Real life: From the US to Gers

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Real life: From the US to Gers

Americans Gordon and Deb prove distance is no barrier to creating a dream home in France, says Richard Hammond…

Gordon and Deb first discovered France In 2011 when they came for a two-week holiday from the States. They enjoyed that trip so much that they started coming back regularly, initially for two weeks every two years, and then for three weeks every year.

Little did they know that those early adventures would one day lead to owning and renovating a house here! “From time to time we would see million euro châteaux for sale on Twitter and think “Wouldn’t that be fun?, but of course we didn’t have a million eurost. Then one morning we spotted a little apartment for sale and thought, hey, this is something we could actually afford.”

Timing also played a crucial role. As Gordon explains: “The pandemic took away our ability to travel. We had to cancel the trip we had planned for 2020 and it made us think. You start to assess how you want to spend the rest of your time and with the pandemic, nobody know how long that would be.”

Deb laughs as she remembers those early days when they were doing the househunting themselves. “We were still in the States at that stage. We had been looking online – especially Gordon. Every morning, looking for houses, hundreds of them. We looked as far as Provence, and all the way up to Dordogne. There were just so many!”

A LUCKY BREAK

Things changed when they read about Richard Hammond.. founder of French Connections HCB, in French Property News. “He was talking about helping to find a house for somebody. That resonated because we both speak a bit of French but not a lot and knew it would be challenging to make the appointments and to be sure we had everything all lined up.”

Gordon and Deb didn’t waste any time. “We had an introductory call with Richard and he talked about being able to walk us through the process of buying a property. What had felt complicated became ridiculously simple.”

They flew to France in September 2021 where Richard had arranged for them to visit 10 houses in the Gers area, which he thought would be perfect for them. “We flew into Toulouse, rented a car and every two seconds we’d be saying “Look at that! Look at that! Look at that! We absolutely fell in love with the area. It was just so beautiful.”

The couple’s brief to Richard had been quite specific. “We wanted services, but not a big city, and we didn’t want to have to worry about a garden or keeping up an outdoor space. Our intention was to do three months here, three months US, three months here, three months back there on the 90/180-day rule, so we didn’t want to have a whole bunch of yard or pool maintenance to worry about, otherwise it would become a headache instead of something fun.”

During their visit, they came very close to buying a place that was ready to move into. “We saw one apartment that was beautiful. We both really loved it. It was set up as an Airbnb, fully furnished, so it was very easy to imagine being there. We asked the agent if we could buy the furniture and he said yes, at an additional price, so we literally could have walked in there with our suitcases with nothing else to do.”

The couple met with Richard prior to leaving the Gers to review the properties they had visited. “That was the magical moment for us. At lunch, we discussed the places we’d seen, what we liked and what we didn’t. Richard talked about the pluses and minuses of owning an apartment versus a house and some of the coproprietor issues and so on. Then he said, “I had an idea last night and wanted to get your thoughts”.

RUIN TO DREAM HOME

Richard drove Gordon and Deb to Mirande, a picturesque town renowned for its quality of life. and he showed them the house that was destined to become their home. “It was basically an abandoned building. There was pigeon poop everywhere -bags of it in what eventually became my office at the top of the house. Richard described it as a bombsite and he was right. But it had the most beautiful staircase Richard told us he was about to renovate it into apartments as he had done with the building next door but if we wanted it, he could turn it into our dream house.”

The pressure was on for Gordon and Debe “We took about three days, talked again and decided to do it. Then the fun started!” From start to finish, the transformation from abandoned ruin to Gordon and Deb’s beautiful townhouse took just seven months, from mid-October to mid-May. The renovation was documented step by step in a series of videos that can be seen on YouTube.

One of the most astonishing factors in this success story was that the entire renovation took place while Gordon and Deb were 4.000 miles away, back home in the States.

© Gordon and Deb

It was a question of confidence and trust. “Richard and the team drew up some computer-generated layouts and graphics and we approved those. Then we had a lot of back and forth, almost every day, on WhatsApp with his questions and our answers. We had a lot of video calls too, with Richard and also with Julie, French Connections HCB’s interior decorator, who sourced the furnishings for us.”

Gordon and Deb soon realised they had the same vision as Richard and Julie.

“Julie would send ideas and we quickly figured out that we had similar tastes Such was my confidence that I decided that if I didn’t know every little detail, it didn’t matter. I sent her a Powerpoint of things we’d collected on instagram, but I’d say it was probably 70% trust and 30% input on our part.”

In practical terms, how did they communicate? “We used Dropbox a lot. Richard and Julie would post things and we would comment, which was an extremely efficient way of working together. The only physical thing we sent was paint swatches from our local paint store, so we were all looking at the same shades.”

In a funny sort of way, being distant but so connected was more efficient than if they had been in France during the renovations. Communication was focused, and responses were necessarily prompt as work was proceeding at pace. “If we had rented a place across the street, we’d have been here every day commenting on this or that. Distance forced a certain amount of trust. We got to see the videos that Richard made and put up on YouTube and in between we had hundreds and hundreds of still photos that he would take showing progress.

NO-GO AREA

© Gordon and Deb

Looking back now, it’s funny to think that when he first started searching for properties online, Gordon used to avoid any that mentioned renovation”. “I wouldn’t even look at it because I knew I didn’t have the building or language skills. The thought of having to manage it from a distance was crazy!”

Now happily settled in their beautiful house, we asked Gordon what he would say to other people reading this article. “When we told our friends what we were doing. they couldn’t believe it. They thought only movie stars would have a house in France. But that’s not true. Where we come from in the US-Upper Midwest-everyone aspires to have a cabin on the lake. We’d have spent two to three times as much as we did on a house in France! The whole thing is possible-financially and practically. What we tell people who say they wish they could do it too is You can”.

© Gordon and Deb

We’ll leave the final won! to Deb. “The wonderful thing is that we’ve been able to influence the outcome. What we love about our house is we got to have real input into what to keep, and what to change. The end result is exactly what I wanted, a mix of the old and beautiful but with modern conveniences and clean walls.”

Their dream house is now finished, but Gordon and Deb will continue their relationship with French Connections HCB, including taking advantage of their ‘subscription package’. which provides support with everyday French admin for a small monthly sum.

“We’ve only been in our house for a week and a half, but we are already talking about the possibility of being able to stay for longer than 90 days out of 180, which is the current rule. We’re interested in finding out more about visas and even potentially setting up businesses too.”

Book a free initial 15 minutes consultation with French Connection: HCB Tel: 0033 (0)1 85 6574 98.

© Gordon and Deb

The unique mix of legal, financial and tax advice along with in-depth location guides, inspiring real life stories, the best properties on the market, entertaining regular pages and the latest property news and market reports makes French Property News magazine a must-buy publication for anyone serious about buying and owning a property in France.

Lead photo credit : © Gordon and Deb

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Comments

  • Harry Jones
    2024-02-01 11:46:18
    Harry Jones
    It's a pity you did not give us a link to the YouTube of the renovations. I have searched and cannot find it.

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