8 May 2009


"Habitable" means somewhere there will be a tap. Click on the picture if you want to see how truly ghastly it is.

On the second day of our house-hunting fortnight we were up bright and early to make the one-hour trip to Chinon. We arrived for our rendezvous with the agent, a rather intense young man.

He seemed surprised that we wanted to see the house we had found on the internet. When we got there we could see why. It was dreadful. The internet description was accurate except that it left a lot out. The house was on a steep hill on a busy road. There was a tiny concrete patch at the front that had been described as a courtyard. The garden was a bit of scrappy grass at the side and the house was perched on a sort of ravine with the railway line 10 m below at the back. 

The interior was shabby to say the least and there was a family using it, with mattresses and no other furniture. The agent was keen to scuttle them out of our way but I felt really sorry for the woman.  The young agent had a somewhat smug "I told you so" air about him as we went back to his office to leaf through his folder of properties.

This end looks promising

Next he took us to a house described as "ancienne, renovee" in a hamlet.
We were beginning to get the hang of this. If a house is described as "near Chinon" it could be anything up to 30 km away. A "hameau" could be just two houses and "commerces" could be a shop that opens once a week.

We travelled for miles and miles and the road became a track through farmyards. For the last few hundred metres we were virtually up to our knees in cow muck and this particular house was owned by the "laughing farmer". He giggled furiously all the time the agent was showing us round.

At first glance it looked fairly promising. A closer look was more disappointing. Half of it was a renovated house and a breeze block extension formed the rest. There was no garden, just the courtyard and no view except the surrounding walls. There was however a spare cottage to do up. The laughing farmer was very proud of the fact that he had done the drains to comply with forthcoming changes to the regulations. We were not impressed - while the agent was talking to him in a corner we had a closer look and concluded that his home-made drains probably flowed uphill.

The other end is not so good

Next we viewed another old house that was suffering badly from French DIY. Considering that there are ample DIY stores selling loads of superb products, the standard of DIY we saw everywhere was grim. This one had everything done as cheaply as possible. It had a flimsy, wobbly staircase, cheap thin laminate floors, plastic everywhere and a very strange bedroom arrangement where the two rooms and the bathroom all interjoined, separated from each other by the thinnest possible plasterboard partitions. There was no garden, just a concrete yard squeezed in at the side of the house.

Most houses seemed to come with a spare ruin in the garden to "do up"

Forever hopeful, the agent then took us to a 1960's bungalow in Brehemont. One of those houses that are perched on top of a mound of earth dug out to form the garage or "sou sol". As a family home it would have been fine but it was way too big for us with a huge garden that would have been a real nightmare for a holiday home.

Having spent the whole day being trailed all over the countryside, looking at completely unsuitable houses, we ended the day in low spirits to say the least. The agent was tetchy because we didn't want to buy any of his houses and we were annoyed that he had wasted our precious time as well as his own.

Back in Le Grand- Pressigny, sitting outside the PreHisto bar, in the sunshine, enjoying a badly needed apero, we thought things through. The system of buying and selling houses in France is very strange.

1. Most houses are for sale with at least two and often three or more agents - sometimes at different prices.

2. Consequently there is huge secrecy about the properties. You can't find out where a house is until you are escorted there by the agent. This is presumably so that you can't see it by yourself and therefore can't negotiate with the vendors or another agent who might have it on his books. This means you can't do any research before you do the visit and when it turns out to be completely different from what you expected a lot of everybody's time has been wasted.

3. Many of the houses do not display a for sale sign. This makes them virtually impossible to find by yourself. And there are probably zillions of gorgeous houses for sale but you would never know if you walked past one.

4. The picture in the agent's window will look like nothing you can see when you get there. This is presumably because the best view is given to attract you to the property and disguise the fact that most of it is built out of unrendered breeze block.

5. Habitable means it has a toilet, a room with a tap and part of a roof.

In 2007, you could still get a lot of property for your money. 100k euros would buy a large house that needs doing up with 4 bedrooms, a substantial piece of land and usually a few outbuildings - spare cottages to do up if you felt like it after you had tackled the main house. There will be plenty of room to put your swimming pool.

The next day, we had planned a day off. Oh boy, did we need it.

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