Buying a Smallholding in France
Why buy a smallholding in France? Well there are many reasons but for us the main ones centred around our love of France generally and that they are a culture developed from very rural roots. Add to this the amount of land and property you can buy in France compared the UK and the climate and you can see its appeal.
A search on any french property website will reveal a huge and varied range of neglected farms and smallholdings across the country. Over the past 20 or 30 years the younger generations have grown up and decided that a life in the city is more appealing than continuing with the rural lifestyle of their parents.
This has had the effect of leaving the countryside across France littered with old farms that have been passed down to children that now live in the city and on the death of an elderly relative are looking to sell.
That creates a fantastic opportunity for any would be smallholder. Picking up a farm in need of some restoration with 5 acres or more and spare barns is easily achievable for £100k+. Of course price depends a lot on the area you choose. In the North of France prices are relatively lower than elsewhere but if you would like to be further south and in a warmer climate then the Limousin and Auvergne regions are great value, with the Creuse department being especially cheap. All are served these days by local airports with regular flights to the UK and other european countries.
When searching for properties in France from the UK or another country the internet is obviously the easiest method and a few of the sites we found particularly good were:
Of course there are lots of others and a few searches will reveal plenty to choose from.
One thing to bear in mind when looking at properties is that estate agents fees in France can be up to 12% of the purchase price and are charged to the purchaser! So make sure you look for the words 'agents fees included'. If not factor this additional cost in. In our experience when you start to negotiate a property price with the agent they also use a reduction in their own fee to get to an acceptable price for both parties, so the agents fees probably ends up much lower most of the time.
In addition to the estate agent fees your legal costs to purchase in France are also higher than in the UK and you can expect to pay up to 10% of the purchase price for these, although that does include all taxes to the state for the purchase.
Despite these charges, which may seem off putting to UK buyers the price difference in terms of how far your money goes more than makes up for any additional costs encountered in making the purchase.
Once you have started to define the area you are interested in looking for a property in and come up with a shortlist its time to contact the agents. When we did this it was incredibly simple, we submitted email enquiries on the ones we liked and gave the agents the dates we would be travelling to France to make the viewings. All agents communicated to us in English and even suggested some additional properties we might like. In fact the agent we bought our smallholding through we first approached about another property we had spotted on the Green Acres site. The team were english and a lady called Rachael called me to discuss what we were ideally looking for. From the conversation she felt that there was another good property she encouraged us to view as it was a 'must see', and we were so glad we did as we ended up buying it! It just shows that getting a good agent that listens to you can pay dividends, we did not see the property we ended up buying listed so had it not been for the agent we would not have found it.
One thing that you will find is that when properties are advertised in France they are not advertised with an address. The reason for this seems to be that vendors rarely sign exclusively with one agent so if they advertised the exact address there would be nothing to stop other agents all listing the property. It seems France is only just starting to catch onto the idea of using one agent exclusively. In the meantime it can be a bit confusing seeing a property listed several times and often at different prices!
When we viewed properties we were always taken around by the estate agent. There is no turning up and knocking on the door to be shown around by the vendors, you are accompanied by the agent. Obviously this makes sense with unoccupied properties but does feel slightly strange when the sellers are there and the agent introduces you and then tours you around their property.
As mentioned the agents fees can seem high but the level of service far exceeds anything we had ever experienced in the UK.
Once you have settled on the property you want the offer process is very simple and you can afford to be brave with low offers. We paid 20% less than the original asking price and have friends that managed to get an even larger reduction.
There are any number of excellent posts all over the internet that give much more detail on the whole buying process in France so I am not going to repeat them here but instead offer the following link which I think sums it up well French Property Buying Guide
Good luck finding your dream property, it is definitely out there, it can't not be given the preponderance of beautiful neglected rural property in France crying out for new owners!