Sylvia Edwards Davis chats to South African couple Almarie and Dan Hugo about their bold move to buy two period ﬂats in Haute-Garonne – within the same building…
FRENCHENTRÉE MAGAZINE: What brought you to France?
ALMARIE HUGO: We love it. We have visited France so many times. We love everything about France: the language, the food, the people and the beautiful countryside. We just feel so at home here.
FE: Tell us about the properties.
AH: We bought the first property in June 2016; a newly-renovated one-bedroom apartment with a mezzanine in a historic Haussmann building. It’s in a quiet corner of the village of Bagnères-de-Luchon, but very central, close to shops, the thermal baths and the ski lift. Apartment two is also completely renovated in the same building on the corner of the first floor, with beautiful views of the mountains. It has two bedrooms and a very comfortable living area, with a fitted contemporary kitchen area, and a secure cellar for storage of bikes and skis. There is ample parking alongside the park, opposite the entrance, which is very convenient for us as well as for our guests.
FE: The flats really sound like a dream come true, how did you find them?
AH: We found the first apartment through a property search professional, Nadia Jordan from FoothillsofFrance.com. We live in South Africa so we were buying remotely, and we always say that we couldn’t have done it without her. We gave Nadia our budget and our detailed list of criteria. The search took about three months. Nadia would go to estate agents and find properties that might be of interest to us. Then she visited them and provided us with weekly updates of her viewings. Our job was to give her feedback and narrow down the shortlist so that we could make the most of our time when we came down for our viewing trip.
FE: And the second flat?
AH: We did not actually search for the second one, it was pure luck that we were in Luchon at the right moment. We were spending Christmas here and Dan and I kept being amazed at how much this little gem of a village has to offer. Luchon ticks all the boxes for being a good rental in both summer and winter seasons. Talking to Nadia again she informed us of a second apartment that was in the market. We made an offer and it was accepted. So now we have two apartments in the same building. Who would have thought?
FE: How did you find the whole process of buying in France?
AH: It was an absolute pleasure from start to finish. We stayed in Luchon for ten days in June 2016. We viewed about twelve apartments, which we had shortlisted beforehand via the reports that Nadia had mailed us. The notaire sent all the documents in the post. We signed everything and sent the paperwork back. The entire process took about four months all told and in November 2016 we were the proud owners of an apartment in France.
FE: Did you have to compromise on any of your search criteria?
AH: No, not at all. Once again, this was all down to Nadia. She made everything run smoothly and we had such good communication with her. We stipulated that we wanted no pool, no garden, and were not interested in renovating – and that we would like to buy an apartment with basic furniture. We could not have bought an apartment without her help, and certainly on our own we wouldn’t have spotted such a great find and have everything go so seamlessly.
FE: Did you end up having to pay the full asking price?
AH: It was a coincidence but in both cases we paid 92% of the initial listing price.
FE: Did you come within the budget you had set forth in the original search criteria?
AH: Yes, we were very fortunate; but once again it was also thanks to Nadia because she helped to keep the search really focused. We believe we will achieve a good balance of getting a fair rental return on our investments as well as enjoying them ourselves.
FE: Did you need to obtain financing?
AH: Precisely because we stayed within our budget we were able to pay cash for our apartment. Everything worked out.
FE: Do you have any advice for potential property buyers?
AH: Don’t underestimate the time needed to search for a property. If, like us, you live in another country and time is an issue, take advantage of the services of someone local that can take your hand through the process. It saves you both time and money, if you think for example of the potential expense of having to come back on repeated trips. In our case, we were the proud owners of our property within four months.
FE: How is your French? Did you find the language barrier challenging at any point?
AH: I think we were scared, because of the language barrier. I have been taking French lessons for a while now, and manage quite well. As soon as the French heard that we were trying to speak their language, though, they were so patient. Plus they love the South African accent. Working with a property professional that can speak English and French was of course a huge advantage. We now have a French bank account and that helps a lot to create your debit orders for electricity, etc.
FE: What do you enjoy most about the location of the apartment?
AH: Everything can be done on foot! You are close to all the spots of interest. Bagnères-de-Luchon is a spa town in the heart of the Pyrénées, surrounded by steep hills and beautiful scenery. It has retained the elegant Belle Époque architecture that gives the town its charm – it is known as the Queen of the Pyrénées. The lively holiday destination attracts hikers, spa-goers, skiers, white-water sport enthusiasts, mountainbikers and bicycle tourists throughout the year. It has hosted many stages of the Tour de France.
FE: So the plan is to use it as combination of holiday home and let it out?
AH: Yes. We would like to spend a few months a year in Luchon. We listed the first apartment on Airbnb and within the first month it was fully booked for the ski season in February and March. French people love to come and ski in Luchon and they have given us beautiful, positive reviews on the location of the apartment and also on how warm and cosy it is. The apartment is very well equipped; we took great care to include everything needed for a comfortable holiday, winter or summer. We are planning to gradually stay for longer and longer periods in the near future. Our wish is to become part of the community, to meet the people that live in the town, hoping to be able to build relationships with them.
FE: With the knowledge that you’ve gained, would you do it all over again?
AH: Oh, yes. Come to think of it, we already did! We are so thrilled with our apartment one and the rental success of it, that we bought apartment two in the same building.
FE: What is your favourite feature of the property?
AH: We love to open our shutters and experience the beautiful views of the mountain, and to listen to the sound of the water in the stream that runs close to our apartment.
FE: What surprised you the most about the whole experience?
AH: Thinking back on it now, it’s that our experience of buying a property went so smoothly that we decided to buy another apartment!