The stress of buying a house is so endemic that a survey found that a third of Americans are reduced to tears when purchasing their first property. Were they tears of joy at owning their first love nest, or distress at what they were going to have to pay the mortgage company for the foreseeable future? The survey wasn’t specific. If buying has that effect then what about selling, reputedly more stressful than other major events in one’s life such as starting a new job or going through a divorce?
Two years ago Madame and I decided that the time had come to downsize. Surely an 1800s maison de maître would be the ‘des res’ of everyone’s dreams, or, as the French dictionary would have it in its ponderous manner, une belle propriété. Situated near the foothills of the Pyrenees, not far from the coast and the Spanish border, the agent said we would have no trouble selling it and valued it at an unrealistic figure, presumably to inveigle us into signing up, which of course we did with a mandat exclusif at the start of 2020. Not an auspicious year to market a property as it turned out.
If you live in a semi-detached or terraced house in the UK, in a street of similar houses like this charming Dorset village, it’s not rocket science to arrive at an impartial valuation. An older property in rural France is worth what someone will pay for it. Who were we aiming at? Not an elderly couple for sure; it was not your typical Dunroamin or Mon Repos. And the first viewers? An elderly German couple who grumbled about the number of stairs. What do you expect in a three storey house (four if you include the basement)?
Call it naivety if you like but Brits in France tend to forget that property is not treated in the same way as in the UK. A house is a home, not an investment. Nor is there the turnover; France is famed, ridiculed even, for its large number of civil servants or fonctionnaires, whose job for life doesn’t encourage mobility. If their post is axed, they are moved to another role on the same salary. It has been known for them to be paid to stay at home and do nothing. False? Oh, no. Take the senior fonctionnaire who continues to be paid €3,700 a month because he has not found another job after having a ‘disagreement’ with his new boss, the mayor. This largesse will end in two year’s time. Will that be the end of it? No, because he will then draw a generous pension. Then there’s a former manager of the state rail operator SNCF……………………..
Come down here to the far south west and you can find empty properties, ‘in need of renovation’ as a UK agent would say. When André, an unmarried acquaintance in the village, died eight years ago his desirable farmhouse was left to his niece. She lives and works in Bordeaux so the property has remained empty. If her children have no desire to live in it then it will remain unoccupied, but stay in the family. An impressive property near us has been standing empty for the twelve years we have been here. Built in 1774, and with an illegible latin inscription over the door, it’s situated down a straight 100m lane and surrounded by rich farmland. Such a waste, but one day some family member will occupy it.
Our house needed a young family; active parents who could keep up with the never-ending maintenance, painting, grass cutting, weeding the vegetables in the potager, cleaning out the hen-house, and keeping half an eye on the children. It was six months before they appeared; a professional French couple with four young children. There was a break then in the confinement that had started in March and which effectively ruled out British viewers. That was only the start, of course. After the signing of the compromis de vente two months later there was an irksome wait of six months while a mortgage was applied for and approved. Meanwhile the notaires and estate agent worked at a leisurely pace. We never met the notaires.
What has this to do with a change in our way of life? Covid allowing us to sign by proxy is the answer. No sitting in their office while the notaires laboriously read through several dozen pages which you then had to initial lu et approuvé. On the day of signing the final acte de vente their office forgot to validate the document . This meant that we had handed over the keys unofficially. After they had realised their error was that the end of the affair? Of course not; two weeks later we had still not received the money. Neither the agent (who had promptly received the 5% commission) nor the notaires, could come up with an answer for the delay.
Next post 24. Loosening the chains?