Rather unfortunately in some cases, foreign buyers tend not to have surveys carried out on French properties, pre-purchase. A false sense of security exists within the purchase processes, although the seller must provide the notaire with information relevant to the property’s strengths and weaknesses, eg lead content, the presence or treatment of asbestos, termites or active woodworm, energy efficiency, electrical installations efficiency, and so on. Since November 2007, after we purchased the property in Champagnac, the list has increased, but more stringent revelations and control are apparently in the pipeline.
Having heard a number of horror stories about sellers ‘fixing’ surveys by offering ‘back-handers’, we decided we would commission an independent architect to carry out a survey for us, the buyers. Our Immobilier was visibly astounded when we told him about our decision, but, he could see we were determined, and he recommended Monsieur G who operated out of an office in nearby Bort-les-Orgues, in the Correze, Limousin. That was the only good deed the Immobilier did for us, as it turned out!
The property is a three-storey, traditional stone house that was originally a stable when it was built in the mid 1800’s. According to the Deeds and other relevant documentation, the building was renovated and given change of use to residency status in the 1940’s. It was further renovated in the 1980’s, when our sellers purchased it, and changed the use from a family house to a commercial outlet on the ground floor, an apartment on the first floor, and two apartments on the second ie the top floor. At this point, I need to clarify that our sellers changed the layout and use, but they omitted to inform the Cadastral, ie the Land Registry Office in Aurillac, in the Cantal. But, we didn’t find that out until November 2010! In fact, the property must not be used for commercial enterprise, including as a rental property, unless permission is given by the Church. Records show that appropriate permission has never been sought or granted. We were advised in 2010 that permission would not have been given because the front door of the house is just a stone’s throw away from the Village Church. The house is one of four properties built on former Church land, now known as the Place de l’Eglise.
Monsieur G, our architect, agreed to conduct a full survey, and to draw up a set of Plans, in accordance with our instructions, to return the property to family house format, extending into the very high loft area. Tom and I have a large family, it was our dream to be able to accommodate all our children and their families during family holidays together in France, without worrying about space!
An integral part of our plans was to include a lift from the garage, located on the ground floor directly beneath the First Floor apartment, to take us up to the first floor where Tom and I intended to live. Tom was diagnosed with advancing emphysema in 2005; I am a Type 2 diabetic with a cardiac condition that had given me two heart attacks between the ages of 41 years and 56 years. Stairs were obviously going to be a problem, so purchasing the property was very much reliant on whether we could have that lift installed. The architect’s Plans, costings and reports included the lift, and he confirmed there would be no problem. That information was, later that day, shared with the Immobilier when we visited him in his Egletons office, in the Correze, and he told us he was delighted for us because we were “such nice people”. He was always calling us “nice people”, it was rather embarrassing at times.
The full Survey Report, together with the initial set of renovation and modernisation Plans, was with us just a week later. Copies were sent to the notaire directly from the architect’s office, we handed another set of copies directly to the Immobilier, for him to pass to the sellers, before the pre-sale Contract was signed. All parties were kept in the loop at all times, We realised, even at that stage, it was vital that all parties were fully aware of our expectations as buyers.