Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Renovation project - Moving to France - Helpful tips and advice

Renovation project - Moving to France - Helpful tips and advice

This post is going to be slightly different from my others, we were recently asked to get involved with a campaign ran by HiFX aimed at providing tips for people who are considering moving to another country.

We gave a quote to HiFX Expat Tip page and after reading all of the other helpful tips it got us thinking about what we would’ve liked to have known before we made the move to France (Click on the link to read what advice others are offering).

Therefore we are going to do a post giving what we feel are some useful tips to help make the move easier, these are the things we wished we had known before moving to France and hopefully expelling some of the myths you have heard and smoothing the concerns you may have.

So you are thinking of moving to France?

You will already have been given lots of advice if you have told people and most of this will be conflicting, spend a long time planning it versus just go for it, spend a year living there or just choose somewhere off the internet......

Only you will know what is right for you, we had never even visited Brittany before we decided to move there, some may say this is crazy but it worked for us.

Brittany is easily accessible for visitors and for going back to visit family or so we thought, what we didn’t plan on was the fact that the flight routes stop without notice and the ferry crossings are not as regular in the winter.  But this can happen any where

The other big factor to consider is your family and friends, you have a wide social network where you are now and all of your friends say they will come and visit you (this is good intentions, and you’ll probably find that they don’t) are you happy to lose face to face contact?

Skype is the best invention this century (or was it last century?) you can keep in touch, but are you willing to have your baby grandchildren growing up believing you live in the computer screen?

If you accept all of these before you move, life will be a lot easier (not easy but easier) I left my only daughter pregnant with my only grandchild, I have spent a year battling with the thought that I am the world’s worst mother, but I have not missed any of my granddaughters firsts, our time together now is quality not quantity and my family have their own holiday home in France.

Your next big question is which part of France are you going to move too? 

France is such a large and diverse country do you know what area you want? As I said we choose Brittany for the accessibility and the house prices, John, my partner is a builder so we always knew we would buy a derelict property and there are still plenty to be had at very cheap prices. So our plan was to buy a derelict house, renovate it, sell it and move on to the next, SIMPLES.......

Maybe we should’ve done a little bit more homework as you cannot just do this, you need to be registered in France for a certain amount of time before you can sell and not have to pay capital gains tax. So another big tip is to make sure you are flexible with your plans, we need to wait till we can sell so what can we do? 

Lets’ turn the house into a B&B, we live in a touristy area and I have always wanted a tea shop, so what could be better.

So our first set of advice is about buying a house. 

The house buying process is a lot easier in France than it is in the UK, you find a house, put in an offer, have it accepted, pay a 10% deposit and within approx8 weeks it is yours – Simple.

Yes it really could be that simple, BUT here are the bits to bear in mind!

  • You are buying a house in a different country; do you know where you want to live or what sort of house you want? We had always wanted to buy a barn or old farmhouse to convert with a couple of acres of land. This is the idyllic dream many people have of France but in reality are you ready for the isolation and darkness, in Brittany the street lights are turned off every night and there are frequent power cuts when the weather is bad.
  • When you have holidayed in a secluded farm it was lovely cycling to the local village to collect your fresh bread, would you really want to do this every day (even when it is raining?).
  • Most farms and many hamlets are not connected to the main drains, this will mean that you have to have a septic tank (the legislation regarding septic tanks changed quite recently) is your tank up to standard? If not you will have to replace it, make sure you factor in this cost which can run into the thousands
  • Buying a house near that beautiful church would make the most fantastic photographs, but churches have bells and these ring from 7 am (they don’t care that you want a lie in)

Estate agents
  • The French laws are very strict regarding estate agents which is good, but what we didn’t realise is that the purchaser pays the estate agent (and this can vary, up to 10% of the asking price) many houses are advertised directly with the Notaire, though the Notaires do not tend to have easy to find websites.
  • The French estate agent has not really heard of the concept of house staging (I have written a humorous take on this, click here to read it) this can be both negative and positive, if the house looks untidy and scruffy it may put other viewers off, look past the clutter and mess.
  • Many estate agents appear to have poetic license when it comes to describing houses, requires a little updating does not mean what you may think it does, updating could mean there is no bathroom or kitchen! (And no plumbing for either to go in!)
  • Check that your garden or land is attached to the property you are buying, many properties in Brittany have been divided and split between families, this could mean you are buying a farm with 2 acres but the 2 acres are not necessarily near to your potential property. Make sure you check this carefully before coming to view, had we known this, or more importantly known to ask this we would have saved so much time by being able to narrow down our search.
  • Every buyer and seller has to use a Notaire, this is the equivalent of a solicitor and it is essential that you use one (if you can find one that speaks the same language as you this is even better). The Notaire will ensure that all of the searches have taken place. These are the responsibility of the seller and will include the energy report, asbestos report, lead report and woodworm and termite reports. The Notaire will also ensure that all the sellers’ family have agreed to the sale. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!
  • The Notaire will also be responsible for all of the clauses and legalities in the sale contract.
  • If you are buying the property from a person’s estate the whole family have to agree to the sale and the terms of the sale, if they do not somebody could come forward a few years later and make a claim on your house!!!!!!!
  • NEVER cut corners when buying a house.
  • Make sure you check that nobody has any rights to your house or to use any aspect of your house or garden

The buying process

So you have found your dream home, you have viewed it and are going to buy it. Fairly straight forward and quick (provided everybody has agreed on the price)
  • Put in your offer and when it is accepted you have entered a contract (even if it was verbal!) you do however get a 7 day cooling off period. Once the 7 days are over you will sign the comprimis de vente this is your contract to buy, in France there is no sale subject to contract. You have agreed to buy the house; you will also have to pay a 10% deposit when you sign the contract. You really are buying a house! (You will also not be gazumped)
  • When we bought our house, it was dependent on the sale of our property in the UK, so we were able to have a clause written into the contract that if anything went wrong with our sale we could back out by a certain date. You can speak to the estate agent or Notaire about clauses and check that the seller has not added any clauses that you are unsure about.
  • If you do not buy, you will lose your deposit!
  • You can also add in a clause that if the seller changes their mind you can enforce the sale.
  • Some estate agents are able and qualified to complete the sale contract and this may seem beneficial as you have got to know them and like them BUT they are working for the seller and the Notaire is independent, if a seller refuses to use a Notaire and will only use the estate agent I would question why (always listen to alarm bells!)

Once everything is in place and all of the searches are completed you will buy the property, make sure your funds are sent and cleared within the appropriate timeframe, things can go wrong, we had our meeting planned and booked and the funds hadn’t arrived, we were living in a tent in the rain, the tent had also started leaking, the money had not arrived on the Thursday and calling the banks and transfer people from 
France on a mobile was expensive, the money still had not arrived on the Friday another meeting was cancelled, we finally found out that the money had been transferred to the wrong Notaire! Things can go wrong even with big reputable companies.

You have now signed, you own your house in France, you have left the UK, and all is good???? 

Our biggest tip now is to have a mail redirection added to your old property for at least 6 months. Maybe even 12 months, this is how long it took for the French officials to stop sending mail, including the deeds to our new house to our old address in the UK.

You’re now in France 

Opening a bank account

This is so simple, all you need is some money and some ID, our bank manager even spoke English, we couldn’t get a bank account this easy in our home country! Your bank can even sort out your house insurance (you will need this in place when you buy your house).

A tip about house insurance, you cannot change it once you have it, you have to give 2 months notice, 2 months before it runs out.

Setting up your utilities

If you have used an estate agent they will help to set up your utilities, make sure that they use both names (if you are buying together) this is essential as if you ever need to provide ID in France (and believe me you will at some point) having the utilities in both of your names gives you the ID and proof of address you will need.

Health care

The health service in France is one of the best in the world, but it isn’t free! If you move from the UK and your tax and national insurance contributions are up to date you can get an S1 form and this will take your NHS entitlement over to France, giving you your carte vitale. This will last up to 2 years. You will then need to get into the French system, this can be easy if you are retired or are working in France, but if like us you will not have an income it can be tricky, we are going to be in the system when the B&B opens as we will be registered in the French tax system.

Even if you are in the system you will only be able to claim back 70% of your costs, if you want to have 100% entitlement you will need to take a health top up insurance.

Language barriers

If you are moving to France and you speak English, you will need to learn some French, this can be done in many ways one of the easiest is to buy a language CD course, this can be listened too at any time. You can just immerse yourself in the local community (if you are very brave!) you can join a local group or you can have lessons. Whichever way you choose, try to ensure that you learn something; people are much more accepting of someone who makes an effort.


Good luck, enjoy yourself and try to integrate in your local community, it is nice to make friends with other expats but you choose to move to that country, so integrate into it and beware the expats who complain about everything and tell you how much better everything is in their home country, if it was that good why aren’t they living there?

One final tip and this is worth remembering

If you don't like it you can always go back 
If you don't try you'll never know

Disclaimer: This post is based on personal experience and does not substitute for legal or financial advice. If you are going to enter any form of contract ensure you seek the appropriate legal advice from a qualified professional


  1. I'd like to add that the time for the paperwork to go through can take longer at busy times of the year (spring summer) and some areas are more popular than others which makes things take longer.

    30 years ago Rob was told that he could open a bank account, but he wasn't allowed to pay into it!! I think that has changed now - thank goodness.

    Be very careful if you are retired and only one of you speaks French - the French speaker nearly always turns out to be the one who falls ill and leaves their partner struggling...

    Top-up heath insurance (Mutuel) is very important - don't skimp on it. The social security doesn't always refund 70% and some specialists can charge higher than the recommended rate.

    Something that drives us nuts is locals expecting us to want to search out other expats. Rob always reminds them that we left a country full of millions of Brits and if we feel lonely for Anglo Saxon company we'll go back to them. ( We don't mind other English people and know a few, but after 30 years we don't feel that we have much in common)

    Great post. I'm sure that lots of people will find it useful.

    1. Hi Anji
      Thanks for your comments, we are still quite new and learning constantly, so any extra advice and tips are really appreciated

  2. hello,
    this is great!!!! keep up the great work.
    john &jo