Try before you buy
Before you take the plunge and move permanently to France, it makes sense to test the water with a winter let, says Glynis Shaw
If you’re thinking of buying and relocating in France, it is very sensible to spend some time in the country in order to ‘try before you buy’ and to be on hand to carry out your property search. One of the most practical and economic ways to do so is to take a holiday rental property on a long winter let.
WHY A WINTER LET?
Firstly, because out of the holiday season, you can get a good deal by paying a monthly rent for an attractive property that costs much more when let by the week. The extended time gives you a real feel for what life in the area would be like.
Secondly, everywhere is lovely in summer; but if you still love your chosen area in winter, you can feel confident about making a decision. Outside of ski areas and the Côte d’Azur, winter is usually quieter, people aren’t out as much and the tourists have gone, so it’s a great time to see the real France, brush up on your spoken French and be sure it’s for you.
Thirdly, the house-buying market is generally slower in winter months, so if you see a property that you like, not only are you on hand to snap it up, but you may also be able to negotiate a good price.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Long winter lets can run from one month right up to six months. Many property owners offer lets up to late February or March, depending partly on the region and local weather.
Holiday let websites specialising in France have dedicated sections for owners advertising winter lets. Some specify a rental for winter months while others just say that rates are ‘open to discussion’. In this case, use the weekly rental quoted as a guide to where they sit in the market.
Once you make contact, it’s largely a matter of negotiation, but as one experienced owner says: “Large, beautiful, private properties that let at £1,800 per week in the high season can be available for around £800 per month for winter lets.” In general, the longer the let, the lower the monthly rate charged.
A lot of people have traditionally been attracted to the southern parts of France for winter sunshine and warmer temperatures, so you may find the majority of lets on offer are in the south. This is fine if you hope to move to this area, but if you have your eye on another region, you may have to look a bit harder. It’s certainly worth searching suitable summer holiday properties and contacting owners to ask whether they are open to a winter let.
THE FINER DETAILS
Once you have negotiated a suitable rent with the owner, discuss other details in some depth. Be sure to clarify whether utilities are included and, if not, the rate and payment method. Under French regulations, if electricity is not included, you should only pay the amount used as shown on the meter. The owner must not charge a fixed amount per month as an extra.
Heating is, of course, vital. Open fires and log-burning stoves are obviously attractive so if they are on offer, then find out whether logs are included and, if not, the source of supply and cost. You’ll want to feel cosy in the house so look for a comfortable lounge with soft furnishings and, ideally, an open fire. A well-equipped kitchen and quality bathroom will be important – and one very useful piece of winter equipment is a tumble dryer.
Check whether the owner lives on-site or close by. If they do not, then clarify whether the house will be ready and warm for your arrival and that you will be greeted with full information. Also check whether you are expected to do any maintenance, such as keeping the garden tidy.
Properties range from large family houses to cottages and cosy contained spaces. If you find a property in exactly the right location but feel it may be a bit big and too expensive to heat, ask the owner whether it’s practical for them to close off part of the house.
Obviously you want to find a property in the area in which you are thinking of buying, but if you’re looking for a rural location, then it might be wise to make your winter base close to a town and be willing to travel around to house hunt. Many rural areas in France have very few facilities during winter and you’ll get more of a taste of French life and language practice if you go to markets, independent shops, restaurants, cafés and places of interest.