French property in Languedoc: the buying process
Ever wondered about the buying process for French property in Languedoc? . There are whole tomes written on this subject (and you’d do well to read a couple if you’re serious about this property buying lark – my personal favourite is David Hampshire’s Buying a Home in France, published by Survival Books, you can order it at www.survivalbooks.net), but here’s the potted version.
You know those month-by-month guides that are sometimes advertised on TV – they usually have a title like “Creative crochet for your home” and you get a handy ring binder to keep them in? This part of the site gives you a step-by-step, monthly planner to help you the French property buying process (afraid there’s no ring binder, though). Think of planning to buy French property in Languedoc like planning your wedding, or the birth of your first baby: it’s all about counting down to The Big Day. Preparation is key: that way you won’t forget the wedding rings, or the nipple cream, or in this instance, the funds to complete your purchase. They say that getting married, giving birth and buying property are some of the most stressful events you go through in a lifetime, and as someone who’s done all three, I can testify to that. Here’s how to get through the French property buying process in Languedoc, and keep your cool.
LOOKING TO BUY THIS YEAR? COUNT YOUR BEANS
So you’re serious about buying French property in Languedoc.
Draw up a financial plan: your budget will affect the kind of property you’ll be able to afford, and the areas you’ll be looking in. Will you fund your purchase with cash, mortgage or a loan, or a combination of all three? Do you need to sell your current home in order to raise the necessary cash? You’ll have to pay around 8% of the purchase price in notaire’s fees (newer properties are subject to reduced fees of around 3%), which are always paid by the buyer. If you need a mortgage, get an “in principle” quotation and application form, and request a current account application form from a French bank (essential so you can transfer funds later); doing this now will help speed things up further down the line.
ELEVEN MONTHS TO GO: ASK YOURSELF SOME QUESTIONS
On to the next step in the process of buying French property in Languedoc. Finished sorting out your finances? Then you’re ready to focus on the age of home you’re looking for – new or old? Consider the pros and cons of each. Older homes have charm and character, but cost more to run and repair. What’s it to be? A Languedoc ruin to renovate, a fully-finished, carefully converted French barn, a recently-built bungalow, or a brand, spanking-new off-plan apartment property?
Leading on from this, decide what style of property you prefer – village house or villa? Detached family home or apartment? Answering these two questions should help direct your search to specific areas, as the type of French property in Languedoc you seek may be plentiful in some parts of the region and scarce in others. Former winemakers’ homes (domaines de vigneron) are easily found in Languedoc Roussillon, south France (no surprises there - it’s the world largest single wine-producing region) ditto stone-built terraced village houses built over two or three floors, with small windows and no outside space to speak of. Converted silk mills can be found as you follow the Herault river path inland; head up into the Cévennes peaks and you’re in chestnut country, where ancient stone-built houses and clèdes (chestnut drying barns) perch on steeply terraced land farmed by Cevenol families over the centuries.
What are your must-haves? Identify the three most important criteria that your French property in Languedoc should meet for you to be able to consider buying it. For example, is a garden, roof terrace or several acres of land part of the plan? Does there have to be space for a pool? Is being within an hour’s drive of an airport essential (I’ll answer this one for you – yes, it is, if only to ensure the resaleability of your Languedoc home).
TEN MONTHS TO GO: SPEND SOME TIME ONLINE
Step three in the French property buying process: get online. Use the internet to browse Languedoc-based property websites and check out property styles and prices in specific areas. Visit some property exhibitions, too (these are great for picking agents’ brains).
NINE MONTHS TO YOUR BIG DAY: GO ON A RECCE
If you’ve followed the steps through the buying process for French property in Languedoc properly so far, you should now have a clear idea of your spending power, the kind of home you’re hunting for, and the areas of Languedoc Roussillon, south France in which you’ll be searching. Now the fun really starts; you can go and check out the lie of the land (you wouldn’t buy a house in the UK without knowing the area well, would you?). Book those plane tickets and pop over for a fortnight to get a really good feel for your département of choice (Languedoc Roussillon has five - Lozère, Gard, Hérault, Aude and Pyrénées-Orientales – and you really shouldn’t be house hunting unless you’ve whittled the search area down to just one). Try visiting out of season too, as this can be a real eye-opener; what looks like a dream home in the summer sun can be a little house of horrors in the depths of winter. Spend some time checking out what the local estate agents have on offer. Do a bit of what the French call lèche-vitrine – literally, window licking, but please don’t be tempted to waste agents’ and vendors’ time with viewings unless you’re really ready to buy a property in Languedoc.
EIGHT MONTHS TO GO: FINDING THE HOUSE OF YOUR DREAMS
Hurrah! It’s time to contact French property agents in Languedoc and arrange some viewings. This is the fun part of the French property buying process. Alternatively, you could use a property search agent (see our Find a Property Agent section) who’ll contact agents immobiliers on your behalf and draw up a shortlist of viewings for you (handy if you’re cash rich, time poor, or linguistically challenged). You may be asked to sign a bon de visite, which effectively protects the agent’s commission and prevents you from buying the same property through another agent, or cutting a private deal with the vendor, which is a big no-no.
In the excitement of heading to France, don’t leave your brain at the check-in desk. Consider things like proximity to airports, the coast, lakes, mountains, or (let’s be realistic here) supermarkets and hospitals. Do you really want to drive umpteen kilometres everyday just to buy your breakfast baguette? Do you need to be within easy reach of (say) a doctor’s surgery or pharmacy?
The process of buying French property in Languedoc continues - because when you’ve found THE house (barn, farm, villa – whatever) and you’re ready to put in an offer, consider getting quotes for building work before committing yourself. Unlike the UK, it’s very rare for structural surveys to be carried out on buildings in France, although it’s perfectly possible to commission one through a British surveyor (there are a number working in France, try www.surveyors-en-france.com for starters). Most French people buying an older property would ask a Languedoc architect or builder to come and take a look. Better safe than sorry, after all.
Sure you’re doing the right thing? Then sign the preliminary sales agreement or compromis de vente. Once this has been counter-signed by the vendor it becomes legally binding, although there’s a seven-day cooling off period during which you can pull out, but the vendor can’t (which effectively protects you from gazumping). Pull out after the seven days are up and you’ll lose your deposit. Various let-out clauses, called conditions suspensives, can be inserted into the compromis, typically covering things like rights of way, planning permission, or your mortgage application being approved. Once the seven-days have elapsed, you’ll have to stump up the readies (usually 5-10% of the purchase price) as a deposit, and then you’ve got a couple of months to get your ducks in a row while the notaire does the conveyancing.
TWO MONTHS LEFT – BREAK OPEN YOUR PIGGY BANK
If you’re going to need a mortgage to fund your purchase, now is the time to complete your application, and open that French bank account we talked about earlier. On the subject of money, you might need to prepare any personal assets you intend to use for the purchase of property in Languedoc (e.g. give notice for any savings you want to withdraw, sell securities, etc). Hopefully you’ve done your financial planning carefully from day one and things won’t be going pear-shaped on this front… will they?
ONE MONTH TO GO – THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
Now you need to confirm the date and time of the signing of the acte de vente with the notaire, and make any necessary travel arrangements (if you’re not going to complete in person, you’ll need to complete a power of attorney form). Your place in the sun has to be insured in your name from the date of completion, so contact an insurance company now and get the relevant form so this can be finalised painlessly on the day when you finally sign the acte de vente.
YOUR BIG DAY
It’s time to take a deep breath, say “I do”, and sign on the dotted line. The torturous process of buying French property in Langeudoc is almost over! Completion is usually organised at the notaire’s office; all the relevant parties (vendor, purchaser or their proxy, possibly another notaire appointed by the purchaser, plus the estate agent, maybe a search agent or a translator) put on their Sunday best and gather round the notaire’s desk while he reads through the title, checks that all is in order, and then asks each party to sign the contract. The reading through of all the papers plus each party then initialing each and every page makes for a fairly time-consuming ceremony, but hey, it’s your big day, so enjoy it. Once the deed is done, you can crack open the champagne, raise your glass and drink to your French property in Languedoc Roussillon.