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I have seen many programs on the television about British people buying houses in France, and what troubles me is that a lot of people are going into house purchase without being aware of the pitfalls, and the differences between English and French Law.
CHOSING A HOUSE
Chosing a house is of course like it is in any country, you simply search through the estate agents books (agence immobilier), or the local Solicitors files (Notaire), and there are houses to suit all price ranges, although here, I would mention that practicalities need to be thought out in advance.
There are many houses that are isolated, and far away from busy roads and towns, but you need to ask whether electricity has ever been connected, or water supply, because getting these installed for the first time can cost a packet and whilst an isolated house may be a dream come true, to many Brits, these houses have become a nightmare. Also, you will be offered many houses with acres of land, and although it is tempting to buy all this land, it is also necessary to make allowance for the upkeep of it.
If you are looking for a secondary house or holiday home, then you will need to seek advice about upkeep because it is illegal to let land go fallow because of the dangers of spreading seeds to adjoining farmlands.
HAVING FOUND THE HOUSE OF YOUR DREAMS
The next step is a crucial one. If you sign a Comprime de Vente or in other words an offer, an offer in France is binding, and you are expected to pay a ten percent deposit on the house at the time of offer. You can have clauses put into the offer and this is wise ! Subject to the sale of a house for example, or subject to finance being agreed by the Bank. These are good let out clauses and should not be dismissed because without them, if you change your mind, you will lose your deposit !!!
French Law is very different to English law and I have seen many people come unstuck. Under French Napoleonic Law, a family cannot disinherit a child, and what this means is that their inheritance is all tied up with property. If you are married and have children, then under French Law, the property reverts to the children upon the death of either owner and because divorce is rare in France, this means for couples with children from different marriages, the law is a difficult one.
Take for example Mr. Jones married Mrs. Smith. They both have children from previous marriages. She has 2 and he has two. If they decide to live in France, and during the course of living here one of them dies, the property under French law then becomes the property of the children and not the wife/husband that is left !!! Here, you need to give consideration to a French Will and a clause "Derniere Vivant", which in effect means "Last living", and gives the remaining person a right to live in the house until they die.
However, the drawback with this is that it does not give that person the right to sell, because in effect, he is living in his childrens house and upon sale of the property, the money would be shared between the children !!!
There are two ways around this law. One is to form a company and to buy the house as a company purchase. This is simple for a solicitor to draw up and costs around £700. The property can then be willed in shares to whoever the owner wishes.
The second way is with a Clause Tanteen. This is the more popular way with the British. What it means in effect is that if one person in the ownership of the house dies, then the second inherits the house as if the first never existed !!!
Baffled ??? You don;t need to be. All it takes is discussing your particular circumstances with a Solicitor, either one in the U.K. that is expert with French Law, or a Notaire here in the presence of a translator, or making sure that you fully understand the law at the time of purchase.
Here in France, charges for buying a house are an expensive consideration. If you do the negotiation direct with the owner of the house, you can argue the solicitor charging negotiation fees to which they are not entitled. However, stamp duties and charges are expensive, and when making an offer on a house, it is important to ask whether the price is inclusive of charges and if not, what the charges will be.
From the moment of offer to the moment of actual purchase depends upon several factors. One is that if your proposed house has agricultural land, then searches need to be done to see if the Agricultural Society wants to buy the land. If it is garden and a little land, this is rare, but the formalities make it longwinded to buy a house and a three month period can ensue.
Normally in a town, there is a two month period between offer acceptance and ownership.
THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND
Because of the inheritance laws, a house can have many owners. All owners have to agree the price that you offer and it is wise to ask the Solicitor how many inheritors own the house. I have known cases where up to 40 people own a house, and in a case such as this, a sale can be very lengthy because the solicitor has to contact every one of them for acceptance of your offer.
Another thing that English people do not consider sometimes when buying a house is Housing Tax and Land Tax. As a property owner in France, you will be liable to these charges. It is wise to ask in advance what the cost of these is.
CHANGES IN THE LAW
Changes are hitting France just as in many European countries, although the sale and purchase of houses here is much simpler than in the U.K. in that surveys are hardly ever done and banks base their loans on your income rather than the value of property, since French property does not have the same commercial value as houses in the U.K. because of the inheritance laws.
I would advise here though that people do ask the advice of someone that knows about buildings when chosing their dream home. Without surveys, it is a hit and miss thing, buying a house and knowing that it is structurally sound, and advice should be saught before offering your hard earned money !
One change that is good is that in certain towns, the Mayors have had the good sense to make sure that lead tests and asbestos tests are done on houses before they are sold, and these have to be done at the expense of the owner, not the purchaser.
TOTAL RENOVATION CONSIDERATIONS
Many houses that are bought by British in France are in need of total renovation. This involves cost, and it would be wise to get quotations for certain works before ploughing your money into a French house.
Most country houses need septic tanks, and as the laws change, the cost of these has escalated to a staggering £4,000 bearing in mind new rules and the obligation for a land test by the authorities before installing a septic tank.
Electricity installments must now conform to French law, and be covered by a Certificate of Conformity, which is supplied by the local electrician, so the days of English people wiring their own homes is slowly coming to a close.
Having got through all the snags of buying a home in France, what can the country offer a person that wants to live here ?
Education for the children is first rate, though young people with working life ahead of them should learn the language because without it, there is little in the way of work.
The Health system is first rate, although again here, I would say it was important to learn the language. More and more towns are recognising that there are English here that need to learn the language and are catering for that need.
Healthy food and clean air. There is room to breathe in France. Most houses have a garden much larger than ones in England. The country is vast, and there is much to explore and enjoy. The crime rate in the countryside is practically non existent, and the pace of life much slower and more enjoyable.
I hope that this review has helped someone who wants to buy a house in France. Houses range from £10,000 to £200,000 and I am at present selling my beautiful home and hoping that someone who will appreciate all the hard work that has been put into it will buy it.