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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France is one of the safest property investments in the world

I find myself in a strange position this week – I am feeling sorry for French estate agents. Having just done a two-day course on French law and ethics as it applies to French property transactions, I realize that I have, in the past, underestimated the huge legal responsibility that estate agents have in France and the legal liability if they get anything wrong.

Estate agents get a very hard time from all sides and it must be one of the only areas of business where someone is trying to work both for the buyer and seller at the same time. This is clearly not logical and the reason why buyers should bear in mind that, while an agent is there to propose and show you properties they have for sale, they are actually contracted to work for the seller so this is where their legal obligations lie. (Hence the need for a property finder working solely for the buyer but I have written about that many times in the past; see here)

My two-day course, more than anything, reinforced what I already knew; that France is surely one of the safest places in the world to buy a property. French law is designed to always protect the consumer and hence there are so many safety nets for buyers in order to ensure that they have all the information they need at every stage and also the right to pull out at different points. The seller does not have the same rights and hence, a buyer can be sure that, once both parties have signed the initial Compromis de Vente, the purchase is secure from their point of view. The buyer also has the right to ‘get-out clauses’ known as a ‘clause suspensive’ for various reasons to ensure that, for example, should you not secure a mortgage, then you can still pull out. The seller does not have the right to get-out clauses.

I would always advise having someone to help you through the buying process but, in France, buyers can be sure that they are protected at every step of the purchase and have the law on their side from start to finish. There are many other uncertainties of course when buying a house abroad but there is no uncertainty when it comes to the buyer’s rights in a French property purchase.

If you need any help with your property search, get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

What are the next ‘marches’ for Macron?

There is clearly a lot of relief this week both here in France and around the world following the French election result. There is a real sense of renewed energy and optimism amongst both the French population and those of us who have made France our home.

Certainly there are plenty of people who would not have voted for Macron if there had been a clear alternative but there is also the large majority of the population, particularly the younger generation, who hope that he heralds the start of a much brighter future for them and their country. His party, now called En Marche la Republique, is neither left nor right and he says he wants to renew the French political system from a centrist position.

The French have always had a great deal of pride in their country and a sense of superiority in just being born French. As outsiders, we often laugh at this but right now I admire it and I particularly admire the way that the French have fought against right wing extremism and the politics of isolationism to embrace Europe and the world with the aim of being right at the centre of a force for good rather than to cut ties, turn their backs on the rest of the world and think only about themselves.

So what comes next? Well Macron will appoint a Prime Minister which he has said he will do by the end of the week and, in theory, it is he/she (we live in hope) who has to form a government. In practice, they work together to do this and the President must approve the appointment of government ministers, known as the Conseil des Ministres consisting of around 15-16 individuals although the total size of the ministerial team is typically 30-40 ministers and it is they who determine policy and put new legislation before parliament in the form of bills (projets de loi).

Once the Conseil des Ministres has been decided and six weeks on from the presidential election it is the Elections Législatives, the public elections to vote for the members of the French parliament. This is made up of two houses or chambers; the lower and principal house of parliament known as the Assemblée Nationale and the members, known as députés and these will be elected by the public in legislative elections in the middle of June. There are currently 577 députés and Macron says he will contest every seat – he needs 290 seats for a majority.  As yet, his party has no elected Ministers so this is no small task. He has pledged that at least 50% of his candidates will have no political affiliation and half will be women. Currently the Socialists have a majority in the National Assembly. The upcoming legislative elections involve two rounds; a candidate can be elected in the first round by obtaining an absolute majority of votes or, in the second round, with votes totaling at least 12.5 per cent.

After this, Macron has to deal with the upper chamber of parliament known as the Sénat. Senators are chosen by “grands électeurs” who are the mayors and other locally elected representatives. They are elected for six years and half of seats come up for election every three years. There are currently 348 senators and the Republicans currently have a majority.

So there is no time for Macron to sit back and enjoy his victory; he has a huge task ahead. For the Europeans amongst us, the good news is that Macron is very pro-European and pro- open borders and tolerance which can only be good news for everyone.

 

Finding the perfect house in France

All of us set out to find our dream house when we start our property search in France; the perfect French home, ‘the one’. We probably have a picture in our head of what this will look like and what features it will have; the gorgeous view, the blue shutters, the wooden floors, stone fireplaces, lots of original architecture, the French doors to the perfect terrace or garden.

The problem is that the perfect house doesn’t really exist except in our heads; every house has its compromises. So what should you compromise on and what should you absolutely not?

  1. The view. This is my number one client search request; nearly everyone wants a view whether it is of rolling hills, beautiful gardens, bucolic fields of flowers, a pretty market square or snow-capped mountains. And this is something that a house either has or not (unless it’s possible to cut down some trees to revel a hither-unseen view). This is, therefore, one area where I suggest you should not compromise if it is important to you.
  2. Walking distance to a café or boulangerie. Another favourite on the list of ‘must-haves’ but more difficult to find than you would probably imagine. I will find it if I can but it might involve many more compromises on other factors on your wish-list.
  3. A large garden/lots of land. This is a favourite criterion for British buyers (less so for Australians, South Africans and Americans who perhaps are more realistic about the work involved!) I understand the attraction of this and, if it is a permanent home, go for it. If it is a holiday home and everything else about the house ticks your boxes but the garden is smaller than you would have ideally liked, it is worth compromising.
  4. A swimming pool. Again, often top of the ‘wish-list’ but keep in mind that it is better to buy a house that fulfils most of your search brief but doesn’t have a pool than to buy a house with a pool that is not quite the right house. You can always put in a swimming pool but you cannot easily change the fundamentals of the house.
  5. A large kitchen/dining room/open plan living space. This is an ever more popular request thanks to the way we live nowadays. However, most clients are looking for a traditional, old French house and these were not designed to be open plan. Smaller, individual rooms and often a very small galley kitchen are the norm. I would, however, tell a client not dismiss a house because it does not tick this box – usually you can open up rooms or take down walls to create exactly the space that suits you.
  6. No renovation work. Horror stories abound about the trials and tribulations of undertaking a renovation in France but often this is thanks to the power of television; plenty of people renovate very happily and successfully in France. It is not a cheap process but, if you go into it with your eyes open, it is one of the best ways of creating your dream home so don’t rule out this option if the location, position, style, setting, size and price of the house are all right.
  7. Easy access and within an hour of a major airport (and preferably more than one airport). This is another condition that starts at the top of the ‘wish-list’ but often gets dropped in favour of other ‘must haves’. I would, however, suggest that this is one area in which you should not compromise if you are going to be commuting or travelling regularly to your home in France – an hour is do-able but anything more becomes a serious effort and you cannot change this longer term.

I could go on but, in summary, when deciding where and how to compromise to achieve your ‘perfect house’: If something can be changed such as décor, room layouts, finishes, heating or electric systems, then it is worth compromising. If it is an element which absolutely cannot be changed such as the view, the location, the proximity to services or accessibility, think long and hard about your priorities before compromising. You can’t pick up your perfect house and move it somewhere else but you can find the perfect location and gradually change a ‘compromise’ house into your perfect dream house.

Is the price right?

For anyone buying a property abroad, it is much more difficult to work out if the price 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 (each will have a different commission that they add to the asking price.) Secondly, particularly in rural France, it is difficult to compare the price to similar properties 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; some agents value purely on the square meterage of the house or the number of bedrooms, others on the average price for property in the region (taking no account of age, character, condition, position etc.) Finally, many agents will put a house on the market at whatever price the seller asks in order to get the contract – hence prices sometimes bear no relation to actual value. This happens a lot when the seller has spent a lot on renovating a property and decides that it is worth what they paid for it plus what they spent on renovations – which may work in the UK, Australia, South Africa, the States but it does not work in France.

So how do you know that the price is right when viewing a property in France? Well firstly, make sure you look at lots of houses advertised on line in the same area and get a feel for prices and what you can get for your budget. Research is the key initially to making sure you are paying the right price. Find out as much as you can about the house; why the owners are selling, how long it has been on the market, how much interest there has been in it, how many viewings, what other potential buyers have thought about it, whether there are lots of properties available in the same area and whether there is some missing information as to why a house stands out to you against the others you have seen for the same price (for example an agent is not going to point out that a house is on a busy road or next to a factory but if the house looks too good for the price in the advertisement, then there is a probably a reason.)

Secondly 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’t missed something obvious.

Thirdly, 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.

Fourthly, how much work does it need to make it into the home you are looking for? Get an idea of how much you think you will need to spend on it and add it to the asking price and then decide if it matches your budget and the region’s prices.

Finally, it is a cliché but 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 near a good size and 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 in – in other words if it has that something special, that wow factor (whatever that happens to be) and this wow factor is within your budget, then it is most likely worth the price.

The right price is the one that both seller and buyer feel happy with – in which case it will usually be an easy sale with extras thrown in by the seller and champagne drunk together on the day of completion.