Monday, January 16, 2012

HOUSE HUNTING IN FRANCE



UPDATE, MARCH 15TH: 



January 16th, 2012. We arrived here, the Charente Maritime, almost 3 month ago. Spend the winter in warmer climates, away from the headache inducing Chinook arches of southern Alberta. Eat some cheese. Improve on a second language. Relax.
Maybe, if we like it, look at houses and stay longer. Much longer. 80 days in, we are coming close to decision time. Should we stay or should we go now....

We looked at some 40 houses since we got here. Pretty much everything from barns to Chateau like B&Bs,  Gites, country homes, townhouses, land to build on, wrecks, renovated coups de coeurs, divorce deals, a farm for horses, you name it, we've looked at it. It is a great way to learn more about an area or culture as well it is fun to be a real estate tourist.
No matter how much time you spend on the net looking a pretty pictures, nothing can prepare you for the reality of it all.. With harsh lighting in the winter month.  The list of priorities you are writing? Forget it. Out the window after the first property. It all changes on location. 

The game is played different over here for sure. 
Over 50% of all real estate transactions in France are done so privately and without lawyers. Just with a mutually chosen notary public. Realtors do not show homes other than their own listings. Which makes for fun situations when a house next door is for sale as well and the guy says, sorry cannot show it, no keys, not my listing, don't know the other realtor ( in a village of 200 folks...), etc., etc.
It also seems that quite a few of them are salaried, versus working for commission, as more than one rep clearly told us they would not be showing houses on the weekend. They are not working those days. Call again Monday. Call backs? Why? if you want a house, you call them anyway. No need to chase the clients.

Comparables? Nope, not available. It's not as if a builder slapped together a subdivision with 200 cookie cutter homes 150 years ago. Here, 98% of the buildings are so dissimilar, the only thing they have in common is the area they are in.

Pricing? All over the map. Side by side, similar age, style, size, the price can differ by such large amounts, you are just left scratching your head. Especially after the realtor who showed you one of them, just shrugs shoulders and tells you "C'est comme ca en France."
We looked at houses that were on the market for 2 or more years, total wrecks, inside and out. Lower the price? Why? One day it will sell. 
If only I would know how to write a book. There's a bestseller here, people. And movie rights for a comedy with at least two sequels...
"Is there lead paint in this house?" "Yes, of course Monsieur, but it is not dangerous unless you nibble at it."

The Brits, as dominant expat community in this area, have driven up prices over the last 7 or 8 years. So enamored are they with restoring Farms and their barnish outbuildings, make them all frilly and lacy, ready to rent to their less fortunate countrymen for a week during holiday season and make a living at it. 
Ehm. Well, what shall I tell you. We looked at a few choice properties for sale that were already converted into Gites.
 But honestly, just because some family from Aberystwyth, Wales paid 1000.00 Euros a week last summer to stay in your Flea market furnished barn, does not mean I am prepared to pay 550,000.00 to own it. How much were your gross revenues last year you said? 21k? Nice. How did you come up with the value of the house? A Realtor from London told you? I see. 
How's your repeat business? You are not tracking it as much? I see. I am not surprised no one's coming back for seconds....

Another challenge in the area is the mildewy smell inside many properties, especially those Gites, which stay empty for practically 8 month of the year.
When we asked once what it was, if in fact it was mildew, the classic response was that no, it's just the humidity we can smell and it would go away if we were to leave the windows open for a while.

One Gite complex that we looked at however, was an incredible gem. Well restored, plenty of space and style, add to that a classy restored main house, we really loved that one. The price though, even after going in with an aggressive offer, would have been too high for what Victoria  wanted to spend on a full time job with a part time income....

Having said all that, there is good news. You can engage a house hunter, who will do all the leg work for you, according to your priorities and set parameters. Saves lots of time. But part of the fun is to look at all those properties you have seen online.
Don't feel guilty about not being loyal to one realtor. They aren't either.
Once you do find a house you like or even love, be not afraid to go in low. You are the buyer. 

There are deals to be had, that is for certain. The french are more in tune with property values than Brits are. But even here, reality starts to sink in.  The good days are gone for a while. Fresh money is harder to find, less impulsive buyers now. 
And many of the expats seem to just want to get back to the island. We have heard about too many divorces, disillusioned couples who just could not make a go of it and want out. Just not at the price we offered.....



WHY HOUSE PRICES ARE HIGHER IN THIS REGION

TOWNHOUSE FROM 1849


PLENTY OF STAIRCASES CLIMBED


GREAT VIEWS


IT'S ALL FOR SALE


EXCELLENT STYLISH B&B


THE BEST GITE WE'VE SEEN


WHO DID THIS?


"BUT YOU COULD RENOVATE IT"


THE FIRST HOUSE WE LOOKED AT. OH BOY

 POST WAR BARN. RENOVATE IT??


AN EARLY FAVORITE


BUT TOO FAR FROM THE ACTION


VISITED A FEW OF THEM


ARCHITECTURAL GEMS











9 comments:

ellorneo said...

Dude, that last one is awesome!

So... once you're all settled.... could we, uh, come and visit?

H.Peter said...

Hey Lorne,

any time. If we stay.

Ken Broadhurst said...

That last place qualifies as a chateau. I wonder what it would cost to heat it.

H.Peter said...

Heating costs would be substantial. The place is a B&B in Jarnac.

If you were to go with wood, since there are plenty of chimneys, you'd have to hire a person just to light all the fires, stoke them, clean up in the morning, etc etc...

Nadege said...

Just one question before I ask another one : why did you chose this area?

H.Peter said...

That would be a full Blog post...please send your email address to: theceliachusband@gmail.com.

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Fascinating! I absolutely love hearing every detail and don't envy you having to make the decisions on what to do next! I know you'll keep us posted and I thank you for that. :-)

Shirley

H.Peter said...

Yes, Shirley, a decision it is. major one. But then, it's never boring if you mix it up a little once in a while....

gites for sale in france said...

Interesting observations about estate agents. It is clear that the industry needs shaking up in France: most agents ask for outrageous commissions (over 6%) and refuse to cooperate with their colleagues.
But some of us - mostly non-French - are trying to change this.
Good luck with your search!
Simon