Peter and Fran get their own piece of France

meadow with sign
Our very own plot

We’d been back for just two days from our exploratory trip to France before finally deciding that we had to buy the plot of land. It was only the second piece of land we had visited but the moment we saw the two and half thousand square meters of woodland on the edge of the Dordogne we knew it was perfect for our project.

Like so many before, Fran and I had dreamt of buying property in France. Redundancy and early retirement provided the financial opportunity and we quickly began to explore the possibilities. Meeting two good friends who had opted for new build, off plan, rather than the more conventional restore and refurbish approach we became convinced that buying land and building a new house would work best for us.

The advantages of a newbuild

There are several advantages. The house comes with ten years of guarantees, a year to report and have “snags”, those frustrating little faults, fixed and, of course, a design that we will have had a full part in shaping. Fittings are all new and, with the EC’s strict regulations on new build quality, we shall have an extremely well insulated house that will be efficient to heat, keep cool and maintain.

Financial outlay initially will probably be more than buying an old house but from the start the final price is fixed and there are no hidden costs. A number of our friends have been surprised at the final cost of refurbishing an older property, which can be significantly more than expected.

Another plus point for us was the fact that we were not using a mortgage. A new build requires payment in stages and as a result there’s a further advantage to be gained from the interest accrued on moneys left in a UK savings account during the building process.

The one disadvantage

Of course a big disadvantage was the wait. From seeing the land it will be around eighteen months before we finally get our house. But we’ve both enjoyed the dreaming, discussing, the planning and the trips to France to watch over the design and build process.

How we did it

Location and finding the land is the first major hurdle to overcome. We made use of an independent agent who works with a major building company in the South West of France. We were introduced to Didier through our friends. His office is in Montpon-Menesterol, a small town halfway between Perigueux and Bordeaux. It’s hardly a tourist hotbed but Didier works for a number of English clients. His English is excellent and the fact that he also works for many French customers was, for us, a plus point.

During our first meeting Didier set out the key budget areas – purchase and clearance of the land, access, building work, utilities and fencing. We were clear from the outset as to the budget requirements and then, after a good lunch in a Montpon restaurant, Didier chauffeured us around this part of the Dordogne to look at plots of land for sale. A number of plots were grouped together with permission for several houses. We were more interested in single plots. Many were simply fields with little vegetation and few if any trees. Those within or close to towns or hamlets were generally more expensive than the more isolated plots.

We were lucky. A piece of land complete with mature trees, with water and electricity already available on site, relatively close to Montpon and the hamlet of St Martial d’Artenset, with neighbours but not too close and looking over a field of sunflowers – it all seemed just perfect. And so after a few days thinking about it we e-mailed Didier to say ‘yes’. We had made an offer for the land and waited impatiently for the response.

What followed the offer

The concept of making an offer appeared not to be the norm but we insisted and after a few days learnt that our offer had been accepted. After two further trips to Montpon, one to meet the estate agent and the present landowners to sign contracts, a tortuous process lasting the best part of an hour, followed by a final trip to meet the landowners again and the solicitor to complete the final papers, we were the proud owners of a little piece of France.

This two-stage process when buying land involves agreeing a price subject to planning permission being granted. Once we had that from the local Mairie we were able to finalise the deal. If planning permission is not obtained then the deal is off and all moneys are returned. The notary’s fees were about two thousand euros although at a later stage we received a surprise refund of almost five hundred euros.

In the interim and between the agreements on the land we had had to decide on a design for the house – but that’s for next time.

Peter Holdsworth

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