Monthly Archives: July 2009

10 Tips for People Who Want to Buy French Property

As you know from reading this blog, we’ve been through a lot of stuff to buy our French mill. I thought it was nice to turn some of our experiences into tips. If you’re interested in a little French place to spend the next level in your life at, read these carefully…and then do as you please. 🙂

1. Target wisely.
France is HUGE. Compared to the Netherlands or Belgium or even other European countries, France is simply enormous. So be very specific about where you’d like your home. This sounds logical but-–trust me–-a distance that feels a bit far away the first time does NOT get any closer. Use a pair of compasses to divine a range.

2. Check distance.
Calculate whether you could drive the distance on your own. Your partner might not come with you every time and you might need to drive to and from in one day or overnight. Four to six hours is OK. Over six to eight hours is stretching it. Over eight hours is crazy. You can fly, but you never know how expensive that might become in the future.

3. Check route.
Some places, even within the logical distance, take much longer to drive to. For instance: passing Antwerp on a Friday means one hour extra. Also, yet of a different order, check whether there are more ways to get there. Driving by Charleroi is NO fun. It’s an ugly town and the route is not the most pleasant. (We prefer to drive by Namur; this means green landscape until our front porch.) The route should be relaxing. You drive there when you need some extra peace, not to arrive stressed because the traffic kills you.

4. Make up your mind.
What kind of house are you looking for? What will you use it for? Do you plan to share it with friends and relatives or just use it yourselves? There’s a large variety within types of houses to buy. Make a checklist of things you like to do in and around your house. Do you feel like doing nothing at all for the next 10 years? Then buy a small house without a lot of land. Do you want to entertain friends at your place? Buy something with an extra room, and make sure there’s some sightseeing within a 50-km drive.

5. Seek out peace (in yourself).
If you’d like to find peace in France, make sure the house offers it. A sweet, hidden place in the forest might look serene, but it’s remote and available for anybody–meaning unwelcome strangers–to pay a visit. There’s nobody to check. We preferred a place that is within walking distance from a town. Why?  Because everybody knows the property and will know you and your car. The French do check who drives into and out of their village. This neighbor patrol might be unwanted by some, but it’s also keeping an eye on what’s happening when you’re NOT there. Your French house should give you peace, not fear and worry.

6. Go there more than once.
The French and the real estate people want you to decide quickly. “Listen, you are the first to see. I have other people waiting. Blah blah.” Don’t buy it–it’s just a way to pressure you. If it’s true, then bad luck for you, but most of the time it’s bullocks. Try to lengthen your decision period. Going there more than once gives you a better insight of the house, the sounds, the town, the light. You don’t want to wake up next to a railway that you really can’t see but definitely can hear (at night).

7. Spend money on advice.
I guess this goes for everyone buying property. If you’re not a regular buyer of properties, ask someone to come and check your future house. Ask an independent and impartial French/English speaker to help you negotiate. This person should not have any chauvinistic feelings towards the French, nor should they have a relationship with any of the other participants. It can be a building constructor with an eye for the construction or just a businessman with a nose for saving you money. Everybody will tell you a different story. You need him/her to get the message straight.

8. Do not agree on any price before you’re sure.
The French really don’t like you to come back on a deal. Nobody likes to hear: “Wait a minute, we’d like to renegotiate.” Sometimes it’s inevitable, like when we discovered our land floods twice a year. They forgot to tell us: yeah right. So back to the table. We got 10% off in the end, but we surely didn’t make any friends. Also, you could make a wish list of what you like and be so direct to add that list to the requirements for the deal. We added the permission for a tennis court and swimming pool. Granted.

9) Ask around.
We found a chambre d’hote in the area where many people with the same mission stayed over. That helps BIG time for multiple aspects. A) During dinner you can ask who’s who in the area, B) find property for sale that’s not being listed yet, C) make friends close to your property who are dealing with the same issues.
It also doesn’t hurt to have some information on the property itself that does not come from the owners. They–including attorney, agent, and whoever else is involved–-will not tell you everything. We used our French advisor to call the mayor and some neighbors to get the full picture.

10) Follow your heart.
If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Stones do have a vibe.

Off the record: Learn French! 😀

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First Act

First Act

First Act

Every play has its First Act: the part with the first signs of the story line. It unfolds what we have tasted in the Prelude. For our adventure of the Super GĂźtes that First Act was today.

The previous owners started renovating the kitchen–but stopped right when they finished the ceiling. You can see the electricity points where they wanted to hang the lights. They came no further than a light bulb. That IS convenient, but not pretty. The ceiling was OK and yet we opened it, smashed it with a hammer.

I consider this to be the First Act. The demolition of what is there. All you have seen of the interior will be gone soon, coated with a thin layer of white dust. Dead electricity wires sticking out of the stone walls and no sewer to release your daily pressure. This division of the ‘show’ will reveal the death of an old house and take around one  month (I hope).

We will tear down the kitchen, the bathroom, the ceiling of chambre 2, the sewer system, the electricity plan, the walls of chambre 3, and the roof of the right wing. Then we’ll make holes in the roof of the living room. Uff! When I think about it I feel my heart pounding. The first act is a dangerous spectacle of dust and stones…debris is the magic word. It will be messy.

From the dust it will rise: the best holiday home you can imagine. 🙂

And the kitchen ceiling? We know now it can contain the extraction hood.

You can see what’s there now here and what will be there then there.

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Before the Nephews

Originally uploaded by Supergites

One good thing about summer vacation is that it’s free and fun. And if you still have some unsolved mess around your house, just get your nephews over to help you out!

So I took my nephews to our mill in France, a four-hour drive away. These boys, the sons of my brother-in-law, are 15 and 17. They are still a bit on the playful side, so they at least need for the assignment to be simple: “Clean the barn, weed the garden, make a fire. S’il vous plait.”

Now, those are three easy jobs, the last one  of which is actually fun. To store our stuff during the renovation we needed the barn close to the house to be empty and spotless. When they arrived it was one outrageous mess. When they left, two days later, it was pristine and ready to fill. The garden as well was ready for some serious ground work, such as moving cubic meters of soil from one corner to the other.

The fire? What can I say? They loved it!

All it cost me was one BBQ and one dinner at an ‘all you can eat’ rib restaurant.

I loved it too.

Check out the pics on Flickr.

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Glasshouse

glasshouse |ˈglasˌhous| noun [Brit.]

a greenhouse, |ˈgrēnˌhous|, a glass building in which plants are grown that need protection from cold weather.

This weekend we found our inspiration for the flower and veggie garden. This strange, neck-shaped piece between the orchard and the field has always been a bit of a struggle for us. We had no idea how to turn it into something of value. Should it be a playing ground? A beautifully simple grass field? A kitchen garden full of savory herbs?

Since we’re living in the fast lane, we actually do take time to enjoy the good moments of life. So one sunny Saturday we went to Staverden Castle (Kasteel Staverden). We only had thoughts of some wine and finger food, but

There it was! The Victorian Glasshouse.

The metal structure painted white with its elegant, cave-shaped roof grabbed our attention. We went inside over and over again. It was warm, comfortable, useful, inspiring! And it had absolutely dazzling character. This was exactly the eye-catcher that this part of our garden cried out for! If we build a glasshouse like this at the end of the heart line, we’d have a perfect ‘folly’. It would bring great perspective to the flower garden and drive people right into this part of the garden where they could wander between the blooming beds and enjoy the scents of nature.

The glasshouse could also be used as a winter shelter for citrus trees or as a greenhouse for orchids, or even a nursery for our the indigenous plants of our garden. With just a few seats and a heater it would make a fantastic place to sit in early spring or even late autumn. Can you imagine reading a book surrounded by the smell of orange blossoms with buckets of rain pounding on the metal and glass above?

Our only problem was where to get one?! 🙂

We placed an ad on the Dutch eBay. The copy we placed translated as: “There’s no match between our house from 1813 and a modern aluminum glasshouse. Therefore we’re looking for an ancient Victorian glasshouse between 20 square meters and 40 square meters which has a brick substructure. Who has got one or knows somebody that has got one and wants to get rid of it? It is not a problem if it is a bit broken; it can be a renovation project. We’ll come to pick it up wherever in the Netherlands and Belgium.”

If you are from the UK and you have one to offer, don’t hesitate to reply. 😀

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Dualism

We bought the mill in March 2009, and now four months later we’re still in doubt. What to do? Who to chose to complete the renovations? Let me explain the situation further.

When we bought the house we needed a renovation plan to get a bank guaranty. We found Monsieur Lafon, a local entrepreneur de batisement, a supervisor for building projects. He lives three towns away and is a very sincere and serious man. He showed us his current projects and presented us with a good quote. We got our bank guaranty. Note: Monsieur Lafon does not speak any English.

Then two weeks later we met StĂ©phane, a handyman who lives one house away. He’s very nice and a hard worker. He introduced us to his four lovely children. He showed us one gĂźte where he did only the plaster work. The quote he gave us was 25% lower than Monsieur Lafon’s. StĂ©phane speaks fluent English, but he needs a lot of support in ordering and payment.

So we have two men, two quotes, two characters, but one project. What would you do? 🙂

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Adding the blog to web directories

WordPress Blog Tips

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Getting somewhere

The town of Tourteron from the field

The town of Tourteron from the field

StĂ©phane worked tirelessly with the brush cutter for a whole week to get the field free of plants. We’re finally getting the full picture on the size of this area. Where there used to be just nettles we’ve discovered a small swampy pool and the shape of the winter stream.

After this we have a better idea on where to start digging for the swimming pool! 🙂

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