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

Living France - - LES PRATIQUES -

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.


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.


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.


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.

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