After 6 months looking and 3 months extremely focused and intensive (15 hours per week) house-hunting we have finally bought our new home in the Dordogne! Voilà ‘La Girouette’…
Anyone who has bought a home in France knows that the system here is very different to the UK/Ireland. For starters there are no big centralised property search engines that all the immobiliers (estate agents) register their properties on. There are dozens of different websites many of which are difficult to navigate and have poor search terms. Next, hardly anyone puts up “A Vendre” (For Sale) signs so you have no idea which houses are actually on the market. After all our searching we genuinely believe that maybe 1 in every 5 houses in the Dordogne must be on the market. The number of properties for sale here is just staggering so you can spend literally weeks trawling through websites trying to find houses which match your criteria.
Then once you do find one which looks good and ticks the boxes on paper you have to try to find out where it is. “Proche d’un village” (near to a village) can mean anything up to 10 kms from the local village and, even then, that village might have no boulangerie or any other shops because there are many, many ‘dead’ villages in the area. The estate agents’ descriptions of locations are deliberately vague because they don’t want people to go to the owners directly for a private sale. Given that the agent’s charge a massive 5-6% of the selling price in fees, you can understand that they might want to safe-guard that income by being as cagey as possible. However, for the house-hunter this makes life very difficult and the whole process incredibly slow because you have to arrange a viewing of every single property which might vaguely be of interest even though you have no idea if it is on a main road or right beside a factory!
They refuse to give out coordinates so you can check it out on Google Earth before visiting which would save a massive amount of time for all concerned. Eventually we learnt and we developed a list of questions which we asked the agents before arranging a viewing but, even then, until we actually arrived at the front door we really have no idea what to expect.
So the last 4 months have included a lot of positive expectations and excitement about specific properties which look amazing on-line and then many crashing disappointments as we found the reality to be not quite what we expected. Because it didn’t happen easily, we both had moments of doubt – “Are we really meant to be living here?” “Why isn’t it happening easily?” – and we have had to learn to be very good with managing disappointment and, at times, despondency as we realised that we were not going to get everything that we had originally hoped for in a property. Our budget was dented severely by the awful Sterling – Euro exchange rate at the end of August and then we discovered that we, the purchaser, had to add another 6% on top of the asking price to cover legal fees and stamp duty!
But, we live our lives based on trust and, despite all the highs and lows, we kept focused on our desires (and constantly surrendering them). Eoin, my partner, wrote a wonderful book last year called “The Possibility Exists….” and we have used that phrase many, many times over the last few months. “The possibility exists that our dream house is just about to go on the market”. “The possibility exists that we might get a windfall which will increase our budget.” “The possibility exists that this is going to be the one.” You get the idea! It is a great phrase to helps to open your mind to all the multitude of possibilities which exist that we can’t even conceive of for our lives right now.
And then there is the impatience! I touched on that in my last blog but it was strong for me sometimes. I used to be very impulsive and, to be honest, if Eoin hadn’t been beside me as the voice of wisdom and reason, I might easily have bought a house a couple of months ago just so we could get settled and get on with the next phase of our lives. We saw a house which ticked ALL the boxes for us (and more) and I was so excited about it but Eoin was able to point out that, whilst the house was brilliant, it was in a valley which would be dark for much of the winter months and didn’t have the light and view which are so important to us.
Then finally there is the big WHERE? The Dordogne is vast and the geography is diverse which means that the climate can change quite a bit from area to area. Our various house-sits and our travels in Mirabelle (the motor-home) taught us so much about what we actually wanted in terms of our environment. Sometimes that can be quite intangible and just really a feeling or energy which we picked up on as we arrived in certain places. It took us nearly 9 months to narrow that down to a 20 kms round the town of Le Bugue – not because we love Le Bugue itself but because we loved the land around it.
As we got more and more specific about what was really important to us, we realised that the last few houses which we visited recently have been getting closer and closer to what we wanted. There was a feeling of heightened positive anticipation and also an acknowledgement that we couldn’t go on looking forever and would, at some point, have to find a home that gave us what we were hoping for even if we did have to compromise on various aspects. And, if so, what were the compromises that we were willing to make?
We decided to take a break from it all over the Christmas holiday primarily to clear our heads a bit and think about something else. Then last Friday, 3 days before Christmas, I came across a new estate agency and found 2 houses listed with them which looked very interesting but, of course, the office was closing for Christmas. On Thursday morning, I followed up on my email enquiry with a phone call and explained to the agent that we were probably going to make an offer on house that date but that I had a strong feeling about one of their properties and would love to see it that afternoon. After a little coaxing she agreed. When we got there she explained that the price had just been reduced by €50,000 the previous week. We visited it, we loved it, we spent the evening talking about and working through our fears of committing to it and, on Friday morning, our offer of the asking price was accepted!! (One of the pluses about the French system is that an offer of the asking price MUST be accepted and the purchasers then have a 10 day ‘cooling down’ period before the transfer 10% of the asking price as a deposit. )
It may sound very rash to buy a house after one viewing but we were so clear about what we wanted that we knew it was right for us and also we knew that the reduced price was incredibly good value and would be snapped up very quickly. The agent had 5 more viewings lined up for this week since the price had been dropped so we didn’t want to risk losing out on it.
Et voila! During the first week of March we will move into our beautiful stone Perigourdine cottage which was built in 1845 and has gorgeous, mature, private gardens, a 10 metre swimming pool set just beside the magnificent Dordogne river and only 4 kms away from the lovely village of Tremolat (with its 1 Michelin star restaurant!). It still hasn’t really sunk in but it is truly a fairy-tale ending to a year full of change and adventures. We will move into Le Giroulette almost exactly 1 year to when we first decided to put our house in Northern Ireland on the market.
One of my life pleasures is creating beauty and I am so excited about creating even more beauty in our new home and being able to share it with family and friends. I can’t wait to move towards more self-sufficiency with our own potager (veg garden), hens, fruit and nut trees. I am looking forward to making more new international friends and becoming part of the local community. I am full of positive anticipation about the spring and all that it will bring into our lives. What happens as a result of all that is completely unknown but this year has taught me to embrace the unknown as exciting and alive rather than terrifying!
But, for now, I am right here, right now, and enjoying this time of hibernation before the burst of new energy and creativity which will come naturally this spring.
What a year 2017 has been! I am so deeply grateful for it all and am touched by the presence of Grace which flows to and through me on a daily basis.
With New Year’s Eve tomorrow, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very HAPPY NEW YEAR and I hope that the year ahead for you is full of great health, much love and deep fulfilment in all that you do.