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What you need to know before buying a house in France

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What you need to know before buying a house in France
Photo: Leggett Immobilier
11:49 CEST+02:00
Buying property is never simple - but add in another language and a totally different purchase system and the French property market can be a stressful place. Here are some tips for navigating it, from people who've done it.
Take look around in winter
 
As everyone knows France is a beautiful country and unsurprisingly that's particularly true in summer. 
 
That's why it's essential to visit the area where you're thinking of buying, especially if it's in deep dark, France Profonde, in mid-winter to see what you'll be letting yourself in for during the other half of the year.
 
And it's not just a question of getting the full picture in terms of the climate but also consider it as an opportunity to see which shops, bars and restaurants stay open for the whole year, as well as how much of the area is taken up by holiday homes.
 
It might be good to know if you'll have any neighbours during the cold months.
 
Speak to a solicitor first
 
Before you put your house on the market and book your tickets to the French countryside, first speak to a solicitor so they can advise you on the rules around foreigners buying property in France.
 
It's a good way to avoid any nasty surprises down the road. 
 
French property of the week: Stunning stone farmhouse in Languedoc-Roussillon
 
Decide if it's going to be your main residence or a second home
 
Dull compared to dreams of sunlit terraces with a bottle of chilled rosé, but you need to consider matters like residency and tax.
 
If the house is going to be your home, you will need to apply for French residency unless you are an EU citizen - check first whether you meet the criteria. This is particularly true for people planning on retiring to France, there are minimum income levels needed to get residency.
 
If it's going to be a second home, be aware that there are some extra costs and taxes associated with masions secondaire in France. If you are not an EU citizen, there are also limits as to how much of the year you can spend there without applying for a visa. (And sorry to mention it, but after Brexit British people will no longer be EU citizens and will lose their freedom of movement).
 
If you want to have it as a second home and also generate some income by renting it out, check what the rules are on this and what taxes you will be liable for.
 
 
Don't be fooled by the low, low prices
 
Remember that if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. 
 
While it can often look like you're getting a lot for your money in France, keep in mind that running costs can be high, with taxes, upkeep and heating bills all likely to swallow up heaps of cash. Not to mention the cost of any work you need to be done on the property.
 
And remember there's no rule against asking the agent or owner what the cost of running the house is likely to be. 
 
The cost of property taxes vary widely in different areas of France, so check out in advance how much your annual bills are likely to be.
 
 
 
Be wary of taking on big renovation projects 
 
Even small projects can cost an arm and a leg, so really think things through before you decide to buy the empty shell of your dreams, unless you have the time and money to make it into a proper home. 
 
While there are certainly some positive stories about people renovating beautiful old houses in the French countryside and turning them into the perfect property, there are also many (many) horror stories. 
 
It's important to consider whether you're likely to make your money back on the renovation if you sell the house and remember that selling could take longer, much longer than you'd like.
 
And with that in mind, it's important to make sure you have enough money to make the house liveable without going bankrupt.
 
 
French property blog: How to convert a rustic barn into your dream home
 
Think about renting first
 
If you're unsure about exactly where you'd like to live in France or what kind of house you'd like to buy, then why not rent first?
 
That will allow you to get an idea of the way of life there and investigate the transport, weather, different neighbourhoods and shops, without the financial risk. By easing in slowly, you'll have time to work out your priorities in advance of making a purchase.  
 
Also, you might find that by becoming familiar with a town and the people living there first, you'll find out about properties that are available to buy which aren't being advertised by an estate agent. 
 
French property of the week: 19th century stone house in the Lot (in need of some TLC)
 
Spread the net wide 
 
Similarly, it's important to visit lots of houses that pique your interest and use those to work out exactly what you're looking for. 
 
Use Google Maps and even Street View (if possible) to get the best impression of the properties you're interested in from all angles, especially if you're going to be spending time travelling over from the UK. That way, you can avoid wasting precious time on houses that were wrong from the beginning.
  
It's best to hunt around
 
Don't restrict yourself to the estate agents in the area as you can save a lot of money on fees by avoiding them.
 
For example, France's most popular classifieds site Le Bon Coin has property listings and it's also worth familiarising yourself with the town hall and local solicitors in case they have any tips about properties that are (or will soon be) available. 
 
With thanks to the Expat Life in France Facebook page for help with these tips. 
 
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These are the 10 'best' cities in France to buy a propertyRennes in western France. Photo: Sokoljan/WikiCommons

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