Ten things to consider when buying a French holiday home for your own use
France has long been a favourite destination for British holidaymakers (Holidays in France), and with very good reason. Geographically close to the UK, France is easy to access (French Connections), and has a diverse and beautiful countryside, a generally sunnier climate (Weather in France), historic cities and a stunning and vast coastline. Many people have decided to purchase their own holiday home (or maison secondaire) in France rather than to stay in hotels or on campsites or to rent other people's gites, and this too makes a lot of sense. Holiday home owners get to know their area, make friends with both the locals and other Brits who own property there and look forward to returning year after year to their second home. (Why buy property in France.)
As with any property purchase, however, there are important decisions to be made before you take the plunge. The following points discuss what should be considered if you are thinking of keeping the property purely as a maison secondaire for yourself, family and perhaps close friends.
If flexibility is a priority for you, keeping the property for your sole use is paramount. A last minute opportunity to visit your home may arise in the form of an unexpected break from work, a sudden influx of extra cash or even a sickness break from work when you may wish to take the opportunity to recover in a warmer, gentler environment. Keeping the property for your sole use allows this flexibility. And even if you have set times yourself when you can or cannot get away to your French home, you may wish to have the ability to offer the use of it to friends or family.
Another thing to consider is your lifestyle. Are you, for example, extremely neat and tidy? While you might think it necessary to leave your holiday home in perfect order for family and friends to take over, it is also possible to become very distressed when you find that your guests have not shared the same ethos or respect for your ideals or your property. On the other side of the coin, if you are happy living a slightly chaotic lifestyle, do you have the time or the inclination to remove all evidence of your existence in your property in order to allow guests in? Retaining complete sole use of the property may ensure your enjoyment and save you much potential grief.
Keeping a second home for private use allows you to consider longer term renovation projects (House Renovations in France). Money goes so much further if you are happy to buy a property in need of considerable renovation, and can afford to take your time to do the work yourself. In a home that is for your use only, you can enjoy the satisfaction of doing the work yourself, and seeing your plans for your dream home come to fruition, exactly as you want it. It may be necessary to "camp out" as you do the work, living on site in a caravan or even a tent while you renovate, and for many, this is part of the fun and reaps a greater pleasure and profit in the end.
Perhaps the very biggest decision to make is the location of your second home. It needs to be in an area that is reasonably easy to access as you won't want to waste big slices of your hard earned holidays travelling, nor to find that reaching your French dream home costs a fortune (Travel France). If you are buying and investing a considerable amount of money into your property, you can't afford to make a mistake on the question of location. Take time to have a good look around your chosen region first, and even when you see what appears to be your dream property, take an objective look at what life is really going to be like in that particular village, town of area of the countryside.
Some seaside towns can be lively and fun in summer (or too noisy and full of tourists, depending on your point of view) yet become devoid of life in winter, with all the bars, restaurants and shops that first attracted you, closing up for the off season (October to May). The countryside may be beautiful and peaceful, but if you are leaving your property unattended for long periods of time, is it perhaps too isolated? Of course, you may be able to overlook some of the possible problems outlined above, but they are certainly factors worth considering carefully in your search for the ideal property. Ultimately, though, the big advantage of buying for your own use only means that you have more choice, as there are only your own needs to consider.
While there are some lucky people who can afford to spend a good portion of the year in their holiday homes enjoying La Belle France, there are a majority who have limited time to spend there and are able only to take occasional holidays and weekends off work. If this is the case for you, the suitability of the property in terms of ease of locking up and leaving, ie, closing the shutters, locking the doors and leaving it unattended for long periods of time, must also be considered.
Those moving full-time to France may well be happy with a big, rambling property that needs a lot of attention, but if you are only spending short periods of time there you will probably find a smaller home or an apartment to be a good solution (Apartments and flats in France). Apartments in maintained complexes can be a real boon in these circumstances, as a caretaker will maintain the external property and communal areas in your absence, and any potential problems such as storm damage, break ins etc. will be quickly picked up and acted upon. Yes, you do pay extra for these services, but the peace of mind that comes with it is well worth having.
Following logically on from the "lock up and leave" scenario, you may be considering whether or not to purchase a home with a swimming pool, or thinking of installing one in yourself (Installing a swimming pool in France). For a lot of people, the swimming pool is part of the joy of living or holidaying in a sunnier climate, and the question becomes more and more pertinent the further south in the country you go. Temperatures in the summer in the south of France are frequently in the thirties, and life can get pretty hot and sticky if you have no way of cooling off.
A pool is, indeed, a great place to relax and enjoy your summer holidays, but having one in the garden of your holiday home may be more of a problem than a pleasure. Large, permanent pools take a lot of maintenance, and unless you are prepared to pay a professional to visit regularly when you are not present to maintain the pool, deal with any problems and prepare it for your visits, you could well find that on your arrival you find a green, sludgy mess that takes half or more of your holiday to become ready for swimming.
One alternative, and one which is perhaps better suited to holiday homes which are only used infrequently for short periods of time, is the type of inflatable pool that can be set up and dismantled easily. They can be surprisingly large (large enough to swim a few strokes at least), cheap and are far easier to maintain, requiring a minimum of chemicals and having no need for expensive robot cleaners. You won't be able to do serious swimming in them, of course, but they are great for cooling off and family fun. Chances are your holiday home will also be near to the sea, a leisure lake or a local swimming pool with public access, so you won't really feel as though you are missing out.
If you do decide to have a full size pool, whether in ground or above ground, calculate the costs and be sure to have someone booked to do the maintenance and preparation in good time for your visit.
If a swimming pool seems like too much work or expense for a holiday property to justify, similar consideration needs to be given to gardens. So many country houses in France have extensive grounds, and this can be extremely seductive as it adds so much to the beauty of a property, but a large garden can be a real headache unless you have the cash to splash on paying a regular gardener to keep everything in trim while you are back in Blighty.
An outside space may be of great importance to you, but you don't have to give this up, just think smaller. Many town or village houses come with small, manageable gardens or good sized yards, and these can be made extremely attractive with a little imagination. Adding a small pergola can give a pretty, shaded seating/dining area, raised beds or pots can be used to introduce colour, and easy to maintain small trees and shrubs can give the feel of a garden even in a concrete yard.
France's Fractional Ownership property schemes can provide a real alternative to buying in the straightforward fashion, especially if you don't want to rent out your holiday property to others and are happy to use it for given periods of time only. A sort of "upmarket timeshare", Fractional Ownership allows you to make an investment in quality property in desirable areas of the country, with deeded ownership of actual bricks and mortar as well as designated use for an agreed number of weeks per year (Fractional Ownership - How to Afford Luxury Property in France). These desirable areas of the country include such places as the Alps (Rhône-Alpes Property Guide), the Côte d'Azur ( Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Property Guide) and Paris (Paris Arrondissements Property Guide). The scheme has many advantages (although there can be pitfalls so look into it carefully first and take legal advice before signing up), and it might just be the answer for some buyers.
If you are unsure about schemes such as Fractional Ownership, perhaps you might consider the option of buying a holiday property jointly with close friends. This arrangement has worked well for numerous people, but there are potential problems and a good number of "friends" who are no longer close after things have gone wrong. If you do decide to go this route, make sure the legal details are properly tied up, and that both you and your fellow buyers are 100% sure about your entitlement. Besides arguments over use for each family/person, difficulties can arise if one part owner wishes to sell, perhaps in times of personal financial hardship or change of marital circumstances, so all of these things need to be discussed and agreed in advance.
As with any second home, you have to consider the implications of taxes and finance. As a result of recent legislation, France now has the right to levy Capital Gains Tax on the sale of a second home in the country, whether or not the UK is your full-time place of residency (Capital Gains Tax in France on Property). If you are buying a holiday home, is it a long term investment or do you plan to use it for just a few years and then profit from your investment through a sale? CGT on a second home can wipe out a large portion of your potential profit, so do the sums first. You will also have to pay Taxe Foncière, the home owner's tax, in addition to the Tax d'Habitation, as sole resident (Taxe Foncière and Taxe d'Habitation - property tax in France).
The question of whether or not to buy a holiday home for private use only is not necessarily easy, but the above should at least give you food for thought. Holiday homes are as individual as the people who buy them, and thus must fulfil very different needs.
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.
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