A Short Experiential Guide to Our Purchase in France

I bought what? Well, we really didn’t plan a purchase, but…. While we were vacationing in France last year, we decided to act on our previous plans to look for, and at, property. We had a few requirements, the major one being an agent who had good English, since our French was rudimentary, and our ability to ask for the location of the library wouldn’t suffice to our needs. We also had no desire to purchase a “fixer upper”, since absentee construction supervision is difficult, to say the least.

First, we spent the better part of a week looking in the windows of immobilier’s offices, and discovering some of the secret language: “maison en pierre” means “stone built house”, not the “house of Pierre”. Also, that “charming” means “needs work”, “for renovation” means “much more work than we want to do”, “great potential” means “time and lots of money can really do a lot”, and so on. By the way, “ris de veau” does NOT mean “Veal with Rice”. We then had the good fortune to find a helpful agent who, after figuring out during some initial skirmishing that we were really interested, found us what we were seeking: a medium sized, fully restored house with a lovely view, and best of all, furnished!

Oh, the agony – as they say, “Remember, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”! We found just what we were looking for, and had little time to make a decision. Many glasses of wine later, we decided to make an offer. E-mails were exchanged, phone calls made, and then..we discovered that buying a house in France means time and lots of paperwork – first the immobilier will negotiate a price for you, then the notaire will prepare papers (in French) to indicate the terms of sale, the seller will sign them, then you sign them within 10 days, and then you wait – 60 days – to be sure no one in the agricultural commune wants the property.

So roughly 3 months after deciding to buy, you go to France and visit the notaire to sign the papers. This was a much more leisurely process than any other closing I have ever attended, complete with pipe smoking and dog petting. The conversation was in French, the papers were in French, and once again, our agent was a godsend through this entire procedure. If we had to do it over, we would have done a few things differently:

  • Opened our French bank account earlier, because not having local checks has proven to be a problem. Much to our surprise, we discovered we couldn’t get checks or an ATM card the day we opened the account. Our USA credit cards would not work to pay for the heating oil and we had no checks.

I’d allow at least a week in France in and about closing, to be sure that you can:

  • Arrange the phone
  • Arrange the internet connection
  • Arrange satellite TV
  • Pay for enough oil for the winter
  • Arrange an account with the water and electrical services.
  • Arrange for someone to perform pool maintenance, if you are not doing it yourself.
  • Purchase insurance coverage for the house and “umbrella coverage”

And most important of all, arrange with your immobilier to help you address those many little nagging problems that will come up after you purchase and leave, especially if you are not using the house full time and will be out of the country.

Useful facts to know or things to ask:

  • There are two types of light bulb bases in France. They are not interchangeable.
  • Gas stoves may use a hob, or tank, which might run out unexpectedly in the middle of dinner.
  • It is a good idea to know where the main electrical breaker for the house is located, in case the house suddenly goes dark.
  • A flashlight (torch) is a useful purchase
  • It is a bad idea to leave plastic bags with food trash outdoors. Remember to recycle. Where is the can?
  • French coffee comes in small bags.
  • Tools and electronics cost more in France
  • Where is the best local second hand market? (brocante).
  • Cats in the pharmacy may live there.
  • Living next to a farm is “charming”. (Roosters crow at 5:30 AM)

So, now we own a house in the south of France, and we couldn’t be happier, unless maybe we were one of our friends who look at this as a great opportunity. In the last six months, Dr. Pimsleur’s CDs have improved our French to the point where I can now do most everyday functions, but I have my doubts that I’ll discuss philosophy or politics with native French speakers in the foreseeable future. This summer we will have long lazy days by the pool, eat lovely fresh food, and drink Cahors AOC wine. The agony and the arrangements are mostly behind us, and the enjoyment can set in. Our thanks go out to Zoe, our immobilier, and to our bank, for making it possible.

Now, about the ris de veau…

© Jack Hutcheson

Jack can be contacted by email on jhut@cox.net

Lingoshpop (Pimsleur):

Leave a Reply

You need to Login/Join to post a comment.