terms of the fees associated with buying a property in France, an 'old'
property is one that's over five years old that has already had at least
However, in estate-agent speak, the term 'old home' usually refers to a
building that's pre-Second World War and possibly hundreds of years old
and which is either in need of restoration and modernisation or has
already been restored.
If you want a property with abundant charm and character, a building for
renovation or conversion, outbuildings, or a large plot, you must
usually buy an old property.
Many old properties purchased by foreigners in France are in need of
restoration, renovation or modernisation. The most common examples are
the many old farmhouses that have been neglected since they were built
in the 18th or 19th centuries, or even abandoned many years ago.
In general, the French attitude to old buildings is one of almost total
neglect until they're literally in danger of falling down, when complete
rebuilding is often necessary. In many rural areas it's still possible
to buy such a property for as little as €25,000.
When considering old properties that might be suitable, you should take
vendors' (and particularly agents') descriptions with liberal amounts of
salt: à finir' usually means there's still plenty of work to be done;
habitable' can mean 'derelict'; à rénover' implies that major
reconstruction is required; and if anything is described as a 'ruine',
you should be pleasantly surprised to find any walls still standing.
Before spending time and money investigating old properties, you should
ask a lot of questions as to their condition. 'Partly renovated' usually
means that part of a building is habitable, i.e. at least has
sanitation, but the rest is in dire need of restoration. Bear in mind
also that some rural properties lack basic services such as electricity,
a reliable water supply and sanitation.
Before buying a property requiring restoration or modernisation, you
should consider the alternatives. An extra E20,000 or E30,000 spent on a
purchase is usually better value than spending a similar amount on
building work. It's often cheaper to buy a restored or partly restored
property than a ruin in need of total restoration, unless you're going
to do most of the work yourself.
The price of most restored properties doesn't reflect the cost and
amount of work that went into them, and many people who have restored a
ruin would never do it again and advise others against it.
If you're planning to buy a property that needs restoration or
renovation, obtain an accurate estimate of the costs before signing a
contract. Many foreign buyers are tempted by the low cost of old homes
and believe they're getting a wonderful bargain, without fully
investigating the renovation costs. Don't buy a derelict property unless
you have the courage, determination and money to overcome the many
problems you will certainly face.
Bear in mind that renovation or modernisation costs will invariably be
higher than you imagined or planned! Taking on too large a task in terms
of restoration is a common mistake among foreign buyers in all price
Unless you're prepared to wait until you can occupy it or are willing to
live in a caravan for a long time while you work on it, it's better to
spend a bit more and buy something habitable but untidy than buy a
property that needs completely gutting before you can live in it.
Bear in mind also that, if you buy and restore a property with the
intention of selling it for a profit, you must take into account not
only the initial price and the restoration costs, but also the fees and
taxes included in the purchase, plus capital gains tax if it's a second
It's difficult to sell an old renovated property at a higher than
average market price, irrespective of the amount you've spent on it. The
French have little interest in old restored properties, which is an
important point if you need to sell an old home in a hurry in an area
that isn't popular with foreign buyers. If you want to make a profit,
you're better off buying a new home.
Nevertheless, although you must carefully check their quality and condition, old
properties can be better value than new homes and there
are still some good bargains around. Note also that work on a property
over five years old attracts VAT at just 5.5 per cent instead of the
standard 19.6 per cent.
As with most things in life, you generally get what you pay for, so you
shouldn't expect a fully restored property for E25,000. Note that, if
you want a restored home, you should buy one from someone who has
lovingly and sensitively restored it, rather than from someone who has
transformed it out of all recognition.
At the other end of the scale, for those who can afford them, there's a
wealth of beautiful châteaux, manor houses (manoir) and water mills (moulin),
many costing no more than an average four-bedroom house in many other
However, if you aspire to live the life of the landed gentry in your own
château, bear in mind that the reason there are so many on the market
(and at relatively low prices) is that the cost of upkeep is