Part 2: a year in Normandy


Part 2: C’est la vie…

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…We decided to plan how many times we would be able to visit Le Mascaret over the year. We looked forward to exploring the beautiful countryside of the Forêt de Brotonne and strolling along the banks of the Seine watching the colourful barges carrying their cargoes between Paris and Le Havre, while making our first tentative steps to meet the locals.

Suddenly, it hit us that, in our whirlwind purchase, we had not examined the property closely for defects nor had we asked the most obvious of questions we would have asked in the UK, such as do you have woodworm treatment reports and where is the septic tank maintenance log?

We decided we must have a property survey done and quickly! Under French property law you can withdraw your offer within 7 days with no financial penalty. However, if you pull out between 8 and 30 days you have to pay 10% of the selling price.

We contacted the estate agent who arranged for a surveyor to visit the property. We were relieved when the report came back that our dream cottage was “en bon état” (in good condition).

Now the date could be fixed for our bilingual daughter to exchange contracts on our behalf. She would meet with the vendors on November 14, under the presiding eye of the Notaire in Pont Audemer.

We scrutinised the exchange rate offered by several financial dealers but we decided to stick with the French subsidiary of our bank in the UK. The exchange rate was a little higher but there was no charge for the transfer and it should be less complicated. As the date for exchanging contracts approached, there was a flurry of e-mails, faxes and phone calls between banks, our daughter and the notaire’s office, as there was no sign of our funds in the new account. Once again, we heaved a sigh of relief as the electronic transfer was traced to a separate holding account in Paris.

Formalities concluded, the gracious French vendors invited our daughter to dine with them at a restaurant nearby. She gratefully accepted but not before ringing us to say we were now the proud owners of Le Mascaret so we celebrated as well with a glass or two!

A few weeks later, we received a letter addressed to the occupier informing us that our house and the two neighbouring properties were to be supplied with separate electricity meters rather than sharing the same one for all three houses! A strange French custom, we thought! Apparently, the bill had always been split three ways. As owners of a holiday home, we thought we would be disaadvantaged by such a deal so we readily accepted. In French due course (several months later), an electrician from Electicité De France (EDF) took one look at our antiquated distribution board and, with a Gallic shrug and sigh, condemned all the wiring in the cottage. So much for our property survey that clearly stated that the wiring was en bon état! (Top Tip: If you do want to have a property survey done, don’t ask your Estate Agent to find one for you as the company they recommend will obviously be biased!) Any redress would be expensive and time consuming to novices like us so we bit the bullet and contracted a skilled local electician from the village to rewire and fit extra points inside and out to suit our needs. (Another top tip: keep all receipts from buildng work so that you can deduct it from capital gains tax when you sell on your property).

Dusted, redecorated and furniture covers removed, our wiring was given the seal of approval by EDF with a grand switching on ceremony!

The following day we awoke to seeing the local farmer tramping across our garden with three munching cows eyeing our lawn over the gate. It seemed that it wasn’t just our electricity that we shared with the community. Thank goodness his herd of cattle did not have ancient grazing rights but, with our limited language skils and many gestures, we discovered that the stopcock for the cattle water troughs half a kilometere away was – yes, you have guessed it – located in our back garden! C’est La Vie… C’est La Vie à la normande!

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