(If you would like to read previous posts, please go to My French Life.)
So, the house of our dreams was going to be in up-market Corme Royal, with its very own 12th century church. Around seven miles from where we were staying in our rented gite. Little did I realise that finding a house was only the first step in a long, and incredibly boring process, fraught with traps for gormless hippy-types whose French was still a little rusty and whose life experience had been, thus far, as pleasant as a tranquil scene from a Wordsworth poem. Twiddle dee, twiddle dum.
The square in Corme Royal - very posh!
However, undaunted by the huge problems we were yet to discover...we made a semi-confident offer slightly below the asking price, which was promptly rejected. “Yes,” said Anna, our costly estate agent (10%!!), the house is over priced, “but Mme X has no need to sell quickly, if at all…”
It turned out that the house had, in fact, been on the market for four years, in which time Mme X had received one (derogatory) offer. One offer in four years! So, with the logic of French property sales going over our heads once again, we upped our offer as much as we could, whilst nervously watching the exchange rate steadily descend.
To cut a (very) long story short, in the end we agreed a price that would just about cripple us financially, and (more frightening still) stretch our largely fictional mortgage application to breaking point. All for the incomparable delight of sitting in an overly spacious office, with an overly important notaire, who treated us to a heart-felt rendition of the forty-page document detailing everything from our full names, date of birth and shoe size, to the terms and conditions surrounding various guarantees against termites, building integrity and the presence of lead and asbestos.
It was at this point, perched on the edge of our chairs and on the brink of despair, that several worrying as yet unmentioned ‘minutiae’ were uncovered: The roof was asbestos (but, apparently, not the ‘dangerous’ type), the wall in the bouanderie was asbestos, too (type not specified). Some of the paint used in the house was so laden with lead that we were advised to remove it only whilst wearing protective clothing and quality breathing equipment, and to ensure that our children didn’t inhale for a month after such removal. Also, (a minor point) we learned that our toilet was not connected to the mains, but rather functioned via a ‘fosse etanche’ which was situated under the bathroom and which, according to Mme. X was a state-of-the-art system, and which, according to the notaire, was technically illegal, unless we had specifically agreed to not having it changed and brought up to the ‘norme’.
There was a pause in the proceedings, which had my husband and I thinking about backing out of the whole deal. Especially when we had also learned that the clause I’d asked for in the agreement which ensured that the house would be left to the surviving spouse in the event of extreme misfortune (and not immediately divided up between the snapping children), had been omitted!
In the end, being irrepressibly optimistic and a tad gullible, we signed on an infinite number of dotted lines and hoped for the best.
Mme X looked smug and Mr. X seemed delighted.
“It’ll be fine!” said Al.
“I love you,” I replied.
Much more fun than buying a house!
For better or for worse, the house was ours. What next? Oh, yes. We needed to rewire it. “How does 14,000 euros sound?” enquired a friend of a friend, who lived in a very big house and drove a very nice car. “What about 9,000 euros?” offered a fully qualified and above-board English electrician (no language barrier...). My mouth flapped, Al’s jaw dropped, and I set about getting more quotes.
Finally, we hired a local French electrician who quoted 6,000 euros and gave us a 10% discount. Sorted! We arranged the dates for the work to be completed two weeks before we were due to leave the gite and move in. Perfect.
Did I say ‘perfect’?