Purchasing Real Estate In France

How To Buy Real Estate In France

“Which part of France are you going to visit?”

“The Dordogne, the Limousin, and perhaps Brittany. What about you?”

“I fancy taking a look at the area around Toulouse—I think it’s called the Midi-Pyrenees—and also the region close to Spain on the Mediterranean side.”

I’m in a public loo at London’s Earls Court Exhibition Center, listening in on a conversation between two ladies in the cubicles to either side of me.
I can’t resist answering left cubicle’s question: “You mean the region of Languedoc-Roussillon in southwest France, near to Spain?”

“Oh, yes, that’s it. Do you know it?” left cubicle asks.

“Yes, I know it well,” I reply, “It’s beautiful, and property prices are still affordable. It’s not overrun with tourists, and it’s still very French, but there are enough English speakers there to make expat life a little easier if you’re not a French speaker.” I can’t help chuckling to myself that this toilet-based advice is taking my love of the Languedoc a bit too far.

“Thank you, I’ll add it to my list of places to visit today,” says left cubicle and off she goes to explore all that was on offer at The France Show last weekend.

The France Show, an annual event at London’s Earl’s Court, is the place to get a “fix” of France without leaving the shores of the UK. This is everything French, from property companies and fresh-baked French delicacies to immersion language courses and Quirky Camping’s yurts in the Dordogne.

I visited this year to keep up-to-date with the property scene in France and to check that the companies I keep on my expat-property-buying radar are still providing the best English-language real estate services in the region.

Overall, the average prices of resale homes and apartments in France fell in the last quarter of 2013 by 2.0% and 1.3%, respectively, according to the latest report from the Notaires de France. Add to that the fall of 6% in the total number of transactions in the third quarter of 2013 compared with 2012, and it’s easy to understand why some agents are calling the market “stagnant.”

There are thousands of properties for sale in France at every price and thousands of agents. And this market, of course, has no multiple listing service, so the buyer has his work cut out for him. France is a big place and almost every part of it is worth exploring so the first step if you’re thinking of shopping for a piece of property here is to decide which region of France is of interest. Key factors to consider include the climate, the countryside, and the property prices. My guess is that if you are seriously thinking of France as a retire-overseas location, you’ll already have an idea about the region where you want to focus. (If you don’t, I suggest renting an RV—see France Motorhome Hire (disclosure: this is my sister’s business)—and investing as much time as you can afford driving the length and breadth of the country.)

Once you’ve identified your region (there are 22 to choose from, though this may drop to 15 if President Hollande’s newly announced proposal to simplify France is passed), it’s time to get down to the department level; there are 96 in total and usually 4 or 5 in each region…each with its own personality.

Once you know which part, or parts, of France interest you, what next? Now you need to identify particular properties to view, I’d suggest as many as possible.

Unlike in the United States, where, when you’re ready to begin looking at properties on the market, you begin by choosing a real estate agent to work with, in France (and most of the world), you want to come at this from the other direction. The lack of a multiple listing service means that you can’t work with just one agent…so don’t focus your search based on agents at all. Speak with a number of different agent and search online, too, understanding that online listings can be out of date, misleading, even misrepresentative.

Keep a folder of properties you like the look to share with each agent you meet with, to give him or her an idea of the style of property you like.

A good agent will ask you lots of questions (and this is where you will find a world of difference between agents who deal mostly with non-French buyers and those that don’t). A good agent will ask about you and your interests; what you want your property for; the type of property you’re interested in; whether you plan to live there full- or part-time; whether or not you need a mortgage; which currency will you buy in; etc. The more they know about you and your plans the easier for them to do their job efficiently.

Each time you go out viewing properties with an agent, get in his car with him. This way you can ask loads of questions as you travel along. Not a moment of your precious time will be wasted.

One important thing to note about the market in France right now is that it is much less easy than it used to be for a foreigner to arrange local financing. At the France show I attended last week, only International Private Finance (IPF) said they are currently lending to foreigners and that was with a soupçon of hesitation. For more information and help with bank financing for the purchase of property in this country, we recommend Tahminae Madani of France Home Finance.

Lucy Culpepper

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