My first house
My first obstacle was my first house! Since work hadn’t progressed, after problems created several years ago by the builders I had hired, I didn’t have a place to live when I arrived. But I knew that before I left the states. After staying in a hotel for a few weeks that obstacle was overcome by finding a fully furnished rental house.
The Neighbor’s Van in My House
The second obstacle was the van I found parked inside my house upon arrival. I couldn’t get in to do anything or have anyone in to give me estimates for work. As it turned out the van belonged to my neighbor Mathieu; we arranged for him to move it within a couple of days so that took care of that.
Then there was my garden that had been completely overrun by weeds and brambles. That took a lot of hard work and multiple passes to get it completely cleared. It also took a lot of walking from the rental to my house almost every day and sometimes twice a day throughout last summer. (At 1 kilometer each way I got in shape in no time.)
Since the upper floors & stairs in my first house had been removed for the beam replacement (that had been done incorrectly) I couldn’t go directly from my house to the garden behind it. The house is built against a hill with the front entrance at street level and access to the garden up two flights of interior stairs (when they’re there) and out the back door of the attic then up a set of stone steps.
The path I took to my garden
Up the Garden Path
To get around that obstacle I had to walk three houses down to a path, Cité Lumière Panorama, then up a steep hill to finally arrive for work in my garden.
During one of my conversations with Mathieu he said that the house on the other side of mine was for sale and mentioned the price (which seemed quite reasonable). A few days later a neighbor across the street also told me the house was for sale.
After those conversations, for several weeks on the treks to my garden, I would walk up the path, past the back door of that house and think how convenient it would be to just go out that door to my garden.
My new house, to the right of the first – both the brick & plaster addition
So I bought the house! (Yes, I’m being rather flippant.) The reality is that the price of the house was less than the cost of renovation on my original house, it was immediately habitable (but not without its own set of problems) and I would no longer have to pay rent. Then there is the added benefit of the shortcut to my garden.
Buying a house in France typically takes around three months. I started the process in September.
The sale closed the 18th of December and my rental agreement was up the 31st of December. That left me 14 days to scramble in preparation for move-in and clean-up for move-out.
No shortage of keys (I added the tags)
When the papers were signed I was given the key to the house, actually the key to the garage door (it was all the realtor had). I knew there were lots of keys at the house so I figured the other keys would be there, somewhere, but I couldn’t locate the key to the main front door. (There are four front doors to the house.) The former owners had sent me a congratulatory email (around mid-January) so when I replied I asked if they had the key.
The house hadn’t been lived in for at least a couple of years so it needed some serious cleaning. I started with the W.C., the bathroom, and the connected kitchen & living/dining rooms. Those were the rooms I knew I’d require when I first moved in. (I got sidetracked with the shutters but was gently reminded about prioritizing so I got back on track.)
I also had to get estimates for updating the electrical for the entire house. The lights work throughout the house but there were only a few plugs on the first floor (2nd floor by US reference) that meet current standards.
The first estimate was from Einsargueix et Fils; Christophe, the son (fils), was my neighbor at the rental and he speaks English well. Their company also does heating and plumbing. While he was at the house he switched on the heating to check it out but before he left he discovered a problem. He had to leave for another appointment but came back the next morning to check it out further. The motor had to be replaced but since the boiler unit was a German brand he had to send for the part. As it turned out they no longer make parts for that model so there was further delay in getting a replacement that would work.
Since both the heating and hot water run off of that system I had neither the first several days after moving into the house. Fortunately I had a portable heater, small electric kettle for boiling water, and a camping shower. None of which were ideal in January but they did provide workable solutions.
In an attempt to plan ahead for move-in I also tried to arrange things I needed to have in place for settling in to my new house.
I made a trip to Brive to shop at Conforama, a popular French furniture and appliance store. My original intention was to buy a bed and refrigerator. The price of mattress sets was quite high and I found a sofa bed on sale for just a slightly higher price. This appeared to be a good idea because it would also provide seating for company.
I measured the sofa, went back to the house to decide if it would work where I wanted it and measured the stairwell to be sure it would fit going up. It all seemed good; that is until the sofa was delivered and wouldn’t fit through the doorway from the workshop to the stairway to the 1st floor.
A walk to a local shop yielded an air mattress so at least I had a soft place to sleep. (Not having a car has sometimes proved an inconvenience but not actually an obstacle thanks to friends who occasionally take me shopping for bigger or heavier items.)
I found all of these items while cleaning
With the things I purchased, a borrowed toaster oven and hot plate, my makeshift heating and hot water system, and a chair and small table I found in the house I settled in for the first couple of weeks in my new house. A little rough but I was still happy to be here.
During that time I stayed busy cleaning and exploring my new home and finding some treasures that had been left behind.
The heating unit was finally repaired so I had heat. Not only that I could take a hot shower with real running water. But hot water with water pressure proved to be a bit much for the washer in the bathtub faucet. So Sunday morning as I prepared to shower before church the washer completely blew out; the hot water was running full force and there was no chance of turning it off at the tap.
The only solution was to turn the water off at the main valve in the cave (or cellar). But first I filled as many empty bottles as I could since I didn’t know how long the water would be off. With the water off I also had to turn the heating unit off since it’s a boiler system.
Colin to the rescue! He replaced the washer (and later the entire faucet) so I was able to have running hot water and heating again. At least for a while… The heating (therefore the hot water also) went out again for about a week and a half the end of February and beginning of March. That time it was a fuel regulating valve.
To continue cleaning I needed to buy a heavy duty vacuum. Since up-to-date electrical outlets are limited I picked up a reel type extra-long extension cord. As it turned out they didn’t have the vacuum I wanted in stock but I went ahead and got the extension cord anyway; as I remarked at the time, if nothing else I could now blow-dry my hair in any room in the house.
Another shopping trip, a couple of weeks later, I got the vacuum cleaner and ordered a washing machine for delivery. They said Thursday – but they didn’t say which Thursday. So eventually, two and a half weeks later, my washing machine was delivered. In the meantime I had to walk a little over a kilometer to the Super-U to use the outdoor laundry facilities a couple more times.
With a guest coming for a visit in April I decided I needed to get serious about buying some additional furniture. Jo took me shopping at Emmaüs, a charity shop that has quite a selection of used furniture. I chose several items and arranged for delivery – but they were backlogged on deliveries so they wouldn’t be in my area until May 13th.
Remember the missing key to the main front door? One fine day at the beginning of April I walked to the bakery which is quite near the immobilier, the realtor, who sold me the house. She was standing near the entrance so I said “bonjour” as I started to walk by. She told me to wait a minute that she had something for me and brought out an envelope which contained two keys to the front door.
Because of something written on the envelope I feel quite certain that she had received the keys shortly after I had contacted the previous owners in late January. But even with the delay I got the keys in time because I had finally gotten the number of a locksmith to have a new key made but hadn’t yet set an appointment. I laughed as I recounted the story to some of my local friends. But I have to admit, had I actually paid a locksmith to come out I wouldn’t have found the situation quite so amusing.
May 13th finally arrived; I was going to get my furniture!
I got a call from the delivery guys because they couldn’t find the house. They were up by l’Église Sainte Eulalie. I told them in French that the house wasn’t near the church and they needed to go a little further, it was near rue du Pont Turgot. A little while later I got another call, they still couldn’t find the house but now I didn’t know where they were so I couldn’t offer directions.
There’s a little butcher’s van that stops on the street once a week and people were waiting nearby. I told the delivery guys to wait, I saw some neighbors. So I went over and asked if anyone spoke English; the answer was no. But I was able to explain in French that I was waiting for a delivery and they were lost. I handed the phone to one of my neighbors and he told them that rue du Pont Turgot and Faubourg Sainte Eulalie were the same street and provided some directions. I thanked him and went back across the street to wait.
A short time later I received another call; they said they had arrived – but they weren’t out front so I told them they were not at my house. I could tell that they were getting frustrated and I could hear them talking to someone in the background, eventually they said that they were on rue du Pont Turgot.
I knew they weren’t far so I said to wait I would be there soon. Fortunately it was downhill from my house so I jogged to where they were and rode back with them. When we arrived I was able to point to the street signs to show why I used both street names.
My new furniture – well most of it
They began to bring in the furniture. They brought in the sewing machine, night stand, table and chairs. Then they attempted to bring in the armoire. Sigh! Before I bought any more furniture (after the sofa) I measured the doors, width & height, I measured the width of the stairwell, again, and I figured the maximum height, width and depth that could be maneuvered through the three doorways at the landing at the top of the stairs. What I didn’t measure was the height from a beam across the stairway to the nearest stair.
The armoire was three cm wider than the shortest distance. I now have an armoire next to the sofa on the ground floor. At least I have a really big room to store things in down there.
The two ground floor rooms were originally for a furniture business that the former owners’ family ran. One room was the atelier, workshop where they made furniture and the other, the magasin, a showroom. Since they had left a nice art-deco style dining set in the magasin I decided to move the couch into that room for downstairs entertaining. The problem was the sofa wouldn’t fit through the interior door. I measured the front door which was wide enough, but to get anything through I had to get the security grill opened.
The front door to the shop with the security grill open.
I spent well over six hours cleaning the security grill in front of the magasin. Then I sprayed WD-40 on all the hinges to be sure they would move properly. With the portion of the grill in front of the door opened I took a step back and shook my head. Pushed back as far as it would go it still didn’t completely clear the door opening. Sigh!
More measuring… If I take the door and frame down between the two ground floor rooms I can have the sofa moved into the other room.
Before I buy any more large furniture for upstairs I will either find a mover with a lift or make certain that it can be taken apart and reassembled where I need it.
With all the obstacles I’ve experienced so far I have found life here challenging, but definitely not boring!