Thinking of taking on a property renovation in Languedoc Roussillon, south France? Then read on...
“I want to buy a rural wreck to renovate…”
Tim and Jill Hayward want to purchase a traditional-style property in the Languedoc, and are house hunting in the area around Carcassonne. Tim plans to do the renovation himself and has a budget of €300,000 (£200,000).
Louise Hurren of Crème de Languedoc lends a helping hand.
Tim explains: “We’d like some help in our search as this is the first time we’ve bought in France. I’m used to buying and renovating property in the UK, so hard work doesn’t scare me; I’m confident I can take on most of the basic DIY myself, with help from friends who are in the building trade, and my experience of doing up houses means I have a good eye for the potential of a wreck.
We’ve been down to the Carcassonne area a few times on holiday and we really like the countryside there, as well as the warmth - and of course, the wine! We plan to turn our purchase into a comfortable holiday home that we could use several times a year, and possibly rent out a bit, just to friends and family. I suppose it would be nice if we could sell it on for a profit at some point in the future, but that’s not really our main concern. The key point is to have a project I can really get stuck into, and then we can both enjoy the benefits when it’s finished. My job as a photographer means I’m often away working for several weeks at a time, but then back for a similar period, so I could come down to the Languedoc and spend a good stretch of time working on the house every two or three months.
We prefer older, stone-built houses – we feel they have more character - and we would happily consider buying some kind of agricultural building – a barn or small farmhouse, for example – so long as it was within a fairly attractive setting, with plenty of peace and quiet. For practical reasons we’d want it to be within an hour’s drive of Carcassonne airport, because of the low-cost flights from London Stansted. Can you help?”
Tim and Jill’s budget of €300,000 is more than enough to buy somewhere in need of tender loving care, but they’ll need to set aside a considerable amount for the work itself, as this is often what leads buyers to go over budget. Obviously the amount will depend on the level to which they want to renovate; as this will be used as a holiday home, and mainly during the warmer weather, then arguably it won’t need to be finished to the same standard as a permanent home, and there are some short cuts they can take when it comes to things like heating and insulation. However, I’d warn Tim and Jill that they could easily end up spending €100,000 just on the renovation of their property, so this is not a purchase to be undertaken lightly, even though the cost of property in the Languedoc can seem very attractive, particularly when compared to London house prices.
I’d suggest they look for homes costing around €150,000 (€200,000 at the most), and set aside the remainder of their budget for all the renovation work, decoration, furniture, flights back and forth, some independent legal advice, and of course a contingency budget to cover all those over-spends and unforeseen items that always crop up! On top of the basic purchase price (which almost always includes the estate agent’s commission), they must remember that they’ll be paying the notaire’s fees of 7–9%.
Tim is confident in his ability to handle the renovation himself, so I’ve selected three properties that all need a considerable amount of work, and I hope he won’t be daunted by the task. Although he plans get his friends to lend a hand, it can pay dividends to use qualified French plumbers and electricians, as some aspects of house building (wiring regulations, for example) are different in France. If they do decide to go ahead with this project, the couple should bear in mind that one day they may well want to sell their second home; for this reason they should avoid over-speccing, odd layouts, outlandish decoration or anything that might deter a potential purchaser. If they have work done by professionals and keep the receipts they can claim a deduction of a percentage of the property’s purchase price against capital gains tax (impôts sur les plus-values, payable when they sell their French property if it’s not their main residence), though they can’t claim for any work done themselves, or any DIY materials.
All three properties are within an hour’s drive from Carcassonne airport, in quiet, rural settings. Being used to a London lifestyle, Tim and his wife may find the contrast quite marked! The first two are not residential properties (one’s a barn, the other’s a wine cellar), but with time and effort they could be transformed into highly original second homes. By way of a contrast, the third is a traditional five- bedroom house, so the basic structure is already in place, hence the higher price. All are in the Aude department, in the wine-producing areas of the Minervois and Corbières, so Tim and Jill will be surrounded by vines, not to mention caves where they can sample the local vintages at the end of a hard day’s work.”
“I’m quite taken with the idea of either the barn or the wine cellar. In some ways the village house would possibly be an easier option, but it would stretch our budget to the very limit and I don’t think either of us would feel comfortable about that. I’m not sure that we really need five bedrooms either, so it’s probably best to focus on something a little smaller, and put the money towards the cost of the renovation.
I particularly like the second choice, maybe because of its wine-making heritage; there’s something that appeals to me emotionally here. If we could preserve some of the original bits and bobs too, that would be great – it would certainly give us some talking points after dinner, at least! I’ve had a look at the particulars on the agent’s website and realise that this is a big project that will take some time, but that’s OK – we’re in no hurry. The plan is to fund the work out of our savings plus some of my earnings every few months, so it can be spread out over time. I realise we need to count our pennies carefully to ensure we don’t go over budget on this project.
I have to confess that after mulling this all over, I’ve had a bit of a rethink: I feel I would really need to find some good local builders to help me, as I’m not sure dragging friends over from the UK to help is really that practical. My French is OK and I’m sure I could make myself understood – I often travel to some very far-flung places as part of my job and always manage to communicate with people, so I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble in the south of France. The main thing is to find some reliable local people who really know what they’re doing, and where to source materials; I can supervise and muck in as much as I can, and in time we’ll get the job done.
The next step will be for us to make a trip over together to have another look at the Corbières and Minervois areas, and really narrow down our search zone. We’ve been gathering information from the Crème de Languedoc site, and the About the Area and Really Really Useful Info sections have been very helpful – there’s a lot of detail there about things like weather, geography and specific wine making areas - but the time has come for us to spend some time in the Aude and get a really good feel for where we want to be. We don’t know Bize Minervois itself but have been to nearby areas which were very pretty, so I feel we’re heading in the right direction. Our finances are all sorted out and we’re in a position to buy if we see the right place; we’ve done our homework, now we’re keen to get stuck in!”