If you are thinking of buying a house in France, it is a good idea to also think about how you will attack the problem of finding the right house at the right price. Buying property in France, you will soon find that the prices are wildly different from one area to the other. And of course also the state of the property has a lot to do with the price. Other factors that influence the price are costs and commissions for professionals in house hunting and property selling, and of course your negotiating skills. In this article I’d like to go into the different ways there are to save money on buying a house in France. Having extensive experience in buying property in France myself, I – ahum – consider myself somewhat of an expert. Even though I’m still a lousy negotiator. But you know the old adage: those who can’t, teach. So here are my tips.
Look for a house in quiet regions of France
France has a lot of popular regions. Places where ‘everyone’ wants to buy a house. You’ll find large concentrations of British there, who’ve all heard from each other how great it is where they have bought their house in France. Unfortunately, the popularity of these regions have influenced the property prices. So if you consider buying a house in France in the same region, you’ll have to pay a high price.
What many people don’t realise is that regions they never heard of may be just as nice or even nicer than the renowned hotspots. Of course it is nice to tell your friends you have found a beautiful ‘perigourdine’ in the famous Perigord Noir and they’ll envy you. But what is this envy worth once you realise you could have paid 50% less for a nicer home, by just taking an earlier turn Eastward to the lesser known (and unspoilt) Brenne.
Before buying a house in France, think about renting
One of the most irking things about buying a house in France is that it is a bit of a leap in the dark. Because even if you’ve been visiting several times, you haven’t really lived there, so you really don’t know how it is, do you? So once you know where exactly or approximately you want to buy property in France, why not rent a place for a year or so? This way you can get a feel for the region, look around in summer and winter, see where the shops are, how the people are treating you. If you feel even the slightest bit disappointed with your choice, count your blessings: you have not bought yet so you don’t need to sell again.
Try to circumvent the real estate agent
OK, this is a biggie. When buying property in France you might think of passing through the local real estate agents. But be beware: they cost between 4% and 10% of the selling price! And the cheaper the house, the higher the percentage. But even with really expensive homes, in the million euro range, the property agent will still demand 4% = 40,000 euros! Even though the commission has to be paid by the seller, it is logical that this amount of money will just be added to the asking price. So if you can find a way to do business directly with the owner, you have at least 4% extra negotiation margin before you reach the real ‘private’ asking price, where the haggling can start.
You might ask: “Buying a house in France without property agent, how does that work?” Well, for starters you can have a look on FSBO-websites that only have private sellers, like Immogo, or on the French national classified site LeBonCoin that everybody uses and where you can filter the private (particulier) and professional offer.
Talk to the locals about houses for sale
Another rather clever trick for finding ‘for sale by owner’ property for sale in France is by simply asking around. Once you’ve narrowed down the village or area where you want to live, just go to the local bar and ask if they know about people who want to sell. Of course you have to speak a bit of French to do this, or bring a friend that does. But you’ll be surprised at how helpful people are. First of all because circumventing the property agents is a national sport (everybody hates the 6% fee) and secondly because people will actually promise a bonus to bartenders and postmen if they bring them a buyer. This will be dealt with a bit under the radar because you need to have a licence to be a real estate intermediary, but the French are masters at pretending the law does not count in the particular case that will let them profit from breaking it. And sometimes you might even find houses that aren’t for sale yet, but the owner has just been musing over a glas of wine about an eventual sale in the future!
Negotiate from a positive attitude
Of course you need to haggle when buying a house in France! Everybody does it and the seller is expecting it. He or she has added at least 10% to the already optimistic price used for advertising the property. So if your first offer is about 20% under the asking price, nobody is going to be vexed. Then let the games begin! One of the big mistakes you can make is pointing out perceived flaws in the property in order to make the price go down. Unless they are real serious flaws of course. A leaky roof or a non-approved septic tank will cost money to bring up to standard, so it’s okay to point those out. But please don’t go around saying “that awful kitchen needs to be entirely torn out and replaced”. Awful as it may be, that kitchen was put there by the seller himself and has served his family well for decades. The same goes for the disgustingly purple bathroom and all the interior walls painted fluorescent yellows and pinks. Just swallow your critique and cluck admiringly. The more you praise the house, the more they will allow you to haggle. When negotiating, the problem should always be your meagre budget, not the low quality of the product. So tell them you love everything about the house and you dream to live here, but unfortunately you can’t afford their asking price. Maybe they could make another effort?
Ask about the running costs
You might be tempted to buy a property in France because of the relatively low price. But have you thought about the costs? How much will you be paying monthly for heating and lighting the property? How much is the insurance? What are the local taxes? Especially these last ones may give you an unpleasant surprise. The ‘taxe d’habitation’ (living tax) and the ‘taxe foncier’ (property tax) are different for each and every village or region and can add up to several hundred euros a month. Just like the heating cost by the way, especially for those big, badly insulated farms in the countryside. So you may find that your cheap property in France will cost you an arm and a leg after all. Better to find ut before you buy!
Find a cheap way of getting Euros
Finally, a way to cut costs is finding a way to get out from under the expensive exchange rates. If you get your money from the UK, the USA, Switzerland or another non-euro country, every time you buy euros, you have to pay banking costs. Even if it is only 3 or 4%, in the long run, this can really add up. On a normal monthly income of 2000€, this means 80 euros loss. Or €1000 a year! And when buying a house in France, this is even more important, because 3% of a 100.000€ is 3000 euros! You can get a lot of really nice bottles of local spirits (or many excellent Michelin starred meals) for that price. So it pays to compare. One of the cheapest exchange sites is www.transferwise.com, with fees as low as 0.6% plus a fixed fee of 4 euros. But by all means, Google around, compare the different services and try to get the most Euro-bang for your buck.