Types of Provence Property

Mas, Maison de Maitre, Modern, New Build, Maison du Village, Apartment

Mas

Peter Mayle famously lived in one when he wrote a year in Provence. A mas is an old farmhouse. Most Mas in desirable locations have already been renovated, although a few old run down wrecks remain. Mas are full of character and idiosyncrasies. Expect charming fire places and cosy rooms, and uneven flooring. Do not expect large rooms full of light. The prime concern of the Provencal farmer when constructing his mas was to keep out the beating heat of the summer, and the bitter cold of the winter. Consequently the walls of a mas are thick and windows few and far between. If you can put up with this, then the quintessential Provencal mas might be for you.

Maison de Maitre

Translated this means Master's House. A Maison de Maitre is typically on a much grander scale than a mas. Normally it will be several stories high, and quite often it will have formal gardens attached. Ceilings are high, and rooms large. Where as a Mas was a practical house, a Maison de Maitre was also constructed with the leisure time of the occupant in mind, large dining rooms, terraces and rooms with views are all common.

Modern

The 1970s and 1980s saw a lot of new construction in Provence. Much of it is substandard. The speed of vegetation growth and the harsh winters can lend a patina of age to these properties. Estate agents may even describe them as Provencal mas. Always check the date of construction and if recent pay particular attention to the thickness of both exterior and interior walls

New build

Construction work is relatively common in Provence. Land is being re-zoned to make way for development as a result of population pressure. Houses constructed by developers will typically be of a reasonable standard but the very best material will not have been used, and tradesmen rather than artisan craftsmen will have been responsible for the finishing touches.

There are numerous companies specialising in one-off new build houses. With the clever use of stone, and the right colour of crepy (the exterior plaster) these can look surprisingly old. Quality materials are often used and the end result can be a pleasing blend of modern comfort with traditional design. Because of the kudos attached the concept of a mas, new build houses will often offer better value for money.

Maison du Village

A village house with land and perhaps even a swimming pool is highly desirable. Typically a village house will be terraced, and narrow with several stories, including a cellar. Walls will be thick, and the lay out old fashioned.

Apartments

With the booming tourist rental market many village houses are being subdivided into modern apartments. Apartment blocks can offer the advantage of security and a central village position without being budget busting.

Read a first hand account of property hunting in Provence from one international buyer.

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The buying process

Immobilier, Notaire, Compromis, Acte de Vente

Most properties in Provence are purchased through an estate agent (immobilier). The price shown on the estate agent's details will usual include the agency fees but not the fee of the government lawyer (notaire) who carries out the legal work. A notaire charges between 2 and 8% depending on the price of the property. The more expensive the property the smaller the % fee.

In France it is usual for both parties to use the same notaire. Although buyers who wish to, can appoint either their own notaire or independent lawyer (there are a number of UK legal firms which have qualified staff to review French property transactions). Before buying a purchaser should ask at the local Mairie to see a plan cadastral of the property to be purchased and enquire about any development plans on the surrounding plots.

It is not common practice in France to carry out a survey before purchasing, although estate agents are required to compile an energy efficiency report and check for pests such as termites. Buyers have the choice of carrying out a survey if they wish or alternatively relying on the advice of a local builder.

Once a buyer is confident enough in his decision to purchase he or she can sign a compromis. On signing the compromis a 10% deposit is due, which is held by the notaire. After signature of the compromis a buyer has 10 days to reconsider his opinion and pull out. If he or she does so the deposit is refunded. Once the 10 day period has expired the buyer is committed to the purchase, unless one of the conditional clauses inserted into the agreement is satisfied. Most purchases are made subject to approval of a mortgage, but buyers can also negotiate individual clauses according to the property.

Between 3 or 4 months usually elapses between signature of the compromis and the Acte de Vente, which is when the purchase funds change how. It is normal to arrange a viewing of the property on the morning of the sale, since a standard legal clause refers to the purchase of the property as it exists on the day of the purchase.

French property terminology and jargon

SHON, COS, NON HABITABLE SPACE

As in any country when reading estate agent particulars it pays to be attentive to detail. Descriptions will habitually refer to the number of square metres of habitable space, and then tack on additional buildings, lofts, and terraces. It is far more common in France for buildings not to comply with the letter of planning law. When a building project is completed the government inspector only has the right to examine the property from the outside to check that it conforms with the planning permission (permis de construire). Therefore lofts and garages that have been converted into living space abound. To help understand exactly what you are buying you need to speak the planning lingo:

COS: usually expressed as a %, it enables a buyer to work out the maximum size of any building on a piece of land. For example if the COS is 25% and the land size 1,000 square metres, a house of 250 square metres could be constructed.

SHON - in the above example the SHON is 250 square metres which is the habitable living space.

NON-HABITABLE - Garages, and lofts are customarily considered non-habitable, but as described above are frequently converted into living space. As well as short cutting the planning process this also saves on tax which is only levied on the SHON of a property. Don't panic too much if the property you are considering buying has garages converted into living space etc...In Provence it is actually quite normal.

Map of Provence, France

And finally....

a couple of tips for house hunters

Buying property in Provence can be a nerve-wracking experience. It can often help having professional help. There are plenty of home hunters in Provence, who have expert knowledge of the properties on the market. By working with one of them you can help shorten the length of time it takes to find a suitable property.

Try before you buy: Check whether the property you are interested on is available for rent. A short stay can help you work out whether the property is really for you.