Home Housing Buying House hunting in France
Last update on January 23, 2020

Watch out for French estate agents who deploy the hunger and exhaustion trick to confuse buyers into buying a house way over their budget.

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 stability of the French property market

The French property market has remained relatively stable through many booms and busts. This is due largely to a conservative banking sector. It’s highly regulated, a system the French are justly proud of.

French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde recently applauded President Obama’s call for more financial sector regulation. She 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 other European countries. Because of that, price falls have not been as great; 2008 and 2009 did see prices reduce somewhat year-on-year.

A momentous experience

But forgetting all the stats, facts and figures, buying a house in France can be a truly momentous experience. You can view some of the most amazing properties, 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’d been a 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!

Cunning plans

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 exhausting buyers by taking them to endless ruins all morning, agents take them to a house way over their budget. 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!