Logistics of actually buying a house in France - how did you do it?

I seem to have fallen at the first hurdle :(

BACKGROUND - you may want to skip a lot of this ...

I'm a 55 year old who didn't get to University, but somehow managed to get a decent job 33 years ago with a company pension I can take now that although modest is already 50 percent more than my unusually modest UK lifestyle, I own a wreck of a house I was only just able to afford - full of 30 years of accumulated junk - some of which will actually be worth having stored / shipped to a new home, and far too much cash in ISAs accumulated since I paid off my mortgage 8 years ago.

I have always dreamed of living in France, and have reasonable and improving French.

My naive "plan" when this project started 6 years ago, was to buy a new place for cash and then come back super-motivated and empty my UK house, do the minimum of work and sell it and thereby replace the fund for emergency roof repairs / replacement fosse septique / etc ... but I started to see I might actually want to leave less to moulder in the bank and spend more on a nice house with nothing major to do to it.

So this meant I would need to wait until I was 60, at which point I would have more cash in the bank, a slightly less meagre pension and only six years of having to pay £4,000 a year for private health insurance - ("tax deductible" LOL - nice if you actually pay significant tax ...)

But then someone moots the miniscule possibility (at my humble level) of voluntary severance as they overhaul the outfit I work for, so I start looking at alternative options .. .

Then this very nice "doer-upper" turns up for substantially less than the cash I have in the bank at current exchange rates - in the area I was looking at and needing only the sort of work even I could see myself tackling - maybe a few months and £20K to turn it into a very nice well-insulated house - and with all the land I need to grow my own veggies - a key part of the dream...

So I realised that even without a slightly enhanced pension / extra lump sum, I really could retire at 55 - even if I had to pay private health insurance for 11 years from savings.

Unfortunately I hadn't even got my passport / EHIC / replacement driving licence organised (now hastily being remedied), and this house will be gone in a week or two -

I will tell myself there was something majorly wrong with it ... I already knew that in a popular holiday area, I would find myself short of company ...


But even if I have everything in place and my bag packed, am I really ready to book leave at work, get a coach to the ferry, 7 hours on the boat, infrequent trains and buses on the other side - perhaps two days travel and kipping on benches - to get to a French estate agent to look at one house which might turn out to be not quite as described, and even if it IS a bargain, quite likely get pipped at the post then or later ?

OK - other option is buy a car I don't ordinarily need, (or hire one) pay £350 return for the ferry, plus £50 for petrol ...

How is it actually done when the budget is tight and you're in work ?

I've finally started fixing up my house :)

So 5 years from now, I've sold my house in the UK, got cash in multiple UK banks (for safety) with my pension being paid into my current account ..

I get all my possessions put into storage in the UK apart from a enough clothes and a camp bed - though I suspect my family will insist on helping me out there ...sell my UK car and at the last moment get the ferry to my chosen area in France where I start renting a small flat, set up a French bank account, get my stuff shipped over to local storage, buy a French car and start looking for a house ....

Then when I find one, I send out multiple instructions to my UK banks to transfer funds to the French bank ....

At least now I see that as things currently stand, rending a 1 bed flat - even somewhere seasidey like Pont L'Abbé is amazingly cheap and I could live like that for months ... possibly even relaxing and enjoying living there ...

What could possibly go wrong ? !


Blimey - you can rent a small flat in Quimper for 250 euros a month !

I hear good things about that city and at those prices I could afford to spend a few months down there ..

Check with the dept for work and pensions as I read somewhere that British expats can still be covered by the UK system and can still go back to the UK for treatment on the NHS even though they live abroad. Someone on here might know more about it than I do. When I lived in France, many people did not have any assurance complementaire and this included French people, they paid the difference themselves so I don't know if it is really illegal not to have it or just plain stupid.

Yes, I had relations in Poitu-Charente, but they moved back to the UK a few years back - I never visited, but the Google car finally reached their hamlet ...

I have to say that I'm getting a bit fed up of new build Breton houses .... a Youtuber who lives in Douarnenez made a video of the area I've been looking at ... and at about 4 minutes 22 he reaches the résidences secondaires ...


I did the Bristol-Bordeaux exchange in 1975, but actually stayed at the seaside for 4 weeks .. though we had to drive through the Gironde to get there and visited some wine estates

It was a long time ago, and wasted on a teenager, but I watched the Tour de France a few years in a row and found the scenery and medieval parts of France jaw-droppingly beautiful - ... and then there's the Dordogne of course ...

But the sea beckons - and I don't want to be more than a cycle ride away and still want a garden where I can grow more asparagus than I can possibly eat !

But it's relatively early days yet :)

Whenever you find your ideal wreck to do up, my sincere advice is to check, on the Cadastre (Land Registry, comes with a map), that what the owner is selling, he actually owns! Notaires also often put in a clause absolving themselves from responsibility if their is a problem of ownership.

Thanks for those links and reading suggestions :)

I recently found a house in Finistere where for the fist time I saw listed "Jardin Citerne EP." ... actually that might persuade me not to turn down houses with swimming pools - you could store a lot of water in one of those ... I follow the daily life of someone living in Australia where he has to eek out his precious captured water betwen himself and fire control.

I've been researching electricity prices too and can see myself getting as off-grid as possible ..

After about 9 years without one, I anticipate I may need to buy two cars in fairly rapid succession - one in the UK near the end of emptying and doing up my house, and another once I move to France to get myself established - and in the latter case I will be on the wrong side of the road and the car.

Since the only cars I have driven were the Reliant 3-wheeler I taught myself in, a 2CV and a Peugeot 405, I will have to make sure I actually need to be sure I can operate a modern one !

I'm intrigued by the teeny "voitures sans permis" - I loved the 2CV - but I'm not sure I want another - even in France - I don't have the patience for keeping old machinery going these days.

At least with off-road parking, presumably the French have an equivalent of SORN ?

There really ought to be PAYG for cars ...

But I'm hoping I will be within cycling distance of shops - probably at some point with electrical assistance - I have been on 70 mile group cycle rides with 70 year olds - at least one with a hip replacement :)

If you end up choosing to live in a rural location a car will become a necessity rather than a luxury.

The houses are never quite as described - we short-listed 10 on the internet to look at in 3 days and none of them were as they seemed from the photos. As an after-thought the estate agent showed us an additional house - the 11th which we'd already dismissed on the internet - and it turned out to be just what we wanted ! If you are car-less you'll have to rely on the estate agents to drive you around. However I don't understand why you are balking at the expense of visiting if its your dream ? Surely its a small price to pay: ferry/Ryanair/flybe etc etc + £12 a day hire car (thro Ryanair) + £40 a night on B&B + some petrol and scoff - if you really want to achieve your dream. You cant tour the likely areas on foot ! Get on with it and hire a car !

Jeremy, you’re absolutely right on the health insurance front…you must have it and is illegal in France not to. Tbere is reportedly some slight movement on covering early retirees who make France their home due to an EU directive requiring it of the French government (back in 2011)but France has been painfully slow to comply and it seems to work on a case-by-case basis.

I hope you find what you’re looking for. We’re in the Charente…it’s lovely,lots of sunshine, not too hot, beaches an hour away and Bordeaux, not too far away, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Cognac, very nearby, is a pretty successful town based on its main industry. Lots to do all year round.

Well, the retiring at 55 and buying a doer-upper idea seems in retrospect to have been a flash in the pan - but at least it made me get my passport and driving licence organised ...

Hopefully I will at least take a holiday in Brittany at some point - I'm working on finding contacts there - but the French as a whole don't have much of a web presence ... I have an ex-colleague and native who co-wrote a book about Brittany - but he lives way down in Loire-Atlantique - in the middle of salt pan country whereas I need crashing waves ...

Retiring at 60 means taking a hit on my pension, but there's only 6 years before the UK pays for most of my healthcare and also adds 8K a year to my bank account. And I will be forced to buy a much nicer house.

Going at 55 would cost me nearly 100K when all is taken into consideration and a somewhat precarious 11 years ...

If I am made an offer I can't refuse, I'll put more effort into making my house saleable and my French will be that much better - so it's win-win ...

I have had a house in Brittany for many years and am trying to move over there, but have had problems selling my house in the North West of England (period property, needs work, has junk). So I've had to postpone and sort out the UK house first. Are you sure you will have any motivation at all to sort out the UK house after you have moved to France? You might be too distracted sorting out your vegetable garden, etc. (I'm missing the cherries in Brittany again this year because there are builders in the kitchen)

I do think you need to spend some time in Brittany, with a car, and go and look at properties. The internet won't tell you all you need to know. And if you go into notaires' offices in areas you fancy you will find properties that you might not find online. (Have you looked at Le Bon Coin?). We had friends to stay with, but you can stay in cheap hotels, or walkers' hostels, or camp.

Social aspects concern me too. My plan to move was influenced by Bodil Malmsten's book "The Price of Water in Finistere". She moved from Sweden to Brittany at 55 years old. Her friends said she would be lonely. She writes "If there is loneliness here, I brought it with me - Finistere is full of people, there are 838,687 Finisterians dispersed over appropriate distances. There is no far away anymore, if there ever was. Where you are is where the centre is."

That said two French/English couples I know moved from Morbihan (where my house is) to Finistere because they found it friendlier and more cosmopolitan, compare with Cornwall versus Dorset perhaps?

I know some people in the area, both French and English. I know there are a lot of social events, and the people are friendly. I'm a member of Tiez Briez, http://www.tiez-breiz.org/, and will join Polen, http://www.polen.asso.fr/. Both of those organisations should bring me into contact with like-minded people........ But you do have to be able to speak some French.

Hope this helps.


Couple of things. I'd advise you to rent first, so you ave lots of time to wander around and look at houses and areas to live. This might also make it possible to buy something directly from the owner, saving thousands in property agency costs. There are hundreds of thousands of houses out there, so don't worry if one 'passes you by'. You'll find something else, better, later.

Then, consider getting something in a town or biggish village. So you have a choice of bakers, cafés and such to wander in, get to know people. Living somewhere very quiet and isolated is nice at first, but can get really lonely after a hile. Especially if you are used to being around people a lot. We just moved back to town after 15 years in the country side. A breath of fresh air to meet people who are interested in other things than chicken and corn and complaining about Hollande and the bloody 'immigrés'.

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Quite easy, Sold our house first, knew exactly what we were looking for, drove over but didn't find anything suitable so arranged a rental whilst we were there. Moved in once our sale completed. We put our faith into a local agent's hands who, true to his word, found us a suitable property very quickly, we moved in and stayed for the next 15yrs. We had a very successful time and it was a great experience. The world however is always changing, France as well so we moved back home to Ireland after a lifetime abroad and for us, it was another good move. Miss the French weather and the healthcare the most.

I'm not living there yet, but even I know that you that the situation changed in recent years - you are presumably in the French state system ?

As for the Mutuelle, I will definitely be buying one when I reach 66 and get the main part of my healthcare covered along with my state pension.

It's becoming compulsory next year for employers to arrange mutuelles for their employees.

I'm fairly certain it would actually be illegal for me to be in France without medical cover.

It is also illegal not to have house insurance ...

Doing without either would also be very foolish.

You do not HAVE to have health insurance. My husband and I took early retirement 20 years ago and moved to France aged 52 with a very small pension. We have never paid mutuelle and are happy to pay the part not reimbursed when we go to doctor/specialists/dentists etc also on prescriptions. We have never paid out anything like the £4000 a year that you state for private medical insurance.

Well you sound more organised and not fallen at 1st hurdle. Others will add to this I’m sure, but to best of my knowledge and experience here, you can leave your property empty for 90 days (? Concurrently) and 1- shutters or 2 - ‘bars’ for downstairs and/or smaller windows makes for greater security , as well as shutters helping keep out extreme heat on a hot day and. Cold out/heat in,in winter! I have used AXA in France since 2002, and now, through moves to different departments am on 3rd branch with them, given 3 months for purchase here to complete, thT would leave another 3 (your 90 days) and there’s your 6 months!They all had/have at least one English speaking clerk. Very useful for me especialły. If it’s financial, technical/legal, the important bits of life, I like to be able to understand in English. I had a salutary lesson not long ago, learning that how I use the language here, i.e. almost literal translation, meant the words I used were understood in a very different context by the French and perhaps even a lot of English on SFN!

I understand what you mean about not wanting to live in a holiday park environment. Im on my 3rd rural village and also had several hiccups on the way since retiring to France in 2008, but all have added to experiences and knowledge so getting there independently, albeit slowly. There are plenty of cycling clubs here, so getting into a sociable environment should be easy. Not sure there are too many French vegetarians anywhere here, they do like their meat, especially pork! Haricot Vert seems to be the most favoured veg also where I live!

As you say, immersing yourself in their culture and way of life is the way to go? It’s not easy initially, but as they get to know you it becomes easier. Last night I suddenly felt I was accepted as a ’ local’, I joined our Comite des Fetes, this year and after a committee meeting last night, all conducted in French, I was suddenly invited afterwards to go with some of them, back to the chairmans house to continue the ‘vie sociable’ where a variety of discussions took place, including politics and the in-out EU debate in the UK! The Royal Family (1 person didnt understand why, because we have one, the Queen doesn’t run the country,because we have one) they don’t like M Hollande either!being an agricultural and mainly rural department, employment opportunities are not great or suitable for everyone, but because of family ties they stay here. They know my landlady and her reputation, and even to,d me I must not leave the Comite or the village, they want to improve, renew their English language and are appreciative of my input to the Comite and help at the 1st event this year. I was reheating crepes! Making sausage sandwiches and ending up walking round flogging off the remaining cooked sausages for 50c each! We are planning a repas for one evening and they are on,y charging 6€ a head for a 3 course meal, wine and coffee included. Cheapest repas I’ve heard of!

Well I’ll leave the rest to others to answer as well.

Always happy to help out, you can pm if you want, but the beauty of general discussions on SFN is you’ll get the benefit of many different views, ideas and experiences from all different parts of France. Bon chance!

My main bank is Santander, so no useful branches, so I think I will open a CA Britline account ...

Were I to get myself organised, how would house insurance work if I left a house empty over there for maybe up to six months while I finished emptying and selling my UK house ? - I notice the house I was looking at (for example) has no shutters ... one idea I have is to get power and broadband organised and set up security equipment including IP cameras so I could monitor them from the UK .. perhaps speak to the local police ...

At least two French colleagues expressed surprise when I said I wanted to live in Brittany - but then one was originally from Martinique and the other has a house at Arcachon.

I don't mind sunshine - I'm a sub-tropical gardener - and I enjoyed the month I stayed at Le Verdon Sur Mer in the Gironde in 1974 - and I love southern red wine - oh and Spanish would be a much easier (and useful) third language than Breton (my German is now just a few disconnected lists of prepositions) ..

But I'm a hardy soul and I was amazed when on holiday in Cornwall and Wales in recent years to find everyone wearing wetsuits in July and August... I hope to build up to being one of those pensioners going for a swim in December !

Since I have no emotional ties whatsoever to the UK, I would hate to have my destination dictated by transport links.

I am very lucky with my health - wholefood vegetarian, cyclist etc .. but my map of France has doctors, dentists and emergency departments on it as well as supermarkets :-)

The biggest unknown quantity is PEOPLE and being stranded in the middle of acres of new-build holiday homes would be a nightmare - a key part of the exercise is I want to immerse myself in a new language and culture - and simply make friends.

Yes, the wretched referendum is worrying - France was starting to feel like an extension of the UK.

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