Notes from an exiled Franglais: House hunting in France
Watch out for French estate agents who deploy the hunger and exhaustion trick to confuse buyers into buying a house way over their budget, warns Robert Bullock.
In many ways, house buying in France can be simpler than in the UK. Once you sign and wait for seven days, you know it’s almost certain. Yet in many other ways, it’s more complicated.
The French property market has remained relatively stable through many booms and busts. This is due largely to a conservative banking sector which is highly regulated, a system the French are justly proud of.
Just a few weeks ago French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde applauded President Obama’s call for more financial sector regulation in the United States and said: “I am delighted that the president of the United States is following our lead.”
During the nineties and noughties, house prices in France did not climb to the astronomical heights of the UK and other European countries. Because of that, prices falls have not been as great although 2008 and 2009 did see prices reduce year on year just like most other places around the globe.
But forgetting all the stats, facts and figures, buying a house in France can be a truly momentous experience that you will never forget. You can view some of the most amazing properties -- good and bad -- meet some interesting characters, endure white knuckle ride with French negotiators and spend many a happy hour sitting in notaries’ offices. But you certainly learn the importance of trust!
Whilst looking for a house in France years ago, my wife and I made the acquaintance of some interesting English & French negotiators, who worked for notaires. It has to be said that in our experience the French negotiators were incredibly normal, the English, not so.
One English negotiator we met said he had been a mega successful top executive for various companies in the UK before moving to set up a grass cutting business in Deux Sevres. Another we discovered only sold houses to pay for her drug addiction! Another had such a rude manner with him that he put off more prospective buyers than he took out!
But the houses that negotiators and agent immobilier (real estate agent) showed us were just as interesting as the people showing us around. One agent took us to a small hamlet near Champagne Mouton to show us four walls and no roof. Another to Confolens to see a house with just one wall, no roof, no floor, no amenities, just one wall that some goats were using as a windbreak! It’s amazing what some people will consider selling as a house!
One thing we discovered is that at least half a dozen individual agents from different notaires, who showed us around Poitou Charentes, had cunning plans. After thoroughly exhausting buyers by taking them to endless ruins all morning, agents would wait until just before lunch -- when their clients were weak from lack of food and mental stimulation -- and take them to a house way over their budget which they would be desperate to do anything to buy! And this didn’t just happen to us, many expat buyers we talked to reported similar occurrences.
But perhaps the most terrifying part of viewing a house in France is going out to see the house with the notaire, in his or her car, with them driving! They are very confident drivers! On one occasion, driving through a small village near the town of Melle, in Deux Sevres, our chauffeur turned around and proudly told us that he was driving at 150kmh! Another drove all the way from his office to a viewing “just like the English drive," i.e. on the left hand side of the road!
Buying a house in France can be very time consuming where there is no place for spontaneity. Once you have found a house and negotiated with the owners you then have to wait, sign papers, wait, sign some more papers, wait some more, pay lots of fees, sign some more papers and then wait just a bit longer. Then and only then have you bought your house in France.
The rule of thumb is that from finding your dream home to actually taking possession can take upwards of three months. But to hit the three-month point, you have to pay extra fees to rush local authority officials along!
Trust is important
You can, however, move into your French home before you’ve completed the purchase because of trust. Trust is an important element in any transaction in France. The buyers trust that once you’ve said you want the house you will complete the purchase. The notaire trusts that you will make payments when you agree to and sellers trust the notaire’s judgement.
When we bought our first house in France we were actually allowed to move in before completion. We were tired of living on a cramped camp site for months with our zoo and the notaire thought it better we live in a house before the summer holidays started, so he gave us the keys early! He trusted us and the sellers trusted him.
And if you run into problems, always ask someone who is living in France. There are ways of getting around things in France -- even the lengthy house buying process!
Robert Bullock / Expatica
Robert Bullock is a British children's writer. He lived in the Poitou Charente area of South West France for seven years. His first book is Noah Ramsbottom and the Cave Elves. His second book Sam Marsh the Viking King was released at the end of 2009. His website is www.ninnylizard.com . Rob is currently touring Britain giving readings of his first book, and is available to visit schools, libraries or youth groups in France.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.