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How do you choose where and what in France?

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

I've got this!

Stay with me here, as I feel very qualified to answer this conundrum, in that I have vast experience at house hunting in France! Our French adventure started way back in 2009? (I will have to check the date with hubby, as its all very confusing when one has moved as much as we have) when we hired a house for a year in Normandy. It wasn't supposed to be a forever move, more of a try before we buy thing really. With elusive hindsight, trying to persuade a 16 year old girl that life would be better in France was just daft. Anyway, on that occasion we didn't leave the Uk permanently, but hoped to go back and forth for the year.

We stayed about 4 months, as it was completely the wrong time for us and whilst we continued the rental until the end of the lease, we only visited again once more to pack up our stuff! I remember my lovely rugs were stuck to the flour with mould by the time we returned! I also remember just how naive we were about rental costs in France and the landlord certainly had us with that one! Fast forward a decade or so and here we are, living the half life between France and UK again. Still trying to make us fit France.

The thing is, French houses are generally very needy and need both airing and heating! They just can't be left alone for too long and If you ignore the house and its needs, you will soon end up with a pile of mouldy old damp bricks, if you are lucky! I also remember how hot that particular summer was, heading into the early 40's most days, no need to venture further into France in search of sunshine! Of course it's been so very hot all over France this year and that has definitely got me thinking about the WHERE? again.

Last year, we spent the summer in the south west of France and it was glorious! Whilst warm, it was a poor summer weather wise, so I don't think I really understood how hot it could really get! It gets really hot! Also, I've just been to Turkey on holiday and managed, just about! It was scorchio and I ended up with sunstroke, of course I did! Then back in the UK we have had heatwave after heatwave this summer, I don't cope well, but thankfully this morning I woke up to cooler temperatures, after overnight rain! However, the humidity is now 80%! Yuck. I think I'm still a 10 to 21 degrees person really! Impossible!

He's always been hugely in love with Normandy. Me? Not so much, although I adore the beaches. I feel, having lived there for 14 months twice, that it can be very isolating and often much like the UK weather wise BUT it is nearer the UK, which may suit your needs? Although, these days with TGV (fast trains) and the Eurostar, you can pretty much get to most parts of France swiftly.

Now? I just don't think, we can completely rule any part of France out, if climate change is going to make itself as comfortable, as it has this summer. I really can't do long periods of high heat and I don't particularly like where our French Wreck is either, as I'm not a 'Towny'. Although I have heard that many buyers are opting for the towns again, due to water issues in the countryside and to be around other people again. I must say 'mains drains' appeals after having dealt with rudely, mischievous, burping Fosses in the past! Stinking things! Our Wreck thankfully has mains drains, shops and people around it.

I've waited forever for the day, I can choose where to live and what in. Italy, would still be my first choice, but I really don't think he will buy into it. Of course I'm going to try anyway and he's agreed to at least look! So, I find the nearer we get to purchasing our second property in France, the more the responsibility weighs heavily on me. It's really daunting. I want to get it right this time. The pressure is real. Still, I do have to remind myself we have time, but ideally I'd like to be moved in by late spring, early summer next year. Who knows if that is doable and let's face it, anything could happen in the mean time.

We will start looking again late this year, into spring 2023 and I must say the French housing market, prices and condition of properties never make any sense to me! There's certainly not 3 similar houses on the the same street that are a good indication of anything really. How these houses are priced is beyond me! Also, France is vast. There are so many different ways to live in France! It's mind boggling. I don't think I've met one house, that I wouldn't have to rip the guts out of yet!

We've said we will let the house choose us this time. I'm not sure how possible that we be? The market is constantly changing now, post Brexit and pandemic. One agent will tell me its all go and another will tell me its slow and steady and there isn't a lot of new stock in popular areas, as happens when the cost of living is too high. The fact they all agree on is that there aren't many British families making the move now.

There's an awful lot to consider! I get very despondent, but I always rally in the end. Mostly, I'm looking forward to exploring as much as we can, as I have this fear that if we don't really dig in during our house search, we will almost certainly get it wrong or indeed, regret our choice. I thought it would be easier, but its not.

You'd think moving as much as I have, that I'd know what I want? I should. I mean, I've lived in all sorts of properties big and small, town and country. In the end I think it just confuses matters, but I guess I do know what I don't want! There's that at least!

I believe I want a pretty country abode, no less than 3km from a village with a few amenities. I would love some land, maybe a pool, but even that is a concern with this latest drought! Is land a good idea? Not sure. I know my future forever love needs to be pretty. She will need an internal makeover to some degree I'm sure, but I sincerely hope she's not another WRECK! I don't want a basket case that steals my life for the next 20 years! I can't live with an ugly facade, but I can absolutely change what it looks like inside. I want to be at home, to feel at home, as soon as I walk through the gates. I want to feel proud of my home.

We have dogs and they do need freedom within its boundary walls. I adore the south west and the light it offers, it's a happy part of France. If I'm honest, I want to remain open to THE ONE wherever it is. Of course we have many things to consider at the tender ages of 54 & 55. Whilst we are no longer young, we aren't old either and we don't want to work forever, so we must take a long term view of our needs. There has to be balance. Then there's the reality of the cost of living crisis and rising energy costs. It's a short and long concern for all.

We seem to have had it all lately, Brexit, Pandemic, wheat famine, war, cost of living and energy crisis, droughts........its all going on. I get up most days thinking 'what now?'! Anything seems possible! The world, the planet, feels very unstable at the moment and we definitely have to take all this into account when we shop for our forever home. Long term affordability is top of the list and future proofing her whilst we can. The difficulty will be deciding what fuel to run her on?

So how do you go about the dream in France, from wherever you are in the world? There are too many variable answers to this question for me to answer you all specifically and obviously you need to consider your own individual/family needs, so start by making a list of pro's and cons, needs, wants and nice to haves.

Visit a visa agent first to understand your eligibility to live in France. Don't do anything but dream until that point.

Be prepared for a mountain of paperwork, so make sure you have originals of passport, birth certificate, driving license, pension, wage slips, bank statements, investments, contracts, marriage certificate..........EVERYTHING!

Consider how you will pay for your life in France? Will you need to work? If you do, then make sure your qualifications can be used in France and start the job hunt!


If you intend to renovate the property yourself, check the planning rules and if using French Artisans be prepared to pay a lot of money out in deposits and often you'll wait a while for the work to start. Your agent or architect can give you an average price per square meter to renovate in your chosen area.

When buying in France, the owner of the property buys a set of Diagnostics. Much like a survey, it will go in to great detail about the condition of the building you are buying, its energy efficiency and any noise pollution. These are often tomes that read like a horror story, but better that you are armed with all the information, on the state of the building you are buying than it being a complete shock. Buyer beware and all that!

If you need a mortgage, you will have to prove a regular stable income and recently expat lending is hard to come by. Try your own bank first, international banks such as HSBC or speak to brokers in France who can give you the low down. If self employed you must have three full years of accounts before applying. You must also prove you have the deposit and fees available.

Get a mortgage in principle before making an offer, is my best advice because agents won't take you seriously until you do. Although, sometimes you will be ignored if you haven't made an offer on a property, especially in a fast moving market.

Live like you are applying for a mortgage!

If making an offer on a property, make sure it is made subject to mortgage, diagnostics and any other caveats you need, including sharing or the owner paying the agents fees. I'd even stick in a hoped for completion date!

If you remain overseas whilst the buying process is completed, make sure you give power of attorney to the Notaire to complete the sale for you. By law you must understand all the documentation involved in the purchase and so make sure you have a translator to help.

The fees involved in buying are quite high and your agent and Notaire will advise you accordingly, but work on 37% of the purchase price in deposit and fees, anything less is a bonus! You will be expected to put down ten percent of the offered price quite quickly, to tie the property and you will be required to sign a legal 'promise to buy'.

Buying in France can take between 6 weeks and 3 months. More often it's the latter, plus.

Not much is ever done in August in France!

Even if you don't need to work, you will still have to prove your income and medical cover.

Speak to a recommended HANDHOLDER who will help you register into the tax/medical system.

Pin point where you would like to live in France and then do the leg work. Go visit! Do it more than once!

If you are buying a holiday or second home in France beware of the tax laws in your home and host countries. Work out how long you are legally allowed to stay in France.

Strike up a good working relationship with a few trusted property agents, who can help you understand the property market and set up viewings for you. Join groups on Facebook for property sales and advice. Don't avoid French speaking agents, they will generally try if you do.

Some viewings can be made via video, but I would highly recommend viewing the property in person unless you want to gamble your life away!

If you have a family to consider, seek the help of a relocation expert. They can help you with school and any other moving related issues.

Start studying French. It will certainly help you to deal with those first days 'lost in France'.

Trawl the internet weekly for properties that interest you.

Write in French when enquiring and be persistent.

Visit a property more than once, to ensure you know how it feels at different times of the day, night or week.

If buying sold as seen, be expected to be left with a lot of the owners stuff to dispose of! Otherwise, make sure the need for 'cleared possession' is noted. You may be able to negotiate with the owner for fixtures and fittings you like, but its not a given.

When planning your physical move, you will find that moving your personal furniture is pretty expensive now. Have a good sort out first, then get 3 or more quotes in. Make sure the quotes include customs declarations and charges. Once you have these quotes you can decide how much to take. White goods are more expensive in France and the choice of soft furnishings may not be to your choice, however there is a very buoyant second hand market. Storage is quite expensive too.

If you are bringing your car, you will need to make sure you have all the correct import paperwork and you may be face a rather large bill to boot. Please note that caravans and RV's from the UK won't be accepted as the doors are on the wrong side for European safety.

Don't forget your beloved pets will need a pet passport to enter FRANCE too.

It's a lot, I know! All doable though just give it plenty of time and gumption!

Keep dreaming!

Bon Chance!

D x

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