A little corner of a foreign field
Why take on a nightmare renovation project when you could have a brand new and surprisingly economical home in sunny south west France?
Many people dream of moving to France, and as a general rule these dreams include derelict stone houses that within the year look like something out of the pages of House and Garden. It does happen of course but not very often. Stone houses are becoming more rare and therefore more expensive. Labour has always been expensive and traditional materials are not always easy to source. For the privileged few, or those with a goodly amount of spare time and plenty of patience and perseverance, it is possible. Otherwise it’s a question of very slowly renovating your home yourself, usually by living onsite in a caravan or perhaps a converted outbuilding. It can be a very rewarding task, but it’s undoubtedly a slow one, needing years rather than months.
So what are the alternatives? Well of course you can simply buy your beautiful farmhouse fully converted. These stunning gems are not quite so rare, but you would need a substantial amount to fulfil that dream. Failing that you could look at the alternative more and more people, both French and English, are turning to:
The Turnkey Project
Have you had a look at the price of building land in the UK recently? Supposing I were to tell you that you could buy a large piece of level ground in southern France, complete with planning permission, all for £30,000? These patches of hitherto unused ground are currently widely available at ridiculously low prices. And having purchased your little corner of a foreign field, what do you do next?
There are several enterprising builders in the Quercy who now offer package deals, from the smallest two bedroom bungalows, to large and gracious villas, complete with billiard room and swimming pool. Prices start at around 80,000 euros or £55,000. For that you would get a well built, smallish two-bed bungalow, set in a large garden and if you’ve taken a little time and care over your choice of plot you will probably have a beautiful view. The property developer will undertake the building of the house for you and he will also negotiate with the architect, who may be in-house anyway. If you are plumping for the least expensive model you will probably have little say in the basic design, which speeds up the process even more. By the time you’ve paid all your legal fees, furnished your house and prepared the ground for a garden, you could expect to have very little change from £100,000. But where in the UK can you buy a detached dwelling of any kind for that sort of money? It’s a booming business, so if you want a slice of the action I’d advise you to get in now before the prices start to rise too steeply.
There are a great many other benefits to this kind of project, as the French realised years ago. They’ve been quietly moving out of their inherited old stone houses and selling them to the British or the Dutch or the Belgians for the last twenty or thirty years. Old houses are not only expensive to buy; they’re also expensive to maintain and to run. A modern house on the other hand would be properly insulated, have double-glazing and easily maintained heating systems. The kitchens are state of the art, clean, bright and built for comfort. Likewise the bathrooms, which can be an extremely important consideration once winter sets in. The Quercy is a land of contrasts. Summer temperatures are gloriously hot and the balmy summer lasts well into the traditional autumn months. But come November, when the frosts finally arrive, temperatures drop like a stone, hovering just above or below freezing for two or three months on end. One of my friends, unaware of this slight hiccup in her plans, didn’t have a bathroom for eighteen months; she and her husband had a good wash in the kitchen sink and a bucket outside. Another friend sleeps in his half-finished chateau, but has to nip across to his gite for a shower every morning. It’s all part of the fun in summer, but it can be a bit uncomfortable in mid-winter with temperatures dipping to minus ten degrees!
The final great benefit of this luxurious system is that you don’t actually have to do very much. You sit back, relax and let the builder; the architect and your notaire do the business for you. When all is completed you are merely required to accept the key and set about planning the enjoyable decoration of your new home and the design of your new garden.
Now that really is a dream come true, don’t you think?
©Amanda Lawrence 2006
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