I returned to the states after my stay in France with the idea of buying a house there rooted firmly in my mind.
Once I had a home internet connection that idea went quickly from dream to obsession. I spent months’ worth of hours poring over adverts of property for sale in France.
My plan was to look for houses in my price range, to keep an eye on the market, and see what I could afford.
I think it’s important to mention that it is rare to find staged photos of French properties (except on the upscale, high-end sites). That means if the wallpaper is peeling off, there’s cobwebs or rubble, or there’s a hole in the floor it’s in the picture. It’s definitely WYSIWYG.
My favorite site, run by a British company (no longer in business) wrote very humorous descriptions for the property they listed, usually playing off the reality of the pictures. So sometimes I would just look through the listings for entertainment.
Other times I looked at properties that were way beyond my means and daydreamed. One of those properties was Château de Veauce near Vichy. The castle (at the time I came across it) had 117 rooms and included 12 hectares of land. The first section of the castle was built around 808 during the reign of Charlemagne. It was added to between the 11th & 14th centuries. It is easy to see from the picture that the castle was constructed in phases. In the 16th century it came under attack by Cardinal Richelieu, destroying part of the crenellated tower, in an effort to increase the power of Louis XIII. Can you imagine living in a place surrounded by such amazing history? The asking price, at that time, was $1,000,000! I went out the next day and bought a lottery ticket. – So much for daydreams!
Eventually I decided it was time to go on a real property search. I had looked at houses in various regions on the internet and I wanted to get a real sense of the regions as well as view the houses first hand. So I set up appointments with various immobiliers (realtors), including from my favorite site, booked a flight and a rental car.
I drove through Normandy where, instead of a traffic jam, I had to stop for a cow jam.
I looked at houses in Brittany where the houses in my price range tended to be cottage-like and usually outside of town.
In the Poitou Charente region I found houses that I liked but they were typically large rambling places that besides being slightly over budget would have cost a lot more to renovate due to the size.
In a small commune called Rancon in the Limousin region I found a house that I liked; it was within my budget and initial renovations seemed doable (with repurposing the barn running more but not being immediately necessary).
I made an offer on the house in Rancon but I offered a little low, hoping to have more available for renovations, and someone else offered full price. I was devastated when I found out that I didn’t get it.
So the dream was put on hold for a while but eventually the search renewed.
When I came across the little house in Uzerche on the internet it was at a time when I was getting anxious to act. I think it was beginning to feel that the dream was slipping away. Some recent events had thrown me for a loop and I needed something to cling to.
There were lots of features that I liked in the house and it was within my budget. The structure and roof were both sound. Being very small and in town with electrical, water and drainage available along the street in front would keep renovation costs lower than larger or more rural houses.
So I began to research the town. From the pictures on the internet it looked beautiful, had all the needed amenities, grocery store, bakery, hardware store, etc., and there was a train station near the edge of town. I set up an appointment to view the house and booked a flight. I think my mind was made up before I left.
I fell in love with the town immediately. The postcard worthy views are real and can be found all over town. The house was charming even in its rather disheveled state. This time I offered full price and the deal was struck.
The realtor dropped the ball on setting up a meeting with me and the owners to sign the papers so I had to return to the states before the paperwork was completed. I left it with a notaire (more like an attorney than a notary as we know them) to complete the paperwork on my behalf. It typically takes between two to three months to complete a property transaction in France. So after what seemed like forever I finally got word that the deal was complete and I received the deed to my house.
Before I left I told the realtor that once the deal was completed she could mail the keys to the house. She said “There’s a slight problem there. The owners don’t know where the keys are.” So I asked how the house was going to be locked. She said “That’s not a problem.” I told her it would probably a couple of years before I would come back to get the work started on the house. She repeated “That’s not a problem.” Sure enough the house remained unlocked until I returned nearly three years later to begin renovations, and it was not a problem. Nothing had been disturbed.