French property pitfalls for unsuspecting expats

Published:  12 Sep at 6 PM
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Older, run-down or derelict properties in France, however charming and remote, may be the worst real estate decision expats ever make.

Falling in love with a ramshackle, stone-built French cottage miles from anywhere is a familiar syndrome affecting a large number of Brits desperate to leave their overcrowded, politically unstable home country for a peaceful retirement in beautiful surroundings.
Sadly, the romantic dream often turns into a nightmare soon after contracts are signed.

The trap of purchasing exactly the wrong property in France begins with the fact that French estate agents’ fees are paid by the buyer, not by the seller and range between five and 12 per cent of the purchase price. As a result, financially-savvy agents are somewhat reluctant to be straightforward about defects relating to your chosen future home, even although French law states a recent diagnostic report must be provided to prospective purchasers.

Problems with older, run-down properties begin with asbestos, only banned in France since 1997. Even if the toxic substance is only in the roof tiles, replacing a damaged roof is horrendously expensive due to the need for specialist handling. Lead is another problem, found in water pipes as well as in most older paintwork in and outside the property. Termites, woodworm and other parasites are regularly found in older properties, emphasising the need for an updated, accurate diagnostic report.

Four years ago, new septic tank regulations were brought in, resulting in the compulsory upgrading of all existing traditional private sanitation arrangements to eco-friendly versions. Obviously, the new rules are affecting all older, run-down or derelict properties, with new owners being given just 12 months to comply. The cost of upgrading old septic tanks can run as high as 8,000 euros.

As with any property purchase in any country, location, location, location is the key to buying a dream home rather than a nightmare. Whilst living in splendid isolation amongst natural beauty is tempting, its charm may soon fade if your new home is way off the local transport network. Relying on your car for basic needs, the school run and visits to dentists, doctors or the local vet can be a drag, especially in the middle of winter. As for access to a social life and the future saleability of your property, too much isolation can be a negative. .
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