So we’ve jumped right in and have been looking at French real estate. And the biggest difference by far (versus looking at real estate in the U.S.), is that in France, you work with several different real estate agencies.

The agency that lists the house? They are the only ones who can show you the house or sell you the house. So if you like five different houses that are listed with five different agencies, that means you’re going to be working with five different agencies.

So far, I don’t mind working with several agencies — it makes the realtor-buyer relationship feel much less intense. But it’s also a bit strange because it feels like no one is helping you get the best price. The agency that’s showing you the house, helped set the price for the house, and they want the house to sell for the highest possible price.

There are lots of agencies in our town — maybe ten? I’m not totally sure. Some seem to have specialties — like they might focus only on rentals — but most seem to be generalists. We have worked the most closely with Hexagone, Orpi, and Century 21. They all have different websites and I find the easiest one to search is Hexagone.

Sometimes one house will be listed with several agencies, but typically it seems to be more of an exclusive listing with one agency thing.

The issue is that it feels like your ideal house could be waiting out there, and you just don’t know it because you haven’t happened upon the right agency who has the listing.

We have visited five houses so far, and we have appointments to see more tomorrow. We have done the searching — both online and in the agency offices — and chosen the houses we want to see. But we’ve also let the agents know that if there’s a house they think we would like, to let us know.

When we first started looking, we were bookmarking houses both in town, and within 15 minutes of town — which is more rural and part of the countryside. The house we used to rent when we lived here before was about 10 minutes from town, and the house we own here (the one we’re holding on to for now and not in a hurry to do anything with), is about 15 minutes from town. So we’re comfortable with the idea of a country house and like imagining a big yard where the kids can run.

But as we’ve been looking, we’ve really narrowed our focus to just houses in town. The town is really walkable, and we love the idea of being less car-dependent for daily tasks, and the idea that the kids can walk to school, to the library, to the bakery, to their music lessons, to the pool, etc..

We’re also more realistic about the time we have available to spend working on a big yard or garden. It’s not something we are going to spend a ton of time on right now. Instead of gardening and yard care, while we’re here, we’d rather use our time and resources for travel.

We’re also feeling like if we are craving the countryside — and want to plant some fruit trees or that sort of thing — we can always do that at the property we already own.

I know the houses in town aren’t as picturesque as the old stone country homes with the colorful shutters and ivy crawling up the walls, but I think the in-town houses would fit our life here much better. And I still love how they look!

For a budget, there’s a wide range of options out there. For a country house that’s in need of a major renovation, you can find tons of options under 100,000 euros. If you want a country house that’s already renovated, it will be more like 225,000 euros. If you want a full-on estate with a grand house and full barns or maybe stables for horses, there are gorgeous options in the 500,000 euros range.

For houses in town, the prices are approximately 30% higher, and of course, come with less square footage and much smaller yards. To our eyes, coming from the Bay Area, these prices seem very reasonable — even with the exchange rate. I should also mention, we’ve only looked at real estate in Normandy, so I can’t speak to prices in Paris or the South of France or anywhere else.

We’ve also let the agents know that if the house requires a lot of work, then we’d prefer to rent another house to live in while the work is being done. Monthly rent here, for a big enough house to fit us, will run about 600 euros each month. So that would be an extra expense, but would also make the renovations much more efficient. (By the way, when I talk about a house needing work, it’s more along the lines of paint and an updated kitchen — not full architectural plans like our cottage requires.)

One of the houses we’re looking at seriously is completely redone, and done really tastefully too. It would be more expensive than other options, but we could move right in. The house is dated to 1700 and is on a super charming street. Our concern is that it’s a little too small for our family. We could definitely make it work, but if the 3 older kids joined us (like for Christmas), or we had guests, it would be tight. It has one full bathroom, and one half bathroom, and there’s not really space to add another one. So that’s also a concern.

Another house we love is newer — it still looks like on old stone house, but was built after the war in 1945. It’s a grand old house right in the center of town, but, the first floor of the house is currently a veterinarian clinic, and would need to be reconverted to a home. The perks are the location and the size — there’s tons of space! And it’s really fun to imagine what we could do with it. Oh! And it has a parking space, which is unusual for in-town houses.

The third house we’re looking at seriously, is across from one of the cathedrals in town and dates to the 1800s. Though it’s been lived in until just recently, it’s been mostly neglected, so this would be a big project house, but the price is excellent. It has a really lovely staircase and it’s bigger than the first house I mentioned, but smaller than the veterinarian house. There’s also a separate building on the property that could be a studio or guest house — or even a full apartment rental. But again, that would be a big project.

We’re still looking at additional houses, but once we’ve narrowed it down, the next steps for us are:

1- Talk to a Conseillère. This is basically a mortgage broker. They gather all your financial info, then talk to all the banks and find the best deal for you. We don’t know much about this part of the process yet (because we paid for our other house in cash). The real estate agencies we’re working with all have favorite conseillères to recommend.

Depending on the house we choose, we’re not sure how we want to finance it, but we do want to learn about options for getting a loan for a potential renovation. One interesting fact: We’ve been told that there’s a cap of 1.8% interest on mortgages.

2- Have a contractor look at the house or houses we’re most interested in and give us a consultation.

3- Make a formal offer. If the offer is accepted, we have 10 days to change our mind, no questions asked. After the 10 days, papers are signed, and it’s under contract. We’re told the whole process from offer to closing takes 3 months. And that you really can’t speed it up — it’s 3 months minimum.

Three months means that if we choose a house this week (which would be fast!), it still won’t be ours until mid-December. If the house is ready to live in, we could be there for Christmas. If the house needs work, then we wouldn’t move in for an additional several months.

And of course, we don’t have to buy a house at all. We could also find a long term rental — a non-furnished option because we have all our stuff arriving by container ship at some point. : ) But our instinct at the moment is to buy in town and make it ours.

That’s the report for now. I’ll definitely keep you updated as we continue this adventure!