There are many different types of property, each with their particular advantages and disadvantages. This section compares five different types of French property: Town accommodation, village accommodation, farmhouse, chateau and maison bourgeoise.
The decision of whether to purchase an older home or a newer one is also considered. Finally, various property factors to take into account are discussed.
Villages are a popular choice for those who want to live in the countryside, but want reasonable access to facilities. While it has fewer facilities than in the town, they are easier to reach. One can walk to the corner baker (or better yet, pâtisserie) to pick up breakfast or a cake for visitors.
Village housing is often older and many villages have a plentiful supply of houses with character. It is relatively easy to get to know the local shopkeepers, who are often more friendly than in town and will try to understand you even if you don't speak French; with so few local customers each one is valuable.
Farmhouses offer romance, character, the country life and often a fair amount of space (both in terms of the house and the land that goes with it). They are relatively available through much of France. However, to varying extents, they are more isolated and access to facilities from shopping to entertainment is less convenient.
There are approximately 30,000 châteaus in France, ranging from the surprisingly small (little more than a moderate sized house) up to the equivalent of a palace. This variation means they can be cosy or stately, but in any form they provide great status (friends, family and colleagues are certain to be impressed). They also typically have at least a moderate amount of land and privacy.
They can be surprisingly cheap to buy; it is not uncommon to be able to buy a substantial château in France for less than the price of a basic 3-bedroom house in England. The problem is not buying them, but rather maintaining them. Most châteaus are in need of repair, with many being well on their way to ruin. The nature of the materials and techniques used in their construction means they need regular maintenance which can be expensive in terms of frequency, the types of material required and the specialised labour needed. Châteaus in good repair are corresponding expensive, while those in need of repairs (although not yet in ruin) can easily cost more to restore than to buy.
On top of maintenance of the house, there is also its furnishing and decoration, which need to match the character and status of the château. Likewise, the maintenance of the grounds. Although one can easily get away with a scruffy garden around a farmhouse, around a château any faults would stick out like a pair of old sneakers on a man wearing a 3-piece suit.
In exchange for this investment, they offer many benefits. The visually appealing interior and exteriors are a constant source of pleasure. They almost always have a substantial garden with mature trees and are often walled in. Their stone walls provide a fascinating backdrop, which modern plaster walls cannot match.
Maison bourgeoise were built for wealthy businessmen (or officials), with the intention not only of providing a very comfortable home but also of displaying the wealth and status of the owner. They normally have a wide front facing the street and typically use stone in their construction, reflecting both the solidity and wealth of the owner. They have large windows, given the interior a pleasantly well-lit interior. Inside, the decoration and furnishing provides both comfort and status. If well-preserved, they are typically beautiful and have many pleasing details. They are normally surrounded by a moderate plot of land with a number of large trees and perhaps a wall.
However, they share much the same issues as chateaus, although to a lesser extent. The date of their original construction means that they often require pipes to be added for radiators and for electrical wiring to be replaced. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do without damaging the fine ceiling mouldings and wall panelling and any such damage is difficult to repair (as opposed to modern plaster walls, which can be repaired with relatively inexpensive material and with relatively unspecialised builders). This author's heart has bled many times upon entering such homes to see ugly pipes driven through elegant ceilings and in front of handsome walls. Such DIY is unpleasant in any home, but especially in a maison bourgeoise as it is completely against the character of such homes.
However, if you accept the higher costs associated with buying, renovating, furnishing and maintaining a maison bourgeoise, it can provide an exceptionally elegant and very comfortable home.
New Homes versus Older Homes
In general, the French prefer to purchase or rent modern housing rather than older housing, with the result that new accommodation is approximately 50% more expensive per square meter than older accommodation. New houses are usually built to high standards (reflecting increasingly strict building codes and regulations) and come with an insurance policy (Assurance Décanale, see Definitions) which provide relatively trouble and worry free accommodation (at least in theory).
Many foreign buyers on the other hand tend to prefer older homes, which usually provide charm, character and a wealth of period details. They are generally much more willing than the locals to take on the repairs and construction that such properties often require, in part due to greater financial resources and perhaps a greater appreciation of the older architectural styles.
In addition to the type of house, following are some considerations in terms of the style of French property.
- Windows. The windows in French homes are often equipped with metal shutters which can be rolled down for security (this is common in much of continental Europe). These are considered standard home security, almost as important as having locks on outside doors. If your home is not equipped with them, you may have trouble getting house insurance or you may have to pay extra. Wooden shutters are also common; they are less secure than metal shutters but more attractive, especially on farmhouses. Metal shutters are normally rolled up and down manually, like horizontal blinds. In better quality modern homes they are sometimes equipped with electric motors which are centrally controlled, so when one leaves or comes home it is possible to open or shut all the shutters with a single button. French windows tend to open into the house rather than to the outside, which allows second and higher story windows to be cleaned easily without use of a ladder.
- Large gardens. Land in rural France is often inexpensive and in some areas it is often possible to get a substantial amount of land (or even a whole farm’s worth) without greatly increasing the price. This is particularly true when the land is poor for farming or in areas where farming is in decline (with many farms being left idle or allowed to drift back into forest). In such cases, it is difficult to resist buying a large plot, as it seems such a bargain.. However, one needs to consider the cost of maintaining such properties in terms of money (e.g. purchase of a sit-down lawnmower for larger properties, or a tractor and cutter for very large properties) and time (e.g. to cut grass, prune trees, maintain fences) which should be carefully calculated before making any final decisions. This is especially true of a holiday home, where you will want to spend time enjoying yourself rather than maintaining the property.
- Entertaining. In the UK, the lounge is often the centre for entertaining guests, particularly in those areas which favour 'drinks and nibbles'. Although this also occurs in France, it is more likely for socialising to be at the dining table. If entertainment and food are to be an important part of your life in France, it is worth giving extra consideration to finding a house with a good-sized dining room and kitchen. These rooms in particular should reflect your style (e.g. elegant if you prefer formal dining, cosy and perhaps rustic if you prefer more comfortable and informal).