For members


What you need to think about before buying that dream house in France

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.

What you need to think about before buying that dream house in France
Photo: Leggett Immobilier
Take look around in winter
As everyone knows France is a beautiful country and unsurprisingly that's particularly true in summer. 
That's why if possible it's best to also 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 an expert first
Before you put your house on the market and book your tickets to the French countryside, first speak to an expert so they can advise you on the legal 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 also be subject to these limitations).
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. 

These are the 10 'best' cities in France to buy a propertyRennes in western France. Photo: Sokoljan/WikiCommons

For members


MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.