Perhaps the major problem faced by everyone intending to buy an old property - habitable or not - is the question of whether the house is basically sound and what is it really worth? There is no magic solution for those already caught up in the spiral, but just as prospective buyers are wise to seek professional advice on legal matters, advice should also be sought as to the likely cost of renovation work and the "right" price to pay for a building requiring renovation. The first step should therefore be a valuation and survey report.
Many French buyers commission valuation and survey reports, known in France Expertises, particularly when buying rural property outside their own area or where they buy direct from the seller. The difference between a foreign buyer and a French buyer is that the foreign buyer is "told", perhaps by the seller or his agent, that a valuation is unnecessary, unusual or worse still, "not done in France".
The standard answer to a question from a buyer as to installation of a septic tank or renewal of a roof is "no problem!" There might well not be a "problem" in the sense that the desired work is capable of being done - but at what cost? Generally, the foreign buyer accepts what he or she is superficially told - the Gallic buyer is more circumspect and does not!
Who can a foreign buyer contact in France to obtain a valuation report? Notaires will often be able to provide assistance and sometimes will have on their staff someone qualified to give valuations. However, these two professions tend to provide valuations for legal, rather than for information purposes.
Another solution is to contact an Expert Immobilier. This profession is totally different to that of the more familiar Agent Immobilier. The Expert Immobilier tends to specialise in different segments of the property field - private housing; commercial property; farmland; forestry, etc. Statements seen in the foreign press purporting to suggest that the French do not have professional valuers and surveyors are untrue. You can find an Expert Immobilier from the yellow pages, or by contacting the:
Stating which Departements you are interested in. The Expert Immobilier will have private clients, institutions and banks, loss adjustors and members of the legal profession, Notaires or Advocats.
He is often called upon to produce valuation and survey reports for submission to the Courts where perhaps there is a divorce settlement to resolve, or by the tax authorities in settlement of an Estate. He is bound by the Civil Code to use prudence and due attention and will have Professional Indemnity Insurance.
In the main, the role of an Expert Immobilier to a private house buyer is described as being, une Expertise Amiable et Privee; to provide a certain amount of information on a property and draw appropriate conclusions which will be relevant to the house buyer's needs, notably condition and value.
As an extension to this, there is the Expertise Officieuse , where instructions are given to an "Expert" by one of the parties to a pending litigation or during the course of litigation. In general this form of "Expertise" is designed either to achieve an out of court settlement or to contest evidence given by the opposing party and demands a high degree of technical building knowledge.
Disputes between a property owner and a building contractor would be a good example of this form of "Expertise". A third role for the "Expert" is contained in an Expertise Judiciare, where an "Expert" drawn from the Court lists is instructed directly by the Magistrates. This form of "Expertise" is purely technical in character and would be akin to being an expert witness.
What should such a valuation and survey report, the Expertise, include?
The first step is to identify and establish that the property and land being offered for sale do, in fact, exist in the vendor's name. Some would say this is the role of the notary and whilst this is generally true, cases do arise where the stated area of land included in a sale is substantially different to reality or that set out in the Releve Cadastral.
The Expert Immobillier has a duty to check this carefully, since a greater or lesser amount of land can affect a valuation. The "Expert" should also check the Cadastral Plan on the ground.
The second step is to consult the Plan d' Occupation des Sols or POS of the commune, essentially the planning notation, in which the property is located. Many rural properties are in a zone known as NC and, without going into too much detail, buildings in this zone are only capable of "renovation". In these zones, extensions to such a property may be restricted and hence the overall value of the property can be affected. Both steps in the checking process should become apparent when the notary obtains a Certificat d' Urbanisme (the main planning document) but, invariably by this stage, you will be well down the road to concluding a purchase and will have almost certainly agreed a price.
Finally the Expert Immobillier should consider any rights of way over the property. Having this information at the valuation stage can have a very significant bearing on the price before your pen is poised in the notary's office!
Perhaps the most important part of a valuation and survey is to ensure that once any necessary repairs have been done, you won't be spending more than the property will be worth. Amongst the points to considered are the following:
Almost anything will affect the value of a property. Every property has a certain number of advantages and disadvantages and it is part of the role of the Expert Immobilier to determine these in a monetary form. Advantages and disadvantages will be viewed by the expert in the context of the local economy and local attitudes. It is quite common practice for non-French buyers, without professional local advice, to pay an inflated price for property, purely because their experience is oriented towards their own country of origin. The real problem arises when a non-French owner wants to sell and perhaps discovers that he is limited to offering the property at an inflated price to the foreign market, merely to recover his investment.
The Expert Immobilier will asses the value of a property by comparing selling prices of similar property recently sold in a defined area. However, the Expert Immobilier is unlikely to restrict himself to a single method of appraisal in any one valuation and will be able to determine what other methods are appropriate for any particular property.
In the case of newer buildings, he may decide to evaluate the property by determining an initial land value and add this to the cost of the construction of buildings. An apartment in a tourist coastal town or ski resort could be valued on the basis of the annual rental which could be expected in return. Whatever methods the expert immobilier chooses, there will always be a balance between mathematical calculations and market conditions, coupled with a thorough and intimate knowledge of the area.
French Property prices and building costs vary in France, just as they vary anywhere in the world, and to assume that a property in one area is "cheap" does not mean to say that it represents "good value" in that area.The Expert Immobilier usually works within one geographic region of the country. By doing this he will have a day-to-day knowledge of the property market in his chosen area. He will also be well acquainted with building prices and costs.