Over the last few days I have been reading a blog about the trials of a family who bought a house here in France that they will never be able to live in. Their story is heartbreaking, shocking, and has made me think about our own problems here in our part of LFP. I’ve decided that for a few blogs, I will chronicle our own journey so far.
First though, this is their story
…..it took me over 2 hours to read, and I am so pleased I did.
So, our story starts about a year earlier, 2006. First a small introduction to some terminology.
Vice Caché = Hidden Vice
A latent defect is a defect or imperfection in a discovered after the purchase and the item buyer could not discover a cursory examination. These faults are not detected by examination or routine tests, they appear only after the use of the object, after the use of the object of a specific way, after the passage of time after a change in environmental conditions or other circumstances in which the defect is discovered.
Generally, it is the duty of the seller to repair the property to repay the property or to find a replacement, without blemish for it as it enters the “implicit” guarantee of quality than any seller owes the buyer .
Notaire = Solicitor
Advocat = Lawyer
Bruit de voisinage = Neighbourhood Noise
Huissier = Bailiff
Compromis de Vente = No direct translation, but a Promise of conditions of sale
Acte de vente = Contract of Sale
Tour d’Echelle = Scaffold (however is often used to refer to the legal Droit d’Echelle (the legal right to access your neighbours land to effect maintenance and work on your house).
Permit de Constuire = Building Permit
Medecin = GP
Devis = estimate/quote
DDASS = Environmental Health
This is not a horror story, so stop reading if you like a bit of horror, it’s not for you. It’s not a thriller, a mystery or a love story. It’s not even our renovation story about how we bought a pile of stone and built several gites and a glorious home. If you’d seen our ruche’d roof you think we’d gone mad and perhaps we had, but it’s not a story about that. It’s not a story of our everyday life here, as that is mundane and so many before us have waxed lyrical about France. No, this is the story of two somewhat naive 50 something’s taking a leap of faith when buying their home in France, looking forward to a quiet and peaceful existence, and working through the consequences of their naivety and trust.
I am sure this will not put you off buying your dream home and living your dream, it hasn’t put us off. It won’t make some of you change your mind, if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re well on your way to buying your first house in France. I know I couldn’t get enough of these types of stories in the gap between deciding, moving and ultimately buying our home and wonder now whether I read anything negative or chose to overlook those parts as I didn’t want to be put off.
So, read this with eyes wide open, possibly with rose coloured spectacles balanced on top of your head rather than on your nose and see what decisions we made and how we could have made other choices.
In the beginning
In March 2005 we were living in North Devon having moved there from Kent in 2001. This had been a dream, to retire to Devon and here were living it whilst still working. Devon was peaceful and tranquil for us coming from the busy and very full South East England. This was our rural idyll and we loved our relatively newly purchased 16C cottage which overlooked rolling countryside, the river and green hills of Devon. We were making plans to rebuild the 1960’s shack part of the house, which made up the kitchen and dining room at the back. Plans were already drawn and paid for, and I was working out how we could finance this. Both of us had divorced and now in our 2nd time around relationship, and as is common, had not come out of the divorce with much financially. Our mortgage had been hard to arrange due to us being nearer the end of our working lives, and we’d come to understand that to finance the rebuild, I would need to carry on working until I was 110!
I received an email from a lady in France who had seen our house on a home exchange site on the internet. She and her partner were interested in exchanging with us for 2 weeks in May, their property being in Poitou-Charentes in the South West of France. We’d not made plans for a holiday, money as usual was tight, and yet we decided we’d accept. We traveled out in May and our lives were changed forever.
During our 2 week stay in this lovely, spacious (and I mean spacious compared to our small cottage) old house we came to appreciate the peace and space. Mark has rather a lot of possessions (I am being polite about him being a hoarder) so our home was rather full. Here was a small swimming pool, a vegetable garden, and a few chickens to feed, large outbuildings, 2 large garages and a utility room, plenty of room for large collections of various things. Our Devon cottage was lovely but on a busy, noisy street. We noticed that here, we heard or saw probably about 5 cars/tractors per day, it was unbelievably peaceful. I had use of the internet, and G had English TV set up as she is a Professor of English at the local university. During the evenings we found ourselves falling into our normal pattern of me on the computer and Mark watching the war on telly. After about a week I began to think about the possibilities open to us and that it might be possible for us to live here and live on Mark’s NHS pension income.
Our choices were, we stay in Devon and Mark retires. I carry on working into old age. Mark doesn’t survive that, because
1) I’d kill him with my resentment and jealousy for his freedom and my lack of.
2) We’d fight about the fact there was no meal ready for me when I got home from work, not only no meal, but no sign of a meal and probably no planning gone towards the making of a meal, let alone shopping.
If we move to France, we can retire together and his survival much more likely (pretty certain in fact). Add to that the stress reduction with no work (we both worked in psychiatry and this was often quite stressful). I had a vague idea of the lump sum he’d receive if he took his NHS pension early, and I’d always checked property prices so had an idea of what we might get if we sold. We’d only been in the cottage for 3 years, luckily for us it was still a pretty good time to sell as prices had still been rising in Devon.
Over the years, we’d both holidayed separately in France with our families of origin, and taken 2 holidays here as a couple in previous years. Both had vague and mostly unspoken fantasies of living here, and never, ever thought that those fantasies would ever be more than that. Once I’d gathered my thoughts and partaken of a little research, I shared the possibilities with Mark. I think he was probably a bit shocked, and would need some convincing. Partly this is due to him being unable to visualise into the future, and partly because I am the one who makes things happen. His dream when we first got together had been to retire to Devon, within a year we were living there as I made it happen. I am not sure he sees how one can do this.
However, we agreed to apply for his pension figures again once we returned home and then discuss it some more. We continued our holiday, and I spent the final week joining forums, asking questions and looking at properties on the internet. At that time we had no idea where we wanted to be, so my net was cast far and wide. And yes, I began to swallow the travel books whole. I’d already read Walking over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree by Chris Stewart whilst holidaying with our friends in Granada. I’d already caught the bug, felt the envy for those who taken the big step, so it wasn’t much of a step for me to move into research mode. Research mode for Mark is a dangerous time, as it normally means he’s about to spend a large amount of money. I guess you can say the same for me now.
We traveled home at the end of May, Mark proposed to me on the way home which is a different story, and as we left the shores of France I cried. I knew I’d be back, but not sure when.
Once the figures came through, I could see it was possible (as far as one can know without living it) and we agreed upon a 3 year plan. In retrospect, I agreed to 3 years but hadn’t considered my powers of persuasion and need to just get on with it. I worried about him working in a steadily more pressured job, and I hadn’t quite noticed the pressure my own job was placing on me. I began to move the 3 year plan forward a tad, we put the house on the market (well I did a couple of hours before breaking the news to Mark) and in April 2006 just after our lovely wedding weekend, we had a buyer. On 18th July 2006, 11 months into our 3 year plan, we left England for France, our adventure had begun.
We traveled down in our very full VW T4 camper with 3 unhappy cats to a rented home that we found with the help of JP and G, our home exchange couple. Having checked out Creuse and Correze a little in May and deciding they weren’t for us, we’d narrowed down our decision to Vienne or Haute Vienne, as we felt it was a good place to be. We’d ruled out Dordogne as there are rumours galore about it being too English (and whether or not they are true). Any further South would be too hot for me, so Vienne it was. Our rental was unfurnished, we had half our furniture delivered and half stored about 2 hours away by the removal company. We arrived a day before our furniture with 3 very unhappy and confused cats. That our rental was unfurnished was a blessing, as within 4 months we were leaving as we’d found our “dream home”. I really didn’t think we’d find somewhere so quickly, and we’d given 3 months notice by the end of August.
The long house (our dream home) belonged to a divorcee, who’s ex husband lived at the end of the house, the other side of our garage and utility room. We were astonished that our offer was accepted as it was quite a bit less than the asking price and it was all we had left. In fact we’d paid the same price for our 16C cottage 3 years previously, and this house was at least 3 times bigger and had an acre of land attached. In retrospect I think we may have had a lower offer accepted, but back then we did not know what we now know!
The purchase process took us into mid November, we made several trips over to wander in the garden (the house had been empty for at least a year) and dream of a time when we could live here. There are several chestnut trees in the garden, so I enjoyed collecting some and eating them raw.
There were a couple of things to iron out during the process. Our lovely immobilier T took us to visit our soon to be neighbour for coffee and cake one morning for these issues to be discussed. There was a small piece of land at the rear of the house next to the kitchen and bathroom that had not been divided up properly during the divorce, so the boundary wall and fence was now in the wrong place. Another issue over some joint driveway on the other side of his property and our joint ownership of the right of way at the front. There was a heated discussion in French, we came away thinking we’d understood some of what was discussed and carried on. We were due to meet with our neighbour, his ex wife and our immobilier to finalise what had been “agreed” during the discussion. Nearly neighbour didn’t turn up, we said never mind we’ll sort it out over time and signed the Compromis de Vente. Again in retrospect, this was our first mother of all assumptions.
In mid November 2006, after a rather anxious early morning run to the bank for the banker’s draft, we arrived at the Notaire’s office feeling nervous and excited. Our meeting started at 09h30, we had a sworn translator there, as was required by our notaire. Others present (it feels like a wedding) the vendor, T our immobilier, us and the notaire’s secretary. There is a discussion about the disputed piece of land and it is agreed that 10,000€ be set aside by the vendor, and held by the notaire for 2 years in a non interest bearing account, in order to deal with any expenses incurred if our new neighbour makes a claim on the piece of land. I, because I am so generous and possibly even more naive than I am willing to acknowledge say, “Oh no, that’s too much, make it less”. So, the Acte de Vente goes off to be rewritten.
Our sworn translator, who is being paid, has not managed to provide us with a completely translated AdeV, and to this day we still don’t have one. So, time passes, we initial page after page of document and our vendor hands over a massive bunch of keys….most of them keys to the garage! She is tearful and I think she must be feeling sad at the end of an era etc. The time has now reached midday, and we’re still in the throes of signing and rewriting. As 12h30 approaches there is a lot of shuffling and anxiety filling the room as it is now LUNCH TIME! Lunch time in France, in our experience, is like a religious ritual, and going beyond lunch time and risking not getting seated in your designated eating place is just not on. Eventually, at 13h10 the meeting is wound up, we have bought us a house and we all leave to have lunch and Mark and I to celebrate.
After lunch we rush off to let ourselves into our new house, full of excitement and dreams and manage to get ourselves as far as the utility room. The garage key(s) work, and the room next door is open, but access from the utility room to the first main room and the rest of the house is locked and we cannot unlock the door. I think we were held up at this point for only 10 mins whilst Mark found a screwdriver and removed the lock. We were here; we were in and spent the next few days, along with our friends from North Devon, getting things cleaned up ready for the arrival of our furniture. There are no unusual events to tell, moving house is full of things that need doing, things that don’t go right etc, but it was mostly an uneventful move and by the end of November we were more or less settled, there were still boxes to unpack but not so many. My children and grandchildren came and joined us for our first Christmas, we and my son learnt more about the fosse septique than he would have liked, we’d had chutes of wood delivered, and enjoyed the open fire. I had my first rendezvous chez medicin and we got the heating working, and enjoyed a warm and happy Christmas en famille.
to be continued>