July 25, 2014

TWO WEEKS TOO LATE

The next house we saw had nothing much to either recommend it or not.  It was an ordinary bungalow in an ordinary suburb.

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There was nothing much wrong with it, nor anything very exciting about it.  It’s the sort of bungalow my dad would like and that we might like ourselves when we’re much older and want a house that’s easy to look after and maintain.  You could even walk to the shops for a baguette.

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It had a reasonable kitchen, a good sized garden with an outbuilding of sorts, a garage and storage beneath the house, and several small, identical blue painted bedrooms.

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I was beginning to think that the agent simply hadn’t got any idea of what we were really looking for and that he was just showing us everything he had on his list in our price range.

I said something flippant like “haven’t you got anything with a turret?” and he said “oh yes” and marched us a couple of hundred metres up the road.

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We couldn’t believe our luck as we peered through the gate at this gorgeous house.  There was nothing ordinary about this one.  It had a turret, was set beautifully in its own grounds and had open views over the valley below.

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It was just a few thousand euros above our price limit but I had already made my mind up that this was “the one”.  Budgets are flexible and for the right house I was prepared to make other sacrifices.  Such as food.

When I asked him when he could get the key and show us round he mentioned that unfortunately he had sold it to someone else just two weeks ago.  But the compromis de vente was yet to be signed so if the sale fell through we would be the first to know.

This was the point at which I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I have heard so many people tell me that “it’s a buyer’s market” in France at the moment, with house prices falling in rural areas and lots of property for sale.  It therefore seemed to me that fate had dealt us a cruel blow and we were just two weeks too late !!

Bon weekend !!

July 23, 2014

LIKE CHALK AND CHEESE

Either side of lunch on our big house-hunting day, we looked at two completely different houses.  They were like chalk and cheese.

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This one was in the middle of a pretty hamlet.  We had driven through this hamlet many, many times over the years and had often admired its neat and tidy houses, and thought it might be nice to live there.

There are hamlets and hamlets.  This one is a fairly busy, bustling one, there always being people pottering about when ever we have driven through.  It has a lively and thriving feel to it.

Others are much less appealing, with too many deserted or derelict buildings, abandoned cars, loose barking dogs and a general down at heel appearance.  Some are really just farms with a few cottages tacked on so you spend your life surrounded by cows and tractors.  Others still are totally deserted, full of empty houses that are used just as holiday homes, or not at all.  I find those the scariest.

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This house was a lovely barn conversion with a very pretty, well stocked garden.  We rejected it because the house and garden were only slightly bigger than we already have now.  It would make someone else a lovely home or a great holiday home.

 

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We went for lunch and afterwards we looked at this house.  A partly renovated house in the style we like, again with some river bank at the bottom of the garden.

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It had a good sized barn and garage, something we were looking for.

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Unfortunately it also had this structure in the garden.  A cobbled together hangar which really needed knocking down.  A lot of it was already falling down.

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It had a long concrete terrace which was crumbling away and the wooden barrier was broken and needed replacing.

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The kitchen wasn’t too thrilling, although it was recently installed. 

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There were interesting relics in the garden.  From our previous experience it was likely that anything really interesting would probably not still be there when we got the keys.

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The plumbing needed attention.

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The lighting and electrics needed sorting out a bit.

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It had a truly horrid swimming pool.

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It needed redecorating throughout, and that would be after we had unblocked the blocked up windows, replaced all the other rotting window frames, demolished most of the internal plasterboard walls to reduce the number of depressingly small bedrooms by half, put in a proper kitchen and bathroom and rebuilt the terrace.

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Then there was the small matter of this end of the house which was an empty, disused apartment belonging to the mother-in-law who was refusing to sell it even though she was in a care home and was unlikely to ever need it again.  We were not even given the chance to look inside it. 

And the house was in the wrong kind of hamlet.  There were derelict houses nearby and the neighbour had two barking dogs patrolling their fence.  There were two glass recycling bins across the road – the house itself backed directly onto this road and the sound of glass bottles smashing into the bins can destroy any peace and quiet, especially late at night.

We were there for more than an hour, trying not to look too dismayed and disinterested for the benefit of the owners, who had travelled some distance to meet us there and had gone to enormous trouble to mow the lawn for us.  The house was way too big for us and that there was too much work required to make it nice and comfortable.

Two more rejections to add to our list, one fairly immaculate and one fairly grotty, three more houses to go before the end of the day.

July 22, 2014

YET ANOTHER HOUSE

The secrecy aspect of house hunting in France is frustrating in the extreme and this house is a good example of why.

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From this angle it looks really quite appealing.  A modern, attractive bungalow, set in a nice plot of lawn with trees.

The picture in the agent’s website was something like this.

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At the bottom of the garden was about 50m of gorgeous river bank.  For a person who enjoys fishing like Nick it could have been a real joy to live there.  Except for one detail.

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You can get a hint of the detail from this picture.  The house was well below the road.

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But just imagine riding your Harley-Davidson down this driveway!  Getting down would have been a challenge – getting back up and out onto the road positively terrifying!

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This picture was not in the agent’s website!

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Imagine the difficulty in getting up and down these steps to the garden when we become less nimble on our pins.  At our age we do have to think of these things!

The house itself was empty and rather ordinary inside but that could have been fixed with a bit of imagination.  The problem was that it would take more than imagination to make the drive suitable for our needs.  The slope was so steep that it would take serious civil engineering work to somehow create a gentler slope by curving the driveway round to the side of the house.

We wasted ages pointlessly discussing how we might achieve this, knowing all the time that it was probably impossible and we would never attempt it.  It’s strange how, faced with something completely and hopelessly unsuitable, we would still try to see the best in a house and work out how we could make it work for us. 

In actual fact we had driven past this house a couple of times by ourselves purely by chance and, as it was one of the few that actually had an “à vendre” sign fixed to the gate, had already rejected it because of its position and the incredibly steep driveway.  If we had known it was this one before the agent took us there we wouldn’t have wasted his time, our time and dashed the hopes of the owner who had come some distance to meet us there and let us in, not to mention mowing the huge lawn for our benefit.

Still, we didn’t invent the system, we just have to work with it and we had more houses to view so on we went……….

July 20, 2014

ANOTHER HOUSE

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Our brief to the various agents was that essentially we were looking for a house that was simply a bigger version of what we have now.  One with character, possibly one more bedroom, but importantly a larger garden and more storage or living space, outdoor storage or a large garage, and private parking. 

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We have a fondness for old houses but would look at any age of house, as long as it had “character”.  We had already rejected a nice 1970’s house in the village because the inside was totally devoid of any charm and character.  You can of course change the inside of a house to give it character by moving the plasterboard walls and redecorating, but this one was pretty near the top of our budget so there would not have been enough left in the kitty for all that if we had bought it.

We have friends who live in a 1960’s house which has great character and a nice layout – one like that would be fine.

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We didn’t want a swimming pool, but for the right house we would take one.  We would like to be in a village but not necessarily.  A hamlet would be fine so long as we were not too hemmed in.  Not too isolated but outside of a village with good facilities would be fine.  We don’t mind having to get in our car or on a bicycle (or motorcycle) to fetch our baguettes but being more than twenty minutes from any shops might be an issue.  Or might not, if the house was so good that we would compromise on that.  There should also be dog walking territory nearby.

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We knew that there were bound to be compromises, at our budget.

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We had given up hope of finding exactly what we want in Le Grand-Pressigny.  There are plenty of houses for sale but they are too small or too big or just not right in some way.  There are plenty of houses that would be just right but none of them are for sale.  Or at least they don’t seem to be for sale.  With the French system of house selling/buying you can never tell.  Most of the ones that are for sale don’t have a big sign on them saying they’re for sale.  It’s all very secretive, for reasons one can only speculate on.

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We also most definitely do not want a renovation project.  At our age we would be happy to do decorating, alter the garden, put in a new kitchen or bathroom but it would have to be the right price.  There was no point in buying something at the top of our budget that needed a huge amount of money spending to make it into the house of our dreams.  (Our “forever house” as a friend put it.)  If we were to buy a house at the top of our budget it would have to be in a “move straight in” condition.  If only!

The above house ticked most of our boxes.  It was a lovely renovation of an old house, with a good sized barn and a nice garden.  Currently used as a gite, it was minimally furnished (a refreshing change from having to imagine what was underneath mounds of clutter) and painted throughout in white, giving it a light and airy feel.

The garden had nice views over open country, and a pool.  The barn stood between the house and the garden, meaning the house itself only had a view of its own small courtyard at the front (the back was along the roadside).

It didn’t quite feel like what we wanted, definitely more like a holiday home that a real home, but it was undoubtedly a possibility if nothing else turned up.  With two houses down and another six to view that day we were hopeful that something would turn up and we needed to press on.

I was beginning to think that if we had bought something like this one when we bought our current little holiday home, we would not be doing all this now.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing – and at the time we had nowhere near enough money for a house like this.  Oh well…….

July 18, 2014

HOUSE HUNTING

I thought it might be time to give a little taste of what we’ve been looking at while house hunting in France.

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We found ourselves outside this house by mistake.  The agent was lost.  He couldn’t find the house we were looking for but as luck would have it this one was also for sale and the owners were happy to show us round.

The style and size of the house were exactly what we are looking for.

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It had just about the right amount of garden but it also had a swimming pool.  We don’t really want a pool.  They do take a bit of looking after and we think that although it’s tempting – in fact it would have been fabulous in the current hot weather – we think that as we get older and less able to do things for ourselves a pool could be too much of a liability.

However, we are prepared to look at houses with a pool.  If it’s the right house and the pool goes with it that would be fine.

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The house had a few interesting features resulting from its renovation.  One of which was this double staircase.  Each side leads to a bedroom.  This is because there’s a substantial oak beam in the way making it difficult to create a single staircase and landing.

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There was also a third bedroom with its own staircase, making the house a three-bedroom, three staircase dwelling!

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The washing machine was kept in the bathroom, something not unusual in French houses.

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The third bedroom only just had room for the bed, which was squeezed into an alcove between the beams.

We rejected this house because it had too many quirky features.  At our age one staircase could soon be more than enough!

We visited this house on a day when we saw eight houses.  Eight houses in one day!  That’s serious house hunting!  More soon…….

July 17, 2014

THE 14th JULY

One of the things I like about France is that they have their fireworks in summer instead of November like we do in the UK!

Bonfire night in the UK can be a challenge, hoping that the rain will hold off long enough for people to enjoy themselves and that the bonfire will light.  I dare say that many people can’t remember the significance of Bonfire Night, or “Guy Fawkes Night” as we always called it, and just see it as a fun evening with fireworks and hot dogs.  I wonder if the significance of 14th July is remembered all over France?

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It’s certainly a big event in our little corner of France and this year was no exception.  We wandered down to the village square for an apéro at the newly refurbished Jean Bart bar and waited for people to arrive and things to get going.   It was a warm, fine evening.

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Moules and frites were served by the PreHisto, people sitting at trestle tables on the pavement outside the bar.  There were plenty of moules and they were delicious, followed by a cheese course and an apricot tart.

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With the meal all done and cleared away, we got into the spirit of things with plenty of drinks and the square filled up as more and more people arrived for the fireworks.

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At the appointed hour, the pompiers gathered and led a procession through the streets to the picnic ground by the river.  A splendid firework display followed with the usual big finale.

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With the fireworks over the procession made its way back to the village square where the rest of the entertainment was happening.  The pompiers performed their award ceremony by the Mairie steps.  The bars stayed open and there was dancing to a live band in the square well into the early hours.

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Which, I have to say, is loads more fun than having to don your wellies, woolly hat and gloves to eat a cool, damp hot dog in a muddy field in November !! 

July 14, 2014

LIVE MUSIC AND THE CHÂTEAU DE BRÉZÉ

Moving house is really hard work and when we arrived in Le Grand-Pressigny we were pretty tired and jaded.  So before the French house hunting really got under way we decided to have a few days of rest and entertainment.

First, we went to the music festival at Barrou which is held down by the river on a Saturday evening one night every summer.  It’s called “Festival des Barroudeurs”.

Les Barroudeurs

This was our third “Barroudeurs” and as always it was a great start to any holiday.  For just a few euros each there was live music and the chance to meet up with friends in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere – the food tent and bar always help in that respect!

A couple of days later we decided to make the most of the good weather and have a proper road trip on the motorcycles – the forecast was not looking so good for a few days after that.

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We decided to go to Brézé and visit the château there, talking the “pretty route”.  This usually involves several stops to check the map – something that is always a challenge on a motorcycle.  You have to pull off the road, preferably in a patch of shade, engage first gear, switch off the engine, put the side stand down, lift up the helmet, take off the gloves, rummage in the rucksack for the map, open the map (preferably the right way up) and, having ascertained the correct route, go through the whole process in reverse and set off.

In Luzé we stopped by the public map in the village square, hoping it might help and that we might not need to rummage in the rucksack for our own map.  Sadly it was no help at all !!

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After an hour we had got as far as Chinon!

It was lunchtime by now so we stopped at the café opposite the monk Rabelais for a light snack.  Nick had a burger and I had omelette and frites, followed by an espresso.  A great way to perk us up to continue on our journey.

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We had thought of having lunch at the château but as it turns out the restaurant there is closed on Mondays so it was lucky we ate in Chinon.  In any case, as soon as we parked up outside we realised we had been there before, many years ago, on a previous motorcycling tour of the Loire.

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On that occasion we were less experienced at visiting châteaux and didn’t fully understand what a guided tour could involve.  At the time the château had recently re-opened its underground system to visitors and the girl in the ticket office was keen to sell us tickets for both the underground and the château itself.  We accepted her offer and set off behind the guide, along with a handful of other hapless tourists.

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We entered the underground complex in brilliant sunshine and emerged over two hours later, completely exhausted and knowing everything it was possible to know about the caves, dormitories, bakeries and kitchens beneath the château.  Not to mention the wars fought, the attacks fended off and the gruesome details of how attackers were trapped and disposed of.  Or at least, as much as we could understand as it was all in French and our French was not that good at the time.  What we didn’t grasp we could fill in with our imagination.  All the time we were trailing our motorcycle helmets and jackets around with us.

By the time we emerged into fresh air and sunshine it was too late to use the other part of our ticket and see the upstairs!

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This time we were a bit more canny.  We made sure we opted for the “tour libre”.  The visit to the underground was optional so we had a quick peek to remind ourselves what it was like then shot back above ground to see the inside of the château.

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It was worth the effort……..to be continued!………..