This list is huge ofcourse and the importance to you will depend on your personal wishes. But do try to keep them all in mind.
Is the proximity to public transport, e.g. an international airport, port or railway station, or access to a motorway important? Note that the motorway network is continually being expanded and will eventually cover the whole country, and the expansion of the TGV rail network also means that many remote areas are now linked to Paris and other major cities in just a few hours. Don’t, however, believe all you’re told about the distance or travelling times to the nearest motorway, airport, railway station, port, beach or town, but check it for yourself.
Tip: Although it isn’t so important if you’re buying a permanent home in France and planning to stay put, one of the major considerations when buying a holiday home is how easy and cheap it will be to travel (by road, rail or air) to and from your home country.
If you buy a remote country property, the distance to local amenities and services could become a problem, particularly if you plan to retire to France. If you’re buying a home with a view to retiring there later, check the local public transport, as you may not always be able (or wish) to drive.
Although budget airlines have recently made accessible previously remote parts of France, such services are notoriously fickle and it isn’t wise to buy in a particular area purely because it’s served by cheap flights; airlines create and cancel routes (and are bought and sold) at the drop of a hat and you could be left stranded – as many buyers discovered to their cost after the acquisition of Buzz by Ryanair and when Ryanair was subsequently ‘forced’ to withdraw from certain smaller airports.
What local health and social services are provided? How far is the nearest hospital with an emergency department? What shopping facilities are provided in the neighbourhood? How far is it to the nearest town with good shopping facilities, e.g. a supermarket/hypermarket? How would you get there if your car was out of commission? If you live in a remote rural area you will need to be much more self-sufficient than if you live in a town.
Don’t forget that France is a big country, and those living in remote areas need to use the car for everything. It has been calculated that it costs some €7,000 a year (including depreciation costs) to run a new small car doing 15,000km (9,300mi) a year (which is less than average). The cost of motoring is high in France and is an important consideration when buying a home there. Note also that many rural villages are dying and have few shops or facilities, and aren’t usually a good choice for a retirement home.
For most people the climate is one of the most important factors when buying a home in France, particularly a holiday or retirement home. Bear in mind both the winter and summer climate as well as the position of the sun and the direction of the prevailing wind. The orientation or aspect of a building is vital and you must ensure that balconies, terraces and gardens face the right direction.
When choosing the area, decide whether you want to live among your own countrymen and other foreigners in a largely expatriate community, such as those in Dordogne and parts of Provence, or whether you prefer (and are prepared) to integrate into an exclusively French environment.
However, unless you speak French fluently or intend to learn it, you should think twice before buying a property in a village. Note that the locals in some villages resent ‘outsiders’ moving in, particularly holiday homeowners, although those who take the time and trouble to integrate into the local community are usually warmly welcomed.
If you’re buying a permanent home, it’s important to check your prospective neighbours, particularly when buying an apartment. For example, are they noisy, sociable or absent for long periods? Do you think you will get on with them? Good neighbours are invaluable, particularly when buying a second home in France.
What is the local crime rate? In some areas the incidence of burglary is extremely high, which not only affects your security but also increases your insurance premiums. Is crime increasing or decreasing? Note that professional crooks like isolated houses, particularly those full of expensive furniture and other belongings, which they can strip bare at their leisure. You’re much less likely to be a victim of theft if you live in a village, where strangers stand out like sore thumbs.
How secure is your job or business and are you likely to move to another area in the near future? Can you find other work in the same area, if necessary? If there’s a possibility that you will need to move in some years’ time, you should rent or at least buy a property that will be relatively easy to sell. What about your partner’s and children’s jobs?
If you’re planning to buy a large country property with a big plot, bear in mind the high cost and amount of work involved in its upkeep. If it’s to be a second home, who will look after the house and garden when you’re away? Do you want to spend your holidays mowing the lawn and cutting back the undergrowth? Do you want a home with a lot of outbuildings? What are you going to do with them? Can you afford to convert them into extra rooms, guest accommodation or gîtes and, if so, will be you be able to attract holidaymakers to stay in them?
Hunting is a jealously guarded ‘right’, and you should check whether hunting is permitted on your land if you don’t want it invaded by armed men every Sunday between September and February. Note that it’s possible to apply to the Association pour la Protection des Animaux Sauvages (04 75 25 10 00, http://www.aspas-nature.org) for your land to be designated an animal sanctuary (un refuge), which involves setting up an association, although this may not do much for your local popularity!
Is the local council well run? Unfortunately, many are profligate and simply use any extra income to hire a few more of their cronies or spend it on grandiose schemes, and many local councillors abuse their positions to further their own ends. What are the views of other residents? If the municipality is efficiently run, you can usually rely on good local social and sports services and other facilities. Particularly in a small commune, try to meet the local mayor (maire), as it’s he who makes many of the decisions affecting day-to-day life: is he kindly disposed towards foreigners and will he be help you to settle in or will every administrative procedure be an uphill struggle? (It will anyway, but the mayor’s weight behind you will be a great help.) In areas where there are many foreign residents, the town hall may have a foreign residents’ department.
Check whether an area is particularly susceptible to natural disasters, such as floods, storms, forest fires and lightning strikes (which are common in the south-east and Corsica – for details, refer to The Best Places to Buy a Home in France. If a property is located near a waterway, it may be expensive to insure against floods, which are a constant threat in some areas.
Noise can be a problem in some cities, resorts and developments – and even in villages and the countryside. Noisy neighbours account for around half of all police complaints in France, and 50 per cent of Parisians complain that their neighbours make too much noise. Although you cannot choose your neighbours, you can at least ensure that a property isn’t located next to a busy road, industrial plant, commercial area, discotheque, night club, bar or restaurant (where revelries may continue into the early hours). Look out for objectionable neighbouring properties which may be too close to the one you’re considering and check whether nearby vacant land has been ‘zoned’ for commercial use. In community developments (e.g. apartment blocks) many properties are second homes and are let short-term, which means you may need to tolerate boisterous holidaymakers as neighbours throughout the year (or at least during the summer months).
Don’t assume, however, that rural life is necessarily tranquil. Other kinds of noise can disturb your peace and quiet, including chiming church bells, barking dogs, crowing cockerels and braying donkeys, teenagers on mopeds, and aircraft if you live near a civil or military airfield. Visit the property at different times on different days of the week and note any noises that might be recurrent. On the other hand, those looking to buy a rural property should note that there may be times when noisy activities such as lawnmowing are prohibited (e.g. at lunchtime on Saturdays and all afternoon on Sundays).
If you’re planning to buy in a town or city, is there adequate private or free on-street parking for your family and visitors? Is it safe to park in the street? In some areas it’s important to have secure off-street parking if you value your car. Parking is a problem in many towns and most cities, where private garages or parking spaces can be very expensive (e.g. up to €5,000 in Provence!). An apartment or townhouse in a town or community development may be some distance from the nearest road or car park. How do you feel about carrying heavy shopping hundreds of metres to your home and possibly up several flights of stairs? Traffic congestion is also a problem in many towns and tourist resorts, particularly during the high season.
Do houses sell well in the area, e.g. in less than six months? Generally you should avoid neighbourhoods where desirable houses routinely remain on the market for six months or longer (unless the property market is in a slump and nothing is selling).
Radon (radon), a radioactive gas emitted by granite, is found in significant quantities in parts of Brittany, Corsica, and the Massif Central and Vosges mountains, and some 300,000 homes are reckoned to have dangerous levels of radon. Although there’s evidence that exposure to high levels of radon can cause cancer, particularly among smokers, there’s no proven danger in long exposure to low levels. If you’re worried about radon levels and want a property checked, contact the Agence Nationale pour l’Amélioration de l’Habitat (ANAH), whose regional and departmental offices are listed on its website (http://www.anah.fr – click on ‘L’adresse de votre délégation’).
Consider your children’s present and likely future schooling needs. What is the quality of local schools? Are there any bi-lingual or international schools nearby? Note that, even if your family has no need or plans to use local schools, the value of a home may be influenced by the quality and location of schools.
Sports & Leisure Facilities
What is the range and quality of local leisure, sports, community and cultural facilities? What is the proximity to sports facilities such as a beach, golf course, ski resort or waterway? Bear in mind that properties in or close to ski and coastal resorts are considerably more expensive, although they also have the best letting potential. If you’re interested in a winter holiday home, which area should you choose?
Termites (termites) or white ants can devastate woodwork and are found in over 50 departments – particularly in the south-west, the worst-affected departments being Landes, Gironde, Charente-Maritime and Lot-et-Garonne in that order. In certain communes, an inspection is required (known as un état parasitaire).
Details of areas affected can be obtained from the Observatoire de Lutte Xylophages (08 00 92 19 21, http://www.olx.fr) and a list of recognised treatment companies from your local Direction Départementale de l’Equipement (DDE) or the Centre Technique du Bois et de l’Ameublement/CTBA (01 40 19 49 19, http://www.termite.com.fr, where there’s also a map showing affected areas).
Note that a certificat de non-infestation is valid only for three months, so in the average purchase procedure the inspection cannot be carried out until after you’ve signed the compromis de vente, in which case you must keep your fingers crossed that the result is positive. If it isn’t, you can withdraw from the sale and have your deposit returned, negotiate a reduction in the selling price to allow for termite treatment (which can cost between €2,500 and €5,000) or ask the seller to have the treatment done before proceeding with the sale.
Bear in mind that if you live in a popular tourist area, e.g. almost anywhere in the south of France, you will be inundated with tourists in summer. They won’t only jam the roads and pack the public transport, but may even occupy your favourite table at your local café or restaurant!
Although a ‘front-line’ property on the beach or in a marina development may sound attractive and be ideal for short holidays, it isn’t usually the best choice for permanent residents. Many beaches are hopelessly crowded in the high season, streets may be smelly from restaurants and fast food outlets, parking impossible, services stretched to breaking point, and the incessant noise may drive you crazy. You may also have to tolerate water restrictions in some areas.
Town or Country?
Do you wish to be in a town or do you prefer the country? Bear in mind that if you buy a property in the country, you will probably have to put up with poor public transport (or none at all), long travelling distances to a town of any size, solitude and remoteness. You won’t be able to pop along to the local boulangerie for a baguette and croissants, drop into the local bar for a glass of your favourite tipple with the locals, or have a choice of restaurants on your doorstep. In a town or large village, the weekly market will be just around the corner, the doctor and chemist close at hand, and if you need help or run into any problems, your neighbours will be close by.
On the other hand, in the country you will be closer to nature, will have more freedom (e.g. to make as much noise as you wish) and possibly complete privacy, e.g. to sunbathe or swim au naturel. Living in a remote area in the country will suit nature lovers looking for solitude who don’t want to involve themselves in the ‘hustle and bustle’ of town life (not that there’s much of this in French rural towns). If you’re after peace and quiet, make sure that there isn’t a busy road or railway line nearby or a local church within ‘donging’ distance.
Note, however, that many people who buy a remote country home find that the peace of the countryside palls after a time and they yearn for the more exciting night-life of a city or tourist resort. If you’ve never lived in the country, it’s wise to rent first before buying. Note also that, while it’s cheaper to buy in a remote or unpopular location, it’s usually much more difficult to find a buyer when you want to sell.
Although it isn’t so important if you’re planning to live permanently in France and stay put, one of the major considerations when buying a holiday home is the cost of getting to and from France, and you should ask yourself these questions.
- How long will it take to get to a home in France, taking into account journeys to and from airports, ports and railway stations?
- How frequent are flights, ferries or trains at the time(s) of year when you plan to travel?
- Are direct flights or trains available?
- Is it feasible to travel by car?
- What is the cost of travel from my home country to the region where I’m planning to buy a home in France?
- Are off-season discounts or inexpensive charter flights available?
If a long journey is involved, you should bear in mind that it may take you a day or two to recover, especially if you suffer jet-lag. Obviously, the travelling time and cost of travel to a home in France will be more significant if you’re planning to spend frequent weekends there rather than a few long visits a year. When comparing costs between flying or taking the train or bus and driving via the Channel Tunnel or ferry, take into account the price of motorway tolls and fuel.
Tip: Allow plenty of time to get to and from airports, ports and stations, particularly when travelling at peak times, when traffic congestion can be horrendous, and also for security checks.
This article is an extract from Buying a home in France. Click here to get a copy now.