The ancient regions of south-west France have long been popular with British buyers looking for authentic stone-built French farmhouses. For many years, Aquitaine (which includes the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne) had the highest concentration of long-term British residents of anywhere in France, outside Paris.
Its appeals are obvious: gentle rolling hills covered in patchworks of farmland and vineyards, beautiful stone-built villages and chateaux, long and hot summers and some of the country’s best gastronomical delights.
The same also true of Tuscany. In the hills which rise above the city of Lucca, with its Renaissance walls surrounding the historic centre, stone-built farmhouses and villas offer panoramic views across an iconic landscape that’s dotted with olive groves and vineyards.
Buyers wanting to take on a project—a doer upper—are often drawn to the Aquitaine area not least because properties offer relative value when compared to prices in more fashionable areas of France such as Provence and the Cote d’Azur. In Tuscany meanwhile, there’s more of a chance to find a house in need of renovation around Lucca than in more established areas such as Chianti. Both offer the opportunity to add value to a property—effectively to buy a ruin, restore it and sell it at a profit.
Taking on a project from a distance presents financial—and logistical—challenges but it’s one way to end up with the perfect holiday home. Anyone preparing to take on such a project should bear in mind it could involve re-roofing, re-wiring and re-plumbing before even thinking about redecorating.
Begin by making enquiries at the mairie (town hall) or commune (its equivalent in Italy). If there’s a proven track record of another owner making contemporary alternations to traditional properties then the chances are higher that this will be acceptable again in the future. Houses on the edge of villages rather than in the centre, where planning restrictions are more tightly governed, might be worth a look, too.
In terms of layout and style, it’s worth bearing in mind at the beginning of the project that for a house to earn its keep through holiday rentals, the best approach is to build something that has wide appeal.
Before you buy in the Dordogne
The notaire (conveyancing solicitor) will arrange for a survey but it’s not the equivalent of a full structural survey as exist in the UK so one idea would be to appoint a RICS-certified surveyor working in France. Otherwise, ask the estate agent or notaire for recommendations. Something to be aware of from the start is whether the house needs new electricity or water supplies—this can be extremely expensive.
The notaire can insert a clause before completion which allows the buyer to withdraw (and retrieve any deposit) if planning permission is denied for whatever reason.
A property located close to a church or other historic monument in a village is likely to have more restrictions on external alterations than others.
Costs of renovating an old house in France
This completely depends on the current state of the property and the scope of the renovating project and the type of finish. As a ball park figure, most experts generally advice anything from €700 to €1,200 per sq m.
Finding a builder in France
There are many British builders in France which can be helpful but check that they have a SIRET number meaning they are legally permitted to work in France and are registered for VAT (TVA).
Also make sure that the builder has a 10-year guarantee policy which is standard in France and protects people from bad workmanship, completion problems and materials.
Next, request a “devis” which is a binding estimate agreed with the builder for the cost of the work and materials. Unlike a typical approach here in the UK, any changes will need to be updated on the devis and approved by the owner.
Building a swimming pool in France
The Raffarin Law came into force in 2002 meaning that all pools need to have some sort of recognised safety feature—a fence, alarm or hard cover. Certain mairies also might stipulate the colour of the base of the pool to blend in with the surroundings so it’s again best to check with them first.
Good to know
As the law currently stands, if the house is a second home, any profit that you make at the point of resale can be offset against Capital Gains Tax.
Properties for sale
This 17th century house and its range of stone barns are set in over 30 acres of gardens and grounds in the Lot. It offers an excellent opportunity for someone to restore it to its former glory.
This four-bedroom stone-built farmhouse in Lot dates from the 17th century and has been well maintained by the current owners. It comes with a swimming pool and tennis court.
This renovated farmhouse near Cazals, which lies about 30km north of Cahors, has five bedrooms, outbuildings and a swimming pool.
Also have a look at Winkworth Italy’s farmhouses and villas for sale in Tuscany.