Some advice before you start
Although people do it, it's certainly not advisable to buy property without knowing a good deal about the region in which you are buying. Visit often, and get to know what life would be like there for a few weeks or for an extended time. Where would you (or your guests or potential clients) shop, buy gas, get a car fixed? Where are the nearest train stations and airports? Who would be your neighbours? What is there to do in winter when the tourists have gone home? Are plumbers and carpenters and masons and electricians nearby? Living in a house in France, even as a short-term renter requires adaptations: make sure you are confident you could conduct your daily life in the region without undue frustration before you buy.
People also buy houses in France without speaking French. We don't recommend it. Jean-Michél once wrote a cheque to a local merchant for a new refrigerator and he looked astonished and told him that most of his British customers hand the cheque to him and let him fill it out because they don't know how to write a French cheque. If you don't speak French, you should be able to get by, but it will be a struggle, and your chances of getting ripped off will be high. You needn't be fluent - few Brits truly are - our philosophy is, if you're not prepared to have a telephone conversation with your builder, you're not ready yet.
You can visit properties for sale with one or more real estate agencies (agences immobilier), on your own using published listings, or both. English-speaking estate agents do exist, but many agencies will have at least one agent who speaks English. For each property you inspect, find out who has owned the house in recent history and how it has been used (as a year-round residence, as a rental home, or as a holiday home). Inquire about utility bills (electricity, e.g., is a good deal more expensive in France than in the UK) and property and local taxes (they vary by département and municipality). Enquire as to who the neighbours are and what they do - We love to divulge information about the people who lived nearby, and you can learn some useful information before making a decision (Do not buy the house down the lane from the man who breeds boar).
We would suggest that once you have found a property that is to your liking, you should draw up a monstrous list of questions to ask the vendor. It will more than likely give him a heart attack!!! But that is his problem!!!! You should ask about every system in the house (heat, electrical, water, gas) and every appliance. Have the vendor show you how to turn everything on and off. Run him around the entire property, ask where the septic system is and when it was last maintained, run water in the sinks to see if it drains away quickly and if there are there any strange smells? It is costly to get these fixed if they have not been taken care of. Ask what the property boundaries are, how the pool controls work - and make rough drawings of the property so you will remember everything. Also measure the house and make floor plans. Try and get the names and addresses of people who lived nearby who might care for the property when you aren’t there. Asked him for recommendations for workmen who might already be familiar with the house and who were reliable. Ask him about wild animals, about insects, about bushes and trees and how to care for them. Also get information about doctors and dentists, clinics and pharmacies. Ask about the age of the roof (and climb all over it to inspect it), what repairs have been made and when anywhere on the property, when additions had been put on, and who had lived in the house and how it had been used. Ask everything you can think to ask. Once you are satisfied then draw up the Initial Agreement.
Now, before you think you are going to make a killing on our property market, think again. That bargain property you saw on television for £20,000 and needing a few hundred spending on it to convert it into a house worth a fortune may or may not have existed. To say the least you will be lucky to find it nowadays. We (especially our estate agents) have certainly got wise to the idea that a pile of rubble with planning permission can actually be worth quite a lot of money.
Preparing for your viewing trip
When you're looking for properties in France, it pays to be prepared. Follow the list below to make the most of your viewing trip.
· Make sure you have appointments booked with agents - don't expect to just walk in and see someone. French estate agents are very busy these days with English clients.
· Speak to the agent before you cross the Channel. You'll feel more comfortable on the day if you've already spoken to your local contact and it helps to know that they speak English if your French isn't up to speed.
Ensure that the houses on the website (or the ones for which you hold details) are still on the market - you don't want to make this trip and find you can't view the properties you're interested in.