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French property advice

Advice on buying French property - from those who've bought...


“We paid 7% to our agent – and for that got poorly written property details with awful photographs. I just don’t understand why their commissions are so high. Maybe that’s why there are so many of them!”

– Steve Craig


We were lucky. Our English friends have lived here for 15 years, are experienced and respected agents and use a quality notaire. However, if you don't have these advantages, we would advise a reputable service or individual who can take you through the buying process. There are all sorts of pitfalls from not all family members having knowledge of a sale to the horny old problem of rights of way. We have no regrets and wish everyone good luck."

- Sandy Brewer


Enjoyed buying our apartment in Ste Maxime in 2001, though the agents fees were high. It has proved to be a good investment. We are now looking in the Langedoc and hope to relocate in the near future. Do not sign anything in the heat of the moment! Even an Offre d'Achat can be binding. Always appoint an English speaking legal adviser and have the correct clauses suspensive written into the Compromis de vente for your protection. Then enjoy France. It's a wonderful country."

- David Hart


Many estate agents have an "association" with a notaire. Always nominate your own choice of notaire. Be very aware of foreign agents! British agents are no better than French, and charge more due to splitting commission with their French counterparts. Always insist on knowing the full offer made for a property. Example, estate agents have been known to ask a huge price for a property when the seller has been persuaded to sell cheaply... If selling always demand to know what offers have been made and ask the buyers NOT the agents what they have bid."

- Bill Meechan


If you want a house enough, get a signature as soon as possible. Then in the seven days following, get a survey."

- Mike Beaken


When buying a house in France use similar principles that apply to housebuying in UK, location, accessability, price. Outside space is an important factor- it is also important to think would I be able to re-sell this house. One big mistake we made was to use a mortgage advisor that spoke very little English. I would advise anyone against this in future."

- Vicky Willsher


Found property buying easier here than in the UK. I would advise seeking legal advice on specific details that the agent is unsure of i.e. sheep already in the field that you are buying!!!!"

- Andrew Diaper


Use local estate agents and don't rely on ones based in UK. Don't expect everyone to be able to speak good English - you may have to shop around just to find an English speaker."

- Janet Ridley


If you are looking to invest, never buy a property already tenanted. Getting tenants out is a legal nightmare."

- L. J.


Found it on the internet and came to have a look. Didn't have much money so choice was limited. Perhaps we'd have found a better hosue if we'd taken a longer time to look. But we're very happy with living in the Orb Valley. Sometimes trusting to 'fate' works out just the way it should!"

- Juliette Lowe


Rent first give yourself TIME."

- Simon Kent



I'd advise people to always use a well established estate agent as I know of Brits being done and overpaying so-called British "property finders" who overcharge unnecessary services and can sometimes dissappear with your deposit. Just check that the estate agent has a good legal service and what's called a "Compte Sequestre" and you're sure that he's serious. The service they give is worth their commission. If you learn how to explain what you want clearly in French then there is no reason why an appropriate property should not be shown! Sometimes the properties can be seen as being shoddy as the budget is not in adequation with the property which most brits think they can buy in France".

- Ruth Negri


I found my property in Villeneuve les Beziers on I found the site very interesting. I discovered the property in March 2004 and moved here in the September. There were no estate agents involved.."

- Susan Green


Always research well before and always stick to your criteria and if poss try and engage an English speaking Agent to help you."

- Ginny Groom


We bought our house in Beziers two years ago. I renovated the front room only to discover termites behind the skirting! Fortunately the gaurantee still had two weeks to go, so the seller had to cough up €7000. Two weeks later and... The strange thing was that the "expert" who provided the certificate didn't come from Beziers - and was friends with the Notaire and the owner! When we contacted him he offered to give us a tin of xylophene!"

- Mike Howard


We have now bought three properties in France, without any difficulties. Not all notaires are either crooked or trustworthy. Learn from other people's experience, good or bad. Ditto with builders etc. It's as useless to rely on agents to find what you want in France as in the UK: you have to be prepared to do your own finding. Drive round and look out for private 'for sale' boards. A good tip, once you've found the town/village of your choice, ask at the boulangerie: they always know what's available!"

- Martin Hills


French estate agents just don't work in the same way as English ones so it's not worth getting cross - you won't change them ! A good way of finding better value properties is to take a drive around the areas which appeal to you and write down the 'phone numbers on properties where you see 'A vendre' without an estate agents sign. Dealing directly with owners is definitely the best way to keep costs down. You could also ask in local mairies and notaires offices what is for sale in their areas - often when people have died, their families live away and just want the property sold as quickly as possible. Going through an estate agency gives you no guarantee as to the quality of what you are buying and all owners have to provide buyers with the 3 surveys for termites, lead and asbestos which the seller pays for. We have bought 3 properties this way and would thoroughly recommend it !"

- Jeane Robinson


I would absolutely agree with that quote. We house hunted for 2 years and within that time found 5 houses that we liked. The rest of the houses we saw were wastes of time. The estate agents almost never called us with house listings that fit our requirements. We finally found THE house and the day before signing the compromis de vente, we were told we needed to front 30% of the cost of the house in CASH before signing the compromis!


Despite some of our negative experiences, each one helped us get that much closer to buying the house we currently live in now. Buying in France can still be a worthwhile experience provided you are well informed and avoid walking into some of the nets. I would deffinately recommend finding an agent you who takes your concerns and needs seriously. If you fall on deaf ears, don't hesitate to call an end to the visit or meeting. By being too nice, you risk wasting your time (and everyone elses).


When viewing houses, look for sign of water damage, visit the mairie to find out if the house is in a flooding zone (or if the TGV line will soon go through your future neighborhood).


When signing the compromis, make sure you have some sort of representation and you include any clause suspensive that you can think of. Don't hesitate to have your house inspected privately before going ahead with the sale - this will give you peace of mind. Avoid sales where inheritance or succession is involved, especially if the inheritors do not agree or get along. These sales can take forever to process. They can offer good deals if you are patient enough. There are many good books to help you and David Hampshire's guide book, "Buying in Franc" is deffinately worth the cost. Happy hunting!"

- Don Weedman


Buying a property was an experience as prior to buying we met a few pushy arrogant agents. My advice would be to take someone with you and re visit the house a few times before making a decision. Any genuine agent will be happy with this and encourage you do be sure before you commit to the purchase."

- Julie East


Have bought 4 properties in France over our 13 yrs of living here. The first, a british french agent did a runner soon after - French french agents have take it or leave attitude and notaires - don't even mention them! You need a lot of time to find the right place and mustn't be bullied into buying anything! Having a French wife helps!!!"

- Barry Lester


I found property buying to be reasonably easy. Certain estate agents didn't listen to my brief but I was lucky to find one that did and I found my lovely home in two weeks of searching".

- Anita Mossop


Seriously pissed off by the 'hidden' fee payable to VEF - they did very little work for their money (I speak fluent French) PLUS they didn't actually translate all the documents they said they had."

- Isobel Evans


Find a good estate agent who you feel a raport with and you are more likely to find a suitable property."

- Kathleen Campbell


You must be firm with the agent - ask for full details/photos and only agree to visit if it fits your needs. On the other hand, why not cut out the agent and buy directly using the internet or mags? It's safe, cheaper and uncomplicated - the Notaire deals with everything." 

- Sheila Wilson


Be aware of the many types of planning permissions required and ensure that any modifications made to your house has the correct certification before you complete."

- David Morley


Before speaking to any agents, narrow down the area in which you want to buy. Choose agent carefully, if non French speaking it's imperative to find a bilingual agent. Having found a house with potential, visit the relevant mairie to establish whether there might be any problems in regard to renovations, installation of swimming pools and access. If possible try to talk to existing non French owners in the town or village to get a flavour for the local culture likes and dislikes. If you have school going children check out schools as there are so many options some good some bad."

- Sandi Booth


Prices are the same who ever are the buyers, when we take on properties we have the obligation to have a sales'contract (mandat de vente) and to advertise the properties at the price mentionned in the mandat de vente. On our website prices are the same for the French and English version. I never heard even from my competitors that there were prices for English and others for French !"

- Freedy Rueda, Estate Agent


Having bought 2 properties here within 4 years there are a couple of things I would always advise. Get a comprehensive list of what will be left behind. Don't assume light fittings, fited kitchens, spare roof tiles or even doors won't disappear with the vendor! As soon as the house is yours, get it insured. Half of our €630,000 house collapsed - thanks to one burst water pipe - within 3 months of us purchasing it. Thank goodness we were insured or we would be bankrupt now!"

- Karen Burge


Check that the house you want to view is not available with another agent at a lower price. The owner usually sets the price they want to achieve, and the agents then add their (high) fees, so the same house can cost more if you choose a more expensive agent. Once you view a house with one agent you can't buy the same house through a different one, even if they're cheaper."

- Leigh Foster


Buying here is a good or as bad depending on your own common sense. There lie pitfalls for everyone who realises that buying in another country is a dangerous or joyful prospect. My tips: read loads about each regions advantages and disadvantages. Try a holiday then a longer let then even 6 months in an area. Still convinced then meet locals (speak French) and check out their ideas."

- Mark Bennett


Perhaps contrary to popular views, I found my beautiful stone house on the net, came to look at it and bought it outright. Both the estate agent and notaire were really helpful despite my basic French - provided translations and utilities assistance. The whole process which took about 6 months was straightforward with no hitches. Perhaps I was lucky but I did a lot of research on the buying process and would highly recommend the internet as the best place to start before coming to France."

- Skye Hughes


Send your criteria in clear, well laid out detail to immobiliers before you come. Only view houses that interest you."

- Jennifer Swainsbury


I have a lot of respect for honest French estate agents because the job, when done properly, is demanding and extremely time consuming, more often than not resulting in a sale going to a competitor despite many hours devoted to running all over the place to take potential buyers on visits. The French system is totally different from the British system and to this extent I do think the commission prices are roughly justified. However, there are many sharks in the industry who will inflate prices exhorbitantly when they see you are a foreigner and try to pull all kinds of dirty tricks to seal a deal. Go on recommendation if possible. Having been through the buying process twice and selling once, I have found the process basically straightforward. Except for an incident when buying our current property, which has a lot of potentially agricultural land, when we came face-to-face with the obstinate and cynical face of SAFER (French agency supposedly safeguarding farmers interests and rights but often acting as a fat-cat estate-agency). My advice when buying property in France is to rent in the area you are interested in first - and I'm talking 6 months-plus, before committing yourself to buying. There's no substitute to it for really understanding what the locals and their winters are like. Second, bear in mind that asking prices are almost always pitched way over what the seller will be happy to settle for. Largely because many foreigners - incl the Brits - are used to seeing a property price and assuming that's the starting bid. Offering ten percent lower than the asking price is not a bad rule of thumb, but often you can succeed with a much bigger drop. Finding out how long it's been on the market for will help you judge. Also, when buying with a view to renovating, calculate your anticipated building costs - then double them. No, make that triple. And if you're planning to run a tourist activity from your renovated home, eg gites, chambres d'hotes, leave yourself triple the time you'll think you'll need to get the place ready before taking in your first guests. I talk from on-going experience..."

- Sharon Black


Don't ever, ever be tempted to buy a deceased estate! Absolute nightmare. The dear departed [single lady, never married] had left all her worldly possessions including the house to overseas childrens'charities. Talk about entanglement, especially when the French Tax authorities came to know about it. Took 14 months to sort out, by which time we had virtually given up, were about to depart the very next day for a buying tour of Carcassonne area. Just in the nick of time [literally] original agent came through and breezily told us 'your house is now available having been released for sale by the Parisian tax authorities'. Thereafter it was relatively plain sailing but although the kitchen was described as "cuisine amenagée" someone had been in and unamenageed it! Ghosts? All part of life's rich pattern and since then we are the proud owners of a beautiful chalet overlooking the shores of Lake Geneva. Paradise!"

- Sheila Cosford


French acquaintances ask me if I know any Brits who want to buy houses in France, because they want to sell their property and think that my fellow countrymen will pay fancy inflated prices. Am I wrong to find this thinking really irritating, and their approach really crass?"

- Louise Hurren





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