When we moved to France 20 years ago my passport said I was a photographer – although I have done many, many things in my life, this is the only thing I actually have paper qualifications to do so it’s what I put on my passport application forms years ago.
I planned to have courses from our home here in Languedoc from Nizas teaching Zone System photography, but we migrated into other rentals and property businesses and I only ever ran two workshops, I ended up as a real estate agent – strange how life moves your paths.
I still hope to return to, what is now very old-fashioned, black and white chemical photography, working with techniques now over 150 years old, but ‘needs must as the devil drives’, and my immediate plan is to offer real-estate services again from June here in the South of France.
Today I replied to an email from one of my newsletter readers, I am publishing it here as it may be useful for others thinking or planning to buy a property in this region, Languedoc – the department of Herault (34) in Languedoc, Southern France…..
Your plan to find a home seems sound and clearly you have thought through some of the factors you wish for in a property – I will comment on them here in a sort of “stream of consciousness”.
Renting a place for a while while you look is very sensible – we rented for 4 years when we moved to France and I spent most of that time looking hard at what there was, understanding the life we were moving to and adjusting my plans (and altering my own lifestyle and aims in life) – I do not believe it is possible, unless you are mega-rich, to bring a way of life along with your suitcases when you move to France – Paris and some places on the Riviera are exceptions as it is possible to move and live there for years and cocoon yourself in a bubble of ex-pat lifestyles masquerading as the ‘real France’ – but in Herault, the local culture is strong and you must absorb the values they offer or live in isolation.
To rent a furnished 2 bed home for around 700 euro a month is possible, but will be very difficult to find in Herault – most will be unfurnished and on a minimum one year lease (although you can cancel with three months notice, the landlord cannot) – agents and landlords will usually demand a lot of guarantees and references. There are holiday villas which could be rented for the winter perhaps – but add the cost of heating and services
To buy a property outside a town or village will be much harder to find as there are not many – they were never built – but modern developments on the edge of villages are everywhere – it is a local policy to build new developments around every town and village in Herault and there are a lot of nice properties being constructed aimed at the French market and attracting people to move here from all over France – there is also an increase in business and industry in most places – this is partly to exploit the fantastic road, rail and air network which makes Languedoc, in many ways, the true center of Europe. wherever you rent, make sure there is good central heating, winter here is a misery without it or very expensive if you have electric radiators.
To buy – some properties in the countryside are being renovated from old farm buildings, these are in big demand and can be bought ‘cheaply’ (under 200,000 is possible, under 100,000 is much harder) but the cost of renovation of these stone buildings is astronomical. A contractor will cost from 5,000 euro a square meter to renovate and the cost can easily be as high as 15,000 euro a square meter (compare this to the purchase price which is around 1,800 to 3,000 euro a square meter) – this is more than double the value of the property and you end up with a place worth perhaps 300,000 euro which has cost you 750,000 euro – be very very careful with ‘projects’ in France, casual labor costs up to 50 euro per hour – illegal workers can be brought in for as little as 15 euro per hour, but in nearly every case the tradesman at 50 euro is cheaper in the long run.
Renovating yourself saves on labour costs – the learning curve for the traditional trades is steep – putting a window in an old stone house can mean shifting 15 tons of rock and reinforcing a couple of hundred tons of wall with girders (I know, I have done exactly this which took 2 weeks labour for one window which in the UK would have been an afternoons work) – the end result will usually be a compromise as houses in the countryside of this part of France needing this sort of renovation costing about 200,000 euro were not built as comfortable places suitable for modern living, but mostly as dwellings for farm workers or temporary homes due to the transhumance of the sheep in Summer to higher pastures (hundreds of thousands of sheep were moved to the plateaus every year from this area, wine growing as the dominant industry is relatively (19th century) recent. In fact tourism is the main ‘industry’ of this region.
I understand your preference for the countryside – village houses are always cramped, in narrow streets and with rarely any outside space at all – unless you are paying well over 350,000 euro for a “Maison de Maitre’ which will need as much spending again for renovation, these village homes are very charming to visit for a few weeks as they reinforce the comfort and convenience of your own home with a garden, kitchen with a window and warm bedrooms – anywhere in summer in Southern France is delightful, even an old unconverted barn, winter is something else.
At your budget, in Herault, you are much more likely to find a property with some space and possible a courtyard in a village, although not much outside land or garden, they do exist. They are more likely to be in the higher, more remote parts of the department – many village properties will offer a plot of land for gardening outside the village, although these are getting harder to find now.
As you are not into quaint and historical – think about building new – building costs are from 2,000 euro per square meter and a plot of land with services from 120 euro per square meter – this would typically be on the edge of a village as the land has to be ‘zoned’ for building – all villages are extending these zones and a lot of new land is being offered – but this would be on a new development of similar houses.
Finding a plot in the countryside is difficult, there is a big demand and not much on offer – you can look for an existing run-down habitation and then try for planning to ‘develop’ it (expanding new and keeping the original perhaps as a garage – but this is hard to get. Never think of buying before all agreements and planning permissions are in place
It is possible to find the ‘right’ home within your parameters – it takes a lot of local knowledge, time and luck, so if you are budgeting to rent and look hard, especially over the winter months when things are more ‘dormant’, everything is possible (perhaps).
As for rented accommodation, all I can suggest at present is to rent an apartment in our place, on a 3 month (or longer, up to 6 months) let from October/November we can five a special winter only offer our ‘Rose’ apartment for 900 euro a month all inclusive (heating aircon etc – the central heating is essential from November to March at least). We will also have a smaller apartment ‘Quince’ available then at 650 euro a month.
I am registering (again) as an Estate agent from June this year and have a number of unlisted properties to offer already – I am not opening yet another ‘shop’ – but offering my local knowledge, experience and Internet services, including some new ‘search and identify’ facilities. I am going back into this business and will be working hard to offer a fair and honest service which brings together my experience of Internet services and 20 years of local knowledge and living in France.
Alas I will not have time to use ‘wet plate’ techniques to photograph the properties and print on platinum papers and I will try to curb the urge to photograph every room with a 14mm lens – but I will discover new places and meet interesting people and, hopefully, earn a living.
Write to me with as much information and your thoughts so I can begin to ‘profile’ your wishes and send you information.
Hope to see you later this year