Back to our first house hunting trip to France. One thing that is useful to have in advance, if you are planning to take out a mortgage as we did, is proof that you can borrow the money that you require. This is called a "Decision in Principle" which provides potential vendors with proof that mortgage finance is possible, and crucially, for you how much you can afford to borrow so you can figure out your budget! Also, if you plan to take out a mortgage in France, you need to be aware that the mortgage procedure there differs to that of the UK. Many UK lenders operate on income multiples when assessing lending amounts. In France, lenders must consider affordability very carefully due to consumer law. It is left to each lender to determine what is and what is not "affordable". The general the principle applied is that total outgoings (debt ratio) do not exceed 33% of the gross income.
Having booked our trip and set our budget, the next thing to do was to find some properties to view. Bearing in mind that it can be cheaper to buy directly from a vendor as you avoid, what can be, quite high estate agency fees, we first sought to find private sales. The best places we found for this were the various Angloinfo France regional websites - they all have a Property for Sale section where you can find direct vendors. The other good place we found for private sales is the France Property Shop website where you can filter you search for private sales only (though it is useful to see what the agents have listed on here as well, just to get an idea of prices). Also, obviously, you may not find what you think may be your perfect property advertised privately so you should look for immobiliers based in the areas you are visiting, most of them have websites. Be warned - French estate agents property listings can be very cryptic when it comes to details, though we found some more helpful than others. Finally, notaires can also act as immobiliers and their fees are usually less than private estate agents. They have an official website where you can search for properties: Immobilier.notaires. In the end we arranged to view 5 properties during a two week driving trip to the west and south west of France and 4 of these were private sales.
Being an accountant in a previous life, I naturally kept a spread-sheet with the details for each property, including the price, property details such as number of bedrooms and land size, contact details for the vendor (not always necessarily on site), the address and any particular information relevant to that property. It was really useful to have this all in one place. This included the time that the property had been on the market which can be a good negotiating tool. It is not unusual for a property to be on the market for well over a year in France, especially since “the crash”. Property prices reached their peak in France in 2007 and many vendors have found that they have had to substantially reduce their price as the pool of potential buyers has shrunk over the last few years.
Did I mention that I had become an insomniac by this point (perhaps something to do with the stress of our momentous decision, though of course I denied that!)? Well that’s my excuse for what happened next…our first viewing was of a cottage in the Charente at lunchtime on the second day of our trip. We got up bright and early, plugging the details of our destination into the SatNav and blithely set off in the warm summer sunshine following the route as instructed. Here is a lesson for all you SatNav users, check which route it is going to take you by! By the time I realised we were headed for Paris it was too late to change direction – we had a deadline to meet! I had heard horror stories of the infamous "boulevard périphérique" which circumnavigates Paris – which we were heading straight onto on a Saturday morning and which was going nowhere fast (got a great view of the Sacre Couer though). To make things even better, the slip road we wanted exit from was closed.
Suffice to say, after being nearly baked alive for a few hours sitting in traffic and a few heated discussions on our predicament, we made our appointment in time – just – though hungry and thirsty. As I’ve rambled on enough for today you’ll have to wait until next time to find out what we thought of our very first viewing.