Ian Morris FRICS

Ian Morris FRICS provides pre-purchase property surveys and advises on building problems throughout southern France - principally the south west regions of Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi-Pyrénées and Aquitaine.

Snow in the south of France

It usually hits France, including southern France, in February: They call it “Le Grand Froid”. Temperatures suddenly fall, and the skiers rub their hands with joy as they look towards the Alpes or the Pyrénées. There is always a chance of snow at low altitudes and this year was no exception. They say it was the coldest February in over 10 years, but if a property buyer needs a pre-purchase survey it has to be done. Though admittedly with a little difficulty.

I was commissioned to carry out a survey last month in Gers – a department with rolling hills and pleasant landscapes I always think is rather like Hampshire. I’ve carried out many surveys in Gers over the years, often on pleasant sunny days, but this time it was different.

I don’t have a 4 x 4 so I bought a set of snow chains for my car a few years ago before setting off on a winter survey in Auvergne. Yes, there was some snow there, as expected, but it wasn’t necessary to use the chains. And though I have tossed them in the car in subsequent years, before setting off to work in mountainous areas, they had remained unused. Until last month.

It simply wasn’t possible to get to the property in Gers without fitting snow chains. Not only was there a long private drive, on a hillside, but the snow ploughs hadn’t touched the narrow roads leading to the property and all were effectively impassable.

It was a large property and I knew before I started the survey it would take at least three full days. So each morning I drove as far as I could, fitted the snow chains in order to reach the property, and then took the chains off again at the end of each day before driving back on roads that had been cleared. Not what I had expected, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

Are haunted houses less valuable ?

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Maybe it was a coincidence but The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors put out this press release just 3 days before halloween:

Unusual happenings, such as hauntings or reported crimes, can dramatically affect the saleability of a property, according to RICS.

Occurrences such as a high-profile murder which has attracted a lot of media attention can also have a significant impact on a property’s saleability. For instance, a home in which a murder took place could experience a significant drop or increase in potential resale value, depending on individual buyers’ interests.

Furthermore, when rumours spread of murders having taken place in a property, some homes have remained on surveyors’ books for extended periods, while some homes have even been known to be practically un-saleable due to supposed hauntings.

A seafront thatched property in West Sussex, was the scene of a murder around 15 years ago when a wife was killed by her husband using a champagne bottle. Despite being an extremely desirable property, the house could not be sold.

One of Newcastle’s oldest buildings, a 14th century timber framed pub, is said to be haunted by the spirit of Henry Hardwick, a ghostly figure seen late at night with only black sockets for eyes. RICS Valuer David Downing examined the property around 18 months ago and while the stories of the historic building’s haunted past did not add value, it had increased to the marketability of the building.

A Victorian detached bungalow made of black brick at Country Antrim, was repossessed last year after its owners failed to sell due to rumours of it being haunted by a ghost.
In the West of Scotland, a woman was murdered by a family member in a small village. As word of this spread throughout the community, the property was eventually valued at 20 per cent less than it would have been had the murder not have taken place.

A house in Moneymore, County Londonderry, built on the site of an old horses’ graveyard was thought to be haunted. After it sat derelict and unsold for many years, locals called for the property’s demolition after unexplained events were witnessed there.

While many factors can affect a property’s value, unusual occurrences such as rumoured hauntings, celebrity inhabitants or high profile crimes can have a significant affect on a house’s saleability. There are examples across the UK where houses are said to have been previously occupied by a famous celebrity or even the ghost.

A high-profile crime which has attracted a lot of media attention can have a significant impact on a property’s worth, albeit usually temporarily. For instance, a home in which a murder took place or those in its immediate vicinity, could experience a significant drop or increase in potential resale alue, depending on individual buyers’ interests.

I haven’t yet come across a haunted house in France, but I guess they must exist …

Who you gonna call ?

Why it pays to have a survey

Press release issued 30 June 2011 by

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

For many people, buying a home is one of the biggest decisions they will ever make. However, by failing to commission a survey before purchase, homebuyers across England and Wales* are risking potential bills running into thousands of pounds.
According to RICS research, a quarter of all homebuyers who fail to have a survey are forced to make unplanned building works to their property after purchase**. The average bill for these works, such as damp proofing or repairing a roof, is over £1,800 – but the cost can be much higher.
A common misconception is that a mortgage lender’s valuation report represents a survey. In fact, it is merely a valuation carried out on the mortgage lender’s behalf and is not designed to highlight any potential problems with the property. By commissioning a home survey, any structural problems or urgent defects are highlighted, enabling the buyer to make an informed decision before committing to the property.


In difficult economic times it pays to be prepared. Nobody wants to be left with a home that needs extensive repairs or one they can’t sell on. By having a survey you’ll be armed with information on the condition of the property which puts you in a stronger position to decide whether to proceed with the purchase, or negotiate a better deal.
Interestingly, other parts of the housing market are also using surveys to their benefit. For landlords this can be to assess their investments, while we are also seeing sellers turning to surveys in order to prepare for the sale of property. These highlight any problems that may potentially delay the sale or impact on the price later in the process.

**Survey conducted for RICS by GfK NOP Business 1,001 interviews were conducted online during August 2010 with people who had bought a property in the last 12 months or were considering doing so in the next 12 months.

The same principles apply in France – where by and large, and sad to say, the French don’t look after their houses very well …

Go West … to termite country !

>It was back to Aquitaine last week (the western part of France that was for many years owned by the British) to carry out a pre-purchase survey in the department of Landes. Much of Landes is low-lying, and marshy, so much so that it was at one time normal for the peasants to walk about on stilts – and this mode of transport is demonstrated from time to time at country festivals in the area. It was one of the kings of France who decided that the marshy wastelands of Landes should be planted with forests – without giving a thought to the fact that the trees would later prove very tasty to the termites arriving at Bordeaux. Landes now has the densest population of termites in France – and knowing this I was hardly surprised to find that the house I was surveying had indeed had a termite problem.

Termites can do a vast, and very often structural, amount of damage to a building unless diagnosed early and eradicated. These “little white ants” are sensitive to light and live underground – travelling up through stonework and under floors where you can’t actually see them, so I look for the tell-tale signs rather than the creatures themselves. A bit like Poirot really, I suppose.

More computer viruses ?

Oh dear … or as they say in these parts Ooh la la, la la la la la la ! Once again we seem to have hit the season for virus warnings.
This morning I was one of over 50 people who had been circulated with an e-mail warning of “the most destructive virus ever”; one that would do unmentionable things to my hard disk etc. etc. – and I was being encouraged to send this e-mail on to as many people as possible. From the “cc” section on the e-mail I guess several thousand other people had had the same one today. You get these warnings and requests too ?
The first thing I do, whenever I receive one, is to go straight to the McAfee web site where there is a section called “Virus Information”. And there, as I had suspected, I learned the warning is a hoax. There I found the wording of the e-mail I had received, reproduced almost word for word: There is no such virus at all.
The McAfee “Virus Information” pages, which are kept bang up to date, are there for all to see; you don’t have to pay anything; they are free. Simply go to
http://home.mcafee.com/VirusInfo/
Every time I receive one of these e-mails I ask myself – “why has somebody written this nonsense ?” and more to the point “why have all these people fallen for it ?”
Circulating warnings of hoaxes does nothing except clog up the Internet and slow down legitimate e-mails. Maybe that’s the intention of the people who start them. I just don’t know. But next time you receive one, PLEASE check the McAfee site first.

Time now to climb down off my soapbox for today …. !

Surveys across France from East to West

>No blog posts for 6 months !

That’s because I was kept very busy through the autumn of 2010, travelling to all points of the compass to carry out pre-purchase surveys for property buyers across the southern half of France.
Trips over to the east, sometimes criss-crossing the Swiss border either side of Lake Geneva, were for surveys that included alpine chalets.

 

Trips to the west were to properties in the foothills of the Pyrenees – where the peaks were already becoming snow covered early in October.
And once again I found myself working in Ceret, a town known for its modern art, located in the prime cherry-growing region of France, and very popular with British buyers.

To the north I carried out surveys in Lot-et-Garonne, Dordogne and Haute Vienne: I’ve lost count with the number of times I’ve driven up and down the A20, but the scenery always makes it a pleasant journey.
More about Haute-Vienne in my next post.

Make sure you get the right kind of surveyor in France

>Unlike the word Doctor, or solicitor, there is no restriction on the word Surveyor. Anyone can call themself a Surveyor !

However, Chartered Surveyors, i. e. members of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) are qualified by examination and experience and have to conform to a strict Code of professional conduct. At the present time there are about 95,500 qualified Chartered Surveyors worldwide, all with the letters MRICS or FRICS after their names. What isn’t always appreciated, however, is that Chartered Surveyors train and qualify in one of seven disciplines, and the sort of work undertaken by one kind of Chartered Surveyor can be quite different from that undertaken by another. This is rather like doctors with the same letters after their names; they may have quite different specialties – and you need to make sure you are dealing with the right one.

Those who have trained and qualified as Chartered Building Surveyors understand how building materials are best used, how buildings are constructed, how building problems occur – and how they are resolved, how buildings should be repaired and maintained, and so on. These are the surveyors who deal with the “nuts and bolts” of buildings – and building problems.

Anyone can call themself a building surveyor, and some chartered surveyors might belong to a building surveying faculty. But relatively few are qualified as Chartered Building Surveyors.

At the present time there are about 9,250 qualified Chartered Building Surveyors worldwide. Only 24 are registered in France.

Ian Morris is a Chartered Building Surveyor …. a building pathologist.

And he is registered in France.
For more details visit http://www.french-surveys.com/SurveyorsinFrance.htm

Surveyors in France: Frequently asked questions

>I’m not too sure whether I need a survey. Is it really necessary ?

A pre-purchase survey is not exactly necessary but is probably advisable. Carried out by a properly qualified and experienced surveyor it will identify any problem areas, or potential problems, which might involve you in expense now or in the foreseeable future. It will also put any such problems into context, telling you which are serious and which are not. If nothing else it will give you confidence and peace of mind about your intended purchase. Building construction (including water supply, electricity services and, above all, drainage) in France differs from that in the UK and you should therefore choose a surveyor with proven experience and a good track record of surveying French property

Surveyors in France: Frequently asked questions

Don’t just take my word for it …

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I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard it said: “Oh, people don’t have surveys in France.”
Well they certainly do, and anyone telling you otherwise should probably know better. It is true the French themselves hardly ever commission a pre-purchase survey, partly for historic reasons and partly because there are still very few French building surveyors. But many English-speaking buyers wouldn’t dream of buying a house in France without first obtaining a proper survey.

For more information I think you’ll find this independent WikiHow article of interest:

Two new houses with problems.

> Its not just old houses that have problems. Next week I have appointments to inspect two newly built houses, one on the deparment of Aude and one in Gard, where problems in the construction are known to exist. In each case I have been asked by the English buyers to assist at the “handover” procedure: At the very least I anticipate I will be asked to produce “snagging lists”, in French, and I will probably have to go back again later to make sure the remedial works have been carried out properly. This is a service I am asked to provide on a fairly regular basis in France.