As you know from reading this blog, we’ve been through a lot of stuff to buy our French mill. I thought it was nice to turn some of our experiences into tips. If you’re interested in a little French place to spend the next level in your life at, read these carefully…and then do as you please. 🙂
1. Target wisely.
France is HUGE. Compared to the Netherlands or Belgium or even other European countries, France is simply enormous. So be very specific about where you’d like your home. This sounds logical but-–trust me–-a distance that feels a bit far away the first time does NOT get any closer. Use a pair of compasses to divine a range.
2. Check distance.
Calculate whether you could drive the distance on your own. Your partner might not come with you every time and you might need to drive to and from in one day or overnight. Four to six hours is OK. Over six to eight hours is stretching it. Over eight hours is crazy. You can fly, but you never know how expensive that might become in the future.
3. Check route.
Some places, even within the logical distance, take much longer to drive to. For instance: passing Antwerp on a Friday means one hour extra. Also, yet of a different order, check whether there are more ways to get there. Driving by Charleroi is NO fun. It’s an ugly town and the route is not the most pleasant. (We prefer to drive by Namur; this means green landscape until our front porch.) The route should be relaxing. You drive there when you need some extra peace, not to arrive stressed because the traffic kills you.
4. Make up your mind.
What kind of house are you looking for? What will you use it for? Do you plan to share it with friends and relatives or just use it yourselves? There’s a large variety within types of houses to buy. Make a checklist of things you like to do in and around your house. Do you feel like doing nothing at all for the next 10 years? Then buy a small house without a lot of land. Do you want to entertain friends at your place? Buy something with an extra room, and make sure there’s some sightseeing within a 50-km drive.
5. Seek out peace (in yourself).
If you’d like to find peace in France, make sure the house offers it. A sweet, hidden place in the forest might look serene, but it’s remote and available for anybody–meaning unwelcome strangers–to pay a visit. There’s nobody to check. We preferred a place that is within walking distance from a town. Why? Because everybody knows the property and will know you and your car. The French do check who drives into and out of their village. This neighbor patrol might be unwanted by some, but it’s also keeping an eye on what’s happening when you’re NOT there. Your French house should give you peace, not fear and worry.
6. Go there more than once.
The French and the real estate people want you to decide quickly. “Listen, you are the first to see. I have other people waiting. Blah blah.” Don’t buy it–it’s just a way to pressure you. If it’s true, then bad luck for you, but most of the time it’s bullocks. Try to lengthen your decision period. Going there more than once gives you a better insight of the house, the sounds, the town, the light. You don’t want to wake up next to a railway that you really can’t see but definitely can hear (at night).
7. Spend money on advice.
I guess this goes for everyone buying property. If you’re not a regular buyer of properties, ask someone to come and check your future house. Ask an independent and impartial French/English speaker to help you negotiate. This person should not have any chauvinistic feelings towards the French, nor should they have a relationship with any of the other participants. It can be a building constructor with an eye for the construction or just a businessman with a nose for saving you money. Everybody will tell you a different story. You need him/her to get the message straight.
8. Do not agree on any price before you’re sure.
The French really don’t like you to come back on a deal. Nobody likes to hear: “Wait a minute, we’d like to renegotiate.” Sometimes it’s inevitable, like when we discovered our land floods twice a year. They forgot to tell us: yeah right. So back to the table. We got 10% off in the end, but we surely didn’t make any friends. Also, you could make a wish list of what you like and be so direct to add that list to the requirements for the deal. We added the permission for a tennis court and swimming pool. Granted.
9) Ask around.
We found a chambre d’hote in the area where many people with the same mission stayed over. That helps BIG time for multiple aspects. A) During dinner you can ask who’s who in the area, B) find property for sale that’s not being listed yet, C) make friends close to your property who are dealing with the same issues.
It also doesn’t hurt to have some information on the property itself that does not come from the owners. They–including attorney, agent, and whoever else is involved–-will not tell you everything. We used our French advisor to call the mayor and some neighbors to get the full picture.
10) Follow your heart.
If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Stones do have a vibe.
Off the record: Learn French! 😀