Irish globetrotters Ruth and Brendan Waldron are ready to quit the hustle and bustle of Singapore for tranquil Tarn. They tell FrenchEntrée why they chose to move halfway across the world.
FRENCHENTRÉE MAGAZINE: What brought you to France?
RUTH WALDRON: We have a long association with France and in 2007 we married in a little church in the Drôme, near where my brother lives in Valence. Brendan was educated in French international schools all over Europe, as his parents were diplomats and chose to put their children through the French education system at all their postings. As expats ourselves, we have developed the classic syndrome of not feeling at home in our homeland.
FE: Why did you choose the Tarn?
RW: We came to this area by a process of elimination. We knew we wanted to be somewhere in the Midi-Pyrénées, which would allow us easy access to the coast, the countryside and skiing in the winter. We looked at properties from Toulouse down to Carcassonne, on an arc through Castres, Albi, Cordes-sur-Ciel, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and many points in between. We wanted somewhere that had a bit of life to it in terms of restaurants and culture, coupled with natural open spaces.
The area around Albi seems to fit the bill. We love the beautiful ancient buildings of this town – a UNESCO Heritage Site – the cuisine and the proximity to Toulouse, for all the advantages offered by a modern French city. As we are living in Asia for the moment, we also wanted to be near a well served airport, and Toulouse is an hour away.
FE: Tell us about the house…
RW: The original wish list was for an old stone house, needing some work but not a total renovation; not too far from shops but in a semi-rural setting; on at least an acre of land with income potential from a gîte. We searched through hundreds of listings and viewed around 20 properties.
Eventually, we found our new home, La Valette. It fulfils all our criteria, even though it’s not the typical stone house you’d associate with rural France. It is situated just 20 minutes outside Albi with a village nearby for all the necessities.
Built around 1920, it is old but not ancient and we are lucky that the previous owners did all the hard work for us when they renovated the property 15 years ago. The house is painted a rich terracotta with an extension finished in a sandy-toned render wrapped in a dramatic purple wisteria, which adds interest and dimension. It is set in an acre of mature gardens, which Brendan cannot wait to get his hands on. Having lived in China for six years and now in Singapore, he is itching to get away from the grey concrete and feel the soil again.
The house is well proportioned with three good-sized double bedrooms, two large bathrooms, a square living room with an open hearth, and a kitchen and dining room to cater for lively dinner parties. There is also a two-bedroom gîte in the adjacent barn and a sunny swimming pool – a special request from our five-year-old son Lars. We cannot wait to spend the summer there.
FE: How did you find the buying process?
RW: Buying our new home has been pretty smooth. We found the listing on the FrenchEntrée website, www.frenchentree.com, and have been dealing with Laura Croxford (FrenchEntrée’s partner agent) at Beaux Villages. She has been a thorough and patient guide, and has taken us through it all step by step. She provided us with all the information we needed at every stage.
The whole process has taken quite a few months to complete, but we expected it to be a bit tricky as we are doing it all remotely. We had a few delays with the diagnostic inspection and the septic tank needed to be brought up to date, but it’s all coming together now. The important thing for us was not to hurry anything. We were very conscious that we needed to ask as many questions as possible to understand the process, and to get a clear picture of the state of the property. We used the tips and advice from the FrenchEntrée website, which was very useful.
FE: Are you planning to do any renovations?
RW: In time, we plan to redecorate the interior with wooden floors, fresh paint and add dry wall insulation but for the moment the house is pretty comfortable as it is.
Having moved around so much already, we’ve had plenty of practice making a new house a home. We have collected rugs, textiles, pictures, books and decorative accessories, which will instantly put our stamp on the interior. We are also looking forward to planting a vegetable and herb garden and setting up a space in the barn where I can paint, and Brendan can watch rugby and puff on the odd cigar.
FE: Do you have any advice for buyers?
RW: My advice to others wanting to buy property in France would be to take as much time as you need and to be as specific as possible with your wish list. Really examine what you want from the property in terms of appearance, location, and function. It is important to discuss all expectations and opinions thoroughly to reach a final list that everyone in the family can live with.
If you try to hurry the process it will only lead to frustration. Try to be as focussed as possible when going on a viewing trip, and aim to fit in as many properties as possible. Most visits will yield nothing, but persevere and be ready for the search to be longer than you anticipate. You may hit the jackpot on the first day – but it’s unlikely.
FE: Will you make La Valette your full-time home?
RW: Eventually we plan to, but while we are living in Singapore we will be renting out both the gîte and the main house whenever we can. It makes sense to have the property work for us when we aren’t around.
FE: What do you think will be the biggest challenge of living in France?
RW: I think the hardest part, as with any move, will be making new friends. It’s easy enough to meet people and be friendly, but it’s more difficult to make good friends who will be your support network. Our tried-and-
tested method for settling anywhere has been to participate in local community events and get involved with the school.
Brendan’s French is excellent, which is a terrific asset. My French, on the other hand, is basic. I understand quite a bit, but my ability to respond is very limited. It’s my goal for 2017 to improve my French to ‘survival level’ at least, so I can function comfortably on a daily basis. Our son Lars is learning it at school and speaks French with Brendan at home, so hopefully it won’t be long before he is chatting away with the locals.
I also think it will be an adjustment being in a rural setting after spending all these years living in big cities. We will have to be more organised about stocking up on provisions at the shops, once we can’t just pop out to get something at the all-night supermarket down the road.
FE: Did Brexit put you off buying in France?
RW: No, as Irish citizens it doesn’t affect us directly. However, it did confirm for us the importance of getting settled in such an unsettling world. We have been hankering after a home in Europe for a long time now, and as the current market favours the buyer, it seemed like a good time to take the plunge.