Buying a Holiday Home in France

Our Cottage

Our Cottage – Taken from the Original Agent’s Photograph

I was standing behind the house looking down at a concrete slab. “Is that the septic tank?” I asked the estate agent. “Yes” he replied. Well, that is what I thought I asked! I guess I was being just a might too cool. I didn’t bother lifting the slab. I was still recovering from a serious shoulder dislocation from a couple of weeks before. “C’est la fosse?” I had said – I should have said specifically “fosse-septique”.  We were there buying a holiday home in France

We went ahead and purchased the 160 something year old stone cottage (bergerie) that would once have belonged to a shepherd (berger) and his family. With it came a ruin, 7600+ metres sq of land and of course the fosse!  The house situated on the edge of a small village in the department of the Lot was habitable and had been partly renovated, but there was still the original fireplace, stone hand-basin and bench for the manger in what is now the lounge. We purchased the existing furniture along with the house.  Electricity and water were already connected though both needed to be transferred to our name.

The following year when we returned to take possession of the house I did lift up the slab to see we had just a hole in the ground where the waste from the “salle d’eau” ran.  I realised the estate agent had answered my question literally – it was a “fosse”.  We soon realised we needed a “fosse septique” and that we shouldn’t leave questions open for interpretation.

Buying the house had been a relatively smooth process. We had been working in Singapore for a year during which time we had decided to buy an old house to renovate in France. We are both Francophiles and France was where my wife and I had met while teaching away from our own countries. We camped in the department of the Lot with friends during an 11 day period, bought the house, returned to Britain before flying back to Singapore. The sale was completed while we were in Asia, hence a whole year before effectively moving in.

I guess we went through a fairly standard process to purchase the house but it was interesting and even exciting doing it all in a foreign language.  That excitement still exists for us today even after so many years here.

The Process

Deciding to Buy in France

As said above, we love France and had both worked in Paris for a time.  France was the one thing we had in common.  My wife is from Ireland and I’m a real Brit.  We both liked the idea of having our own place, somewhere we could chill out in the 2 months of our annual summer holidays.  And I wanted a place that could be done up and needed some TLC.

We have since bought 2 apartments for very different reasons and sold one of these.

Deciding on the Area

France has 96 departments (including 2 in Corsica) known as France Métropolitaine, which make up 27 different regions so why did we choose the Lot?

 too many people too many cars (Keb Mo)

We knew Paris of course and the surrounding area, having both worked there.  I knew Normandy having holidayed there many times and had looked at houses there with a friend who had eventually bought in the area.  We didn’t fancy the Mediterranean, nor the Dordogne – too many people too many cars (Keb Mo).  Denise knew the Lot as she had been there several times on school trips.  We had camped a couple of years earlier on the way to the Pyrenees for the wedding of some friends.  The Lot seemed laid back with a good warm climate.

Where would you choose?

Searching for a House

So we turned up one summer like fresh-faced youngsters in search of our new home.  We registered with a couple of estate agents (agences immobiliers) and were surprised that we had to convince them we were serious in our search!!!  It appears it was a Brit summer pastime to drag an agent around the countryside only to have a place for a  secluded picnic  Over the years we have used a variety of estate agents and have enjoyed a variety of approaches – being left to look by ourselves to signing a declaration of visit (bon de visite).

Things have changed over the years and more English is spoken than years ago.  With the advent of the internet we can have a better idea of availability and prices prior to visiting the area.

Still we had an interesting 10 days looking around the area seeing some amazing places including an abandoned presbytery that even had priestly attire and crosses just lying about the chapel.

The Sale Agreement

No cheque book!!!!

Once we had agreed to purchase with the agent we were whisked off to the notaire (notary public) before we could change our minds!  No it was all done with quiet calm.  We had to sign the pre-sale agreement (promis de vente) which involves initialing every page of a legal document and then signing and dating the final page.  And; we had to put down 5-10%.

Only one thing wrong….  We didn’t have a cheque book!!!

Luckily our friends still had their French account open and they wrote the cheque.  It’s nice to have friends ‘hein’ (heh)?  We signed that we wouldn’t need a loan so if we pulled out of the deal we would lose our deposit.

Once again over the years we’ve had a variety of experiences with notaires – sometimes just using the sellers sometimes using our own as well.

Finalising the Sale

The deal was finalised a month or so later after we had transferred our money into our new joint account in France including the fees for the Notaire (frais notaire).  We didn’t need to be there so we simply woke up one morning as the new owners of a 160 year old cottage.

Since then we have done up the property, extending it and thoroughly enjoying being there.  We’ve had to deal with what seems to be an army of artisans and builders.  We have also bought an apartment near Toulouse (which we sold a few years ago) and another one not far from Geneva.  But all that is for other posts perhaps!

Please comment on the post and if you are living in France or you have a holiday home here please tell us your story.

For further reading on buying and selling property:

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