Our plot in the Lot
My husband, a former Assistant Chief Fire Officer, and I, a soon-to-be retired Teacher of Music, have been looking for about 3 years now for the right area in France, and the right type of house to buy to live in permanently. Our main reasons for choosing France over England are: the weather, the empty roads, the food, the laid-back way of life, more advantageous property deals, a new challenge, and above all a genuine enjoyment of all things French. One of us speaks fluently! The other not so good but will learn.
North or South?
We first thought of Pas de Calais, which we considered to be a reasonable journey from our families in middle England. We soon realised that the weather is very like English weather, and can be wet and cold. After numerous trips looking at various parts of the area we decided one rainy afternoon that it was not for us so it was back to the drawing board.
We scoured the Internet again and visited many property exhibitions, both in London and the Midlands, which is not far from where we have our current home. We gathered more information on different areas as we had no definitive areas or ideas other that the type and location i.e. rural and not in a city but a small village. After “picking people’s brains”, we made appointments to see property in areas further south.
What about building a house?
We had read an advertisement in the French Property News regarding new houses in the Lot and Dordogne area, which you could have constructed to suit your own personal needs. This idea and the design of the houses in the magazine appealed to us both. Following telephone calls to the English Agents in Oxford, appointments were made to visit the offices in Cahors and look at the plots of land available.
As a bit of a last minute decision we took off for France again in April this year, heading further south this time. I have to say the further south we drove the warmer the weather became. We do know that it rains in France just like the UK but it was a pleasant journey and the spring sunshine made us feel good. So we were in high spirits.
After a few disappointing visits, on the way down, which had been arranged from other estate agents in various areas, we finally arrived in Cahors, where we had arranged to meet the French architect. This Architectural Practice only sells plots of land on which they will build a house for you. They do not sell plots of land only. On the first morning the lady architect showed us some very French-style new properties they had already built near Prayssac, on individual plots in and around the village. We fell in love with that town and Cahors. She then left us to our own devices to explore the area and not feel pressurised into making any decisions, having recommended a nice hotel in Cahors, called L’Escargot just at the top of the main street.
We drove around a lot of the villages and towns that afternoon and fell completely in love with it all. The following morning, feeling very excited, we had arranged to see the plots of land that were available to build on in that area. She showed us several plots of land, varying from a steep fir-covered plot to a huge plot, miles from anywhere, and one with its own vineyard!
Our Own Plot in the Lot
She was a very clever lady to leave the best until last! The one we eventually bought is on the edge of Cazals, a small village 28 km north west of Cahors, with a population of approximately 600 souls. It contains a Bakery, Greengrocer, Chemist, Post Office, small DIY/Electrical store, Hairdressers and traditional French café/restaurant, situated all around a beautiful village square, complete with plane trees. Our plot measures approximately 4,500 square metres, has a little canal on the left and a stream on the right, both emanating from a disused watermill above and fed by the river Masse, which is now a small stream.
Having decided that the plot in Cazals was the one for us, we returned to the office and went through the details of the Lettre-proposition d’Achat, which is a proposal to buy the land. This proposal is subject to two conditions:
1. Outline planning approval for a residential dwelling of a certain size and type (2 storey)
2. A certificate of urbanisation (land and local authority searches)
There is a 7-day cooling off period before the outline planning permission is submitted to the Town Hall (Mairie). After this time, the document will be submitted and the Mairie has to give a decision on the planning and searches by July 31st 2006. If all is satisfactory, we will then agree and sign the first part of the contract to purchase the plot and build the house. At this point in the process we will instruct a French-speaking solicitor to examine and advise us on the details of the contract. We know that stage payments are required throughout the course of construction. These are paid at 5% on signing the contract, 10% at the start of the build, and staged at 5% amounts throughout construction until completion.
Moving Slowly Forward
Under French law, when purchasing a house, everything at the beginning goes very slowly: 2-3 months from initial approval, then the process speeds up until completion, which we are advised will take approximately 12 months from planning approval. There is, of course, the Notaire’s fee to pay on exchange of the first part of the contract. One lesson we have learnt here already is that you have to have patience, patience, and more patience.
The second part of the process is what design we want. The architect will then prepare drawings based on our criteria, and the different style of houses that she showed us earlier. The architect’s standard designs are all based on local and historic buildings that contain features such as a Pigeonnier, typically found on old farm buildings.
We propose to have a Pigeonnier to house the staircase. Under French Building Regulations, we also have to have a sous-sol, or basement, because of the water situation, about which we are excited because we really like the idea of having all the service areas such as laundry, garages and store rooms situated under the main house.
It will also contain a workshop for one of our hobbies, which is woodturning. We are looking forward to using the different types of indigenous woods found in the many forests of France. The main living accommodation will be situated on the first floor.
All of these features will have to be discussed with our architect and agreed before submitting the design for Building Regulation Approval. At the moment, this will be just a few lines on a drawing. It is with great excitement we await the transformation of our ideas from the drawing board to construction. Part of the learning process here is that everybody’s home is personal to them. This is an advantage when building from scratch, as we require a lounge or room big enough for a baby grand piano because one of us is a retired piano and singing teacher.
Enough Room for a Garden and Pool
As can be seen from the picture, the plot is large. Whilst we are not avid gardeners, and do not propose to turn our garden into an English Rose garden, we will have to research the type of plants suitable for this area. We propose to have the majority of the plot as grass, and therefore have one of the latest boys’ toys: a sit-on lawn mower!
Having decided to move further south for the benefits of warmer weather, we have decided to include a swimming pool. Salt water or chlorine type has not yet been decided, as more research is required.
There are many more pieces of research to complete as the process unfolds such as what type of central heating system to have. We understand that certain types of eco-friendly systems such as solar panels or wood burning stoves attract tax rebates from the French Government of 40% of the cost of materials.
Many ideas have been generated and much research done through the FrenchEntrée web site, with many people sharing their knowledge and experiences with us through the discussion forum. For our part, we will keep you posted as the story of our Plot in the Lot unfolds.
To be continued…
© Bill and Rosalind 2006