In this article I will describe how I found and bought some land in the Dordogne area of France for my hemp tiny house project and the costs involved.
Finding the land
This was the easy part! Actually, it still took a bit of doing. My plan was to identify a dozen or so possible building plots and then arrange to see them over the course of a few days while I was on holiday in France with the kids.
I used a French website called leboncoin to find land for sale. This is a free ads type website, like Gumtree (UK) or Craigslist (USA) and they have all sorts of ads, not just land. Anyway, should you want to check it out yourself, look for land (terrain) in the real estate category (ventes immobilières).
The search criteria for my ideal bit of land were as follows:
My budget was roughly €10,000, which is about as low as you can get. I hoped to find something that didn’t appeal to most other buyers, perhaps because it was too small, wasn’t flat enough or needed clearing of trees or bushes.
With my tiny house, I didn’t need or want lots of ground. I also thought that a small timber framed house, raised up on piers, would be quite easy to build, even on a slope.
No estate agents
I specifically excluded land that was being sold through estate agents (agents immobiliers) in order to avoid their fees, which could have been up to 10%.
Instead I looked for land that was being sold by individuals (particuliers).
The transaction and all the legal stuff would be handled by a notaire, who does charge a fee, but that was unavoidable.
Cerificat d’Urbanisme (CU)
I restricted my search to land that already had a CU. This meant that, in principle, the land could be built upon. Each community has a PLU (plan local d’urbanisme) within which the local area is divided into development, agricultural and protected zones. Obviously I didn’t want to buy land in, say, a protected zone and find that it was impossible to construct anything later.
It should be noted that a CU is not the same as planning permission (permis de construire). You can apply for planning permission if you have a CU first, but it won’t necessarily be granted. The project still has to comply with, for example, local regulations regarding the house’s appearance.
I chose to look for land near the town of Périgueux, which I knew fairly well. For those who haven’t visited, it’s a charming place with all the best French features: great market, cafés; restaurants, nice architecture and a friendly, relaxed feel. When I lived in France I would often visit the town as I lived about an hour to the north in the neighbouring département of the Haute-Vienne.
Bearing all of the above in mind, I found a dozen or so building plots to visit and contacted the owners before leaving Scotland.
As it turned out, time constraints meant I didn’t see all of them. Of those I did see, most were OK, some were poor but – as luck would have it – the last site site was perfect. It was small (540m2), had some trees, was 40km from Périgueux and Bergerac, was reasonably flat and was away from the main road in a little hamlet. Previously, it had been used by the proprietor’s family for growing grapes (as some of the neighbours still did). Best of all it ‘felt’ right – it’s just a pleasant place to be. The old couple selling it were very nice and the price was right too. At €7,000, it was a handy €3,000 under budget.
The buying process
This process consists of two steps, the Compromis de Vente and the Acte de Vente.
Compromis de Vente
The Compromis de Vente is a contract of sale agreement which binds the seller and buyer. In a nutshell, I promised to buy the land and gave a 10% deposit. The deposit would be forfeited if I didn’t go through with the deal. However, I did insert a clause which meant that, should planning permission be refused, I wouldn’t have to buy the land and I wouldn’t lose my deposit. This is called a “clause suspensive” and is often used to protect the buyer in case they can’t get a mortgage.
So my next task was to get planning permission before I could sign the Acte de Vente. In all honesty, this was quite a challenge – especially as I was in Scotland at the time. Most people would use the services of an architect but this is only compulsory for houses over 150m2. It’s perfectly legal to submit your own application for houses under this size.
While not being especially complicated, there is quite a large ‘dossier’ that needs to be prepared. A form has to be filled in which is supported with drawings and other documents. The worst of these was getting approval for the proposed drainage system from the water authority, which in itself needed a survey by one of their recommended experts.
Anyway, it all got done eventually and my planning permission was granted. Actually, I asked for permission to build two houses. A ‘proper’ wooden house (43m2) and a ‘large garden shed’ (17m2). The ‘garden shed’ was actually the hemp tiny house!
My reasoning was that the shed/tiny house would be a good test run before building the larger house. It would also then provide somewhere to live while the larger house is being built. I don’t feel too sneaky about living in the ‘shed’. I couldn’t find anywhere saying it is forbidden. Furthermore, it gets taxed per square metre just the same as the house does. Whether I will actually get around to building the main house is another matter …
Acte de Vente
The sellers were no doubt very glad to finally conclude the sale after the months it took me to get planning permission.
I transferred the remainder of the money to the notaire prior to the acte being signed. Then we all met again in the notaire’s office and the formalities were concluded, followed by a visit to the seller’s house for a celebratory aperitif!
Regarding costs, the notaire’s fees came to €1,459.
I also had to pay for the services of a “géomètre-expert” who is a kind of surveyor who sorts out the property boundaries. Practically speaking, the final result is that he drives plastic markers into the ground defining the four corners of the land. The cost was shared with the seller and my part came to €561.
The soil survey that was needed to get planning permission cost €580.
So the final cost to buy the land and get planning permission was €9600. Just under my €10,000 budget. So far, so good!