‘Don’t let’s ask for the moon; we already have the stars.’ This is the final line in the film ‘Now, Voyager’ with Claude Rains (born in Camberwell but often played Frenchmen) and Bette Davis. I always think of it when recalling our journey to find our house, which is called, intriguingly, La Lune (the moon). It’s almost 14 years since we first saw it, so I thought I would share with you our adventures. I’ll post them in four parts, since they are too long for one post.
Most people who have bought a property in France have experienced the interminable days driving from one house to the next in search of the dream. We’ve all seen houses described as habitable that are anything but, and could not possibly have been for the past 50 years. We went through all this, but there was a happy ending and some interesting events en route.
Under starter’s orders…
For some time, we had been planning to buy a holiday home in France with a view to retiring there. The Statistics Freak spent several years working in Limoges in the seventies and became addicted to la vie française. We enjoyed many holidays in France while still living in England. A visit to a French property exhibition in London in March 1997 provided estate agent contacts and yielded some properties to visit in southwest France.
Our plane landed at Toulouse in bright, late April sunshine. As soon as we left the terminal, we felt this was a different continent. We picked up our small hire car and drove up towards Cahors, delighting in the sunshine and the burgeoning green of the countryside. Of course, we were fooled into thinking the weather was always like this and no one disabused us of the notion.
…and we’re off
We saw 21 properties in five days in the Aveyron, Lot, Tarn and Tarn-et-Garonne. Each time, our expectations rose, only to sink again when yet another house failed to live up to them. Of those 21, only two were ever possibilities. One of them we bought and have lived in since August 1997. The other, an imposing but decrepit white stone Quercy farmhouse, would have been ruinous to our finances.
There were two main lessons that the estate agents taught us. First, that nearly all the properties on the market were being sold because people had overstretched themselves. That lesson averted the potentially disastrous purchase of the imposing white stone house. Second, that every house has its maximum value. Whatever you do to it, you will never exceed it, no matter how many gold taps you install in the bathroom or indeed how many bathrooms you put in.
We also found that the French estate agents completely disregarded our carefully-formulated requirements and showed us whatever they happened to have on their books. We drove miles to places that we would never have considered purchasing. They had an idée fixe about what British people wanted.
Negotiating the first fence
On our first afternoon in Cahors, we called in at a French estate agent. He sent us off on a 50km wild goose chase to a water mill that was simply inappropriate. We suspected that it was being sold as the result of a divorce. A harassed looking woman with a clutch of small children showed us distractedly around the house, which was poorly restored and badly decorated. We got away as soon as we politely could.
Having extricated ourselves from the woman, who watched wistfully as we drove off, we headed for Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in Tarn-et-Garonne for our next appointment with an English estate agent. Our adventures there are the subject of Part 2.
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