Somewhere That’s Green
The title is a song from Little Shop of Horrors, a stage musical, then a film about a girl in a florist in downtown New York who dreams of a simple life in a Tract House of her own … don’t we all? In this world we mostly feel that having a place of our own (even if its mortgaged to the hilt) is in some way a security for us, for ours and for their futures. We feel safer if we own the place than if we rent it. At the moment H2B and I rent. We couldn’t honestly ask for more. Our appartment is in a house, built in the second half of the 19th Century with an important staircase, an even more important front door and high ceilings, the park is green space without the effort of gardening, we have a tiny balcony and our young neighbours are unobtrusive (mostly). The fêtes and celebrations at the Salle de Fête are fun to watch. A little noise is a small price to pay for an atmosphere of vibrancy and fun when a birthday, a wedding or a Saints day is celebrated. We also, in honesty, have the best of both worlds – we have a house in the US which at some stage we will sell and actually we own a small property south of Aurillac of which more later since it has been an epic saga to get to the point we are at. It is a story all of its own – in fact it has felt like the Odyssey.
But we do want to own a family house here. Two Brains will retire and we will live out our lives here. We want a little land so that we can raise sheep that we milk and make cheese from. Ideally we would like a south facing slope for vines and certainly I will make compotes and other fruity delights from whatever any trees care to give us. And clafoutis (I love that word and can’t resist a tenuous opportunity to include it just because I can) and other delights too. And a potager. I would like a couple of horses but that will depend on how much land we have – a wish list is just that for the wishing.
For our own reasons we are now in the throws of searching. And it is an interesting experience. Remember in a previous blog a lovely elderly fellow in Montboudif (birthplace of Pompidouwappydoo-ooooo) told me not to use Immobiiers because they are all crooks? He has a point. Actually I was in the business in the UK and was always at pains to let people know that I was NOT an Estate Agent. Sadly the reputation of real estate agents the world over is pretty much akin to being a blood relation of Atilla the Hun. However, we were not prepared for the bizarre fact that if you find a property on the internet here (and it is the way the vast majority of people search for houses in the modern world), that you will not be able to locate it because the agent will disguise its location for fear that you will strike a deal privately behind his back. We were equally not prepared for the fact that agents will claim rights to a property that they have simply plagiarised on the net without ever having seen it let alone been through its door. So we could go to a notaire (the advice of a random Dutch fellow and his wife in our village one Sunday outside the bakery) but to be frank the three D’s (death, debt and divorce) which throw the properties the way of a notaire equally throw up other problems – in France inheritance laws are complex and a town can sit with a decaying house for years in its centre whilst a notaire goes the legal route of tracking down its heirs. Even when done, often you find that having fallen in love with a place the notaire must go through a rich and complex dance to ensure that all interested parties are satisfied that you can indeed buy the place. And once sold to you – all your money transferred you can still wait for months whilst the previous owners (who didn’t actually know they owned the house) empty it of its contents. Or not. The strongest of hearts can fail when years of wrangling to even pass go are involved.
My own advice is to make friends with Maires and Mairies. They will pretty much always know what is for sale in their commune and will also know who you should talk to, who has a place nearby that might be for sale. And further than that remember you are in a different country and just because things are done in a different way, it does not make it wrong. ‘Go with it’ as a wonderful Irish friend long ago advised me (in the context of rearing children) – ‘it’ll be the ride of your life’. Overall it is about people – people know stuff and people who have lived their lives and whose forebears lived theirs over generations in the same place can be your greatest allies or your worst nightmares. We met a fellow, English, this time last year. He had stepped into the hotel we were staying in to take breakfast. He clearly wanted company because he lept on my English voice and then sounded off for seemingly hours. He and his partner had bought: ‘… a big house. You must know the one – it’s the the biggest in …’ He told us he was struggling with French workmen (but his French was tenuous) and that their new big house would be a triumph. Not least because it was so cheap to buy. He also told us that his partner speaks no French and has no intention of learning – she prefers not to understand what people are saying. We have thought about them on and off since. Have talked about the idiocy of approaching a new life with no intention of adapting and respecting. We walked on the plateau above their village at the weekend. The house is un-touched. Shutters shut, it looks as though it hasn’t been visited in months. Presumably work has ceased. Learn the language, make friends, ask for help. If you don’t, you will surely fail.
PS: In my own chosen area it is true that whole hamlets are dying. I walk (with The Bean mostly, sometimes with a friend, a relly or my husband) and I see beautiful places simply shut up and left in the hope that someone will happen by. I hope to begin to educate the owners that without effort they won’t sell, without encouraging a new generation of buyers the places will simply decay and die. Wish me luck – I am armed only with fervour and enthusiasm and a real belief that this is an area that people would love to raise there own families in …. given that we looked at a house recently in a commune that has fallen to 180 headcount of which 70% are over 70 years old and were told they would greet us (aged 61 and 53 repectively) with open arms as perceived youngsters, I have a little work to do.
Getting work done on a property is always a struggle – even with fluent French. So adapting and learning the language is definitely the only way – as well as going with the flow. We sold our house ‘en direct’ after experimenting with a couple of real estate agents – who did absolutely nothing but over-value the asking price and bringing a couple of potential buyers through. The whole thing in France is that agency fees are very high and agents almost never get an exclusive deal. The people who bought our house managed to locate it from a photo on the real estate’s website by doing some detective work. Bon courage with your properties!
Yup – en direct is the way to go, I am certain. Estate Agency here is not regulated (actually it isn’t in the UK either but at least you can give exclusivity to an agent to encourage them to work hard for you). Funny you should talk about detective work – our little place in the south was the result of bluddy minded sleuthing to be sure! Thank you for the good wishes – we will find what we are looking for …. it just might take a lottle effort 😉
You have the considerable advantage that you are not afraid to speak to people (in whatever language!) and there’s nothing like local knowledge, so you should prosper.
I forget the term now, but the move from country to town has been going on for fifty years or so in France (and elsewhere) , and I fear this trend is irreversible.
I know that I have the communication gene and therefore an advantage. But even so – just a smile instead of an aloof posture helps. I think just making an effort in any language suffice. In terms of the exodus from country to town – of course you are absolutely right, Michael, but I have thoughts (watch out M Hollande – I will ber asking for an audience and do NOT want to be your mistress) which I think could make a difference. Its nothing clever – just reversing the Industrial Revolution in some way …. more later 😉
Your current accommodation makes me green with envy!
We too have eschewed estate agents, although to be fair some of them have been really charming and honest and helpful, but the others (the English ones), so rude that I would sooner burn the place down than let them earn a new cent from it.
But in every case the commission they charge really bangs up the price of the property, so we are advertising ours privately.
I had to snigger at the Englishman who had bought the “biggest house” ………… the outcome was inevitable! Doubtless he’d employ British “builders” too, if he can’t speak the language. Poor fool. 🙂
You are right to be fair … There are good boys out there but sadly they are the needles in the haybales. Our rental would be perfect if we could buy the whole place but our Maire, he say non!
Commissions here to immobs or notaries amount to serious money tis true … As for ‘considerably bigger than yours’ – we are mean enough to laugh … Hopefully we won’t have others laughing at us down the line!