View from the Foothills of France

Some personal views on living, working,
bringing up family and making the dream happen in the most beautiful region of France. View from the Foothills of France also includes some personal and professional thoughts and tips on finding and buying the perfect property in the Ariège and Haute Garonne regions.

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How much is the house really worth?

One of the main concerns when deciding to buy a house in another country is that it is much more difficult to work out if the price that you are paying is the right price. In France, it is particularly complicated to get an accurate picture.

Firstly, you are likely to see a property advertised at different prices by numerous different agencies. Secondly, particularly in rural France, it is difficult to compare the price to similar houses sold locally as most properties are very different from each other and they also do not change hands very often. Thirdly, there is no set formula for valuing property in France. Finally, on the internet, there are thousands of properties listed for sale; numerous beautiful shots of tightly cropped and apparently very cheap houses, giving the impression that property in France is incredibly cheap – a story that the press also love, especially at this time of year (trade in your flat in Peckham for a Chateau in France).

Well property in this region is certainly very good value but I think that many people window shopping for houses in agencies or online this summer are likely to be disappointed if they are thinking that they will be able to pick up something for almost nothing. In my experience, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. So, how do you know that the price is right when viewing a property in France?

  1. Make sure you look at lots of houses advertised in the same area and get a feel for prices and what you can get for your budget. If the property is far more expensive than anything similar in the area then it has probably been priced at that level by the owners rather than an estate agent or Notaire who will have a better idea of the real value. You need to be particularly wary of private sales for this reason.
  2. View a house very thoroughly and preferably go back and view it a second time. Often a second viewing shows up details that you didn’t notice the first time, especially if you loved it as soon as you walked through the door on the first viewing. If a second viewing is not possible, make sure you take lots of photos and go through these again carefully the next day to make sure you haven not missed something obvious.
  3. If you view a house that ticks most of your search criteria boxes, this property is most likely worth your budget, especially if a large part of your motivation in buying in France is a lifestyle choice. You will know if a house is going to offer the quality of life you are looking for and this is hard to put a price on.
  4. Work out how much work it will need to make this house into the home you are looking for. Get an idea of how much you think you will need to spend on it and decide if it matches your budget and the region’s prices.
  5. it may be a cliché but it is a true one, that the location is the most important element in assessing the price. If the house is in a good location, one that is always in demand, if it has good views and good access, near mountains or coast and close to a nice town or city, then it will generally be worth what you pay for it because there will always be someone else who wants this same location.

Above all, if you love the house the minute you walk through the door; in other words if it has that something special, that wow factor and it is within your budget, then it is most likely worth paying the price.

Dare I say that, of course, the very best way of ensuring that you are only paying what a property is worth and not a penny more is, of course, to employ a property finder…



Beware the so-called ‘eco-house’

As with anything that becomes fashionable, the original concept of an ‘eco-house’ and ‘eco-living’ has in some areas been hijacked by those looking to make a quick buck. I have noticed this more and more in France, where the term ‘eco-house’ is now regularly applied to any house for sale that happens to be built out of wood or that has some form of alternative energy or insulation.

All I can say is, when house hunting, beware the term ‘eco-house’ and be sure you ask the agent or seller what it is that makes said property so ecological. Often it will turn out that the house is a wooden kit-house (which can be very ecologically sound but can equally mean very thin walls and very un-ecological, chemical wood preserver and unsustainable timber). Or simply that it has solar panels on the roof which is great but this does not suddenly make an old stone house into an ‘eco-house’.

The problem is that there is no agreed definition as to what constitutes an ‘eco-house’. It is, however, generally accepted that it is a property built in such a way that reduces energy consumption and waste while also reducing the negative impact of a building on human health and the environment. Hence an eco-house should be a combination of sustainable location, sustainable materials and sustainable living brought about through better design, construction, siting, operation and maintenance.

The design and construction of the building should be done in harmony with the natural environment and an eco-house should give the owner the ‘best of both’ by providing less of an impact on the environment along with a healthier place to live and lower ongoing running costs.

So far, out here in South West France, I could count on one hand the number or eco-houses I have seen measuring up to this definition. I hope that this is going to change and I will see more and more houses providing more sustainable ways of living but, in the meantime, by all means put ‘ecological’ on your property search wish list but be very wary of anyone trying to sell you a so-called ‘eco-house’.


If you have any questions about looking for a house in France, please get in touch:

Becoming part of the community in France

I went to a funeral of a neighbour this week; one of the first people we met when we moved into this hamlet and who lived most of his 80 years right here. Funerals are of course always sad but this one was also uplifting in that it really brought home to me the importance of community; something harder to find these days when so many people move away from where they are born for education and work. There was a real sense of friends and family coming together to both celebrate his life and support those left behind.

The sense of community in this part of France is still very strong and one of the reasons that so many of us are attracted to the region. It is rare nowadays to be born, grow up, live, work and retire in the same place and with many of the same people you have known all your life. This can of course be claustrophobic, even suffocating which is why many people move away for a while but it is also noticeable here how many people also later move back with families of their own. There are of course disagreements, fallings out and the usual gossip but, at important times, people here know that they can rely on their family, friends and neighbours; a guaranteed safety net as and when needed.

At the funeral, nearly everyone knew everyone else and the atmosphere was one of kindness, friendship, of everyone rallying around, of support and even a sort of contentment, especially in the sunny graveyard where, as the priest pointed out, our neighbour was put into the earth of the village and countryside that he loved and the same earth he had worked all his life both to earn his living and produce his food.

With my property finder hat back on, the experience made me reflect again on the importance of region and the local community when looking for a house. Of course, the right property is of huge importance but, to make that house into a home, it is equally as important to get a sense of the town, village or hamlet and a feel for the community and then, once installed, make sure you get out and meet your neighbours and become part of that community.

The changing makeup of the expat in France

Our local market is the place where I am most likely to come across other expats and incomers who have made this region their home. It has only been recently however that it has struck me how much the makeup of not only the local population but also of the expat population has changed over the last two decades.

In the past, much of the expat population in France was made up of retirees or early retirees who had often spent many holidays coming to France or possibly had a holiday house here and then moved over to enjoy the last few decades with better weather and better food and wine.

Now however, thanks to the internet and the flexibility of the labour market, people do not have to wait for retirement to follow their dreams and experience the adventure of moving abroad. Hence it is evident that the demographics of expats in France has changed hugely in recent years with young couples, families and career professionals increasingly in the majority.

This can only be for the good as far as I can see; diversity in age, culture and background leads to a fascinating melting pot, shared ideas and hopefully a more open view of the world. There was a time when rural France could be closed and inwards-looking but this is certainly no longer the case thanks to the influence of ever younger and more economically active immigrants (yes, I believe immigration is a force for good but then I am an immigrant so I would say that). The world has certainly shrunk but, at the same time, this has allowed people’s horizons to stretch and, in my opinion, this can only be a good thing.