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House hunting in France

Over the last few years we have had several guests using us as a base for house hunting in the Dordogne.  I’m pleased to say that many of them have been successful. One couple had just a week here earlier this year, and at the end of it found their dream. The agent worked well with them, despite the tight time span, but then Covid lockdowns delayed things. However once they could travel again, everything fell into place and by the summer they took ownership of their new home.


Finding a house that suits you sometimes feels like going through a tunnel. And there at the end is exactly what you are looking for!

The latest house hunting success story was just last month.  A couple arrived here from the UK totally committed to a new life in the Dordogne. They allowed themselves some months to find their new home as they didn’t really know what they wanted.  They found it in their first few days!  It was a real “coup de coeur” and under their budget. Within a fortnight of their arrival they were signing the first stage of the purchase paperwork.

Others have had to weigh up choices as they have found more than one property to suit their needs. They found Le Clos du Verger a well-positioned base for their house hunting sorties, and most have ended up buying within 30 km of here.  For one couple it was a water mill, with a holiday cottage in the grounds.  Another couple went for an immaculate 1960s house with swimming pool. And a few look at renovation projects.

Bergerac and its immediate area is popular, because it has so much to offer.  The house prices around here tend to be a little higher because of that, but are still very good value for money.  A budget of 180,000 to 200,000 euros, plus purchase costs, will get you a three or four bedroomed mid 20th century house with garden.  555,000 euros will even buy you Le Clos du Verger!

The secret to finding your new home?

  • It is difficult engaging with agents at a distance. Much better to book a stay here and introduce yourself face to face to a couple of agents. Our guests have found a good choice of properties and English speaking agents through Leggetts at https://www.frenchestateagents.com  and with branches of Agence Eleonor at https://www.agence-eleonor.fr/en
  • Be committed. Have your budget in place so that the agent knows you are serious. Too many holiday makers with vague dreams waste their time, but the agents will help you once they know you mean business. On the other hand, vague dreams are the starting point for many of us!
  • Be realistic about add on costs. Often it is the buyer who pays the agents fees, rather than the vendor. Then the notaire’s fees, and the purchase taxes they collect, add another chunk onto the purchase price. The French notaires’ web site will give you an idea of the costs, and a great deal of other useful information. Look up the immobilier (property) section of their website. You can change the language to English if you look to the top right hand of their home page. https://www.notaires.fr/fr
  • Be realistic about distances.
    Our valley from the air.

    Rural locations are spread out, so you will cover some kilometers in your search. Rural public transport is almost non existent.

Using an agent or buying direct

When an agent introduces you to a property, they will ask you to sign a form to confirm that they made the introduction. This is so that they can claim their fees if you go ahead and buy. They will often do a lot of work for you upfront, without asking for a centime, so they need your signature as that is the only guarantee that they may eventually earn something from all their work.  It is also possible to pursue a private purchase, but not if the agent has introduced you to the property you want to buy. The purchase of houses is highly regulated and the seller has an obligation to accept an offer if it matches the asking price.

If you are after a private sale, then again it is better to be here and drive around an area that interests you. It is much easier to do this if you speak some French.  Many owners selling privately put up a notice with their phone number outside their property. It will say AV or A Vendre. They may also advertise on Le Bon Coin https://www.leboncoin.fr/ventes_immobilieres/offres/ . If you feel more comfortable negotiating a private sale in English, join a Facebook group where like “Houses For Sale and Rent in South West France” who have a wide range of property offers.   https://www.facebook.com/groups/france4sale4rent/

Maybe a historical town house?
See the Dordogne from the air
or a chateau with its vineyards?

The notaire’s office

The notaire handles the paperwork, although some agents can also set the initial stages rolling. Personally I prefer to use a notaire for the whole process as they are specialized public servants whose job is to document the sale correctly. They have a set fee structure. A buyer and a seller often use the same notaire, but it doesn’t cost any more if each choose to use two different notaires. Note that a notaire, a notary, is not the same as an avocat, a solicitor.

A few things to remember

Unless your purchase is in a large city, most French property does not quickly gain in value in the way it does in the UK. Renovation costs can be high and you won’t always get your money back. So it might be better to think of this purchase as an investment for your pleasure, for your quality of life. Some find it cheaper to have a new house constructed, and there are house building firms who have offices where you can go in, choose your style from their catalogue, and they will handle the whole lot for you, efficiently and at a remarkably good price. You then end up with a modern energy efficient home that is cheap to run. Here is a link that will give you some leads if you want to explore having a house built.

The yearly tax on built property here can vary from a few hundred euros a year to something much more substantial. The rates are set locally so by crossing a commune boundary you may find significantly cheaper taxes foncières than a similar nearby property that happens to stand in a different commune. On the other hand, the cheaper commune might have fewer services.

When you buy, be aware before you sign that you might die during your ownership of your new home. Look up inheritance in France, as it relates to property.  French inheritance taxation is designed for “standard” families with direct descendants. Be aware that you could leave big tax liabilities for anyone inheriting your property who is not married to you or who is not a direct descendant.  Take advice before buying about the best way to structure the purchase.  Sometimes it is better to go for something smaller that doesn’t tie up so much of your cash.  Once in France you can set up tax free arrangements for the rest of your money in a way that might better benefit those who inherit after your death.

Make your house hunting dream come true and see where your search leads you!


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