Moving to Brittany – a quick overview
Moving from one house to another is an extremely stressful exercise as everyone knows, and when you add the idea of not just moving house, but moving country, then the whole practice become daunting and indeed off-putting.
But taking the plunge in reality, is not as bad as it seems, depending on which country you are moving to. You will have heard horror stories of properties in Spain being repossessed at the mere whim of the local authorities, with no redress or compensation, and the recommendation would be to use good quality solicitors to triple check all documentation in advance of a prospective purchase.
However, moving to Brittany, or indeed moving to France as a whole is relatively simple. Firstly, it is easy to get to, so you don’t have to be dependant on a costly international removals company to ship your possessions overseas, indeed in France you could consider hiring a van or purchasing a box trailer to conduct the move yourself in several stages if circumstances allow. This will certainly save money.
Also there is the option of either driving directly from Britain to France through the Eurotunnel to your destination, or taking the ferry to any one of the French ports that are relevant for your destination.
Brittany is particularly easy to travel to by ferry, with ports at St. Malo and Roscoff accepting ferries from Portsmouth and Plymouth respectively, and options from Poole.
Read more about the different ways of travelling to Brittany
So, having established the Brittany and France generally is easy to get to from the UK what’s the next step?
There are an abundance of websites dedicated to selling French property, and if you have a clear idea of the style of property that you are searching for, together with a location, the majority of the property websites have filters to quickly enable you to hone down your searches to make them more relevant to you.
You’ll be able to search by area, the amount of rooms, the property and plot size together with the style of property you are looking for i.e. cottage, house, flat etc.
When you have made your selection of potential dwellings,the next step is to contact the agence immobilier (estate agents) and arrange an inspection visit.
The secret is to keep as focused on your requirement as possible, there are so many beautiful properties in Brittany and France, that you could easily be drawn away from your original specification and budget, particularly given the fact that French property can be dramatically cheaper than parts of the UK.
When you find a property that seems to have potential, please think the whole lifestyle thing through. For example, if the property is very cheap and has 5 acres of land, how will you cope with it? Do you really want it, or is the thought of the amazing bargain that is tempting?
Where is the nearest village or town and does it satisfy your requirements? Does it have a baker, butcher or general store?
Luckily there are more and more supermarkets opening up in France such as Super U and Intermarche which will sell virtually everything including furniture, white goods and bottles of gas for cooking and heating.
When you find your ideal home, don’t delay in making an offer through the estate agent, there’s nothing properly signed and sealed until you have had a seven day cooling off period a bit later. In the meantime get the offer in and the preliminary paperwork signed.
The whole house buying transaction is done by two people; the estate agent (Agence immobilier) who ensures that paperwork is completed by you, and then nearer the completion the Notaire, who will deal with all of the legal aspects. The paperwork can be done via email, just ensure that you have plenty of printing ink available and Google Translate ready on the PC.
On the completion day, you should ideally attend in person at the Notaires office. Present will be the Notaire, the vendors, the estate agents, a translator and a solicitor if required, although there seems no need as the Notaire covers everything.
When buying a house in England, there would be a conveyancer who deals with the paperwork and signing, in France the estate agent does everything, and then hands it to the Notaire who finalises everything. After all paperwork is completed (and there is a lot of paperwork!) there is about 3 months to wait before the completion day at the Notaire’s office.
On the completion day, keep the day free, we have heard stories of the process taking 5 or more hours, although in our case it was just over one hour.
In France, the law and proceedings seems to favour the buyer. The seller has to provide and pay for reports which will extend from electricity water and gas, to any termite issues and a whole lot more. These reports are added to the bunch of reports that the Notaire deals with. Every piece of paperwork must be signed by all parties.
After the completion, it is quite normal (when practical) for the vendor to go to the property with the seller and do a sort of “handover” which will entail the transference of keys, and advice from the vendor about the property’s peculiarities. I think this is a brilliant idea, and should be done in Britain also.
The property will already be insured as this must be organised by you the buyer before the completion date. To get the insurance, the buyer must have a French bank account in place. Sometimes the estate agent will help you with this.
I successfully opened an account in Brittany from England with Credit Agricole, using a mixture of email messages and my brilliant estate agent who did the running back and forth to the bank..
After purchasing your property in France, you may experience some frustrations when getting the services connected. This is normal. The French have a completely different idea as to what is “urgent” or not, which, to be fair, is part of the charm and allure of moving to France in the first place.
All electricity in France is provided by EDF. You don’t have the luxury of playing off one electricity supplier against another. However, dealing with EDF is quite simple, they even have a dedicated English speaking phone number:-
09 87 67 37 93
The provision of gas is dependent on whether you are living in a town with a gas supply, if not, bottled gas is freely available, although this is not necessarily the cheapest option. At the time of writing, if you cannot have connected gas, then oil is a better option for your heating. Electric heating is the most expensive option in France currently.
Because of the all year round mildness of the temperatures in Brittany, a wood burning stove might be a favoured option providing you have good insulation.
Sewage requirements are taken care of in town area’s, if not, then you must have a fosse septique (Septic tank)which must be of an up to date standard. Fosse septiques are inspected on a regular basis by the local Mayor or Mairie. Back in the day, if you were living in the countryside, because there were no formal drainage arrangements, the washing up water, bath water (grey waste) ended up in the garden somewhere, or more hopefully via a pipe down to a ditch.
Television is a consideration, you can get the free-to-air French bouquet of channels via your roof aerial, of which there are about 20 plus channels which broadcast in French language, but you do get the occasional film or programme in English. Your best bet however, is to have a Freesat dish installed, together with a Free to Air receiver (such as Humax) which will give you almost every free channel broadcast in England, including all the BBC and ITV channels, radio channels and much more. This normally costs between 300-400 euros including installation.
You will also probably need internet access and there are several providers in France, but it’s hard to look any further than Orange.fr as an internet provider. Orange is the rough equivalent of Britain’s “British Telecom” and can provide you with internet Access and a home phone with their “Livebox” offer which is around 30 Euros a month. They will, in addition, offer you TV access, dependant on how rural your location is, and a mobile phone.
When it comes to the decoration and getting tools and materials, there is of course Mr Bricolage, the well known French DIY chain who offer a really pleasant shopping experience, but you might prefer Bricodepot as they are a bit cheaper, and also or Bricocash, which are a bit more like B & Q in terms of their layout and style.
Then there is the language. The French, and most other nationalities, really appreciate it when we make the effort to learn the language, however basic it sounds, plus many French simply don’t speak English, particularly in rural and small communities. Remember, this is not like a holiday where you can demand to see the rep and get things done, this is real, French life. My personal favourite is Duolingo which apart from being free, has a wonderful learning interface which inspires you to progress.
Please try to resist the temptation to surround yourself with British friends and associates when you first move over to Brittany. Yes it does make life easier at first, and there are plenty of ex-pats around, but there is a saying that goes:
“When we moved to France, we spend the first year getting to know other British people, and then the next three years trying to get rid of them!”
There must be a reason!
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