Stage One – Finding a property in Brittany
Searching on the internet for ‘Properties in France’ or ‘French property for sale’ will net you results from the ‘big guns’ such as French Entrée, Greenacres, Leggetts and many more, including well known British brands such as Rightmove and Zoopla. There will even be a link to that well known British program; ‘A place in the sun’ which I recommend watching because you can gain some valuable tips about your intended destination and about moving abroad in general.
It is very easy to sit and view different properties on the laptop from the comfort of your own home, but don’t forget, you are only seeing the properties that are being marketed by the companies such as those mentioned above. You are not seeing the masses of other properties and potential bargains that are being marketed by the smaller estate agents in France, otherwise know as ‘Agents Immobilier’
Therefore, once you have established an idea of which area or region of France you wish to move to, it is important to get out there and look around.
If you are sold on Brittany, take your car by ferry to either St. Malo or Roscoff or get a cheap flight out to Dinard or Rennes and rent a car.
You will need a car if you are going to have a good look around, apart from the major towns, public transport can be a bit hit-and-miss in Brittany.
Before leaving the UK make appointments with as many estate agents in France as you can. This will help them prepare properties for you to visit, and also will keep you focussed. This is not a holiday, it is a mission!
Having done some online research, have a clear idea of the style of property and the amount of land and location that you require, otherwise the estate agents will drag you to every property on their books, and you’ll end up viewing everything from a million pound château to a complete ruin.
Use a map to ensure that the estate agents that you visit are grouped so that you are not travelling great distances to visit one estate agent and then back again the next day. Petrol isn’t cheap!
When the French estate agent is showing you each property, don’t suffer from the blight of British over-politeness, be honest. Tell the estate agent if a kitchens too small, there’s too much work to do, if there’s not enough garden, if you want to be in a village, if you need a vet nearby or whatever. Then the estate agent can mentally cross off inappropriate properties, saving time and effort.
There’s a saying that your next home will find you. Sometimes when you are looking at a property, you’ll see another house for sale in the vicinity that’s perfect for you. That’s why it’s so important to come to France and have a good look around.
Stage Two – Buying your property in France
Because exchange rates are so volatile, it’s a good idea to register yourself with one of the many currency exchange specialists around such as Currency Direct or Smart Currency exchange. There are plenty of others, just do some research first.
I saved a considerable sum of money by doing this, the rate of exchange peaked and I was able to freeze the rate and as a result was around £10000 better off when it came to purchase our French property.
Being with a currency specialist means that when you need to transfer money from the UK to France, it becomes a pain-free experience that you can do online, and it is mostly substantially cheaper than using your bank.
When you make your offer on your dream property, remember that you are dealing with a human being who also has pride and feelings. Be polite throughout the negotiations.
Normally the Agence Immobilier will negotiate on your behalf and will guide you throughout.
My experiences with French estate agents have been extremely positive; I have found them to be honest and reliable. Yes, that’s not a typo; the words ‘honest and reliable’ in the same sentence as ‘Estate Agent’
This possibly wouldn’t happen in England!
Once you and the seller have agreed a price, that’s it. You and the seller sign a compromis de vente which is the very first bit of contractural paperwork. After signing you are unlikely to be gazumped because the seller would be breaking the law. There is a cooling off period of ten days during which time you, as the buyer, can change your mind. The seller cannot change their mind as they are bound by their contract.
Throughout the entire process French law heavily favours and protects the buyer.
After the cooling off period the transaction process starts, lasting for approximately three months, although like the UK there appears no reason why it should take so long.
All of your dealings are now with the French estate agent who will prepare the paperwork of which must be signed by you. Ideally you would make a special trip out to France to meet with the estate agent to sign the paperwork. If this is not possible then it can be done by email, but I have to say that this is a ‘hard-work’ option. There is so much of the paperwork and every page has to be signed or initialled by yourself and any partners and then counter signed or initialled by the estate agent.
So you print out the email, sign the copy, scan the copy and send it back again. Hard work. Just get a cheap quick flight over and get it all done in one.
The French estate agent completes all paperwork, before handing everything over the local Notaire.
Unlike England where there generally is separate legal representation for both the buyer and the seller, in France there is the Notaire who’s function is to act for both parties.
The Notaire will thoroughly check all records, and any documentation and deeds relating to the property to ensure that the buyer is properly protected. In my view this is a much better and more efficient system than England.
It is important at this stage to get a French bank account. Your French property will need to be insured and French banks such as Crédit Agricole can provide that insurance. They will usually take the money by monthly direct debit.
After that, it’s countdown to the completion day.
On completion day the buyer and the seller get together in the Notaire’s office, in our case there was the estate agent and a translator.
Having the translator present is mandatory if you don’t speak French. It is essential that you understand everything that the Notaire is explaining, otherwise you may get surprised later on.
After the final signing and shaking of hands, the seller came back to the property with us to answer any questions such as ‘where is the water stop cock?’ and ‘where is the electric meter?’
This was wonderful as it helped to ease us into our new home.
Final Stage Three – Settling into a lifestyle in Brittany
Once the removal van has departed, and you are surrounded by furniture and possessions, there may be a feeling of ‘What Now?’
Now you do almost exactly as you would in the UK.
The Estate agent will probably have help you set up the electricity account with EDF the electricity provider. (There is only EDF as an electric provider in France)
You need to organise heating fuel, ensure that the water supply is okay and then having sorted out the basics, work out who you want as a phone and internet provider, before getting satellite TV installed if required.
Living in Brittany gives us access to all the free to air channels from the UK as well as some French channels via the roof aerial. Monthly cost? Nil. Just the original installation charge for the satellite dish and receiver, of around 300 euros.
When watching the program ‘A Place in the Sun’ the potential property purchasers often make comments such as ‘Oh, a log-burning stove, how lovely to sit down with a glass of wine’
Well, now you’ve done it. Light the log-burner and pour yourself a glass of wine…
…but I bet you’ll have a cup of English tea instead!