How to find property in France

Find a suitable area

The first step to finding a home in France is to consider which area best suits your budget and inclinations. If you like city living, Paris may be above your budget, but you could consider Lille, a cultural hotspot with fantastic museums and theatres, or Lyon, a cultural as well as gastronomic centre. The coast will be relatively expensive everywhere, but there are some pockets of lower priced coastal property in Brittany (Cotes d'Armor and Finistere are cheaper than Morbihan), on the Norman coast, and even in the department of Aude, near Narbonne and Perpignan.

Old army hands say that "time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted," and the best time to research property choices is before leaving home. It can't be stressed enough that France is a very large country, with hugely diverse landscapes and local styles, so that it can be helpful to narrow down the choice not just to one region and then department, but to the area around one or two towns. Use portals such as Properstar.com to narrow down the area under consideration and look at a wide range of properties before generating a shortlist.

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Attention to details

Aspects of a property that should be looked at when drawing up a list include:

  • Energy ratings and type of heating system;

  • The age of the property;

  • Total square metreage - this, rather than the number of rooms, is the prime metric for French purchasers. (Work out the price per square metre and look at the FNAIM or Notaires de France site to assess whether it is par for the course in the local area);

  • Garden (usually given in square metres);

  • Parking, if the property is in a town or city centre;

  • Particularly for apartments in Paris, note which floor the flat is on, and whether there is an elevator - in a distressing large number of properties, there isn't;

  • Any outbuildings included with a rural property and whether they have potential for conversion to living space ('amenageable' is the word to look for).

Find home in the biggest French cities

France is a huge country - that can't be stressed enough, as it limits what can be done in a day. In a rural area, three or four properties a day is the maximum that can realistically be visited and properly inspected. Trying to do too much on a buying trip will lead to frustration and may be counterproductive; without rigorous selection, too much time can be spent visiting properties that aren't suitable.

Make sure you know what you want

While some agents will be helpful in finding more properties to meet purchasers' requirements, the best results come from identifying properties in advance. Obviously, if all the properties of interest can be visited with a single agent, that has huge benefits - not least the fact that the agent will probably do all the driving, saving you both hassle and petrol money.

When approaching agents, giving a reasoned and precise list of requirements can be helpful; for instance, "must not be on a main road - must have a large garden - we have dogs and children". However, some requests simply can't be accommodated; one couple asked for a half-timber house in Limousin - an area known for its stone-built architecture - while another buyer wanted a house in the centre of a hilltop town, but with a huge garden and a small budget. Unsurprisingly, given the space constraints of Provençal hill towns, he could get a huge garden, but only at a price - or a cheaper house, but without the garden. Ask agents about local property characteristics; purchasers of period properties will find many agents can be most instructive talking about the right way to renovate and maintain them, and the common features found (for instance, many mountain farms still have their old style bread ovens, fantastic for making pizza!)

Books are full of stories about owners who simply fell in love with a property they saw completely by chance, but that happens very rarely. A disciplined and well researched hunt for the right property is far more likely to get the right result.