If you don't have time and patience don't buy a property in the Provence. The lifestyle here is easy and friendly in a sunny climate. That's why you want to buy a property here in the first place, right? So don't expect things to run like in London, Los Angeles or Stockholm. France has one of the best legal environments, strictest zoning laws and building codes in Europe. And probably the best infrastructure (health care, utilities, trains, roads, shopping). A lot of positive factors. The only point we are trying to make is that in the Provence you need patience. Outside the big cities the pace of life is slow, in other words very enjoyable.
Here are our suggestions:
- First of all familiarize yourself with the legal procedures and tax issues. As compared to many other European countries, the fees you incur buying a property older than five years are among the highest in Europe. They can easily add 10 to 15 per cent to the cost. Study carefully the website Notaires de France, it is in English and really excellent. Contains a lot you need to know for starters. A word about the Notary: He/she is both a civil servant and licensed to give you legal counsel in specific areas of law such as Real Estate Law, Family Law and Corporate Law. A notary is not restricted to a specific region within France. By law the notary has the power to legalize certain agreements such as Real Estate sales which cannot be enforced by any other means. This monopoly prevents almost any subsequent litigation concerning these contracts.
- Will this be your main residence? Do you intend to spend the majority of the year here? Obtain tax advice both from your local and French tax counsel.
- Do some soul searching: Are you ready to buy or would you not be better off renting for a while? Are you aware of all the costs, not only of the purchase but also the running costs?
- Once you have settled on a specific area, select an experienced real estate agent to show you properties. You might also want to try real estate portals on the internet.
- To reduce the chances of making an expensive error (you might need 3-4 years price appreciation before recuperating the purchase transaction fees alone), we strongly recommend to rent a house in the area for a week or two, taking in the worst part of the year (January/February) and the choice part (April - October). You will become more familiar with the region and the weather and you have plenty of time to look around.
- Once you start getting serious about a property make sure you understand the zoning rules and development plans of the community. You can get this information at the Mairie (town hall). Make a point to go there with your realtor or have your lawyer call. Building codes are strict in France, but in many areas there is a lot of real estate development planned. You want to understand what plans are in the drawer for your neighborhood.
- Then you should zero in on your immediate neighborhood. If you intend to buy an apartment, especially in a historic building, make sure you understand who lives above, below and right and left from you. Noise insulation is the word here. This may be difficult to find out if the apartments adjacent to you are only used during vacations. Do insist on it, if there is a will, there is a way. It pays off.
- Carefully inspect the property before you make an offer. A second inspection by a licensed professional is required by law before the closing. Here there are a lot of tricky issues involved concerning the liability of the seller, the warranty of builders and whether the liability insurance covers a subsequent buyer of the property. Do focus on these issues, they are extremely important. The drought and subsequent floods in 2002 have wrecked havoc on a lot of homes in France. In addition certain areas have termite problems. Pools require special attention. Read up on the French pool safety regulations.
- Price negotiations: In all likelihood this will not be your first property purchase, so you know the rules of the game. There is always someone bidding with you, even if there isn't. The property is always a bargain and always goes by next week unless you are first. No difference to New York, London or Paris here. In case you buy from rural owners, especially older ones, be aware that they are about to cash in their nest egg. There will be endless back and fourths, not because of bad faith, but because the rest of the family is involved and the collective decision making body gets seller's remorse at the last minute. Being friendly, patient and establishing a personal rapport may ease the situation somewhat.
- Involve your own solicitor/lawyer especially if your French language skills are only basic. He/she will be in addition to the Notary who is mandatory for property transactions.
- Renovations: A dreadful word in the Provence. If you can, avoid major renovations by all means. It pays to buy a property where you need no or only minor renovations. There are lots of stories around - you can read some of them in our book recommendations. They seem to be funny and exaggerated, but hell no, they are true. We are talking out of our own experience. It will at least take double the time of what your architect or builder makes you believe. Estimates will usually be just a rough guidance, especially if you change plans during the renovation. It pays to be patient and not press for time. If you can, live in your property for some period before even discussing renovations or extensions. You need to get a feel for the house first. Tightly control your architect, his ideas may not be compatible with your requirements. Major renovation projects require your frequent presence at your property. Even with an architect, work comes to a grinding halt once you leave.