A reader’s thoughts on choosing a property in the Pyrenees-Orientales, France
Our experience of buying houses is that the following are worth considering as part of the buying decision.
What makes a very desirable residence secondaire may not be any good as a permanent home.
So what are you buying and why? Are you intending to let the property? Potential clients may not be prepared to live with inconveniences that don’t bother you.
What sort of neighbourhood do you want to live in?
Or maybe you want to be tucked away up a cart track! Take a look through the phonebook for the commune. Are there a lot of foreign names? You may or may not relish living in an area where the neighbours are predominantly non-French. What proportion of the houses in the neighbourhood are holiday homes? In summer registration plates on cars give a good indication.
A lively village in the summer may die come winter. What can you tell about your prospective neighbours?
Are they the kind of people you would choose to live among in your country of origin? If you want calm and solitude, there are a number of ways of shattering your illusions. Your dream house may appear to be an oasis of calm during the day. But it may be very different at night or the weekends. Watch out for any of the following within hearing range
- Salles Polyvalent
- Salles de Fetes
- Boules areas
- Chiming clocks on churches or public buildings
- Large numbers of scooters/mobylettes mean lots of youngsters tearing around.
- Some communes actively ban inmates of Colonies des Vacances from their village centres!
- If you live in a rural area you may get heavy farm traffic at certain times of the year. Same applies if you live near a winery.
Seen in warm summer sunshine all sorts of places look attractive. The rest of the year may be a different story.
- Do houses have chimneys that look well used?
- Are there large piles of logs or big gas tanks around?
- What is the altitude? You don’t have to go far inland from the Med to have a cold winter! Large dry river beds may indicate risks of flash floods.
- What about wind? Most of the Mediterranean littoral is affected by the Tramontane or Mistral. Exposed properties can get bitterly cold in winter. Do the trees have a definite lean, are windbreaks a local feature?
- What do the neighbours grown in their gardens? If peaches and cherries flourish winters get quite cold. One side of a ridge may support palm trees but the other side may have Spanish Moss!
Does the property border on a river or watercourse?
Is there any evidence of flooding? Rats congregate near water and have been known to invade properties left unattended for long periods
The occasional overflowing fosse septique is part of life. However the smell from some of the Mediterranean coastal lagoons (eg around le Barcares) is a permanent feature in the wrong conditions. The pong can be smelt a long way downwind – up to 10km.
What happens if you fall ill?
- Is there a doctor/dentist locally. Is he/she any good? There is a shortage of doctors around the region, particularly in some of the small villages who may have no medical facilities at all.
- How far to the nearest clinic/hospital?
- Where is the closest ambulance service?
- What are they like at the Mairie? You’ll almost certainly need their help at some time and a frosty reception should raise a few questions.
- Are there buses, to where and how frequently.
- How far to the rail network?
- What is the answer to the question “How would I get from here to (say) London without using my own car, how much would it cost and how long would it take?
- Will you be totally dependent on your car for transport? What would happen if you were without it for any reason?
- If you don’t have your own off street parking where will you park? Where will your visitors park? In popular locations this can be a real headache in the summer.
- Being able to keep a car in France can be an advantage, even if you are only buying a holiday home. Is there somewhere to keep one securely?
Spending an hour in the car every time you want to buy more than a loaf of bread may soon lose its appeal.
- How far away are day to day items, where is the nearest Centre Commercial for the bigger purchases? Is there more than one?
- Where is the nearest Post Office, Bank?
- If you are going to do renovations how much choice for DIY and Builders Merchants?
Are there permanent neighbours, how close? The risk of burglary is very real, especially of properties in preponderantly holiday home neighbourhoods.
Word to the wise – if you buy a property and have a phone installed consider not having your number listed. France Telecom don’t promote the service but do provide it and it’s free. The annuaire is a thieve’s best friend as subscribers are listed by commune. A clearly non French name could make you more vulnerable. Some criminals use the phone book at their bible for finding residences that are likely to be second homes. Best never to get your name in the phone book, paper or on line. If you feel you must be listed get France Telecom to give you a truncated entry. eg Name and commune only. Their willingness to provide this service seems to vary from one department to another.
Phones, Internet etc.
Check that your mobile phones work – coverage is often poor in rural areas. What is the internet coverage like? Is it adequate for your needs? Does the village/town have ‘fibre optique’ or will be be installed in the near future?
Sundry Practical Considerations
Make sure you know who is selling the property and why. Remember the three D’s. Death, Divorce and Debt tend to lead to complications and delays.
The Land Registry (Cadastral) records are available at the Mairie and are open to public inspection. To identify the property you want to buy all you need is the plot number(s). Copies of the records may be free or you might have to pay a nominal amount.