Buying a house in France: what to avoid

We are sliding into the season of house buying in our part of the world. However it has to be said that here this is by no means the national pursuit that it is in Britain. The French legal and tax system combine to make sure that if you do sell a property you don’t make a lot of money on it. This seems not unreasonable to us because it prevents the speculative buying and doing up of properties that has contributed to the eye-watering price rises of houses in UK.

Based on our 15 months of house ownership here in France we thought it might be worthwhile pointing out some things about buying houses that estate agents here don’t tell you. In particular let us suggest some things that a British purchaser might overlook in haste and regret at leisure.

Check that the property you are interested in is not in a Zone Inondable; in other words that it could be flooded. Every mayor’s office will have completed a hazard map and it should be available somewhere on the Internet. In baking heat of high summer the idea that your dream house might one day be washed away may seem utterly ludicrous. But it happens, and if you do buy in a flood zone you may well find you can’t get house insurance.

Or it might be your access road that susceptible to floods.

Or it might be your access road that’s susceptible to floods…

It’s also worth checking if you are in a fire risk zone. Despite considerable efforts to prevent them, forest fires do occur around here and are terrifying and devastating. There are probably unwary home-buyers who end up with houses that are under threat from both flood and fire.

Many roads in the wooded parts of Var are closed to traffic because of fire risks: in summer they may be closed to pedestrians too. Note another hazard: is your prospective house near a place where there will be frequent hunting in season?

Many roads in the wooded parts of Var are closed to traffic because of fire risks: in summer they may be closed to pedestrians too. Note another hazard: is your prospective house near a place where there will be frequent hunting in season?

A whole house (or two) is being held up by this scaffolding

A whole house (or two) is being held up by this scaffolding

We also ought to mention – Chris is something an expert on this – that the south-eastern part of France is in a seismic risk zone and earthquakes are a possibility in some areas. Yes, there’s a map for that… Far more prevalent and definitely worth looking for is evidence of ground instability, landslides or slippage. We could name (but won’t) whole villages where houses are cut through with cracks as the ground slowly moves away. Did we mention termite infestations? Worth checking on those too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Your retaining wall shouldn’t be bulging like this…

There are sad to say also human problems. Although most areas seem very tranquil round us there are zones we gather where burglaries do occur. These seem to be either in remote, lightly-populated regions or the edges of towns with rather difficult suburbs. It is also worth doing your homework on what you might call ethnic tensions. There is a town not far from us – again, we name no names – where allegedly armed police have to be brought in to break up disputes within the Arab communities. And very much on the other side of the coin, there are villages and towns where the local administration is so strongly right-wing that patriotism has a rather ugly edge to it.

In this town the mayor is a member of the Front Nationale

In this town the mayor is a member of the Front National (the photo was taken before the recent elections)

And on a slightly delicate matter, because prostitution is not illegal in France, there are a number of places where rather sad women sit quietly on the side of the road in the shade waiting for business. They never seem to be near houses but its not a trade you want to live near.

It’s always worth checking too on impending planning decisions. Not too far from us, near a really rather pleasant town, a rather nice area of woods and vineyards has suddenly become the site of what will be one of the largest prisons in southern France.

Ironically though, perhaps the thing that you most need to avoid are the villages beloved by tourists. Not only are the prices artificially elevated, but in winter when the Dutch, Germans and Scandinavians have gone home they can be shuttered-up ghost towns.

Check that there are other people living in the village during winter.

Does anyone live here during winter?

Given all those things that we now know, we can only breathe a hearty sigh of relief that our house is affected by none of the above threats. You can put it down to careful research on our part but I think we’d like to attribute it to answered prayer.

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One Response to Buying a house in France: what to avoid

  1. Júlio Reis says:

    Blimey – the list is so large that I can’t keep it all in my head. The lesson for me is: don’t buy a house in France. And I notice that in your list of hazards to avoid, you failed to mention the French, haha – OK seriously, all the French I’ve met are positively charming.

    I don’t get why someone from the North of Europe would come to their second house during the summer. Are they trying to erode themselves through yearly cycles of freezing and baking? I’d be in the south for the winter and the north for the summer. No? That would make sense to me, but then what do I know? I’m just a southern European with very low thermal tolerance. Scandinavia in winter feels like something to die of, not to die for.

    Your posts never fail to cause in me a very welcome cultural shock. I find your writing and my reactions to it amusing in equal parts. Thank you.

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