Important things to look for and questions to ask when house hunting in South-West France


Spring in the Pyrenees

Spring in the Pyrenees

For most people, buying a house is not something they do regularly and it is easy to miss important details or forget to ask the right questions in the excitement, emotion and stress of the moment. So here are some things I look for and questions I ask when viewing properties or deciding on the right offer to make for clients:

  • I always ask the seller why they are selling – not that you will always get the real answer but many are sellers are surprisingly honest!
  • Look up and check the roof, are there any missing tiles or slates? Does it look in good condition or is it starting to sag? Does the guttering leak or can you see any gaps? The French are generally excellent at maintaining their roofs but a new roof can be a big and expensive job so, if it does need re-doing, it is worth being aware of this fact so that it can be used in negotiations.
  • Check that the windows are in good order; whether there is any flaking timber or glass which is misting up if double glazed?
  • Turn on taps and showers; is there good water pressure? Does hot water come through quickly? Are there any leaks?
  • Do you have mobile phone reception? Can you get the other communications you need, such as satellite or cable TV and broadband?
  • Do rooms catch the sun, or need extra light? Can you see condensation on the windows?
  • Can you hear people around the house? Try walking upstairs and in a room when one of you stays below, is it really noisy?
  • Make sure to take a look in the attic and especially at the beams to check for live beetle. The attic is also a good place to check if there is any insulation and in what state.
  • Check what is included in the sale; often the French will expect to take everything when they go including light fittings and most of the kitchen so it is worth being sure on this point.
  • Is the house private or overlooked by neighbours and, if overlooked, is there a way of securing privacy?  If there are neighbours, I always take a sneaky peak into their garden to see what sort of state it is in and whether they have animals such as geese which can be smelly and also very noisy.
  • I also ask whether surrounding fields are ‘constructible’ or whether the land is ‘agricole’ because, if constructible, you are likely to have new houses appearing next door.
  • Check for damp – can you see or smell any? This can be dealt with but it is worth knowing about in advance and before moving in.
  • Does the property have the space you need? If not, in theory, is there room to extend the property, either into the attic or into an adjoining barn and would it be possible to add an extra room or two to the house? For example, if the house is in the Parc National de l’Ariège or in a ‘Batiments de France’ area, any additional building is unlikely to get permission.
  • Which way does the property face? South and east facing are the ideal but in this region, which gets very hot in summer, it is also important to make sure that you can use the north side or at least have a shady terrace in the summer months.
  • Is there a fosse septique (septic tank) and, if so, is it aux normes (the requirements for septic tanks have recently changed in France and the majority of properties will need a new one or some work done to bring it in line with regulations.) Budget 3-5000 Euros for this.
  • How is the house heated? This is becoming an ever more important question with the high price of gas and oil. I am increasingly looking for houses where some of the energy is provided by alternative means such as wood, solar or geo-thermal.
  • How much are the Taxes Foncieres and Taxe d’Habitation – these are the property taxes and generally are much lower in France than in the UK and many other countries.
  • If the house is near a road, how busy is it? I usually go back to a property on several occasions at different times of day to check on this if it might be an issue although, in this part of the world, the most usual noises are generally cow bells or logs being cut. I have, however, viewed a house which was in a lovely peaceful spot with only one close neighbour but I noticed that, hidden behind this neighbouring house, were what look liked kennels, albeit empty and sure enough, when I returned the following week, in the evening this time, the howling of hunting dogs from next door was unbearable.
  • How close are the nearest shops? In France it is also worth asking whether there is a baker’s van or butcher’s van that passes through because most hamlets are served by these at least once a week and often three or four times a week.
  • In the South West of France, it is also vital to find out if the road to the property is cleared of snow by the town or village services in the winter. If the property is in a hamlet and has village electricity and water and families living there, they almost certainly will be on the ‘deneigement’ route but I have found houses or barns in the mountains that are hidden up tracks which are definitely not cleared of snow automatically and so you run the risk of being cut off for the odd week in the winter which many people here do not mind but it is worth being aware that this might be a possibility before it actually happens.
  • Most buyers tend not to have surveys in France but, if the house needs work, I often ask a builder to take a look at the general state of the house to ensure that there are not likely to be any nasty surprises after the sale.
  • Finally I always have my camera and my notebook on every viewing as the camera often sees details that the eye misses at the time and I write copious notes to jog my memory about every detail or issue that I want to check further.

Viewing houses can be really enjoyable and exciting or equally can be (and often is ) very disappointing but, if you feel that you have seen the house for you, just take a bit of time to ensure that you know exactly what you are taking on and that you will be able to deal with it. A house is for life, not just for a sunny day after a glass or two of rosé at lunchtime. My main aim is to ensure that my clients get the best possible house at the best possible price and have thought through all the pros and cons and this should go for everyone thinking of buying a house in France.

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