Depending on where you currently reside, it can be daunting to even think about buying a house in another country. How do you find houses for sale? What about the language barrier? Do the estate agents work differently in France? We had all of the same concerns, however buying a house in rural France was really quite simple for us. This is everything we learnt about the process of buying a house in rural France that we think you should know too.
Please note: we are not experts on buying a house in France, this post is purely our experience and what we have learnt and isn’t a conclusive resource
1. Know what you are getting yourself into when buying a house in rural France
Houses can be extremely cheap in rural France but it’s important to understand why. The majority of cheaper houses will need a lot of work which can cost tens of thousands. Job opportunities can be quite limiting in these areas. Additionally, the closer you get to cities the more expensive the houses will get. Alongside this, the cost of living (and renovating) is not cheap also. We have found it much more expensive here in France than it would be in the UK. However if you can make your finances work, then what you can get for your money is an absolute dream! If you enjoy the quiet, countryside and nature, gardening and small villages, then the type of life you will find in rural France will be absolutely perfect for you.
2. How to find houses for sale
If you have decided that moving to rural France could well be a good move to you, it’s important to know where to look! We used Rightmove to find houses for sale. Rightmove doesn’t sell the houses themselves, but works as a search engine instead. You can easily search for houses within your location and budget. You can then find out which houses are being sold through what estate agent. Do another search on Google for the estate agents to find their own website, but they may not always have an English version!
3. Working with French estate agents
If you have found houses you would like to view, definitely contact the estate agent to arrange a viewing. We would not recommend purchasing without viewing the house in person. A lot of the photographs can be poor, and limit showing what is truly on the property, or even around the house. We viewed one house that had a huge dairy farm literally right next door, with cows only a few metres from the front door. Although the house was lovely, we didn’t want to be that close to such a big farm. The photographs of course didn’t depict this!
Some agents we worked with had English agents showing us around, whilst others were of course French. We definitely felt the French agents didn’t try to sell us the properties like English agents typically do. One lady, although lovely, mostly just left us to look around whilst she waited outside chatting on her phone! She also didn’t speak much English, which is very common in rural France, so basic French conversational skills are definitely recommended. If this happens to you, and you do have questions, then it might be easier to contact the estate agent direct as they usually have an English speaking colleague able to help.
4. There are lots of things to consider when buying one of these old properties
When viewing these old, stone properties, there are so many factors to consider to make sure you don’t end up with a property that is going to cause you lots of problems. Is there any structural damage? Does the roof look in good condition? Is there a risk of flooding on the property? Does the property have heating, hot water, or a septic tank? Is there an electrical supply to the house?
It is recommended to take someone with you familiar with these things to be able to advise you correctly. We took my dad who used to be a civil engineer with a building background, who has also bought and renovated several of his own properties. When we arrived at the house we ended up buying, the first thing he looked at was the back of the house. We have a huge field that slopes downwards directly onto the back of our house, and he was concerned about flooding from the run off of the rainwater from the field. We later learned from a neighbour it had indeed flooded a few years back, and so the previous owners had installed a water drainage system in the garden. This isn’t something we would have ever thought about if it wasn’t for my dad!
5. Can you really handle that much land?
It might sound incredible to learn that the cheap little house you viewed comes with 10 acres of land. But be honest – are you realistically able to look after that much land? We learnt the hard way, thinking we would be able to look after our simple 2.5 acres – we were wrong. The grass grew far quicker than we could have imagined in the summer, so much so that no typical lawn mower would be able to cut it. Luckily our kind farmer neighbour came with his tractor to cut and bale up our garden. We have since invested in a ride on lawn mower to be able to maintain the grass ourselves.
6. Are there restrictions on the property and/or land?
Even if your building isn’t registered as a historic property, there may still be limitations on what you can or cannot do to the house or surrounding land. You can simply ask at the local mairie’s office (the local mayor) for your town for the restrictions for your property. Some places only allow doors and shutters to be painted in accepted colours. Other places will not allow any extensions or new structures on the land. Our house does not need any planning permission for inside the house. However any new doors or windows will need to be approved first. It is a good idea to learn what you can or cannot do before committing to a property.
7. The process of making an offer when buying a house in rural France
If you’ve seen a house you love, you can start to think about the offer you are going to make. In rural France, since there are so many properties for sale, it really is a buyers market. Offer what you think the property is truly worth, instead of immediately offering the asking price. It is not uncommon to offer a considerable amount below the asking price. The worst they say is no, but they may come back with a counter offer that meets in the middle. Once your offer has been accepted, another buyer cannot come in and offer more, taking the property from you. Even if no paperwork has been signed you have protection.
In France there is a government agency called SAFER, who basically have the right to buy any rural property or land before you complete the sale. They are designed to protect agricultural land. Even if the preliminary contract has been signed, the property will not definitely be yours until SAFER has confirmed that they do not want the property and/or land, or even part of it. They get two months to make their decision, which can be an anxious time. There is also a service where you can pay to fast track SAFER as well, if you would prefer a shorter waiting time. SAFER however rarely exercise their right to buy and the majority of properties go through with no problems at all.
9. Costs involved and sending money abroad
As a buyer in France, you will have to pay the fees for the property which are around 7% of the overall property price. This includes the notaire’s fee (a public officer) of 1%, a purchase tax of around 5.9% and admin costs. There will also be a translation fee included for the contract to put it into English, as well as a translator present for the completion of the sale that’s done in person. For paying into a foreign account, you can use a currency broker, or another means if you can get a good exchange rate yourselves. We have family that work in banking so we were able to secure a good rate ourselves.
10. Lots and lots of paperwork
One thing we have learned since living in France is that they love paperwork! And buying a house is no exception. Initially you sign a preliminary contract (a compromis de vente) and pay a deposit. You then have a 10 day cooling off period where you can back out of the sale and receive your deposit money back. After this point you have truly committed! The notaire will draw up the final deeds (an acte de vente) once the process of SAFER has been completed.
Once completed and signed, you will have to pay the full amount into the notaire’s bank account. We were cash buyers so we did not apply for a loan or mortgage, so cannot advise there. The last step was to complete in person at the notaire’s office where we had a translator go through the deeds with us to ensure we understood everything before we signed. Then the keys are all yours!
The whole process, from viewing the house initially, putting in our offer, waiting for SAFER, to finally get the keys took just under 5 months. It can be a long process, and we were cash buyers! But the wait was truly worth it, we adore our home and life in rural France.