Your Own Home In France For As Little As US$40,000
It’s not often that I surround myself with expats when I’m in France, but on a recent visit I had the opportunity to explore the villages of the Haute Languedoc Regional Park with the Languedoc-Roussillon’s Women’s International Club (WIC). The ladies, and several husbands, were on a specially organized excursion to explore the history of the area. I took the chance to ask them what attracted them to this part of France in the first place… and what makes them stay.
Sometimes referred to as the “Other South of France,” Languedoc-Roussillon sits between the regions of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur to the east, the Midi-Pyrenees to the west, the Auvergne to the north, and Spain to the south. The region is divided into five departments: Pyrénées-Orientales (close to the Spanish border), Aude, Hérault, Gard, and Lozère.
The regional capital is the historic city of Montpellier—at least at the moment. In 2016, Languedoc-Roussillon will merge with the vast Midi-Pyrenees to the east, following France’s hotly contended decision to reduce the number of regions in the country from 22 to 13. Once the merger takes place, the new regional capital will be Toulouse.
Languedoc-Roussillon boasts so much to see and do, from Europe’s largest nudist beach, skiing in the Pyrenees, canoeing and cycling to the UNESCO sites of the medieval Cathar citadel at Carcassonne, the Canal du Midi, fantastic markets, theater and shows in the Roman capital Montpellier, and endless village festivals.
Apart from these obvious attractions, why have the ladies, and gents, of the WIC, who’ve migrated here from across Europe and the United States, chosen to make this region of France, specifically, their home?
The overriding reasons are better weather; outdoor living; good quality fresh food; fantastic and accessible art, history, and culture; dependable and high-quality health care; beautiful and varied countryside, a work-to-live attitude, not live-to-work; good infrastructure yet little to no traffic; and a slower pace of life.
Pearl from the U.K. told me: “My husband and I are both Francophiles and enjoy every opportunity this area gives us to explore our interest in French history, literature, and art. The warmer weather, the beautiful and varied landscape, and the natural surroundings on our doorstep are everything to us. Plus, we have access to good teaching hospitals and health facilities, as well as motorways and airports.”
Everyone I spoke with echoed these thoughts. Other things that seem to mean a lot to all these happy expats are the great social life they’ve been able to tap into (they all spoke of having wider circles of friends than they had back home); the peace and tranquility of life in this part of the world; the ease of getting home to see family and for family to come and stay with them; and a plentiful supply of excellent cheap wine!
Allan, a Scotsman, told me: “There is always something to do, even in the smallest villages. Most villages have ‘cultural budgets’ to fund regular concerts, events, and exhibitions.”
I asked if they found the bureaucracy that France is so famous for a burden.
“France is often seen as over-regulated with laws and regulations covering every aspect of life,” Allan told me. “However, the attitude of the people to many of their laws if so relaxed as to treat them with complete disregard. For instance, cars are parked absolutely anywhere regardless of safety or local bylaws.”
Most of the expats I spoke to are not conversant in French. One said she finds the local dialect difficult to master, and they all agreed that locals are simply happy that local expats try their best to use whatever French they have.
“We didn’t mean to move here,” Maggie told me. “We rented a house for one year in 2013 in Saint Chinian. After just one month, the landlord called to ask if we thought we’d stay for longer than a year, as he had others interested in the house. That spurred us on to take control of our own destiny. We visited a lot of houses, even ranking them on a spreadsheet to help us use our heads more than our hearts. Within three months, we had found a property to buy in Saint Chinian and sold our house in the U.K. In November 2013, we made our permanent move. We love living here. This is our home now.”
Even if you’re not ready to join these expats in the Other South of France, this is the best time in a long time—especially if you’re shopping with U.S. dollars—to think about purchasing a small, low-maintenance home that would allow you to dip your toe in the French property market without committing to anything too big or too needy.
For the euro equivalent of as little as US$40,000, you could purchase a one- or two-bedroom apartment in the bustling market town of Saint Chinian or the villages of Cessenon-sur-Orb, Villespassans, or Cebazan. Real Estate GTI-French House Languedoc lists several on its first page. (Don’t be put off by the old-fashioned look of this website; the owner-agent, Philippe Godia, is the most helpful in the Saint Chinian area and speaks English.)
A stone-walled, two-bedroom property in Villespassans listed by Maxea (Dutch-owned and English-speaking), is in need of some updating but is ready to live in and on the market for 48,000 euros.
If you decide, like most of the expats I spoke to, that this is where you want to put down roots, you will want something larger with room to entertain and somewhere to sit outside to enjoy the 300 days of sunshine. Keeping the budget at US$100,000 or less, GTI has a three-bedroom property for sale (ref 2937) for 75,000 euros (about US$84,000) that features a sitting room that extends out to a small patio. This house has been refurnished recently but includes original tiles and a spiral staircase. The sale includes a large piece of land (11,000 square meters) located 2 kilometers away that can’t be built on but that could be used for growing vegetables or raising animals.
In a hamlet five minutes from Saint Chinian is an attractive detached property complete with typical shutters that has been converted into two two-bedroom apartments of 42 square meters apiece. The renovation of the top floor is complete, and this unit is being sold furnished with an equipped kitchen. The renovation of the ground-floor (rez-de-chaussée) apartment is to be completed. I’m highlighting this property for you because it is light and airy, and, with two separate apartments, has great potential for rental income. Upside: room for letting or guests. Downside: no garden, garage, or terrace. Price: 98,000 euros.
A pretty, fully renovated one-bedroom stone house is on the market in Cebazan (10 minutes from Cesseon-sur-Orb and 10 minutes from Saint Chinian) for 108,000 euros (about US$120,000). This property has beams and other original features yet is light and airy with a pretty kitchen-sitting room and a terrace with a barbeque. Downside: the terrace leads off the bedroom.
In the popular village of Cessenon-sur-Orb (popular because it is small—about 2,000 people—yet has all the amenities you’d need to be able to live here without owning a car, including a supermarket, three bakeries, three schools, a river with a beach, canoeing, campsite, tennis court, restaurants, bar, hair and beauty salons [three!], and a market) two properties are currently for sale for less than US$120,000. The first, a fully renovated, 80-square-meter, three-bedroom village house, has a large, private rooftop terrace and is being sold for 97,800 euros. The second is a three-story house with 10 rooms that’s twice the size (190 square meters) of the first, with a balcony and terrace on the second and third floors, but it is in need of complete modernization.
If you are able to raise the budget to about US$150,000, you could get the same amount of outdoor living space but bigger rooms. Here’s a house built in 1900 close to the Canal du Midi near the town of Capestang. It has an odd layout (and would need some modernization), but anyone who loves high, ornate ceilings, original tiles, chimneys, beams, and pretty windows might find this bourgeoisie, 240-square-meter, four-bedroom home hard to resist.
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