Our version of Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence”
After two years, the time had come for us to finally settle down and buy a house in beautiful Provence! (sadly- NOT the one pictured above). Here are my tips on how to buy a house in France.
What we Wanted
Oh the dream of a Provencal farmhouse… One day…
Our minuscule budget dictated our choice in type of home (basically a tiny, significant fixer-upper). We knew for sure that the house had to be a character property with stones, beams and the usual details of a Provencal historic home. Otherwise, you could buy something on a housing estate for a tiny budget (under 150,000 euros) that doesn’t need any work. But why live in France without the character of quirky angles, beams and stones?
We were looking at buying in either Aix en Provence (which is apparently one of the most expensive areas in France) or a small village that, although wouldn’t offer great work opportunities, would offer a more affordable house that we could renovate. (My man is very useful…)
Finding the House
After much internet research and exasperation at homeowners providing one dark photo of some detail of their property (how on earth do they think it will sell that way!!!!???) we came to find the best sites for searching in our budget. It’s only through experience and looking at houses that you begin to learn the little tricks homeowners use to try and trick you. For example, providing only one picture of the side of the house to make it look like it’s detached.
Real Estate Agents and Companies
Real estate agents here often just tell you to look online and represent only a small portion of the property for sale in each area. This means you have to go to various agents to find what you’re looking for. Also, if you’re feeling shy about your French telephone capabilities, you’ll have to get used to real estate agents only using phones. Whenever we contacted anyone by email, they rarely got back to us by email. This can be frustrating because you have to schedule your day to accommodate the french hours of a real estate agent that may stop for a 2-hour lunch (of course when you’re on lunch and therefore able to call) and doesn’t work on weekends.
Real Estate Offices
There are a plethora of real estate offices in small villages in Les Alpilles and the Luberon. If you’re interested in those picturesque regions, you’ll be looking in a popular second home owners market; therefore, you’ll most likely find someone who speaks English.
When you finally find a house you like and are given a tour, you’re afforded little time for contemplation and thorough investigation. The shutters are opened and closed behind you in every room. There doesn’t seem to be an effort to make the house look it’s best which is surprising but also refreshing and honest. If you like the house your real estate agent will expect you to make an offer immediately. Ah!
The Buying Process
I can’t speak for all experience as ours was quite particular. Thankfully, youth is a great bargaining chip here as well as the currently stagnant housing market in France. The previous owners of our property liked the fact that we are young, doing the renovation ourselves and planning to live here all year round. They accepted our first offer! We couldn’t believe it! If this isn’t the case, you will need to be nearby for the negotiation period as the agent must have you sign an official document with each new offer. It is never done through a telephone call here in France.
They accepted so quickly we hadn’t even had a chance to sign the official offre d’achat with the offer on it! We ended up signing that on the roof of my real estate agent’s car at the tourist parking lot at Saint Remy de Provence! At this time, a professional evaluation of the house is taken care of by your agent. In our case, this must have been quite easy because just about everything was unsafe, antiquated and needed to be redone.
After the offer is accepted, the buyer is allowed a seven day cooling off period to reflect on their decision. After this period, you will be fined for pulling out of the sale and the same goes for the seller. We received a phone call after seven days with our first appointment with the notaire (notary).
Compromis de Vente
The first appointment with the notaire will be the signing of the compromis de vente (purchase agreement) where you’ll have to pay the notary fees as well as a 10% deposit on the house purchase. The asking price of the house often includes the agent’s fees. The inheritance laws can be quite tricky here in France so it is with the notaire that you’ll have to make sure there are no loose ends. We had to fit 9 people into a little office to get all the signatures we needed!
Then, the basic rule is a three month wait so that the bank can settle your prêt immobilier (mortgage), you can make sure you have insurance set up for the day of purchase and in our case, we had to wait for the maire (mayor) to get back from his annual holiday so that he can sign off on our property. Since we were buying a property in the historic centre of a village we had to wait (with crossed fingers!) for the village to sign off on it’s right to buy the property first. Thankfully, they did! We were lucky as this process was a bit faster for us as we weren’t buying with a mortgage.
After these three things are sorted you will be invited to the notaire’s office to sign the deed of sale or acte authentique. Another word for this is the “acte de jouissance” which means “act of joy” or even ecstasy. Ha! That made me smile.
After everything was signed we were given a temporary copy of our “attestation.” This is the proof that you are indeed the owner of the house. We were given an enormous set of keys complete with the previous owner’s Camargue keychains along with a bottle of champagne from our real estate agent. It was then off to see our newly purchased property that we had only seen but twice. We had bought our first house!
Now, we’re already in full-blown renovation mode. The next 6 months are going to be interesting…
Tips from our Experience:
Make sure, if you’re buying land, that the land has a permit for construction or ‘permis de construire’
With this permit, you’ll be able to build a house. Owning land with this permit also considerably increases the value of that land.
If you’re buying in the countryside, acquaint yourselves with the villages
In Provence, there is a huge difference in the atmosphere and population from village to village. Some villages are simply tourist villages that are absolutely dead in the winter, and some are uninteresting agricultural towns. You’ll most likely want somewhere with life all year round as well as of course picturesque architecture and a friendly feel.
Don’t rush into anything
Because the French love their signed documents any decision soon becomes legally binding. So take the time to réfléchir!
Ask your Bank lots of Questions
You should find out before you make any offers if you’re eligible for a French mortgage. In some cases, a French bank will work with British banks to secure your credit.
Make sure the Roof is Waterproof
You don’t want to buy a house and then realize those beautiful terra cotta roof tiles will need to be replaced at a cost of 20,000 euros!
Don’t Complain about the Property in an Attempt to Lower the Asking Price
People selling their houses already know what is wrong with their house. Here in France, people are proud of their homes. It won’t serve your purpose to be a brash and impolite foreigner.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a translator or a real estate agent that speaks English at the notaire.
There is a lot of French legal jargon that you may not know and it’s not worth not understanding something.
Our experience was quite straight forward; however, I have heard that this is not always the case when buying property in France. Make sure you do your research so that you’re comfortable with the process and vocabulary.
Here are a few English language websites that go into more detail about the buying process here in France:
Check our more on Our Renovation to see what we’ve done with the little house we bought in Provence.