Expat Essentials

Alice Verberne: The affordable dream home options in France are overwhelming

BOURMONT

(Editor’s note: If you need help finding that dream home in France, Alice Verberne is available for consultations and advice at bourmont@zoho.com.)

ALICE’S HOUSE IN FRANCE

When shopping around for a good deal on a French property you’ll find an overwhelming amount of fabulous homes. And that’s the problem … it is overwhelming.

I know a couple who has been searching for over a year now.

They’ve looked at all sorts of options:

• abandoned shacks ($5,000)

• a castle ruin (30,000)

• historic buildings (50,000-80,000)

• and modern homes (150,000-200,000).

About six months in, the realtor stopped returning their calls. Perhaps he figured they weren’t serious. The couple said they had so many options they didn’t know what to do. They seemed to be led down a rabbit hole, deeper and deeper into myriad choices.

What the couple is experiencing is a phenomenon called choice overload. Alvin Toffler wrote about it in the ’70s. It’s a cognitive anomaly where people become paralyzed by indecision when given too many options. Toffler’s says that dissatisfaction happens mostly to people that are less familiar with the choice set.

Take the couple, for example. They had no cap for their budget and had no idea what they really wanted.

They had no process.

Here are some considerations to help you narrow down your options:

What type of weather do you like?

Four seasons? Mediterranean? Ski season? Mild winters? Not into drizzle?

Check online for the historic weather patterns for each area and select places that match your preference.

What is your lifestyle?

Are you the sporty type who loves the mountains or the beach? Are you a wine enthusiast with a penchan for farming? Does the big city life with theater, museums and cultural activities sound appealing? Do you want to look out of your window and see a castle? Or do you want to own that castle?

Are you a musician who could use a recording studio? Then how about a church? Yes, the French sell their historic churches from time to time.

Or maybe you want a dirt-cheap fixer-upper. It’s pretty easy and comparatively inexpensive to purchase any of these, but remember, we must be selective.

How much do you plan to use the property?

Maybe you just want a nice family home to use for your vacations. What’s a good price to pay for something you won’t necessarily use all the time? Let’s say you plan to stay for three months each summer and you decide to keep the house for 20 years.

Example: You find a house listed at $120,000. You pay cash.

Here is a simple rule of thumb:

Divide the cost ($120,000) by the time (20 years) to get a yearly estimate of $6,000. Is $6,000 a reasonable price for a three-month vacation with your family? Of course the property is an asset that likely will appreciate.

The sum of these considerations should narrow down your choices of price and type. In this example, you are spending a total of 60 months at your property over 20 years.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ALICE VERBERNE

Small spaces in big places

Townhouses and apartments are especially nice to have in locations like ski/beach resorts, hilltop/historic villages or even urban areas like Lyon, Bordeaux or Toulouse. A fully renovated apartment in a historic building in my village sold last year for $50,000. It has new bath/kitchen, floor heating, clay roof tiles, double glass windows, wooden shutters – really nice – and it sold fast.

Plus, furnished townhouses and apartments are easily rented on Airbnb. Apartments in France usually flip quickly due to convenience and the lower cost. This translates into less risk when looking for a return on your investment.

Big returns on smaller properties

Another attractive aspect of having a townhouse or apartment is that the overall investment and maintenance costs are lower. For example, a chateau owner may have thirty pairs of windows to replace, where the townhouse owner has four.

That’s a big difference in overhead.

Larger homes typically consume more heat, electricity and water. And don’t forget to factor in fees for insurance and taxes that are calculated by the size of the house.

The down side of owning an apartment is that cooperative fees and regulations can sometimes become cumbersome, especially in a foreign language.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ALICE VERBERNE

The bricks and mortar of renovations

I have to tell you: It’s hard not to be sucked in by those old charming fixer-uppers. You can get a spacious building full of history and character for dirt-cheap in the rural countryside (think $30-80,000).

• The upside is that the cost of renovating in France is usually a bargain.

• The down side is that it eats up your time.

In this scenario, you really have to be honest with yourself. How much energy can you expend? Would you prefer to spend your days drinking wine and eating stinky cheese?

Yeah, me too.

Nonetheless, I can say with confidence that it was worth it for me. There have been moments I wanted to jump out of the window, but owning a home like mine is much like having children. We don’t really realize what we are getting into. But, like parents, when asked if we had the opportunity to do it all over again, we would say that the rewards are indescribable.

About the author:

Alice Verberne is an expat artist and writer who purchased a historic building in rural hilltop village in France.

Her mission is to create an atelier as a meeting point to connect visitors to local artisans in her region around the town of Bourmont.

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