked at a house in the country and it all sounded great until the local mairie mentioned plans in the books for building a new autoroute péage around the corner.”
He advised that potential buyers “should always check at the mairie to see about future zoning plans.”
Finally, Alan Tyrrell suggested that anyone thinking of buying a property with land in the countryside should bear in mind that they might have to accommodate the French hunting season. For him this means making sure that you can “afford a large tractor and don't mind spending your life cutting the grass so the chasse can hunt on it.”

Member comments

  1. Check fosse septic (septic tank) , plumbing and electrics meet current regulations. Check boundaries carefully for any rights of way. Google British Chartered Surveyors in France who are experienced and are fully insured. Take copy of their current insurance. When consulting the local Marie check the evolution of local taxes over, say, last 5 years and ask for consumation details from seller for water, electricity & gas over same period. Remember neither your estate agent or Notaire are your friends and are not there to assist you with any problems or concerns. Only a few will and if your French is not good pay for a British Solicitor familiar with French conveyancing & practives to check things over. Money well spent.

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Readers reveal the worst places in France for pickpockets… and tips to avoid them

If you're someone who has had their holiday to France ruined by a pickpocket, then you're certainly not alone. And it isn't only in the French capital that you have to watch out.

Readers reveal the worst places in France for pickpockets... and tips to avoid them
One reader said that people should watch out for pickpockets at Lyon train station (pictured above). Photo: AFP
A recent report revealed that 2019 has seen a surge of cases of pickpocketing on the Paris metro. But the French capital isn't the only place in France where you need to watch out for petty crime. 
We asked our readers who know France well to tell us where else in the country you need to be that extra bit cautious about your handbag, wallet or phone and for any advice on keeping possessions safe.  
Unsurprisingly many of the places mentioned by readers were in cities with high levels of tourism. 
One of the places that came up again and again was the eastern French city of Strasbourg, with readers noting that thieves tend to operate around the train station, old town and the very popular Christmas markets. 

Photo: AFP

“I was targeted by pickpockets in Strasbourg walking near the old town. Two women – a 40-year-old woman with a 20-year-old girl — walked very close behind me, as I was walking very fast, and tried opening a small shoulder bag,” said Greg Moore from the US. 
Another reader said that they “watched a group of girls working the crowd at the Christmas markets.”
The beautiful southern French city of Nice was also highlighted by several readers as a place where it is wise to keep a close eye on your belongings. 
One reader noted that there are “pickpockets in abundance” and that the city in general “is horrible for pickpocketing”. 
“My credit and debit cards were stolen and used when we visited there a few years ago,” they said. 
Lyon, the capital city in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, is very popular with tourists who are drawn to the city for its architecture, culture – and of course the world famous cuisine. 
But while it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by beautiful surroundings, Lyon was also highlighted by readers as a place to be cautious. 
Linda Martz, who has lived in the city for three years, told us that a pickpocket stole her wallet while she boarded a train. 
And another reader Sandra Beard told us that drivers should be particularly careful due to “scam artists” targeting people with cars.      
There are “scam artists who “help” you at parking ticket machines while they palm (and take) your credit card (and tells you the machine took your card),” she said.
“They have your PIN after looking over your shoulder,” she said, adding that when this happened to her the man “withdrew €5,000 from three banks before we froze our account (within 10 mins).”
Photo: AFP
It might not be so surprising that the resort town of Cannes on the French Riviera, which has a reputation as a bit of a playground for the rich, was also on readers' lists, with one saying that his brother was pickpocketed as he stepped onto a train at Cannes train station. 
Meanwhile reader Leslie White, who lives in Paris, said she and her husband were “hit with the 'bird poop scam'” while strolling in the grounds of the Domaine de Chantilly in northern France. 
“A plop of green goop landed on my head. A helpful couple walking behind us helped to clean us off with disposable wipes. My husband somehow had some on him too. They also cleaned out his wallet and of course it was they who had thrown the 'poop' at me in the first place. We didn’t figure it out until the next day,” she said. 
Other readers mentioned Tours train station and tram stop, the market in Arles – where reader Sue Byford said her gold necklace was snatched from her neck – and Disneyland, where one person told us they had their new phone stolen, as specific places where pickpockets operate.  
Police around France are aware of the high levels of pickpocketing in certain cities and have offered advice on how to avoid becoming a target, including avoiding the “temptation to make valuables, such as expensive handbags and jewellery, too visible or easy to take”. 
They have also advised caution when sitting on the terrasse of a bar or café. 
It's important to be “very vigilant, do not leave a wallet or phone on a table, in front of everyone” or leave your valuables in your jacket if you leave it slung over a chair,” the Rouen police previously told the French press. 
Our readers also had some suggestions of their own, including using zip ties on bags and neck pouches for credit cards and your phone. 
One reader said they take the extra precaution of putting mini-locks on all the zippers on their backpack. 
Two readers pointed out that unfortunately it is “necessary to be wary of friendly people”.
“Any distraction is an opportunity,” said one.