House Hunting in France
The Languedoc Region Offers Reasonable Prices and Good Weather
Even with the recent decline of the dollar against the euro and the increase in real estate prices in France, finding an affordable dream house in a small village or the countryside in France is still possible. One area that still offers reasonable prices, year-round mild weather, beautiful scenery and few tourists most of the year is the province of Languedoc. Since this is one of the fastest growing real estate markets in France, buying a house here a good investment is as well.
Languedoc includes the three departments of L'Herault, Le Gard, and Lozere. The area is mostly rural. The three largest cities are Nimes, Montpellier, and Beziers. The coastal areas are mild in the winter and not too hot in the summer. Montpellier boasts more than 300 sunny days a year.
Where to House Hunt
Languedoc offers good places to live—city or village, the coast, or the mountains, as well as a choice of housing: house, villa, apartment. The coast tends to be deserted in the winter and crawling with tourists in the summer. As you go inland, you will find year-round active towns and villages with shops and markets. Prices are lower and there are fewer tourists. The mountains offer isolated houses with lots of land, but colder and wetter weather.
Determining your budget and what kind of house you are looking for is the first step to narrowing your choices. Many houses are old and in poor condition. Are you willing to consider renovation work, or do you want a house you can just move into? Are you looking to move there full time or is this going to be a second home? Do you need easy access to medical care? If this will be a second home, how frequently and when are you planning to be there? Isolated empty houses are targets for vandalism. Are you looking to rent when you are not there? Will you retire here in the future?
Find a Liason
The second step is figuring out how to arrange your house-hunting trip. If you have a limited amount of time, setting up appointments in advance is important. The more specific you can be in describing your requirements, the easier it will be for agents to help you. If you are fluent in French you can work directly with local realtors. Another option is to use a company that acts as a liaison between foreigners looking to buy and the realtors. One advantage of using an intermediary is that they work with several realtors. (In France there is no such thing as multiple listings). The other advantage is that many of these companies are British owned and have English-speaking personnel.
Not all companies operate the same way. Some charge an upfront fee whether you buy or not. The fee, if you purchase, may be paid by you or included in the fee for the realtor. Many companies will facilitate the entire purchasing process. Ask ahead of time if this is included.
The best time to house hunt is off-season from November to March. Agents tend to have more time to focus on your requirements. It also allows you to see the area when the weather is least desirable and life is at its quietest.
Bring Your Documents
If you plan to make a decision when you see that dream house, you want to have all of your documentation with you. This includes: birth certificates, marriage certificates, tax returns from the last three years, bank and brokerage statements, and a list of assets. You also want to find a contractor (builder) to check out the house.
If renovation work is needed, get an estimate. Remember though, in old houses, estimates don't take into consideration those surprises that you sometimes find behind the wall. Unless you are planning to be there while the renovation work is going on and you speak fluent French, you will also need to find a knowledgeable person to oversee the project.
For More Info
France: The Owner's Manual. This is a house-hunting guide for before you go. It contains more than 140 pages of maps, property listings, details on cost of living, healthcare, banking, residency requirements, and business opportunities...plus contacts for buying, renting, renovating, and starting a business. Available from www.ilbookstore.com.
Other books on buying property in France:
Intermediaries & Agents:
- French Mortgage www.french-mortgage.com, 011-44-1425-653408 (We worked with Michael Hackney, who was very helpful and provided a better rate than several banks we approached on our own.)
- R.B & G Financiers firstname.lastname@example.org, 011-33-251633824
Try Before You Buy: It is often suggested that people rent before they buy. There are several websites that offer both long- and short-term rentals in Languedoc. Some list one property and others offer multiple properties. Below is a small sample of sites: