How To Buy Real Estate In France
Back in July, I wrote about helping my parents find a new home in the Languedoc region of France, the “Other” South of France, as I call it.
My parents are already living in this region. It’s just that their current house, though beautiful, is too big, has too many steps, and needs quite a bit of pampering to keep it in shape. Plus, it’s not a home that you can lock-and-leave easily, something they’d like to do more often…
All good reasons to find a simpler, single-story (plain-pied in French) home.
My nearly 80-year-old folks are a little reluctant to move (who can blame them…it’s not an easy thing to do at any age) and need a bit of cajoling. So, during the last week of my summer stay in France, I persuaded my mother to view some houses.
I had made a list of five plain-pied properties from three local agent’s websites. One turned out not to be plain-pied and three had been sold but the agents had not updated their information. So that left one to view. It looked interesting online, a two-part home; half plain-pied, the other half, which could be closed off, made up of two floors… Off we went.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the main bedroom was tiny and right next to the kitchen, while the best bedroom was on the top floor of the other half of the house.
We thought that was it, but, no, a surprise from the agent. He wanted to show us another property in the village of Prades sur Vernazobre. It’s a pretty village but without any shops or services, just a bread van that visits each morning. The property was immaculate and checked off several boxes, though not for the budget or access to shops. It was plain-pied, with a pool (only 1.2 meters deep because the owner couldn’t swim!) with electronic pool cover. The house had reversible air-con, a neat little kitchen, efficient wood burner, large garage, and a small garden with an automatic watering system. (Thanks to this, the grass was green, not something you see at the end of August in the Languedoc.)
The four bedrooms were roomy and had electric shutters, the view was great, and the owner was a recently divorced builder who had built the property himself and done it well. (“Divorce wasn’t part of the final plan,” he told me with a shrug.) I was getting excited and willing to forget about the lack of services and hoping that the owner would be willing to negotiate on price.
“What do you think, mum,” I whispered.
“It’s too modern, and we’d have to get in the car for everything,” she replied.
Pop went my bubble. But she was absolutely right. Not, perhaps, about it being too modern but about keeping your eye on what really matters when house hunting. To her it’s really important to be able to walk to the market, the bakery, the pharmacy, and a café on the square. She does not want to get in the car every time she needs or forgets something or has unplanned visitors for lunch or dinner.
What to do? Agents in France are notoriously unhelpful (though they are usually polite and often delightful, as is the case with M. Godias of Agence GTI, who showed us the property we viewed).
When searching for property in France (as in most of the world outside the United States), you have to remember that there’s no such thing as an MLS. This inefficient reality is compounded by the fact that French agents don’t keep their property lists up-to-date, don’t think outside the box, and don’t produce property “spec” sheets. What does that mean? More work for the prospective buyer—even down to getting out a measuring tape as you walk through a place so you can measure room sizes with the owner trailing along behind.
Because of this, many property vendors (particularly expat vendors who know how things could be run) are fed up with French agents and resort to private sales. This makes things even more challenging for buyers, who have to search independently to find what can be the best buys.
Understanding all this, I decided to put on my running shoes (literally) and headed off for a grande tour in search of “A Vendre” signs in my parent’s preferred village in the Hérault department of the Languedoc… Bingo! After a mere 15 minutes weaving my way around the little roads of Cessenon-sur-Orb, I found a freshly painted sign pointing toward the end of a cul-de-sac.
My heart wasn’t just thumping from the exercise. This was a house in a perfect spot. It looked well-kept and even had a friendly neighbor who came out to tell me the owners had moved but were still living in the village. I scribbled down the phone number and raced back, excited to share my find.
My parents were gee-d up by my enthusiasm so I arranged to visit the house the next morning with my mother. It was bigger than it looked from the road but was plain-pied (except for one attic room that could be closed off and a small, musty-smelling subterranean wine cellar). The kitchen was brand-new, the floors recently tiled, the décor fresh and subtle. There was a mature, but easy-to-manage garden, a lovely utility room, and a garden “shed” nice enough for visitors to sleep in. It was easy to imagine my folks there.
The price? We braced ourselves…then let out a collective sigh when we learned 250,000 euro. That’s good for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house in a great situation in a popular village. I felt like I had struck the mother lode. I calmed myself and waited for my mother’s reaction.
She wanted to return the next day for another look with my father. Great.
Unfortunately, the day I had to return to the UK. Sitting up front with my dad for the drive to the airport, I remarked that I was happy that at last the property ball was rolling and maybe he, too, would like the house in Cessenon.
He said, yes, it was good to have options.
“Options” I wondered. “What other options?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about buying an apartment back in the UK, in Oxford maybe,” my dad replied.
Well, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink…
Anyone looking for a very nice house in Cessenon?
Continue reading: We won’t just give you the upside…we’ll give you the truth