Buying Property in France- A cautionary tale

DSC02770Just to let you know, I now take requests.See “Taste of France” blog-

The area around Puivert is mentioned. Very pretty, has a chateau & museum, too cold for me.

It took a while for us to find out that our chosen department of the Aude has pockets of delightful little micro-climates. Sure, it has seasons, with a proper winter between December and February, but in general, temperatures are higher than the UK .

Other areas are  nice enough in the summer , but can be cut off for days in the winter as you go higher into the mountains. The snow poles are a clue. Sited to stop you slithering off the mountain roads when they are covered in a white blanket! It is a fact that one can drive just a few miles from our French village in certain directions and the drop in temperature can really  be felt .

We didn’t know this back when we went house hunting in the real South of France.

We had a tiny budget ( still have, as I am sure you have noticed) and we went to view a large and apparently bargain property in Puivert.

The estate agent just gave us the address ( that doesn’t happen now!)  and sent us off to view, telling us a neighbour would show us round.

The little old man, ninety plus, but nimble,  from over the street let us in.

The place was HUGE, with an overwhelming odour of odd things…..The charming little French man proudly told us that he had put in all the wood panelling on the ground floor himself, “it is ideal for  covering up the damp!” quoth he.

The rooms were large and really well proportioned, no need for any structural tweaks, just the installation of a couple of bathrooms, and there were plenty of rooms to choose from. Even the plumbing (lead) was sensibly sited to add bits

Still blinded by the gorgeous old front door and the beautifully decayed windows, we mounted higher.The first floor had six bedrooms, all to die for and the epitome of decaying grandeur. The trendies would probably leave it just like that, just add some carefully concealed “facilities”  and inhabit the Miss Havisham style spaces dressed in boho-chic. It was ticking a lot of my romantic notion boxes.

Then we got to the twisty stairs up to the attic. “Is there head room ?  ” we asked “oh yes” said our new buddy, who was planning to take us home for a lavish lunch if we signed on the dotted line..”but you cannot go up there madame. Your husband can go up, but you will stay here with me”.

Bemused (is this a French chat up line?) I asked why. “because you die” he  replied with a beautific smile.


” is not safe, you die” he repeated. Like I am going to let Trev look further at this gem whilst I linger daintily downstairs? Don’t think so… so I mounted the rickety stairs, leaving the now hand-wringing little guy below, shaking his head and muttering about stubborn English women.

We looked around…Wow. Several Acrow props held up the sagging ceiling. Maybe a third of the floor boards were nothing more than powdery wood dust. You could virtually see the beetles AND active wood worm adding to their industrious little piles.   I made to walk over to look at the amazing ancient fireplace and (alarmingly) mortar free stone chimney on the other wall.

By this time our little friend had climbed up also. As I moved forward he silently, but suprisingly firmly grabbed my right arm. Trevor, equally silently, but anticipating my next move, grabbed the other.

No!/non!” they said firmly in unison.

We didn’t buy it….. and I got over it.

So, dear reader, what lessons do we learn here?-

  1. Moderate damp & leaks will dry out in the southern French sun, and you won’t even realise you have a problem till it’s too late. Believe me, people, if a place still has any odour of damp in the summer, then you have a HELL of a problem.
  2. Don’t be blinded by beautiful period features unless the property is intrinsically sound and isn’t going to cost twice or three times the purchase price to restore. Unless you are happy to pay this out.
  3. Visit again in the rain,  and if possible in the cold, or RESEARCH the weather, prevailing winds, historical flooding issues . Boring but you’ll thank me one day.
  4. If it’s on a narrow street, does it get ANY sun? Or does it get too much in the summer and some rooms will be no-go saunas in August ? Again, you’ll thank me one day.
  5. If it’s stone built, is it solid? or merely a rubble core wrapped around with stone to LOOK solid. Crumble issue and expensive structural stabilisation factor alert



About coteetcampagne

Artist, period home maker, renovator, restorer, Francophile. My mission is to save the old stuff, one beautiful piece at a time
This entry was posted in Renovation and restoration diary- France and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Buying Property in France- A cautionary tale

  1. Colin Bisset says:

    Don’t shatter my dreams! (Okay, thanks for the reality check.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Osyth says:

    Very sound advice indeed … what it boils down to is head over heart which can be the toughest thing of all 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. zipfslaw1 says:

    Great advice–thank you. I’d love to find the relevant advice for buying an apartment in Paris.


    • Can’t help you with that. But Bizzyella might be able to?!


      • bizzyella says:

        With regard to buying in Paris, I just sold my place or I’d have a great suggestion! I have read that no one should buy in Paris tight now. It is just so much cheaper to rent. I know that were I to buy the place I am renting, the monthly payment would about double. Plus I would have sunk a lot into a down payment. So my advice is tent until you are very sure you have found the right place and, honestly, whether you really want to be in Paris all that much. If you are a city person, maybe you would be happier in, I don’t know, Montpellier, Lyons, Bordeaux, Nantes… There is a long list of interesting, culturally rich cities in France. All of them are cheaper than Paris.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. bizzyella says:

    Excellent advice, every bit of it. In an old house, you can pretty much figure that you will have to rewire, replumb, re mostly everything, plus add insulation and thermopane windows. It’s astonishing what a lot of nice, civilized, middle-class people live with. If you start with a sound structure, you can do this and wind up with a sound house. If you see a bad roof, efflorescing walls or a dubious foundation, move on. Oh, and damp. and rot.

    I would add that France is full of character houses. If you have any doubts at all about a place, you are probably safe to just move on.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are absolutely right. But we have seen folk make what turn out to be big mistakes because they are blinded by what they can apparantly get for their dosh.Or, they don’t give enough thought to WHERE they buy!
      Just like any other country, France has distinctly dodgy areas

      Liked by 1 person

  5. poshbirdy says:

    All good advice. As you know, I did my research thoroughly before buying (!!!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. francetaste says:

    Glad you escaped from Puivert! It really is a good idea to look at a place in awful weather. Everything looks better on a gorgeous, sunny day. Personally I wanted a place to fix up because the things I saw that were “renovated” were really “cache-misère”–hiding the misery–and would need to be ripped out and redone. So you’re paying for a renovated place that you have to renovate.

    Liked by 2 people

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