Rent a place in France before you
Rent a place in France before you
Buying property in another country such as France is one of life's bigger decisions not made any easier in these times of credit crunch and financial crisis. Whether it be a permanent home or maison secondaire, few can afford to make a mistake but the risks can be reduced with some careful groundwork and thoughtful planning.
The reasons for making a property purchase in France can be many and varied; the country and region have perhaps been chosen because of the culture, landscape, amenities, climate or personal holiday associations and the accommodation itself chosen for a simple holiday home, main residence for retirement or life changing commitment or investment. Whatever, the reasons will be personal and the decision to purchase not lightly taken. The dreamer with no means is safe to dream and do no more, especially so these days with access to credit being less easy. Free time and some spare capital can open the doors to wild imaginings, a potentially dangerous but liberating combination when enjoying a carefree French holiday away from the 9 to 5. Once you've bought your place in France it can take longer than in the UK to try and sell again, so you do want to make sure you're making the right decision from the outset. Buying property while in dreamy holiday heaven is perhaps not the most sensible route on to the French property ladder.
Careful research and more than a little soul searching can help avoid that mad, bad buy. Only you can determine when and if a move to France is right for you, if the area is suitable and if this particular dream farmhouse is the one. Remember there may well be more 'ideal' homes just round the corner or over the hill, but balance this with 'the grass is always greener' outlook. Nowhere is perfect, at least not all the time. A compromise or two will need to be made. Make a list of your must haves, would be nices, and definitely nots. If you're a couple, one list would be helpful!
Ideally, you want to rent before you buy. This has to be the sanest route to purchasing in a foreign country. The longer you rent, the less chance of making a mistake when purchasing, at least in theory. Renting can give you a deeper insight into the local area than can be experienced from a standard holiday. Put your furniture in storage and take on a furnished rental of several months or a year. Renting in the off-season can be surprisingly affordable.
Cold, calm reflection in the depth of a bleak winter in rural France is a much safer footing for property purchase than poolside musings on a lazy summer holiday. If you still want to make a purchase when the tourists have gone, most of the cafés are shut and the growing season is over, then fine - like it in winter, love it in summer as they say. Try renting in several different areas if necessary to determine exactly where you feel most at home. We rented in several areas and ended up buying in a completely different region to that originally envisaged. Needless to say, we're happy we did.
One other advantage of renting is the ability to make local contacts, whether they are Brits, French or some other nationality, a helpful local can offer advice and guidance that can be invaluable to a newcomer, whether it is help in finding reliable tradesmen, help with bureaucracy or plugging you into the local private house sales network. Get to know the locals in the village café, the mayor, your neighbours. How friendly are they to you as a temporary resident? Do you feel that given time you can integrate and will be accepted? Is there enough of a support network for you? Will you miss friends and family back home too much? Will you even miss the office 9 to 5? Or have you already burnt your suit and ties? After four years in France I am happy to report that I have now exhausted my entire stock of black working socks. Now that's liberating!
You may find that the renovation project that you dreamed of exists but the necessary tradesmen do not, the costs are too prohibitive or the project appears just too big in the cold light of day. Large renovation projects and little children are sometimes not a happy combination, so we bought an already renovated house. One day we'll get the paint brush out.
It's better to do thorough research initially rather than make an expensive mistake and start to discover the various downsides afterwards. Having said all that, a little ignorance is perhaps to be cherished. Too much knowledge can be overwhelming and off putting. Change can be scary but immensely rewarding. At the end of the day, it's surely better to have tried and failed than look back on your life wishing that you had made a move but had been too scared to take the plunge. There are always 101 reasons for not taking the big decision but life is short and I for one regret only not moving to France earlier. We all need our dreams to follow and shouldn't let fears of French red tape or uncertain exchange rate stand in the way. Be realistic, though, in what you can afford and achieve. A DIY novice with the ability deftly to change light bulbs in the UK will not readily morph into a master builder when in France. With some local knowledge and a little calm reflection you can then make that wild, rash decision, and get your place in France.
(Published September/October 2009)