It may have taken three months, that felt like a year, but we have signed the final sales contract on a house in France. The first time I mentioned anything about house buying on the blog was in a post from May when we had been taking some pictures of courtyards. We both crave light, finding dismal days depressing, so a house built around an outdoor courtyard, with glass doors and windows opening each room to the sun was ideal. There are websites (listed at the end) that give complete details about the entire house buying process here, but the highlights of what we went through are below.
We were renters for our first few years together and that worked out great since, because of work, we moved every 18 months or so. For Bill it was Dallas to Chicago and then together we went to LA and then back across the country to Philadelphia. Once we got to the east coast we wanted to feel “settled” so buying a house was a big part of that until duty (aka: work) called and off we went to Atlanta. Prices there made owning appear to be cheaper than renting so between 2 houses we were settled for almost 20 years.
For France, the plan was to stay mobile; rent a totally-furnished house the first year then find another one like it or change to an unfurnished place where the contract is generally for 3 years. Well, that plan lasted about a month. It became apparent, that quickly, that Carcassonne was the ideal city for us with just the right mix of population size, public transportation, cultural and recreational opportunities, historical sites, and friendly people. From the airport, to which we could walk if necessary, we can fly non-stop to Ireland, England, Brussels, and Portugal or take a train to any European destination.
Being on foot helped our house hunting tremendously because we could investigate neighborhoods exactly as we would be living in them: walking to everything. We were never tempted to move too far from the center of town in pursuit of a good value. Once we had pinpointed specific parts of the city, our searching could begin in earnest. There’s not a single website that lists every property for sale so we had to consult a few conglomeration sites, and even those miss some houses or place them in the wrong location so your results aren’t always reliable.
The key, we discovered, was to seek out the real estate agencies whose offices are located within the neighborhoods you like since they tend to have the houses for sale in their immediate vicinity. You can then look in their shop windows, at their websites, and even if your French isn’t up to par, visit some properties with an agent. We read the warnings that you should never visit the same house with two different agents since they will both expect their full commission should you end up buying that property. On the other hand, any real estate agent can show any other agency’s listing and that’s exactly how we found our new house. The bonus for us was that we now have two new friends in Carcassonne since the seller’s agent was just as helpful and friendly as was our own. In fact, he arranged for us to meet many of our new neighbors at a cocktail party about a week after we had signed the initial purchase agreement.
The house had been on the market for 7 months with a price reduction of 7 percent over that time period. On our second visit to the property we offered 5 percent below the new asking price and it was accepted that evening by the seller. Two days later an inspector was on site, as required by law, to go through the house and to note any problems with the electricity, gas, and water, plus the general state of the building as far as termites, flooding potential, lead, and air circulation. Four days after that we were in the notaire’s office (an attorney who specializes in house sales) signing the purchase agreement and the report from the inspector. The seller, out of town at the time, signed the same contract a few days later and the notaire sent us a copy via certified mail. We then had a 10-day cooling off period during which we could have backed out without penalty.
After those 10 days had passed, the contract went to the Mayor’s office to await his signature. Before a sale can be completed, the local government has up to 2 months to buy the property at the price that you have agreed with the seller. This allows the city to acquire land or buildings at a fair price in case they want it for historical reasons or future road expansions, for example. After less than a month we got the go-ahead to transfer the funds from our US bank to the notaire’s account since we were not obtaining a mortgage on the house. Because the world currency markets were experiencing great fluctuations at the time, we encountered some delays and had to divide the payment into 4 transfers but the entire process was still completed before the original closing date.
The night before closing, one of our new neighbors had a party where we saw people we knew from the previous street party and got to meet both other neighbors and even the seller of our new house. The closing process went very smoothly the next morning as the notaire made sure we understood the entire sales contract, inspected our homeowner’s insurance policy that buyers must provide, and collected our share of the property tax that the previous owner had prepaid for the year. Because it can take up to 5 months to receive the deed, we were given certificates that prove that we had paid in full for the house. With all the paperwork complete, he handed us the keys and we became propriétaires (property owners) in France. Let the work begin!
Websites we used—
- Buying process: https://www.french-property.com/guides/france/purchase-real-estate/legal/
- House hunting: