If you’re looking for a good investment, a property in reasonable condition in a popular area is likely to be greatly preferable to an exceptional property in an out-of-the-way location. Even if you aren’t concerned with making money from your property, there’s little point in buying a ‘dream home’ if it’s right next to a motorway or a rubbish dump or is so inaccessible that a trip to the baker is a major expedition. France offers almost everything that anyone could want, but you must choose the right property in the right spot.
The wrong decision regarding location is one of the main causes of disenchantment among foreigners who have purchased property in France.
Many people’s choice of location is based on previous holidays, friends’ recommendations, accessibility or simply an area’s reputation. However, if you’re likely to be spending the rest of your life in your new home, and even if you will only be spending the occasional holiday there, it’s worth taking the time and trouble to consider every aspect of its location first hand. When choosing a permanent home, don’t be too influenced by where you’ve spent an enjoyable holiday or two. A place that was acceptable for a few weeks’ holiday may be far from suitable for year-round living.
The 'best' place
The ‘best’ place to live in France obviously depends on your preferences and it’s impossible to specify a best location for everyone. The important thing is to identify the positive and possible negative aspects of each of your selected locations in order to help you to choose the one that suits you and your family best. If you want to live in (or avoid) one of France’s most beautiful villages, contact the Association des Plus Beaux Villages de France, 19500 Collonges-la-Rouge (05 55 84 08 50, http://www.villagesdefrance.free.fr), which has selected around 150 villages of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants for this accolade.
If you have a job in France, the location of a home will probably be determined by its proximity to your place of employment. Obtain a map of the area and decide the maximum distance you’re prepared to travel to work, then draw a circle of the appropriate radius with your workplace in the middle. If you intend to look for employment or start a business, you must live in an area that allows you the maximum scope. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, you would be foolish to rely on finding employment in a particular area. If, on the other hand, you’re seeking a holiday or retirement home, you will have a huge choice of areas.
If you have little idea about where you wish to live, read as much as you can about the different regions of France and spend some time looking around your areas of interest. Note that the climate, lifestyle and cost of living can vary considerably from region to region (and even within a particular region). Before looking at properties, it’s important to have a good idea of the kind of home that you’re looking for and the price you wish to pay, and to draw up a shortlist of the areas or towns of interest. If you don’t do this, you’re likely to be overwhelmed by the number of properties to be viewed. Estate agents usually expect serious buyers to know where they want to buy within a 30 to 40km (20 to 25mi) radius and some even expect clients to narrow it down to specific towns and villages.
Don’t, however, believe the times and distances stated in adverts and by estate agents. According to some agents’ magical mystery maps, everywhere in the north is handy for Paris or a Channel port and all homes in the south are a stone’s throw from Lyon or Nice. Check distances and ease of access yourself.
If possible, you should visit an area a number of times over a period of a few weeks, both on weekdays and at weekends, in order to get a feel for the neighbourhood (don’t just drive around, but walk!). A property seen on a balmy summer’s day after a delicious lunch and a few glasses of vin rouge may not be nearly so attractive on a subsequent visit sans sunshine and the warm inner glow.
You should also try to visit an area at different times of the year, e.g. in both summer and winter, as somewhere that’s wonderful in summer can be forbidding and inhospitable in winter (or vice versa). If you’re planning to buy a winter holiday home, you should also view it in the summer, as snow can hide a multitude of sins! In any case, you should view a property a number of times before making up your mind to buy it. If you’re unfamiliar with an area, most experts recommend that you rent for a period before deciding to buy. This is particularly important if you’re planning to buy a permanent or retirement home in an unfamiliar area. Many people change their minds after a period and it isn’t unusual for families to move once or twice before settling down permanently.
When house hunting, obtain large scale maps of the area where you’re looking. The best maps are the Institut Géographique National (IGN) green series of 74 maps with a scale of 1cm = 1km, cartes de promenade (1cm = 1km) and town and local maps (various scales), both of which series are blue. These maps show every building, track and waterway as well as contour lines, so it’s easy to mark off the places that you’ve seen. You could do this using a grading system to denote your impressions. If you use an estate agent, he will usually drive you around and you can return later to those that you like most at your leisure (provided you’ve marked them on your map!).
You should also check the medium-term infrastructure plans for the area, with both the regional and national authorities, particularly with regard to planned road and railway construction. Although a rural plot may seem miles from anywhere today, there could be plans for a motorway passing along the boundaries within the next five or ten years. See The Best Places to Buy a Home in France (Survival Books) for details of planned developments in the most popular regions.
Bear in mind that foreign buyers aren’t welcome everywhere, particularly when they ‘colonise’ a town or area. There has been some resistance to foreigners buying property in certain areas and a few towns have even blocked sales to foreigners to deter speculators. Understandably, the French don’t want property prices driven up by foreigners with more money than sense (particularly second homeowners) to levels they can no longer afford. However, foreigners are generally welcomed by the local populace (and in most areas are infinitely preferable to Parisians!), not least because they boost the local economy and in rural areas often buy derelict properties that the French won’t touch. Permanent residents in rural areas who take the time and trouble to integrate with the local community are invariably warmly welcomed.
This article is an extract from Buying a home in France. Click here to get a copy now.