Explore first; look at houses later
If you’re planning to buy a house in France don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Pick the area before you look at houses. It’s horrible to find a house you love in an area you don’t like.
You’ve done your research and have a good idea of the areas that you think will appeal. Now is the time to visit and explore, to find the perfect part of France, the part where you want to buy a house.
It is really all about the truism in the real estate market that it is location, location, location above anything else. With sufficient budget you can alter just about anything else about a property . You can tear it all down and rebuild it in your own taste, you can add more land, sell some off. But you can’t move it to another location.
Keep an open mind
You’ve selected perhaps a single department, or an area near the border of two departments, and it is almost time to go exploring. This is a fun, no pressure stage.
Your research will have told you the type of town or village you want to be in or near. We suggest you rent a house or a gîte for a week or two. Rent one in a town or village as close as you can find to where you would like to buy. If your budget says you will probably only find the type of house you are looking for in a village with no amenities, then try to find a gîte or house to rent in a village like that.
Be prepared to change your mind about what you like in an area. I did a lot of research before my first visit to Languedoc. I had narrowed location down to the Herault and the Aude but believed that the Herault was where I would want to buy a house. My daughter and I spent three weeks exploring and by the end of the three weeks I knew that it was the Aude for me. I loved the Minervois and was sure that was where I would buy a house but there was something about the Corbieres that called to me and I decided to look there as well.
The Corbieres won my heart. Specifically the Val de Daigne, the area around Montlaur and Servies in the northern part of the Corbieres.
My first house in France was in a tiny village with no amenities. But every day vans came to town offering all the basic needs like bread, meat, fish, vegetables. And within a three minute drive down roads with no traffic; There’s tabac where you can buy magazines, toys, videos and games, and – of course – tobacco. There is also an small grocery, a bakery, two wine producers who sell direct, a hairdresser, a doctor, a mechanic and 2 great picnic spots by running water you can fish in. If we up the travel time to ten minutes the numbers double or triple for these items and many others are added on. Most big stores deliver within 25 km for very little or even nothing. Carcassonne is about a 25 minute drive.
Another thing about travel time. I came to France after living in Toronto where travel was always difficult. Crowded roads, busses, trains, subways and sidewalks. Traffic was always dense and dangerous. If you spend your time traveling on French secondary roads, most of the time there is no other traffic to speak of. It is a pleasant, no hassle kind of driving that makes life a pleasure.
Experience the area
This is where you’re going to spend your holidays, perhaps rent your home as a holiday home when you are not using it. Maybe you are going to eventually retire to this home, or your plan is to move to it, then live and work from there. Whatever the plan, you need to experience the general neighbourhood before you can decide to make a purchase of a specific house there.
If you’re planning to rent your house to vacationers you need to know if you think the specific area will be a good attraction to holiday renters, if there are sufficient amenities to live the time spent there comfortably. How close is it in time and distance to the various activities you plan for your life there.
Take the time to visit the local shops, see what kind of welcome you get there, if they are happy at the prospect of you as a new neighbour. This is a wonderful time to take a few side trips to local bars and restaurants. Stop and have a coffee or a glass of wine, see the kind of places they are.
See the French countryside
Get off the big roads and navigate from town to town via the secondary road system. They are much more scenic, allow you to drive slowly along and appreciate the local area much better. You will see where you can walk to, or cycle to, from your new home.
Observe how much extra road room French drivers give to cyclists. See why cycling is still a major sport and recreation in France.
If you get off the main street through the towns these routes take, you very often get to see a much more charming town. Ask around. Are there local swimming holes, pleasant picnic spots, summer fairs or cultural events?
How close is the city?
If you think you will need the occasional fix of big city life, drive off to the nearest big city – Montpellier or Toulouse in my case – and see what sort of trip it is. How much organization would it take to go for a day. Is it sensible to think of spending sixty or so euros on a one night stay in a 2 star hotel while taking in a day of shopping, a bit of theatre. Find out about train service to and from your new locale.
Your intent is to unwind, have a pleasant pace to life with time to appreciate the world around you. So see if the places you pick provide this type of living. Look for the town or village that resonates with your idea of where you want to live.
Once you’ve found that place it’s time for the next step. Finding the perfect French property in your favourite part of France.