(This article was last updated in March 2018)
France is a vast and diverse nation full of affordable properties - from apartments handy for the beach to village houses ripe for a makeover. Alongside its accessibility, wonderful scenery and the laid-back lifestyle, it is currently one of the cheapest places in Europe to borrow money too.
The number of French regions might have recently been reduced from 18 to 13, but that doesn’t make the choice any easier when faced with such a wonderful array of options. Three coastlines to choose from, numerous different climates (and microclimates) and lots of different cultural influences too.
Well narrowing down your search is the first thing, and finding a good agent is another. In France, many of the estate agents are highly localised, with some more well-versed in dealing with the needs of international buyers than others, so the process may be trickier if you are looking in an area where British buyers are a rare breed.
But outside of the towns, cities and holiday areas where the French are busy investing - driven by those low-interest rates - there are vast swaths of rural France where vendors are eager to sell homes and are very open to negotiation. Property prices have begun to edge up in the past year as the new president has brought a surge of confidence in the market.
France is still the most visited country in the world so if you are one of the increasing number of British buyers looking at the investment side of French properties - can they earn good holiday rental income? - then do research location, airport access and seasonality carefully when choosing your area.
Getting a bargain property in Brittany
A region of north-west France defined by its coastline, Brittany is a wonderful region of rugged bays, fjord-like inlets, towering cliffs and big sandy beaches. Occupying around a third of the shoreline of France, it’s a bit like Cornwall with more sun but lower property prices.
The average property price in Brittany is a touch under €150,000 - not bad for a home close to the beach? But there’s an awful lot of choice if your budget is only €100,000.
There are of course big differences across the region, and those who love the sporty, outdoor lifestyle of the far-most West Finistere tranche, can expect to get a three-bed property for exactly that regional average.
The Cotes d’Armor is also very popular for its beautiful coastline - and with the ferry port of St Malo within its borders, it’s wonderfully easy to access.
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A longere (or long house) is the typical style Breton home - a slate roofed, granite farmhouse - and you can generally get one with three bedrooms for around €150,000, with ones close to the coast more expensive. However, you might also prefer a village house with two or three bedrooms - one that needs renovating can be found for less than €100,000 - or one that’s ready to go for €140,000.
Fancy somewhere off the beaten track? Take Huelgot and nearby Plonenez-du-Faou, in Finistere and offering easy access to long sandy beaches. In a pretty hamlet you will pay around €85,000 for a renovated bungalow, or €130,000 you can get a beautiful four-bed detached property.
If you want an apartment along the Bay of Saint-Brieuc or Pink Granite coast areas of the Cote d’Armor - very popular with tourists - expect to pay around €100,000, although avoid Dinan where prices increase. Go 15km inland and you’ll get a four-bed home for €200,000.
When considering location in this area it’s important to consider access. Most British visitors will arrive by ferry (being able to drive to this part of France is a big part of the appeal) so at journey times from St Malo, Caen, Cherbourg or Roscoff. This is especially important if you are thinking of renting out your home.
Getting a bargain property in the Languedoc
The Languedoc is the more affordable part of France’s southern coast. A diverse and now vast region (including Roussillion and Pyrenees-Orientales) taking in beaches, national park, medieval castles and mountains, it offers something for everyone - as well as the superb climate and sun-drenched grape varieties of the south.
The average property costs considerably less than that of the next-door PACA region, and less of the traffic and bling! Although the under-populated and northern part - Lozere - is the most affordable, buyers want to be near the coast so Pyrenees-Orientales is the most popular with its mountainous backdrop at Catalan twist. Perpipnan is a vibrant, cosmopolitan town with well-presented two-bed apartments at €90,000.
The Herault region of vineyards and popular French seaside resorts is popular for good reason. The historic bullfighting town of Beziers is a hot spot about 40 minutes from the coast and lovely to dip into. There you can get a small character village house to renovate for €50,000, or a renovated one for €90,000.
Prices can be lower in the Aude - whilst the fortified town of Carcassonne is relatively expensive, Narbonne is a fantastic town too, but look for the outlying villages for better value - a three-bed house in the buzzy town of Quillan can be found for less than €100,000.
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The seaside resorts of the Pyrenees-Orientales are well worth checking out - many are popular with the French but not international buyers, so prices can be pleasantly surprising - for a home right by the beach. You are also close to the Spanish border and have a choice of airports - Perpignan or Girona being the nearest. Check out Canet-en-Rossillion where you can get an apartment for €150,000 five minutes from a lovely sandy beach and the coastal promenade.
Consider seasonality if you are buying in a coastal spot. French seaside resorts here are buzzy in the summer, but some can be quite dead in winter unless they have cultural offerings or other attractions. Are you looking for peak summer holiday rental income? Or do you look a little inland to the mountains where biking/outdoor activities draw visitors?
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Getting a bargain property in Poitou-Charentes
This tempting chunk of south-west France still represents great value. This is a region saturated with wonderful street markets, gastronomic delights and pretty villages, with a sun-drenched micro-climate in its western, coastal stretch, the Charente-Maritime.
Prices in this mostly rural region are historically amongst the lowest in France. An average property price of below €200,000 masks great extremes - lowest in the Deux-Sevres and Charente, and particularly high around La Rochelle, Royan and the chic Ile-de-Re where Parisians head in summer every year.
Think about access too - this region is about the southernmost part of France that it’s practical to drive to from the UK, and there’s also great Eurostar /TGV access to Angouleme La Rochelle, Limoges and Poitiers offer access via low-cost flights.
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If you want the sea within easy reach (who doesn’t?), consider locations just half an hour to 45 minutes behind the coast for great value.
Check out Ruffec, a market town further inland but brilliantly located on the autoroute between Angouleme and Poitiers - there you can get a choice of detached stone houses for €150,000, although many examples of smaller homes for well under €100,000. Also, have a look at the market town of Villefagnon where you can find a good choice of renovation projects if you have a budget of €65,000.
Consider taking the ferry from Portsmouth across to Caen, St Malo or Le Havre, it's an easy motorway drove of between 4-5 hours. You'll pay toll fees on the motorway but their food stops are often nice stop-offs with outdoor picnic and play areas.
Getting a bargain property in Limousin
The rural centre of France offers some of the best bargains in the country and you don't get much more central than the Limousin, or more rural! It's just got one major urban area - Limoges - and a relatively sparse population.
But, you guessed it, there’s remarkable value for money, especially in the Creuse department, where you can buy a four-bed detached house for €90,000! Or check out Bourganeuf, with its attractive old town founded in mediaeval times by the Knights Hospitaller, where you can find properties from €45,000. It’s also only an hour from Limoges airport.
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As mentioned above, Creuse is fertile for cheap homes from €40,000 but do look at locations in the Haute-Vienne such as the delightful village of Saint-Germain-les-Belles where you can get pretty stone-built village homes from €50,000 to €100,000.
Think about location - as ever, in rural France! In the south-west, the region borders the Dordogne; the river Dordogne itself cuts through. If you are an active family, would it make sense to be close to the upper Dordogne valley - for water sports such as sailing on the artificial lakes and kayaking?
Getting a bargain property in the Dordogne
With its dozens of pretty villages, fantastic cuisine and fantastic village markets, the Dordogne remains a perennial favourite with British buyers. Like Brittany, the fact you can throw all your stuff in the car and drive down there makes it popular with families, along with the outdoor activities on offer.
Show me a bargain
Around the very agricultural landscapes of this region you can get a good choice of homes with a budget of €100,000 - or a larger, detached property with a gite and barn - and a swimming pool - for around €250,000.
But have a real hunt around the smaller villages near popular towns. For example, close to the attractive bastide town of Saint-Aulaye in the north of the Dordogne - near Aubeterre-Sur-Dronne, Cognac, Angouleme and Riberac - you can get a four-bed house in need of a refresh for €140,000.
If you want to rent out your property, try to set yours above the competition in terms of location, decor and ‘extras’ on offer. So think good linens, quality furniture, nice tableware and thorough cleaning between guests. Welcome guests with a gift of tasty local produce - something the region is famed for.