Wednesday, October 26, 2016

So you're ready to buy......some guidelines

I was fortunate in finding a job in France where I worked for an estate agency, with ten or twelve agents working from four offices, two of them on the Mediterranean coast, one in a small local town/holiday resort, and the fourth in a small village inland. I moved regularly between the offices and all of us had access to the central database which listed (in real time) some three to four hundred properties with photographs and descriptions, occasional ( frank!) comments by agents or potential buyers, and what stage the property was at - newly signed, frequently visited but no offers, under offer, in process of being sold. Our 'patch' covered a wide area (from Perpignan south to the Spanish border!) and we often drove considerable distances - far more than a typical local estate agent in Britain - sometimes making it impossible to visit more than two or three properties during the course of a morning or afternoon. Properties could be empty and we had the keys (perhaps held in another office) or could still be occupied by the owner/vendors and had to be visited by appointment.

But I gradually got to know the area and the wide variety of properties for sale, and what buyers were generally looking for, and what was feasible or not. There are over three hundred posts on this blog, identified by subject, relating to property buying and selling,  but I will try and summarise here some of the most important tips I learnt on the job.

- Allow yourself plenty of time and do not arrange too many appointments with competing estate agents or private sellers so that you have to cut short some visits. Many vendors sign multiple mandates and you may find yourself being taken to a property you have already visited.

- Be prepared to change your mind - I have met buyers who were looking for a village house who ended up buying an apartment on the beach.

- Be realistic about what you can afford. Vendors are hoping for the best price, often based on what they want to buy next, and are often unwilling to come down in price. If a property is over your budget, move on.

- Do not buy a property that is larger than you need (see earlier posts for reasons why)

- Choose your location carefully and re-visit if possible at different times. The quiet village may be overrun with tourists at weekends and during the holiday season

- If you are looking at apartments, ground floors are often cheaper, regarded as having less light, more noise, comparative lack of security.

- Older apartment buildings with no lift may mean that climbing to the third floor and above may be difficult for you as you get older.

- Check the neighbours - state of cars parked, quality of curtains at the windows, state of the 'common parts' of a building or street, though note that the French can be surpisingly casual about the state of their building which can conceal a luxurious apartment. Also for potential disburances - a school, bar, factory, main road etc close by.

- Get familiar with sizes: 20 to 30 sq metres generally mean a studio (single room) possibly with a sleeping alcove; 30 to 40 sq metres may mean two rooms; 40 sq metres and above mean larger living areas and more bedrooms (reckon each bedroom at 15 sq meters minimim). Don't forget that as apartments or houses get larger corridors occupy valuable space. As a rough conversion guide 1 sq metre is just under 11 sq feet or 1.2 sq yards.

- Note French classifications of property - an F1 means one room (usually including kitchen but with separate bathroom or shower, plus WC): F2 means two 'living rooms' plus kitchen and bath; F3 means three living rooms plus kitchen and bath, and so on.

- Note also that a mezzanine is not counted as habitable space (for taxes etc) nor are any parts of a room where the ceiling height is less than 1.8 metres, for exaple in an attic room with sloping ceilings. These spaces however make excellent storage areas and mezzanines can be ideal for bedrooms, an office or additional storage.

- You should also note that smaller properties when calculated per square metre can seem more expensive than larger properties. This is because a small apartment or studio - say, 30 sq m - includes a kitchen and bathroom as well as the living areas, whereas an additional 30 sq m in a larger property could be just another living or sleeping area or even space takend up by a corridor (adding comparatively little to the overall price).

- It is relatively inexpensive for a developer to add extra space at little cost and give it an attractive title such as a 'library', 'games room', 'guest bedroom' etc to inflate the sale price.

- A terrace or balcony adds to the price particularly if it is a reasonable size (to sit outside, share your breakfast!) and has a nice view.

- I found many buyers insisting on one or more 'spare bedrooms' which in my experience lie empty most of the time and end up accumulating spare belongings or junk which you could get rid of.

- Check the state of the equipment - electrical, plumbing, kitchen appliances, bathroom fittings etc - which may need serious modernisation or being brough up to current norms. The French tend not to have a formal survey done but there are several English chartered surveyors operating in France, catering for the British market.

- Note that if you are buying an apartment in a co-ownership, the documentation you receive will include a 'diagnostic' report including any works done or proposed for the building itself, and decided at the annual meeting of the co-owners. You will contribute to these expenditures in proportion to the size of your apartment, as you own a percentage of the building itself as well as the outright ownership of your apartment. You will of course be able to vote at the AGM once you become a co-owner.

- Check access of light and the orientation of the property. South facing means sun all day - nice if you have a living room with a terrace or balcony, not so welcome if the bedrooms are on the sunny side......

- Do not be afraid of a 'mixed neighbourhood' (quartier mixte) - class is not a major issue for many French and generally you smile and/or shake hands with everyone.

- Finally, do not 'fall in love' with the owner, the neighbours you meet during your visit, the estate need to be tough when you come to negotiating to buy (though this is best left to the agent).

Good luck with your search!

Posted by