When you’re considering buying the home you’ve dreamed of in France there are a lot of decisions to make before you commit, here are a few things to think about:
Location of your house in France
Most people visit an area in the summer months for a short period of time and decide that it could be the place for them but it’s always a good idea to visit at different times of the year. For instance the north of France can have warm and sunny summers and spring can be delightful but winter can be bitterly cold from Brittany up to Nord Pas-de-Calais. What can feel like a beautiful hot summer when you’re laying around a pool in the South of France can feel be overwhelming when you’re trying to renovate in a high heat.
Try to imagine how it will be to conduct everyday life when you’re living somewhere – a home which is miles from everywhere can seem like a great idea but for some people they may find it isolates them just a little too much when they are there permanently.
Language in France
It is possible to live in France and not speak French but it’s not a good idea. If you don’t speak the language of the country that will be your home you’ll find it far harder to fit in, harder to deal with administrative requirements and you’ll be missing out on French life – you won’t be able to experience living the dream in its entirety as updates about what’s on which drop through your post box will become a chore to translate and the neighbours will find it difficult to update you and help you to become part of the community.
Take French language lessons. If there’s nothing available where you live do a course online – there’s plenty of availability. Don’t be shy of trying out your French on everyone you meet – they will laugh with you not at you if you don’t get it perfectly right but they will appreciate you trying. There’s lot of helpful information in our French language section.
The law when buying a house in France
Most if not all estate agents will recommend a notaire to undertake the conveyancing work when you buy your home but it may be worth you speaking to other buyers in the area if possible to see if they have recommendations.
Make sure you’re aware of the inheritance rules as they may have an impact for you. The rules change from time to time but currently if you become resident in France, under French law your assets, including your home, must be shared amongst your children as well as your spouse. There are ways round it but you’ll need specialist legal advice to resolve any potential issues.
Finances in France
If you buy a house in France you’ll need a bank account in France. Technically it’s not absolutely essential but trying to do without will quickly make life difficult for you. Many banks in France offer English language speaking staff to facilitate services and Credit Agricole runs Britline, a bank where all the staff speak English. Although they are based in Normandy everything is online or by phone so it can be used from anywhere in France. See our section on banking in France for more details and advice.
Renovating or decorating the house
My first bit of advice would be to know what needs to be prioritised when you’re considering a property for renovation, how much it will cost and whether you can get someone to do it in the time you need it done. A log fire can seem romantic but in the depths of a cold winter you need to be sure it will keep you warm enough or the dream quickly turns into a cold and miserable nightmare. You may need to consider getting an additional means of heating or stock up on wood in good time – neighbours usually are very happy to pass on the details of where you can buy firewood from and it is available from some of the bigger DIY stores but its normally more expensive to buy it from a shop instead of a local provider. Power cuts will not make you happy so get your electric checked and make sure that you have sufficient feed into your home to run your appliances – see our feature on electricity in France for more help on this important detail.
If you have a septic tank, make sure it works properly, it’s a legal requirement these days to comply with rules about soak aways and emptying the contents, so ask the estate agent to check with the sellers that they can provide you with written confirmation that the septic tank is authorised as fit for purpose – fitting a new one can cost thousands.
If you need a builder – try not to just use expat builders because of a language issue unless they come with good references and are registered. Under French law you can be fined for paying a builder for services that he’s not registered to do – see our section on hiring a builder for much more information and to help you choose the right man or woman for the job. Your local town hall can help with referrals for builders, architects, electricians and they will help you to check that registration details are correct.
If the house is not exactly what you want and you think you’ll need to extend or change the use of buildings for instance, you’re likely to need planning permission in some form or another. Check with your estate agent and/or the Town Hall that the house is in an area where such work is permitted – see our section on planning permission for lots more help.
If you’re buying land to build a new home – be explicit with the estate agent and notaire that you are going to build and ask them to ensure that the correct paperwork is in order. You’ll need an architect for a new build, try to source one as early as possible to discuss your requirements – before you buy is a very good idea to make sure that you have all your ducks in a row!
Transport in France
If you decide to live in a rural part of France or outside a main town or city, you’ll almost certainly need a form of transport as you won’t necessarily be able to rely on public transport. If you’re moving to France with someone and you have one vehicle between you and the other one needs the vehicle for work say, you’ll need to consider how you’ll manage. We’ve heard of two families where the partner who stayed at home couldn’t cope without a car and it became a big issue – enough to cause them to have to move.
If you can, visit as much as possible before you take the decision to buy in an area, see what it’s like at different times, try to meet the neighbours, see if there are any other expats in the area and how they got on – the Town Hall staff can be a mine of information, if there are other expats locally they will tell you and give you contact details. Introduce yourself at the Town Hall and tell them that you’re thinking of buying in the area – you’ll also be able to check what building work is going on as permits for work are displayed on the walls in the Town Hall or in the windows.