Renovating a house in France.
I had already been living in France for a couple of years and working seasonal jobs to earn my keep. After working in the Provence in the south, then the Loire, I became very fond of the Burgundy region. I had been working in the area for a while and became attached to many Burgundian charms.
The colourful landscape and varied climate, strong traditions and of course the wines.
So this is the story of how I purchased my first house in France, the problems of renovating and turning it into what became my family home.
Whilst I was driving around the countryside in a minibus and conducting a guided tour, for some unknown reason I decided to take a very small road across the hill which I did not know. I drove up a steep and windy road, sidelined by oak trees, then after a couple of miles we arrived in a very small village with a long name “Chaudenay la Ville”.
On the second house to the left, there was a sign hanging on a bit of string with the words “A Vendre” (For Sale). I really didn’t have much time to look as I was concentrating on the descent of the unknown road. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about that sign saying “for sale”.
A few more miles ahead, I regained known territory and found the way back to my final destination. My guided tour was finished and I could return to my temporary lodgings. Whilst I feel asleep, once again the For Sale sign was on my mind… and the desire to have a real home, my own first house… became a constant thought.
The next morning, I backtracked to the village with the unpronounceable name and one objective on my mind. Was this house really for sale?
Although I arrived in the village from the opposite direction as the day before, it wasn’t difficult to find the house, as there were only two streets. I parked in front of the old stone-built house and looked at what was a ruin.
My heart sunk.
However, I decided to look closer and decided to have a look around “my future home”. I could barely read the telephone number on the sign and wasn’t sure if the number was a 6 or 8, but I wrote it down. After a few photos and looking through the broken window panes, I decided to give the owner a call.
At the one and only crossroads in the village, there was a public telephone ( we still used coins in this epoch). Although I had been living in France for a couple of years my French was far from perfect. I dialled the first interpretation of the number on the weather-beaten sign. No answer, so I changed the 8 for a 6 and a male voice answered my call. I tried to explain that I was near the house that was for sale and was interested in knowing the price. Pen in hand I waited for the figures to be announced and tried to write them down. The roof was falling off and there was a large crack on the wall.
One of my greatest problems in the early years of living in the country was with the understanding of spoken numbers, especially in the range of 80 to 99. Add to that a local accent and the uncertainty if the person was referring to the old French Francs or new (remember this was before the Euro).
So basically I was unsure if the man selling the house wanted 8 thousand or 80 thousands Francs, the difference was huge. I asked if it was possible to visit the building to which he replied that now was a good time as he was in the village. I agreed to meet him within 30 minutes.
I was greeted by a tall elderly and well-presented man, who immediately noticed that I was English. He immediately excused the condition of the house and explained that it had been inherited from his father who had passed away a few years ago. The property was now owned by the four children and after being sold the money would be split between those children. My heart sank as I thought that the price would be 80 thousand, a sum worthwhile for dividing an inheritance. I asked him to confirm the price.
He took a pencil and paper from his pocket and wrote down the sum of 8000 Francs. My heart jumped! This was the equivalent of £800.
After a guided tour of the buildings and a detailed explanation of the land limits, we parted with the agreement that I would call him in the next few days to say “yes” or “no”.
This was a chance of a lifetime to have my own home and pay cash! The only downside was the state of the building and that I had no construction experience at all. However, I was not going to let this chance slip away.
Without a single idea of the procedures for purchasing a house in France, I sought advice with my French friends. They explained that it was a very simple process.
If you want to buy, the seller wants to sell and the price is agreed. Then both parties arrange a meeting at a “Notaire”. In the presence of the Notaire, both parties sign a legally binding contract with a promise to sell and buy which is called a “compromis de vente“.
The seller promising not to sell the house to another party and the buyer promising to buy. 10% of the agreed price is deposited and if the buyer retracts from the purchase, the sum is given to the seller. The buyer then has an agreed maximum delay in time to find the necessary funds ( generally 4 months), where the final act of sale is signed.
My friends also advised me to check with the “Mairie” (Town Hall) concerning the plot of land which I wanted to buy; this is called a “Cadastre” and is publicly available. The Cadastre is basically a huge plan of France, noting the names of the roads and who owns which bit of land, showing all the boundaries and plots of land marked out clearly.
With a friend called Kevin who had some experience in both buying a house in France and being a brick-layer, we revisited the house. His conclusion was “Incredible view, good luck with the renovation”.
I decided to buy my very first home. Now all I had to do, was rebuild it.
Before you read the rest of this story, I’ll quickly describe the house and village…
The house was once a “farm”, with one room which was a kitchen and bedroom, there was no water or electricity and had been vacant for 80 years. The left side of the house was a stable for cattle during the winter, whilst hay and straw were stored above.
The village was on a steep south-facing slope with 19 inhabitants, before World War 1 the population was 90 people.
200 Charolais cows.
No school or shops.
A telephone cabin…
…and the last baby to be born was in the 1960s