Choosing a home and doing research

A visit of the house for sale is necessary
The right questions to the right people
Note potential sources of nuisance
Take an objective, serious person with you
Building inspection/structural survey
New building projects, planning permission
Don’t pay too much too soon
Remain business like and keep your cool

There are many houses for sale in France and each one looks even more attractive than the other. If you've found some nice houses, you will no doubt start to get restless. You won’t want to miss an opportunity so you feel you must go to France straight away to visit as many houses as possible. However, this is not the right thing to do. The turn around period of most houses is months. It would be very unlucky if your chosen house was j˙st about to be sold. Of course, it can happen. But remember that there are thousands of other houses for sale, you will certainly find something else to your liking.

Visiting is necessary

A good pre-selection at a distance is very difficult because the vendor only puts forward the strong points. Are there any negative aspects? And if so, will they be a stumbling block, or are they just a minor problem? Hard to say if you don’t know the perculiarities of the house, discovered only during a visit to the house or - too late - after you have bought it. The only way to avoid this kind of problem is to do serious and methodical on the spot research.

Ask questions and dig deeper

As important as a visit to a house is, it remains a snapshot. What appears to be a peaceful environment can in reality be very different. Of course, we generally assume the good faith of other people. But is it likely that the seller will honestly tell you about the disco in his neighbor’s barn, organised every Saturday night? About the hunters who consider the land as their own? About the youngsters motorcross pitch hidden in the nearby woods or about the town planning which could eventually spoil your rural living experience? There are countless examples and if you don’t ask the right questions, you are taking a big risk.

What can you do to avoid unpleasant surprises?

Take your time. Spend at least a week in the region and keep your eyes and ears open. Ask pointed questions to the owner, the municipality and the neighbors. Remember that an owner will not voluntarily give the information likely to harm the sale. Making a detailed questionnaire in advance allows the answers and findings to be confirmed in writing, just in case the owner simply "forgets, or misunderstood, or never said." Also, talk to the neighbors, start a conversation in the village pub to hear if there are hidden problems such as traffic, noise, odors, etc. The town hall can tell you about the local taxes (which may vary greatly), or building permits issued (will a pig barn be erected at the neighboring farm), or zoning laws and how these aspects can affect your comfort. It may also be useful to collect details on local infrastructure and facilities such as shops, schools, doctors and hospitals.

Bring an objective partner when visiting a house

Choosing and buying a home is exciting. Emotions can influence your decision of whether or not to actually buy a certain house. This is understandable but unwise. An incorrect choice has far-reaching financial and emotional consequences. Therefore it can be a very good idea to call in help from an objective outsider who can keep you with both feet on the ground. Choose a partner who has no interest whatsoever in whether you buy the house or not. Once there is a commission involved (as in the case of many English agents and intermediaries who say that their services are "free" or "included" but ultimately are being paid a commission by the sellers estate agent), there is no more independence and objectivity. Some people bring a French-speaking friend or colleague househunting. Others take a building contractor or a family friend with building knowledge. You could also hire the services of an independent consultant. Whom you pay a fixed fee, wether you buy or not, and who does not accept money from the other parties..

Have a structural survey made

If you have to pay lots of money for a house, it may be worth investing the relatively small cost of an additional building survey. This will entail the inspection of the structure, the pipes, any leaks, the facilities such as sewage, etc. The engineer indicates repairs that are necessary or advisable. In any case do some research before you sign anything, because this information is the basis for making an informed decision.

The result – depending on the outcome - can be used to negotiate a better price, especially if the survey was carried out by a qualified specialist. In which case the survey ultilmately pays for itself.

Once again, always opt for a paid independent consultant who has no financial interests in the sale of the property.

Ask technical support

New projects and renovations of any size are sometimes carried out by project managers. Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a project manager. Sometimes these consultants lack the necessary relevant qualifications and experience. The project manager might be an architect, who of course definitely has the necessary expertise. But neither the project manager or the architect are fully independent. They work for you as a buyer, but in the end… the more expensive the project is, the more they earn. Therefore do not blindly trust such professionals. Keep a tight ship and put all arrangements down on paper, including who is liable for delays and how they keep you informed of project progress. You could demand, for example, a fortnightly report with images showing what progress has been made. Nowadays with digital cameras and the internet this not a difficult operation.

Don't pay too much too soon. When to pay?

Payment for construction or renovation work normally takes place according to agreed schedules. Pay only if you agree with the work delivered and in case of questions, clearly indicate the eventual conditions under which you will pay.

Describe clearly if something is wrong and still needs to be put right, so that there can be no misunderstandings. This applies particularly to the final delivery of the project. If you are uncertain of the conditions or if you do not fully agree with something, the project manager – who must also remain on good terms with his contractors - will probably advise at least a partial payment. But in most cases installlments have already been paid at the beginning and midway.

If there is not much left to pay, you risk losing your leverage. The rule of thumb therefore remains: When in doubt, pay nothing. Pay up full, say goodbye to any power of enforcing repairs or modifications.

Keep a businesslike attitude during the house buying process

Of course it is in no way our intention to frighten you off. Most project managers are extremely fair and honest, sometimes finding themselves in a difficult position between client and contractor. The main thing to keep in mind is that it is not important whether you are liked or thought of as a 'difficult foreigner'. You pay for a certain standard of work and therefore you may at least expect that same standard to be delivered.

If you do not understand or have any questions about the topics on this page, you can always contact the undersigned.

Author: Wouter Haaijman


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