Author Archives: myotherhouseisinfranceblog

Chapter 11: Premiere Etage

The premiere Etage in a French home is the second floor in an American home, and generally speaking is where the bedrooms and bathroom will be located – or in France, the chambres and salle de bain.  LaRoseraie had three bedrooms on this floor and one bathroom – well, sort of…

Chambre One was a jewel from the start.  The walls were ensconced with beautiful mouldings and was a big part of stealing our hearts from the first day.  It was a large room with a big, beautiful window and a fireplace, but had a few issues.  The first was the two venetian glass doors that flanked the bed wall – one went to a passageway into chambre two and the other was a false door, which we assume was there to create symmetry with the other door.  There was also a third redundant door to the left of the entrance door that had presumably been a former means of exiting the room via a partition in the entrée to allow a former madam to make a quick exit to the bathroom across the entrée hall while still in bedclothes.  We opted to leave the latter in place, but affix it permanently shut and to remove the two venetian glass doors, along with the passageway, then refinished that wall – adding mouldings to match the existing.

Fear not! The two Venetian glass doors would not go to waste, as I had committed to saving every possible detail of this house.  They were repurposed as new doors to the two toilette rooms and have added a special charm in both locations.

What you will not notice is the extent of restoration needed to the wall mouldings – the original ones were in worse condition than we initially realized and then additional, extensive damage was caused when the ceilings were replaced, so roughly half of the wall mouldings are actually new – and once the painters were done with them they looked better than they likely looked even when they were new.  As I stated before – if you find a really good painter, they will be worth their weight in gold! After completion, chambre one is the most sought after room to stay –

The other major work needed on the premiere etage were the damaged ceilings from a roof leak that had been resolved when the roof was replaced 10-15 years ago.  What had not been resolved were the damaged ceilings.  The best solution here was to add a layer of steel framing studs, then attach a layer of plasterboard.  This would both support the structure and fully repair the ceilings’ integrity.  All carpets were removed, all wallpaper was removed, walls were repaired, then covered in a layer of textured fiberglass and painted.  The floors were repaired, sanded, stained, and then varnished.  New base trim was added throughout to add a touch of elegance and better proportion, and all electrical was replaced with the addition of recessed lighting and chandeliers in each chambre.  Though each chambre has a fireplace – only the ones in chambre 1 & 3 are potentially useful.  We intend to have each fireplace inspected and will consider gas inserts at a future time if possible.

Chambre Two was equal in size to chambre one but with no ornate wall details.  Instead, our obstacle in this room was concerning the passageway that had been used to traverse between chambers’ one and two and the fact the bulk of the water damage had been focused in this room.  Add to that, at some point in time this was the one section of the house that had settled a bit, so the fireplace had been cemented closed, presumably because it was rendered unsafe.  Since we do not plan to use the fireplaces with possible exception to one day retrofitting a few with gas inserts for ambiance and some supplemental heat, this was not a problem for us.  The first order of business, however, would be to remove the passageway and relocate the radiator, then repair the ceiling, walls, floor, windows, etc., add the base trim and ready it for final finishes.

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Chambre 2 had the greatest challenges with its ceiling and the fact it had an unnecessary passageway to chambre 1 – the first order of business was to restore the ceiling, then remove this passageway.  The floor was also in terrible condition from both water and insect damage.  Intent to maintain as much original material as possible, we needed to have several boards replaced.  Once all was sanded, stained and varnished, it looked just fine!

Chambre 2 has the flexibility to have either two single or one king sized bed.

Chambre Three had few obstacles – it was a simple means of  a new ceiling, fiberglass and paint on the walls, new electrical, new floor finish, and base trim.

 

Once completed, despite being the smallest of the three chambres on this floor, it carries a charm that is uniquely Parisian –

chambre 3.1chambre 3.2Chambre 3chambre 3.3

The Premiere Entrée before:

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As you can see – from the crumbling ceiling down to the worn floors, this once beautiful space had lost its luster – so it received the star treatment of new ceilings all the way down to refinished floors.

The Premiere Entrée After:

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It was our intent to not only retain as much original detail as possible, but to ensure the finishes and material in the entrees and stair were maintained in the style characteristic of its period.  I found the restored French vintage chandeliers online, the vintage mirror was sourced from Maison du Monde and the draperies were custom made with a vintage Berger fabric by a local artisan.

The final room on this floor would be the salle de bain.  Originally, it housed a bathtub with hand shower, a wall-mounted sink and a bidet.  All of the plumbing had been attached to the exterior wall of the house since the bathroom had been added a number of years after the house was built, so one of the tasks would be to bring this inside for future protection from the cold and potential freezing temperatures.

Salle de Bain Before:

Salle de Bain During:

Once the tile, fixtures and old plumbing and electrical were removed, the task could begin to repair and prepare the surfaces for new finishes.  One thing to note with a house of this construction – not only are all exterior walls stone block, but the primary interior walls will also be stone.  Any walls that were constructed thereafter would most likely be clay tile covered with plaster.  The difficulty occurs when blocking is required for fixtures, radiators, etc. since these substrates provide poor strength for anchoring weighty hardware.  We had one such case in this bathroom.  The electric radiator had been attached to the clay tile wall and after a few months, dislodged and fell off the wall.  The remedy was to add to the porcelain marble-look tile to cover the area behind where the radiator would attach to provide a stronger surface for the wall anchors.  In hindsight, we should have opened the wall, added blocking, then plastered over.

Salle de Bain After:

As you can see, our objective was to give this bathroom/SDB a more vintage feel than we designed for the second floor bathroom/SDB.  The primary components were the utilization of natural materials such as the white marble and charcoal slate floors, and vintage styling through the fixtures where we utilized porcelain and chrome.  The light fixtures also lend a vintage feel, although you’ll notice the ceiling fixture is, in fact, original to the house – it is the ceiling fixture that was in the ground floor entry, re-purposed to add the perfect finishing touch.

 

Now complete – this bathroom has a large walk-in shower, an oversized sink vanity and a toilette.

Chapter 10: Being Here – Visa’s, Phones & More

I think this is how it happens.  You go on holiday and visit a place for a few days or a week or two and it awakens something in you where you become inspired and think, “Gee, I feel so relaxed or at home here – I think I could live here and be very happy!”  You are then met with enthusiasm and positivity by those you speak with – “Oh, yes – you should do that!  It’s rather easy to purchase a place here.”  Well, it IS and it ISN’T.  If I told you right now that purchasing and then embarking on a major restoration while living in another country was going to be the easy part, you might run for the hills…unless you are still under the enchantment of the place you’ve fallen in love with, in which case, it matters not.

We found this place much sooner than we anticipated and undertook a restoration bigger than we planned.  At this point, I’m in the midst of my first winter here, spring is a promising glance away, and I can honestly say it is not the experience I had hoped for.  We thought with the interior renovation at 95% complete given we were down to draperies, artwork, and small finishing touches, it was decided it would be a wonderful time to have our first Christmas here with the entire Hays family.  This entailed flying my husband and myself, our two adult children and their significant others to France while my brother-in-law and his wife would arrange to bring themselves and their two adult daughters.  I would fly in ten days before Christmas and begin readying the house for family that would arrive on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th.  Fortunately, I had spent a month here between mid-October and mid-November sorting out where to find the necessary provisions for a holiday – trees, turkeys and all.  The plan was after everyone had returned to the States, I would remain for the winter since that had been our long-term plan anyway.  It was a solid plan.  Live in the house, see what works and what still needs work or attention, get it ready for its first rental season, maybe reach out and meet a few neighbors, and then return to the States in the spring.  During this time, I was to receive delivery on one of our vehicles from the States – that is a story that continues to unfold, so more on that later.  The other issue to address was the fact I would be staying in another country for greater than 90 days, meaning I would need a visa.  To obtain a visa, as an American traveling to France, I first needed to contact the French Consulate in Boston – which was the closest to where I live in the United States.

For this visa, you will first need to fill out a form online, submit it and select a date and time for an interview at the consulate.  You are then given the list of documents and procedures you will need to bring with you to this interview.  While I can only speak for my specific needs of American to France, I suspect it’s pretty much the same as an American traveling in all states of the EU.  This list includes:

  1. An active and valid U. S. passport, (must have a minimum of 6 full months remaining)
  2. Statements of income and employment,
  3. A notarized letter stating you will not seek employment,
  4. Something attesting where you intend to stay while you’re there – for us it was a notarized document from the notaire in France of our property ownership.
  5. Attestation of travelers insurance that includes repatriation and medical evacuation.  Our insurance company recommended IMG (www.imgpoc.com) Travelers insurance is not terribly expensive and because most U. S. insurance providers will not cover you when you are beyond the borders of the United States, it’s a good idea.  Add to that should you suffer an accident or major medical emergency or the unimaginable happen and you perish while abroad, the horrors of having to deal with this along with the cost of repatriation is enough peace mind to warrant it.  That said, it will be a requirement, not simply peace of mind. There is a broad spectrum of limits and deductible options – I chose the maximum coverage with a $250 deductible for a period of 6 months and all totaled it was just over $900. It also includes a prescription card.
  6. A criminal background check, which you will need to conduct yourself. That will be through the website of the state you reside and will cost $25.
  7. A passport photo separate from your passport – so when you have passport pictures done, do yourself a favor and have additional ones printed for this, an international drivers license, etc.  I’d recommend having at least 6 printed to save hassles later.
  8. A personal check or money order to pay for the visa.  Mine was $100.
  9. And last, but not least, a self-addressed express envelope they will use to send your visa. They will also keep your passport and return it with or without the visa.

On the appointed day and time, you must arrive on time and with all of the necessary paperwork where you will be signed in and seated across from an agent behind a glass wall.  You will pass all of the required documents through a slot in the glass and will answer a litany of question.  I was very nervous for my appointment because the rules seemed very daunting, but when we arrived, although we were early, we were taken right away, my husband was allowed to remain in the room with me, and the agent was very friendly and helpful – not at all what I anticipated.  As he was reviewing the documents, he stopped and exclaimed, “No…really…?”  (I’m getting nervous here…) “You have a house in Sainte Terre?!?” he exclaimed – to which I responded, “Yes…?”  “I’m from Sainte Terre!” he said.  This is the point I knew it wasn’t going to be so bad!

Because I wanted the convenience of not revisiting this entire process every year, the decision was made to apply for a visitors long sejour visa that would give me up to 7 consecutive months per year.  This added a step to this process.  After my arrival in France, I would need to mail a document that was returned with my visa announcing to the OFII (which is the office of immigration in France) I had arrived to the state of France.  Within 30 days of your arrival, you need to mail it from the same region you are staying.  Within a few weeks, you will receive an attestation/confirmation they have received this and then you wait for them to contact you for a medical exam and interview.  There are several locations throughout France, but yours will be with the location that is closest to where you are residing.  Mine was Bordeaux.

The tricky thing about this is you have no idea when you will be scheduled so making plans to travel around or set appointments becomes challenged.  I arrived on December 15th.  I mailed my document the first week of January after the holiday commotion was over.  I received my attestation within two weeks of that, but my appointment did not get scheduled until March 16.  I was notified by email on March 2nd.  I had one appointment at 10:15 at a radiology facility for x-rays, then another appointment at 1:30 for a medical exam at a separate location in the city of Bordeaux.  Sounds like a fun day, right?  Think again.  The good part is I finally knew when it was going to be and could plan accordingly. You are further instructed to go online and pre-pay for your stamp in accordance to the type of visa you are applying for.  Since mine is considered a “Titre de Sejour Visitors” visa, mine is the maximum of $250.  You will also be asked to bring:

  • your passport,
  • an additional head shot photo (can be the same as is on your passport and visa)
  • proof of residence – whether it’s rental or ownership
  • an electric bill, tax bill or notaire attestation to further verify your status
  • the stamp from the OFII website validating your payment of the stamp
  • the x-ray and radiology report

Now, let me first say, I absolutely love Bordeaux; its architecture and monuments, it’s grandeur, the shops, and of course, the wine.  What I do not love is getting in or out of Bordeaux.  The streets are best described as chaotic with little rhyme or reason. (yes, I believe even worse than Boston)  I suspect it’s the way in big cities who follow the path of the river they encompass.  Streets are narrow, many are one way, several are closed to pedestrian only, and I suppose if you live and drive there often, you get to know the landscape, which may make it ‘plus facile’.  But here’s where it gets more complex; not only are the streets narrow and often times curved, but here’s a city struggling with the choke-hold of becoming filled with too much with no easy way to remedy it.  Too many people, too many cars, a decent public transportation system and not nearly enough infrastructure to accommodate.  So what does a city like this do?  Well, for starters, they have perhaps more underground parking than above ground, they block major arteries and bridges to bus and/or pedestrian traffic only, and in order to keep up with the constantly overtaxed roads and transportation systems, they have seemingly constant road construction.  Inconvenient you think?  Worse.  Let me paint you a picture.  You are on your way to Bordeaux – a city you’ve driven in and out of perhaps 6 or 8 times EVER.  Each time you have been met with differing construction and road blockage issues  – but none like you were about to experience.  Your GPS, which is installed in a car less than a year old does not seem to be aware there is road construction or that there are now bus lanes only where car traffic used to exist – across the major bridge to the city.  And the traffic lights?  I estimate there is one every 200 meters and each one is longer than you can imagine.

I glance at the GPS and it tells me my fifteen minute lead time has been reduced to ten – not bad.  Still time to park, right?  Then, I encounter ‘the bridge’.  One I’ve driven across numerous times last year when I was traveling to Bordeaux to work out my kitchen plans.  It’s perhaps one of the most beautiful and stately gateways to any city and it is now open only to buses and pedestrian traffic.  In disbelief, I allow the GPS to re-route me, but it is insistent it will bring me across this bridge.  GPS says I will be there five minutes before my appointment. Getting nervous… After the second re-route, I realize my only option is to ignore the GPS and continue following the river until I reach another bridge – which eventually I do.  Maybe I’ll only be a few minutes late… I just need to get across this bridge.  As I watch my appointment time come and go, I am faced with not only road construction – but entire streets intended to get me to my destination blocked and completely devoid of pavement.  I am left with no other option than to follow my instincts and try to loop around this city I do not know until I am beyond the reaches of this unrelenting construction to see if there is any possible way to selvedge this day.

Finally, I arrive at the Radiology center a full forty minutes late, but there is parking available (YES!) and when I’m inside, though horrendously flustered, heart pounding, hands shaking and all, the two women at the check-in desk are not.  They cheerfully check me in, I take a seat, and within ten minutes I am called for my appointment.  I’m not sure if that’s when I would have originally been called or if I just got really lucky.  My appointment was to be at 10:15, and by 11:25 I was done.  The next appointment at the OFII facility was an 8 minute walk, so I headed there.  One of the women at the desk kindly googled and printed me a map.

I arrive at the OFII location and enter but am instantly met by the person I will refer to as the ‘guard dog’.  He informs me my appointment is not until ‘apres midi’ and I must leave and return as he ushers me out by firmly pushing on the back of my arm.  Well alrighty, then.  I now have two hours to wander to my hearts content, and wander I did.  I realized this was quite close to the whole shopping and tourist district in Bordeaux, so wandered up and down streets, trying to not to lose my bearings since I had no phone to assist me with finding my way back.  Ahhh yes, the phone.

I’m not sure what the statistics are for the numbers of people owning and using cellular phones might be, but I suspect the population among developed countries is significant – perhaps 80% of those over age 12.  That fact alone is fairly staggering to me considering I’m not that old and it doesn’t seem that long ago if you needed to make a call and you were not at home you needed to find a public pay phone.  And for the record, the phone at home was still firmly attached to the wall.

In this state of perpetual connectivity, most of us still seek the assurance of anything we need being a phone call, text or email away and as technology evolves with the speed of light we are also frequently seeking newer and flashier devices.

I was lucky.  I had a friend here who freely offered up the use of her phone number for the various accounts and deliveries I was in constant need of but also knew those days would need to be limited.  The thought, however, of standing in the line for the queue at the Orange store and the even longer line waiting for an agent was daunting.  Most of us would just bite the bullet and do it, but after months of procrastinating, a new solution suddenly came clear to me so I wanted to offer it here.

I was long overdue for an upgrade on my current U. S. cell phone.  It still worked well, it just didn’t have all the bells and whistles of the newer models and its battery was getting a bit tired.  But it was mine.  No contract, no obligations – mine.  I purchased a new U. S. phone, then upon my return to France, took my old phone to the Orange store (I needed a decoder box for my television anyway), bought a sim card, added a modest plan to my home Wi-Fi/TV package and voila – a French phone number and all the freedom and independence it offers.

On the morning of my OFII appointment, both my sister, who is visiting, and my phones were running exceptionally slow while we were trying to check the weather app – so she suggested turning it off and letting them re-boot to clear the sluggishness.  Good idea!  Nope, not a good idea – not on this particular day.  You see, the problem with a phone that was previously locked and has now been unlocked and on a new provider in another country is that it re-locks each and every time you power it off and turn it back on.  On a typical day, I would have calmly remembered where that puk number and password were located, but on this day I tried from memory because I was in a rush.  After three failed attempts, I am completely locked out of my phone and the additional 15 minutes I planned into my morning is lost.  I leave the house with no phone, no GPS backup, no contact with anyone for the day.  I do have my U.S. phone, but know if I use it I will need to pay for the day, which I am reticent to do.

Do I get lost?  Yes, several times, but with getting lost is the silver lining of rediscovering the gut, innate instincts that have kept us and our forefathers alive for generation.  If I had a working phone to ‘babysit’ me, I might not have discovered all of the city that I did on that day.  I was grateful for a sunny day on one that promised to be rainy with clouds only at best.  I made it back to the OFII facility fifteen minutes before my appointment and a line was now forming, so I took my place behind several people and watched as several more lined up behind me.  1:30 came and went (where is this French punctuality today?).  At 1:35 the security gate went up and the guard dog came out to the street to check credentials as we were finally allowed in a few minutes later.  Evidently, all fifteen people standing in line had 1:30 appointment times.  You are taken in the order you manage to get to the check-in desk – I was third, although the first in line was a whole family.  Merde.  (by the way – the French rarely actually say ‘merde’)

After checking in, you sit in the waiting area of a room that can only be described as sadness and oppression with a dash of hope, complete with fluorescent lights, shiny, over-polished vinyl floor, hard plastic ganging seats (the kind even airports or bus terminals no longer use).  There seem to be a prescribed number of seats to immigrants so you are forced to sit as close as possible to your fellow immigrant.  The room literally smelled like curry, onions, too much cologne, mixed with despondent sadness and all the while the guard dog paced back and forth in the event anyone without an appointment tries to breach the door or one of us gets out of line.  There is nothing you can do but sit and wait.  This is the point I really wished I had either a book or my phone to pass the time.  Eventually, I was called for the first of three phases of my exams.  The first interview was what I’d liken to the ‘intake’ where you will have your weight and height recorded, you will be given an eye exam that would not even qualify at the DMV, and then you are asked a series of question aimed at determining whether you have or are at risk for tuberculosis.  You will then be sent back to the waiting area until the doctor is available.  When the doctor is available, you will present your x-rays given to you at the radiology office and ask another series of questions:  Do you have any diseases?  Are you on any medications?  Do you have a doctor here yet?  Do you have high blood pressure?  Are you healthy? (seriously) The doctor will glance at your x-rays and ask, “have you ever had TB?”  She or he will then fill out and stamp your official OFII ‘Certificat de Controle Medical’ and you will be sent back to the waiting room.  Wait a minute?  That was the medical exam?!?!  Not that I’m complaining, but calling this a medical exam in any form of the definition seems just wrong.  Look, I get that countries need to screen anyone coming here to live for any extended amount of time, but this in no way would prevent transmission of communicable disease should someone be contagious.

The next and last person you will meet is the one who has all of your documents you’ve submitted through your consulate.  These questions are pertaining to how long you will be here, etc. and this is where you get the actual stamp that formally validates your visa.  Mine is good for seven months and I’m told I can get a two month extension on this if I need but will need to go to the prefecture to request this.

By 3:20 I am finally done and head back to my car in the hope I can get out of Bordeaux before ‘rush hour’, but once again, I am bewitched by construction and street use changes.  The drama of the visa is over for now, my head is pounding, I’ve yet to eat today, and I’ve got a terrible cup of Starbucks coffee because it was the only coffee place I passed on the walk back to my car. Rush hour in France is quite a bit earlier so I met my fair share of traffic returning to my hamlet of Lavagnac, but by 4:55 I was home.  Normally, this is a 45 minute drive – today it was an hour and twenty five minutes. After a quick snack, good cup of espresso and an Aleve for that monster of a headache I headed to yoga to reclaim my zen.

I have to say, this whole experience has given me a renewed perspective toward immigrants – especially those who are following similar protocols in my home country of the United States.  It is a difficult and intimidating experience fraught with significant hurdles and the knowing you can be denied at any point of the process which is compounded if you either do not know the language or are just not proficient yet.  Not for the faint of heart. I may be a citizen of the United States of America, but in France, I am an immigrant, making this whole experience a very sobering one for me.

There’s really nothing about the experience of being in another country you were not born to that’s easy, but when you’re doing it on your own because the timing has not worked out for you to be accompanied by your spouse or significant other, it’s harder still.  If you’ve been by yourself for some time, it may be a bit easier but will still likely be outside your comfort zone.  It also seems to me the notion of living alone in another country is highly romanticized.  Don’t get me wrong – it does have its advantages.  If you are an artist, a writer, or someone who just prefers to be alone it’s a dream come true.  If you are a person who has rarely been alone it has challenging moments.  I, had never been alone.  I went from living in my parents’ house to college with roommates, to married, then shortly thereafter into motherhood.  Never alone with exception of the few weekends either myself or my husband would need to travel for work.  Here I am in my late fifties finding myself not only alone for weeks, months at a time, but alone in a foreign country.  It’s a sobering experience.  I have much to keep myself occupied with settling our house, and I know every move I make is for the ultimate good for all who visit here – yet this ‘alone’ part feels different than I anticipated.  I do write – so that’s definitely supported, but there are things I never thought about that now occupy my thoughts from time to time.  What if I fall down the stairs or off a ladder or do something where I become injured?  What if I had a medical emergency? I likely wouldn’t be found for days.  How am I going to move that giant metal table top onto the base?  If I’m using a knife to open a package – what if I cut myself?  What if I choke?  These are all safety issues that don’t even enter your mind until you’re by yourself.  I know several women who live alone and have most of their lives.  My respect for their fortitude has grown exponentially through this process and for me, I know this is somehow a missing piece of the puzzle of my life I needed to experience.  As my husband and I make this slow transition toward retirement, with me spending most winters here and he, unfortunately remaining in the states to look after business matters, I realize this is my new reality.  And I’m learning to embrace it as best I can.

Chapter 9: Poubelles

“What the heck is a poubelle?” you might be wondering.  Well, it’s French for trash or garbage bins.  And yes, you need them, but who’d have thought getting a trash bin would be a big deal, but such is the way of things in France where one simple detail can consume more of your life than you can imagine.  You think, “I need to get my trash bins”, which you are told you will need to request at the office of the Maire. (this is the Mayor’s office, a town office of sorts)  Next, you go to the Maire (armed with your tax and electric bills to prove you own this house), who says you need to go to the decheterie.  What’s a decheterie you ask?  Well, it’s a big dump/recycling location where you take all your trash.  You show up at the decheterie and they want your numbers.  Numbers?  Evidently, the trash bins (and there are two – one for kitchen garbage and one for paper, plastic & metal), have a serial number.  That tells the trucks doing the pick-up who you are, that you legally can have your trash picked up, and who to invoice for the pick-ups.  Two bins, two trucks arriving roughly at 10-20 minutes apart.  These pick-ups will occur in the early AM of a particular morning depending on where you live.  Ours is Monday and the trucks can come as early as 5:30 in the morning, so everyone puts their bins out the night before.  If you have glass or plastic bottles, you are encouraged to drop those in one of the conveniently located receptacles located throughout the various towns and cities.

At the decheterie we’re told until we have our card, we at least need a picture of the numbers from our bins to dump there.  We tell them we have no bins.  We explain further we have just moved and the house formerly had no occupants for a few years, albeit, no bins.  They seem reluctant to believe us, but because we have valid electric and tax bills, they let us bring our trash – but no garbage.  And we bring A LOT of trash since with the many deliveries a new houseful of items entails we have enough cardboard and plastic wrappings to choke a horse.  The kitchen garbage?  Well that’s another thing.  Suffice it to say, by the time we got our bins we had six weeks worth of very fetid garbage given this was during one of the hottest summers in a long while.  Good for the grapes, for the garbage…not so much. Without offering too many grisly details, here’s how it works.  First, if there are bins at the house, please take a picture of the serial numbers on the side.  Second, take those numbers to the Maire and they will register them to your name.  Third, with this same picture of the bins go to your nearest decheterie and apply for a card that you will show each and every time you need to take items to the decheterie.  And, if you need to go to the decheterie before you have this card, take this picture of the serial number and show it to them.  You’ll still need to get the card from them, but at least you’ll be following the rules.  If you buy a property that has no bins, as ours did not, then you will need to apply for the bins at the Maire, but will need to pick them up at the decheterie – and you will have to just keep checking because no one will notify you to let you know they are there.  They simply don’t.

Poubelles

Took us six weeks to get these – one of the happiest days of my life! LOL!

Took us six weeks to get these – one of the happiest days of my life! LOL! Once at the decheterie, there are sorting bins for everything: One for cardboard, one for plastic and Styrofoam, one for paper, one for metal, one for landscape clippings, a place for electronics, a place for hazardous liquids, and so on.  There’s pretty much a sorting bin for everything you can think of.

Oh, and that card?  You will first need to fill out a form in triplicate and will be told it will take a couple of weeks for your card.  Does this card get mailed to you?  No.  You return to the decheterie and pick it up – and no, no one will call you.  When nearly three weeks had passed, I thought it would be safe to return and retrieve my card so I drive to the decheterie, wait in line, explain I am only there to pick up my card and show them my copy of the form I filled out.  They indicate I am to park and go into the office.  Once in the office, there is a man there who has just filled out my name and address onto the back of a plastic card.  This confuses me because if the cards were there all along, why was he just filling out my name onto it now?  Did they have to wait for the card and just waited until I returned before finishing it?  I have no idea – maybe they do some sort of checking to verify you’re who you say you are?  It does have numbers, and no, they don’t match the serial numbers on the bin.  The card they gave me looks old and used – or at least like it’s been lying around for some time which leads me to believe it and many others are lying around in the decheterie office for some time.  This is one I file in the bin labeled, “may never know or understand,” but truly, sometimes I just feel like they’re messing with me because they can.

access denied. Decheterie.

This long awaited card gives me access to bring my trash to the dump. It took eight months to get this card.

And lastly, as with most places in rural France, the decheterie will be open Tuesday through Saturday; 9am – 5:45pm but closed from 12:15 – 1:30.

Chapter 8 – Living Through It…

Our goal was to get the renovation to the point where we could participate in the finishing, painting, etc.  We are accustomed to living in chaos if need be and had just spent six months being displaced in our own home in the United States while dealing with our water damage disaster.  Thankfully, we have one of those FROGS (Family Room Over the Garage) that was a finished space, and completely removed from the damaged sections of the house.  We had a place to sleep, a bathroom, and had set up a 6’ folding table where we were able to have a coffee maker, toaster oven, Vitamix, and had purchased a small refrigerator.  I’m not saying we were doing any gourmet cookery there – but I did manage to master making scrambled eggs in a toaster oven, so…

As we reviewed all of the contractor proposals (Devis) we were struck with the reality of what we’d taken on and especially with the cost of the painting contracts.  These contracts were triple what we would have paid in the US, so why were these numbers so high?  And why did everyone in France seem to feel the numbers were in line with normal?  Our thought is we would have the paint contractor do the items that were, shall we say, beyond our skill set and we would paint the bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, salon, bathrooms, and the entire second floor.  This would leave the main entry, ceilings, stairwell, first floor entry, windows, grilles, gates, and floors for the paint contractor.  It certainly cut the quote down to a manageable number for us.  We’d go over and spend two weeks painting.  Sounds doable.  Problem was, as I explained before, no one told us why the painter is so vital to your project.

One of the items we had taken out of the proposal was removal of all old wallpaper – since we had been told it could be painted over and commonly was.  Not long into the construction I received an urgent call from France – this was the second call.  The first one was to tell me the ceilings on the first floor needed to be re-plastered.  The ground floor ceilings would be fine with smooth fiberglass, but now, the wallpaper must be removed everywhere.  Because the house had sat unheated for what was now its third winter, the cold and damp conditions had caused the wallpaper to begin to separate from the limestone walls.  There really was not option other than to remove it.  Ok, so let’s add that also back into the contract…  Painter is now happy.  I would come to fully understand later how important it is to make your painter happy.  He is an artisan, and as such takes a tremendous amount of pride in his work, so you want him to be proud of what he’s doing.  Asking him to paint over a very imperfect substrate would be criminal.

About one month prior to my visit beginning the end of May, I received a picture of the new ceiling work in the main entry – the new ceilings were beautiful and things appeared to really be shaping up.

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Then, the painter visited the house to access the progress to know when he could begin his work and the following pictures were sent to me –

Our beautiful ceilings had fallen down in the entry and we were in danger of losing the mouldings if they were not repaired immediately – not to mention the fact this was a scheduling delay and more expense.  Bottom line – they needed to be repaired and they needed it done quickly before additional damage would be done.

I contacted the carpenter who was responsible for hiring the plaster man and he was dispatched immediately.  There was much discussion about the ceiling and my stressing the impetus of preserving the mouldings which I feared would be destroyed in the process.  They explained to me the medallions would be detached, then the loose plaster removed, new plaster board attached and then the decorative medallions reattached.  I held my breath, but everything went as promised and the ceilings were repaired just before my arrival.

I arrived May 29th, 2017, Memorial Day in the US –  two weeks before my husband to sort things out and after my first visit to the house – I returned to the Chateau and wanted to cry.  So many things were a long way from being painted.  And several things were not where they were supposed to be.  Evidently, to some, blueprints are, well…a suggestion.  My husband was due on June 10th, and although I was to be here for just over two months, he would only be here to help me for two weeks.  We were met with walls that were so far from ready to paint it was ridiculous.

Well, let me tell you why – and I really wish someone had explained this to me beforehand.  You will have contractors for the demolition and construction of new surfaces, you will have plaster men (not being sexist here, that’s what they’re called and no, I never saw a female plasterer here), electrical contractors, plumbers, kitchen contractors, masons, etc., and THEN the painters.  Most of these contractors do exactly as they would in the US – except the painters.  In France, your painter will insist they be the last contractor on site.  They want everyone else to be done with their work.  They are the ones who will not only paint your doors, but they will strip, sand, repair, and then paint.  If there is glass in the door, it will likely be completely repointed before finishing.  Your plaster?  The plaster man doesn’t sand and finish it – your painter does.  Walls not perfect?  The painter will smooth and cover every surface of wall with fiberglass paper.  Those beautiful mouldings at the crown or ceiling – those ceiling medallions?  Completely repaired, primed and painted.  If your ceilings are old (as were ours), then they will also get a layer of smooth fiberglass before painting.  Perfection – that is the goal of a good and ‘serious’ painter, and ours was SERIOUS!  Your painter is going to be your best friend.  They work from top to bottom, so they will start with the ceilings to get them perfect, then move on to windows, doors, walls, and finally, the floors.  In our case, they also cleaned and repainted our window grilles and gates.

This team shows up bright and early, (whistling) have their espressos and cigarettes (yes, they have brought their own little espresso machine), set up their brushes and buckets for the day and all the while listening to American music and singing the entire day!  Lunch break is at noon when they sit together and relax, eat and talk amongst themselves, then an hour later, they’re all back to work.  Depending on the crew, the job, etc., they work either four eight-hour days or five seven-hour days.  Our crew worked mostly five-day weeks – and on one occasion they were even there on a Saturday which is unheard of in most instances.  If they leave on Friday and tell you they will see you on Monday, then they will be there on Monday.

This is the crew who will be responsible for not simply ‘renovating’ your house – they will be responsible for ‘restoring’ your house.  As I watched them work, I realized I was witnessing the greatest artistry in home finishing.  I learned A LOT and even thought I should call a couple of my favorite paint contractors from the US and encourage them to come and just watch because it would have been worth the price of a plane ticket to see them work.

So, hubby arrives on the 10th of June and with nary a day to recover, we set about doing what we can.  Our logical thinking is we will begin with the second floor and get our suite squared away first, so we have a place to hang our hat at the end of the day.  All we need is a place to sleep, coffee maker, a refrigerator, and perhaps a microwave.  He thought we would drive directly to the house from the airport and move in.  Didn’t happen that way.  We ended up staying at the chateau for another week before finally sleeping at our house.  We’d get up, have coffee and a bit to eat before checking office email, then with work clothes on, head straight to the house to sand, spackle, prime, paint, clean, clean, clean….I had the beds delivered on the 9th, before my husband arrived so they were all in the centers of the rooms, still in plastic and drop clothed as well.

For the next six days, we worked 12-14 hours a day to get the second-floor suite finished (well, all exposed beams scrubbed, and the walls and ceilings painted at least), and on the 16th of June, we spent our first night sleeping in the house! This gave us the weekend alone, without contractors so we could sleep a bit more and fully assess the mess we had gotten ourselves into.  At this point, we were becoming fully enlightened as to the depths of work the painter is responsible on a project and began re-appropriating more work.  We decided the painter must do ALL ceilings, then trim (by the way, this is not finished either.  It will be of poor-quality wood that will need to be puttied, smoothed, etc. before even considering primer) And yes, at this point we have given the painter the green light to apply fiberglass to ALL walls.  Before we were done, the painter had roughly 70% of his original contract and not the 35% we had begun with and we were feeling he had more than earned every euro he received.  Merde!

We sanded, we painted, and we did so during one of the most brutal summers in a while.  Some days it was 110◦ with no rain and no reprieve.  My only saving grace was the bathtub I had installed in our bathroom that I had taken to keeping cool water in.  This would allow me to get my core body temperature down when it was all just too much.  My husband pushed himself too hard one day and ended up with heat exhaustion.  After that, I monitored him closely and made certain he was getting enough fluids, rest and just plain taking a break before allowing himself to get overheated.  If you don’t know anything about heat exhaustion – it’s serious and can lead to heat stroke if left unchecked.  And once you get it, you are more susceptible to it, so be careful!

By the time he departed at the end of his two weeks, I had a manageable amount of work remaining.  The kitchen, dining room, and salon, on the ground floor were painted, as was the entire second floor, plus bedroom two and bathroom one on the first floor.  I needed to paint bedrooms three and one, touch up at the ceilings on all rooms, and paint trim.  Doable.  Yet that bedroom one, with all the fancy wall moulding and trim seemed to be taking on a life of its own.  The painter was putting such painstaking energy into getting all that trim just so…and asking periodically if I was still planning to paint it.  Finally, I surmised this was a room he really wanted to complete on his own so asked him, “C’est combine pour finir cette piece?”  The amount was staggeringly low so I simply said, “Oui, si’l vous plait – merci!”.  Now my work was down to a manageable level.

I can state with confidence I had the best of the best.  My electrician was awesome – not only did he follow my blueprints, but was what I like to call a forward thinking professional.  He cut no corners and took the initiative to lay any additional lines needed for any and all potential ongoing renovation.  If there was a hole to be filled or a light fixture he felt lacking – he installed it.  I can honestly say I’ve never, in all my years in construction ever worked with such proficiency. His motto/mantra was “No problem!”  Loved it!  My plumbers work was also impeccable, and he will continue to work with me to ensure my ongoing boiler maintenance.  He even assisted me more than once with securing fuel deliveries and making sure they were completed.

The carpenter who was responsible for demolition and new construction was also excellent – but took a bit more babysitting.  The phrase that comes to mind when I think over the work of this contractor was, “You want fries with that too?”  Let me explain.  (and this is but one example) We had a window with an ice box beneath it in the kitchen we intended to have removed and replaced with a door.  Perhaps I misread their quote but, I got the door.  I did not get a finished opening, nor trimmed, not a handle for the door.  After seeing the numerous areas of incompletion and meeting with the carpenter – I did get these items resolved, but not without a good deal of negotiating.  By the last phase of work, they had clearly placed their best man on the job and all was completed to my satisfaction.

Old limestone, new door, walls to be restored.

In the kitchen, a new door was placed in the opening where a window and old ice box previously occupied. You can see the surround and adjacent walls are still awaiting refinishing.

plaster work

Unfinished plaster work

 

One of the first issues to arise during my January/February visit was with the floors on the ground level.  In France, there is a code that stipulates you must have approximately 6 cm of concrete under any floor receiving tile.  This was something I was unaware and unfortunately for us, there was an existing concrete slab in the kitchen.  For us to install the cement tiles we desired would have required breaking the entire slab in the kitchen to make this possible because traditional cement tiles are already a few centimeters thick.  (roughly ¾”) We had intended to lay this tile in the entry and run it into the kitchen.  Given the code with the concrete, we needed to not only remove the floor boards in the entry (which were also astoundingly thick), but to accommodate the concrete slab, we needed to cut down the supporting beams.  The resolution was to remove the floor boards, cut down the beams, then in the adjoining kitchen, remove the existing tile and install a much thinner tile so the two floors would align.  I originally had planned to run the cement tile into the kitchen and have a center patterned tile as a decorative ‘carpet’.  Instead, I used this decorative patterned tile throughout the entire kitchen.  This was not only the best decision, but the smartest since I later discovered these cement tiles take a bit of maintenance that would be less suited to a kitchen environment.

Another issue was with the remainder of the wood floors.  The bedrooms on the first floor had been previously covered in carpet.  With the carpet now removed, the painter was pointing out all of the problems that we had not seen before.  These floors were riddled with insect damage and there were many areas where the gaps between boards or the boards were so out of line that they would be impossible to sand and finish as they were.  This necessitated removal of many boards and piecing in new ones while filling smaller insect holes with a wood putty.  Not a perfect solution but in the end we have floors that are original and full of character.  And those boards where we filled in?  If I didn’t point it out to you, you wouldn’t notice.  For the finishing, I had opted to have them all sanded, then stained to match the color of the front door and stairs, then varnished.  The result are floors that look as they should in my opinion.

Some additional things I’ve learned:

  1. Do not assume because it’s clearly marked on a blueprint it’s going to get done – or even that’s what they priced or included in their quote.
  2. Do not assume they don’t have good advice.  This is their country and they know their codes as well as what works and what does not work.
  3. You will not need a building permit for a renovation – even an extensive one.  The state will render their compensation with the 10-20% TVA on everything you do.
  4. If your house is beyond a certain age, which I believe is 50+ years, you will only pay 10% TVA and not 20%.  This, however, does not apply to items such as kitchen cabinets, appliances, swimming pools, or landscaping.
  5. Depending on where your house is can make a huge difference in finding contractors and building materials.  If you are in a very remote area it’s going to be much harder than if you are relatively close to a large city center.
  6. Use local contractors.  While it may be appealing to use an American or British contractor, it can be problematic.  Do yourself a favor and learn enough French to communicate.  I did the best I could, and when I couldn’t I used my cell phone with Microsoft translator software.  It was a bonus for us because we had made friends with a couple of local people who were French and could assist in the beginning – but for day to day interactions, you may find yourself on your own.
  7. If you are not intimately familiar with the process of renovation, hire a general contractor and don’t try to do this yourself.  We managed because we could not find one available and since it was in our wheel house, it was not as intimidating.  In hindsight, I probably would have hired a general contractor because we were not able to be here as much as we should have to oversee.  If there is a question, work will and does stop.  If the work stops, you have no idea when it will resume.
  8. Your best sources of information initially are the people who live here.  I would keep a list of items I was looking for or places for services I needed and when given the opportunity I would ask for recommendations.  Once I was out and about I would spend a bit of time just looking at what was available close to me.
  9. During the discovery period when the house is being inspected for everything from hazardous materials to insect damage, remember – they only look at what they can see.  If, per se, there is insect damage under carpet or linoleum – it will not be seen nor reported.  If they check for termites, but there has been another insect burrowing into your wood floors or beams, you are only protected by their insurance if it were termites.  The damage to our floors was not termite, so it was our responsibility to mitigate it ourselves.  This applies to all items inspected during this discovery period.
  10. Do NOT expect local contractors – or anyone here, for that matter, to understand the American way.  It is a different pace here and once you accept that you will have far less frustration.  After all, isn’t that part of the reason you wanted to move here?

During my last two weeks of the summer here, my adult daughter joined me to see the house, enjoy a bit of France, and to assist in any way she could.  She traveled first to Paris for a few days of shopping, then took the train to Bordeaux where I picked her up and spent the remainder of the day in that city before driving to the house.  For the first week, we alternated work days with days that included an activity such as a wine tasting and cave tour, enjoying a gastronomic meal, or a bit of shopping.  Her big job while here was to take care of meals, scrub and polish all the windows, and clean where she could.  By the end of these last two weeks, we could safely say we could return and live in the house and enjoy it!

Would we do it all over again and participate in the renovation?  Probably not, but we can proudly say we came, we conquered, and we successfully assisted in bringing this lovely lady of a house back to her former glory!

Chapter 7: The Renovations Commence: Deuxieme Etage

Although the official closing of the documents was on September 9th, of the year 2016, the actual start of construction was not until January 31st, 2017.  After the glow and excitement of the closing in September, with blueprints in hand, we naively thought all those with signed contracts and checks in hand would immediately pounce on the property – unlike the story, “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle, our contractors would show up and remain in place until the project was completed, or so we hoped.  October came and went, November came and went, as did December and January.  What I discovered when I returned on the 28th of January was all of the individual contractors wanted to meet with me once again and verify the drawings, scope of work, etc.  You see, we had hired contractors who were, as the French say, ‘very serious’ with regard to their work and wanted to ensure all ‘T’s’ were crossed and ‘I’s’ dotted.  No work could happen until they were absolutely certain – so we met.  The day I arrived, I had all I could do, bleary eyed from many hours of travel to meet with three of these contractors at the same time.  Thank goodness for our friend and ally Pascal who did his best to ensure they understood my terrible French as I explained the best I could, leaning heavily on my blueprints for clarification of our intent.  We went through the house with a fine toothed comb from bottom to top until every last question was answered to their satisfaction.  That was a Saturday.  I could now settle in at the Chateau where I was staying and relax a bit until Monday.  That arrival day was a blur with muddling through meetings, then joining my hosts in the kitchen to ready for a dinner party I was also invited.  It was a glorious evening of fabulous wine, food, laughter, and observation of the way of the French.  While my heritage is French and Scot-English, it is the French I resonate with the most, yet have so much more to learn.  By midnight, I fell into bed and slept until I could sleep no more.

Sunday was a day to organize my files, thoughts, spend time at the house and assemble two chandeliers I had brought from the US – and yes, they were 220 voltage wiring.  Since they had been less expensive to ship to me in the United States than to France, I reasoned I could ship them for less than the more than $400 requested. Packed and ready to go, we were astounded to learn it would cost more than a whopping $900 – to my dismay I sought other solutions.  First I contacted the airline who would gladly accept the box (within their size and weight standards) as an additional piece of luggage.  My concern then was the fact I was traveling alone and the box was rather unwieldy – my friend Pam asked if the items would fit in a rolling suitcase…well, disassembled they did!  So two chandeliers in partial assemblage were neatly packed into a rather large rolling suitcase for their journey to France.

Monday, the 31st, came quickly and by the time I arrived a little before 9:30, this is what I saw:

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Demolition had begun!  For better or for worse, the chapter had begun.  This is what the evacuation chutes looked like from the inside:

For the purposes of this chapter, I’m going to focus on the second floor demolition – DeuxiemeEtage. To fully understand the potential of this floor, we needed to completely gut, ie: demolish the space to the structure…which we did.  What follows are photos of the before and demolition, new framing, then finished spaces.

As you will see with the before and demolition pictures, there was an enormous amount of square meters underutilized – roughly 30 meters square, which is just over 290 square feet of living space!  In addition, other than a new roof being done roughly 14-15 years prior, no other work had been done to this space.  The rooms were very rudimentary and basic, the finished floor was riddled with dry rot, there was no plumbing, and very little light.  Only the small window on the front of the house and the small round eave window provided the scant amount of light for the entire space.  By adding three skylights to the back side of the roofline, we were able to exponentially increase the light in this space – and as we discovered, it was the key ingredient to breathing life back into the rooms.  What began as dark, oppressive space has become light, warm and inviting.  You can also see the surprise of the hornets nest we found behind the walls!  Once fully exposed, we were able to see any areas needing attention or additional support, then fully insulated prior to closing in new walls.  The new subfloor was then covered with a beautiful, rustic laminated vinyl wide plank floor which compliments the stone features perfectly.

One thing we loved about this space were the beautiful beams and stone features which we left exposed where possible to render this floor of the house an entirely different ambiance.  The result was a much more rustic, cozy and eclectic feel in contrast to the very traditional and elegant main house.  In the end we ended up with a master suite separated from a large salon and office area where we can retreat when there is a houseful of guests.

New framing:

We added knee walls to the area now known as the salon which provided storage accessed through small ports on opposite sides.  We also added built-in shelves for books, games, dvd’s, and office storage.

During the framing of the new spaces, we discovered a few restrictions with the center roof framing.  Originally we intended to have separate doors leading to the Salle de Bain 2 and the Chambre 4 with the open Salon and office at the top of the stairs.  In order to execute the two separate doors, we would have needed to lose significant space in the Salle de Bain for the door clearances due to the ceiling slopes, so ended up with one door into both – resulting in a spectacular master suite.  What began as bonus space and what we had considered less desirable space has become the jewel of the house – a wonderful master suite.  Even with a house full of guests, we can retreat to the second floor and relax.

Finished Spaces:

Next up: Premiere Etage Chambres

 

Chapter 6: The Keys

Keys

These were just a few of the many keys.

On September 9th, 2016, our closing was scheduled at the office of the Notaire in Pujols, France at 10:00 AM.  Before 11:00 AM, we were homeowners of LaRoseraie @ 203 rue Charles de Gaulle, lieu dit Lavagnac, 33350 Sainte Terre.

Our new task would be one of the biggest we’d ever undertaken and that would be to renovate this beautiful stately manor and return it to its former glory.  LaRoseraie was a late 18th century art nouveau maison de maître.  Translated, we had just bought the ‘Rose Garden in the Holy Land’.  No pressure here.

We immediately busied ourselves with sketches, measurements, photographs, and more measurements so after returning to the United States we could sort out the fullest potential of this place.  During our first visit to the area, we had the good fortune to stay at the Chateau de Courtebotte in Saint Jean de Blaignac where we met two people who played an enormous part in helping to make this a reality.  The support, wisdom and guidance of both Isabelle and Pascal Jehanno, owners of the Chateau have been instrumental in our being able to renovate this property.  With their assistance, we met with carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and painters who would, in turn, lead us to other contractors for additional work in smaller areas.  If you ever come to the Saint Emilion area and need a place to stay, look no further than Chateau de Courtebotte.

Contractors in France are not the same as they are in the United States.  You will wait a while – sometimes weeks, for a quote.  Once you’ve signed a quote and returned it with a deposit, it may be weeks or months before the work commences.  The process will be different, the responsibilities of each contractor may be different – but overall, I’ve met and worked with some of the most talented artisans who (when they show up) will likely be whistling or singing their way through their day.  I’ve come to respect their dedication, their work ethic, their talents, their pride in what they do, and in a few cases, their friendship.  It was, at times, a hard fought battle, but in the end I’d do it again to have walked away with the experience of a lifetime.  As owners of an architectural and interior design firm in the United States, we had the confidence and skills necessary to act as our own general contractor, but I’m not sure they were all prepared for us!  I’d like to think they learned a little bit too as we swapped information about the differing construction practices.

As many of you already know, in France, the levels of a house are named differently.  The ground or main floor is what we call the first floor, yet in France it is the rez-de-chaussee, the floor we call the second floor is called the first floor or ‘premiere etage’, and the second floor in America would be the ‘deux etage’ in France. Most people learn this when the rent a room or apartment for the first time and realize that third floor room or apartment is really  on the fourth floor.  I still have not figured out why.

The room names are:

Entry – Entrée;

Living Room – Salon;

Dining Room – Salle a manger;

Kitchen – Cuisine;

Powder Room – Toilette;

Bedroom – Chambre;

Bathroom – Salle de Bain

Basement or Cellar – Cave

LaRoseraie has a ground floor or ‘rez-de-chaussee’, a premiere etage, and a deuxieme etage.  The deuxieme etage (second floor France/third floor American) and technically was bonus space for us.  The ground floor is the typical maître de maison layout – a central entrée with four large rooms off of it.  Over the years, these four rooms became three so the layout was a main entrée with a salon on the left, salle a manger on the right front and cuisine on the right rear.  The premiere etage had an entrée with two large chambres (bedrooms) on the left and another chambre on the right with a large salle de bain (bathroom). Presumably, the room now designated salle de bain was once a fourth bedroom/chambre.  Second floor (deuxieme etage), the bonus space held two more bedrooms and a large storage area – this was to become a master suite with an office and second salon.

Next post – The Renovation Commences

La Roseraie Review 2.9.17

 

 

Chapter 5: Banks and Transferring Funds

Throughout this process of looking at properties and reading  about the process of purchasing a property abroad, it seemed complex, yet not terribly different than any other venture involving mortgages, insurance policies, etc.  What we came to discover is it is quite different.  And with regard to opening bank account’s, it can be a maddening process if you are not prepared, or informed properly.  What frustrated me the most was the conflicting information regarding the process – what you can and cannot do.  Firstly, you can open a bank account prior to moving to or purchasing property in France, but you’ll need to find a bank with international affiliations like HSBC and first open an account in the United States.  You may then with assistance from the US branch, initiate opening an account in France.  The problem here is these type of banks insist on very high minimum balances starting at $10,000, so this was a deal breaker for us since we needed every dollar possible in order to purchase and then renovate our house.  Bottom line, if you don’t have deep pockets and can’t afford to leave that much money on the table, then opening an account prior to closing on your house isn’t likely to happen.  In the process of coming to this final conclusion, we would be told, “of course you can open an account prior to closing on your house and while still in the US”, only to be lead around through several branches of their organization until landing at the conclusion it really isn’t possible – and then back around again.

As I stated in an earlier post, if you are looking for financing your new house and are over 55 years of age, only 60% of your income will be factored into the equation in calculating how much money you are eligible to borrow.  The assumption here is even if you are only looking for a short term loan, your major earning years are numbered, so lenders will not be so willing to risk a mortgage on you.  My recommendation is to purchase the property with cash or if you need additional capitol, to take a small loan here in the US rather than pursuing a loan in France.  Their rates are obscenely low, (2% +/-) but they aren’t very easy to get.

You will need to also find a way to transfer your money.  Pretty much any bank or credit union will be happy to do so…for a fee.  Not a huge deal if you’re purchasing euros for a vacation, but when you’re purchasing a house, it’s a big deal.  Some banks want upwards of 14% which is outrageous.  There are also brokers in the EU, with the bulk located in the UK, but very few are licensed to transfer money from the US to the EU and what I’ve been told is this is a direct result of the Patriot Act that was signed after 9/11.  The US government wants to make quite certain you aren’t funding terrorist activity with your money, and not many brokers want to deal with the extra paperwork for licensing.  I’d have a broker working to gain my business and then discover I was American and tell me ‘sorry’.

Before closing on your house, you will also need to gain homeowners insurance.  This is where your real estate agent will be helpful.  They can recommend a number of agencies who will supply quotes based on the information in the discovery documents.  My agent recommended a very good agency that works throughout the EU called Allianz and one of the advantages of this insurance agency is they have many English speaking agents, so if you have an issue or a claim it will be much easier to facilitate a claim.  Their quotes were within the same range as others and I am told by friends of mine who are French residents here they are very good.  Be sure to include something called “Protection Juridique” in your policy.  Protection Juridique covers the cost of an advocate to represent you in the event you are taken advantage of and need legal intervention.  Say, for example, you order a tank of oil and the delivery person delivers half a tank, telling you their truck didn’t have enough, but they will return later with the balance.  You are told this after you have already paid and signed the delivery slip.   Later you realize they never returned and now you’re left with half a tank of oil but the oil company produces the delivery slip you signed as their proof the delivery happened.  You contact your insurance agency and they will first give you the verbiage for a letter you will send that basically tells the oil company they are on notice and have a defined amount of time to rectify matters or action will be initiated.  In most cases, they don’t want a problem and will resolve the conflict right away, but if needed, they will step in and represent you.  This is only one small example, but you can see how important it is to have this protection.

Prior to the final paperwork signing, you’ll need to transfer money into the account of the notaire, which must be completed with the money cleared prior to the closing date.  I had visions of putting all these thousands of dollars into an suitcase and personally taking them – but then, that would be illegal.  Not a good first impression!  There had to be a way….Two weeks to go before our scheduled closing and we still had no means of moving the funds and had wasted weeks with brokers who ultimately told us they weren’t licensed to transfer US dollars.  As I was discussing this with my investment broker, he mentioned this should be something they could facilitate.  Had I known this sooner, I never would have wasted weeks on these UK brokers so highly recommend discussing international transfers with your investment broker if you have one because I’ve found this to be the most efficient and cost effective way to move money.  The transfer fee is extremely low @only $25 per transfer, so this is how we moved our money.

Once you have transferred the money into the account of the notaire, the closing and final documents signing is pretty simple.  You will meet one on one with your notaire briefly before everyone gathers to verify you understand the documents you are about to sign, then both you and the sellers will sign the documents together.  You will have a notaire and the sellers will have their notaire.  Your real estate agent will also be present. These will be the final documents and there will be fewer than what you’ve already signed and initialed, so the process will be fairly quick.  45 minutes to an hour later you will exit a homeowner in France.

This is the point – with attestation documents in hand that verify you own property – where you can now go to the bank of your choice and open an account.  It is likely you will need to make an appointment to ensure the proper amount of time is allotted and that an English speaking representative is available.  If your French is impeccable, then perhaps this will be a faster process, but if you’re still learning, then given you’re dealing with legal documents, you might want to have someone who also speaks English working with you.  In hindsight, I would have scheduled this appointment before the closing simply to speed up the whole process.

Once you have your French bank account, you can work with your broker to link it to your brokerage account so ongoing transfers of funds can be done very simply.  Smaller amounts can be facilitated online by yourself, with larger ones by your broker.

 

Chapter 4: Trains

I would be remiss if I didn’t speak of the train system in France.  It is one of the most efficient transportation systems I’ve seen, but it is also French – meaning, it doesn’t always make sense…to an American.  If your grasp of the French language is fluent and impeccable, then you will have nary a problem.  If, however, you are still learning, or know little to no French, then God help you.  Departure platforms change at a moments’ notice and if you’re a person who likes to know exactly where your train is leaving so you can be ready and waiting when the train arrives, sorry – you’re not going to like train stations.  You just aren’t.  And please remember, this has been MY experience.  You, perhaps have traveled with great success by train and I would love to hear your experience because I sincerely hope to have a more positive experience one day!

Your ticket will have the train number and departure time but you will need to check the screen listing departures to know which platform to be positioned at, and this will not post until 10-20 minutes prior to departure.  They will tell you it posts 20 minutes before, and perhaps they do most of the time, but every time I’ve traveled by train it has not.  Also be aware it may tell you to go to a terminal that is incorrect.  I pointed this out to an agent a couple weeks ago and he simply shook his head and said, “It’s French.  It doesn’t make sense.”  All the while I’m thinking, “Yes, but it SHOULD!”

October 2013 –

As I am traveling by TGV through the Vienne, Charente region from Paris to Bordeaux, the reminder to me this is the region my family originated is very present.  Travel by TGV is considered the premiere mode of ground transportation.  It is efficient, clean, relatively comfortable, and most importantly, FAST (often well over 300km/h).  You can now go from Paris to Bordeaux in just over 2 hours – a real boon for Parisians who wish to live in Bordeaux but work in Paris.  The TGV is fast and everything else I mentioned, but if you are not fluent in either speaking or understanding the French language – be prepared.  There are no signs in English or any language except French – and finding an English speaking agent at an information counter may also be a challenge.  Departing from the Paris area – either Saint Lazare or Charles DeGualle is relatively easy.  Trains are listed with their associated departure platforms a good hour or more ahead of departure.  If, however, you are departing from another station such as Bordeaux, Montparnasse, or a small intermediate station, not so much.  You may find yourself wondering where you will be leaving from up to ten minutes prior to departure.    They claim it will be twenty, but they lie.  So imagine this scenario:  two well-dressed Americans LOADED with luggage arrive a full hour and a half prior to their train.  No information is available except that the train platform will be posted twenty minutes’ prior and NO – they cannot tell you where that will be.  It could be platform #3… or platform #49.  Now, in my linear thinking American, Virgo rising way, I think, “trains departing this station to the Paris area are routinely from one of these three or four platforms; trains departing to Nice are routinely from one of these three or four platforms; trains departing to Strasbourg are departing from one of these three or four platforms, and so on.”  You get the picture, right?  Which leads to me thinking, that would be the loveliest of information to impart upon said traveler who clearly is not from this particular part of the planet.  But NO.  So, we wait…. and wait…. twenty minutes before scheduled departure – nothing.  Fifteen minutes before departure…. Nothing.  Ten minutes before departure… Platform 3!  Ok – quickly make our way to platform three.  We get to platform three – now, there are perhaps eight or ten cars, but which one?  D’aller a gauche, ou d’aller a droite?  Stop, ask a tagged TGV conductor – back six cars, load our behemoth luggage on (there is always a large gap between the platform and the train – so there’s no dragging or wheeling.  You hoist these bags from the platform to the train.)  You get on the train, load your behemoth luggage into the racks, take your seat… something does not feel right.  A man approaches and indicates he also is in seat 16… you check your tickets and notice he’s headed to Strasbourg.  You, are not.  You look at the train route number and it does not match your ticket and realize, with only moments to spare, you are on the wrong train.  Did I mention these trains depart with frightening accuracy?  If your train says it’s departing at 15:21, it’s departing at 15:21, not 15:22, not 15:21ish, it will depart at 15:21! Heart pounding, you wrestle your bags out of their compartments and off the train, searching for another agent.  They point you further down the train to the one you are supposed to be on.  As you race down the narrow platform, your partner trips on one of the pieces of luggage – airborne and flying over the luggage, and hurtles to the ground, tearing his jeans and skinning his knee; then, while struggling to right himself he yells, “Run!  Save yourself – don’t worry about me!!!  I’ll catch up!” Desperately searching for your train, another agent points for you to get the train beside you with the open doors and you pray this is, in fact, the correct train – but you have to travel through several cars as the train is beginning to move WITH all your luggage – up the stairs, then down the stairs, find your seat and realize someone with the same seat number is in this seat.   Dear lord!  Are we on the wrong train yet again?!?!?  You wait while your partner runs to find a conductor or agent with the tickets while you wait with the luggage…. he returns, we are, in fact, on the right train, just the wrong compartment.   Back through two cars, up another set of stairs, with…all…our…luggage in tow.  Find the seats, load the luggage, sit down, clean wounds (yes, mom’s always travel with wet wipes even if their kids are grown!), breathe a HUGE sigh of relief, then have a good laugh!

What did this experience teach me?  Well, first off, while it’s always advisable to arrive at the train station with more than adequate time, it is not always necessary.  If you are traveling with a full set of luggage, and you are not intimately familiar with the ins and outs of train travel in Europe, do yourself a big fat favor and FLY!  Traveling by TGV with a carry-on – no problem!  You are infinitely mobile.  If you have a full set of luggage, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!  Bon Voyage!

Chapter 3: The Paperwork

IMG_7730

See any English in there?  The contracts will arrive in stages.  First, there’s the offer – an “Offre d’achat”, which must be accepted and signed by the Vendor (seller).  Once that has been done, it is unlikely the property will be shown to anyone else. After the acceptance, a “Compromis de Vente”, (pre-sale contract) will be prepared, which will require numerous documents to be provided such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, documents of financial status, proof of address from your US location, what the source of funding will be for the purchase.  In this, you will also state any conditions or contingencies of purchase such as sale of separate property, approval of adding a pool which will prevent you from forfeiting your deposit if things do not work out.  If you cannot travel to France to sign, these documents will be mailed to you and will include a standard ‘boiler plate’ version of the contract in your language.

Once you receive these documents, it is advisable if you are not fluent in French, that you find someone who is to assist with the more finite translation because once you’ve signed, initialed and agreed to the contract you’ve essentially agreed to whatever you’ve signed, so proceed with caution.  Original documents must be returned to the agency in France.  And yes – the stack of papers to be signed (five sets) is significant.  Every sheet will require either a full signature or initials and you will be required to hand write a full paragraph statement, in French, that you also sign and date x 5 copies that attests you are fully aware of what you are doing.

The Compromis de Vente will also include full details of both the buyer and seller – where they live, DOB, marital status; a description of the property; the agreed upon price and breakdown of agency fees, etc.; circumstances by which the deposit may be forfeited, obligations of the purchaser and vendor; results of the diagnostics.  This diagnostics section is quite comprehensive and covers professional exploration of any potential dangers or issues with regard to termites, lead paint, asbestos, house systems such as electrical, whether the house is located in a flood zone, whether the house is located near any known factories or places with toxic environments, and the likelihood of weather events based on where the house is located.   For example, if you will be renovating and the property has been deemed free of termites, yet you discover significant termite damage – this finding will become the responsibility of the agent conducting the diagnostics.  An attestation of valid insurance is also included in their report to validate they have an active insurance cover in the event something is discovered they have deemed not present.

Once this contract is reviewed and signed, you will mail the originals back to the agency.  The documents will also be signed by the sellers and returned to you with bank information of the Notaire.  Once you’ve had these documents for 7 days, you  will need to transfer 10% of the purchase price to the Notaires bank account.  Over the next 3-4 months, the notaire will be working to complete all of the documentation and discovery on the property before scheduling a closing.  You WILL need to be present for this.

Notaires – this is basically your lawyer.  There will be one assigned to you unless you select one, but for us, we selected based on advise by our real estate agent.  The seller will also have separate representation.  All will be at the closing.  In the United States, a notary is quite different, so don’t let the label deceive you!

I have attached the Leggett Buyers Guide here for more detail – and yes, this is exactly how this process went for us.

Leggett – Buyers Guide 2015 (1)

Money – the breakdown of cost will be as follows:

Price – this is the agreed upon amount that includes broker fees and taxes.  In addition to this, you will pay a fee to the Notaire which will be 7-8% of the purchase price.  Depending on the exchange rate at the time you transfer your money, you will also need to consider the final cost in US dollars.  If the exchange rate is $1.20 to one euro, than a house costing say 200,000 euros will cost you $240,000.  You will need to have all monies transferred and in place prior to the closing on the property.

I will go into detail on our process for transferring money and opening bank accounts in another post –

 

Chapter 2: France Itinerary: October 4th – October 18th, 2013

Here we go!  The reservations have been set for October, plane tickets, hotels, car rentals, train passes, and all other necessary reservations are made.  If you are planning an aggressive itinerary in a country you’ve yet to explore, I highly recommend a good travel agent.  We used Hurley in Portland, Maine, but I find asking friends and colleagues who they recommend is a good tool.  When you contact them, be sure to let them know where you are going so you are paired with a person who has familiarity with the region you are visiting – otherwise, you’re better off researching it yourself online.  A good travel agent, though, will be able to guide you on reasonable distances between stops if you are traveling by car or train and will let you know where you might want to linger and where you might just want to spend a night passing through.  Some folks just want to get in the car and drive, stopping where the mood strikes and moving through where they have less interest – but if you have a plan, it is a much more efficient way to get the most out of your time on the ground. And if your travel takes you through rural areas, a plan is good so you aren’t left without a place to rest your road-weary bones.

We arrived in Paris on Saturday the 5th with plans to stay until the ninth.  I had a friend who had a friend with had an apartment she rents in Paris that sounded perfect for our needs.  We looked at pictures online and reviewed maps, so knew it was in a great location.  I found the 7th arrondisment a perfect fit for our first trip due to its central location and the types of shops and galleries I’m interested.  While there, we tried to soak up as much as possible, starting with a dinner cruise on one of the Bateaux Mouches, lunches and dinners at several cafe’s and restaurants, a trip to the Bon Marche, and visits to a couple of museums.  I had also become obsessed with books by John Baxter by this time and tried to locate a place or two he had frequently mentioned such as Le Deux Margots.  Very fun, albeit very touristy!

As a side note: While still in the air traveling to Paris, I had fallen asleep as it was a red-eye flight.  I woke with the song “I’m Coming Home” playing in my head, looked out the window and could see we had just approached landfall in France.  I never lost the feeling I was coming home.

On Wednesday, the ninth, we boarded a train to LeHavre.  One thing I knew from what I had been able to uncover through genealogy research on my husbands grandfather, Albert, was he was from LeHavre.  We figured this may be also be the place to uncover more info in the archives.  We actually managed to find the center for archives and though we did not find the documentation we had hoped to uncover, we did spend a good deal of time with an archivist named Sebastian who gave us plausible reasons for some of the mystery around why we might be having difficulty finding documents on him.   But then, that’s another whole story –

Historic Site, shipping port in France

LeHavre was and is a major shipping port off the west/Atlantic coast of France. This is where we are told my husband’s grandfather was born.

From LeHavre, now in our rental car, we headed to Normandy (once we got the hang of the ’round-a-bout’) where the sister of a good friend lives and operates a bed and breakfast called La Maison du Pain.  There we spent three enchanting days exploring the Normandy region, visiting the place where Camembert is made, drinking Calvados and had we just a bit more time, probably would have visited the equestrian center.  Perhaps another visit?

Normandy, Camembert, Historic Places

This is one of many picturesque landscapes in Normandy, France

Bed & Breakfast in Normandy

Here is the entrance to Maison du Pain in Fay, Normandy – the owners cottage is on the right with one of her many gardens in the foreground.

Fay, France, tiny hamlet, Normandy

This tiny hamlet boasts a population of between 60 and 70 people –

Saturday, the 12th we pointed the car south toward Loudun and checked in at the Hotel Renaudot where we had arranged a meeting with the current director of the Arcadian Museum, Madame Michele Touret.  Although this was considered off-season, she recognized the importance of our visit and not only met with us, but opened the museum for us and then escorted us around Martaize, LaChaussee, and other places near there significant to my ancestry.  While at the museum, she shared with us the most comprehensive and substantiated genealogy of the LeBlanc family known to exist and permitted me to photograph it since there was no photocopier at the museum.  She was also very excited to take us to visit a cemetery where an ancestor was buried, two churches, a chateau – also a horse farm, learned about pigeonarys, which were considered a real perk of the upper class. The last place she shared was the discovery of the original home of the Robichaud family, to which I am also related.

Chateau's, Martaize

Chateau de la Bonnetiere in the home region of my LeBlanc ancestors

It was a beautiful Spiritual journey to visit the places my ancestors had lived, and though I did not find any living relatives, I’m certain I will find a few over the coming years.

Sunday, October 13th we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then pointed the car toward the Dordogne valley where we stayed at the Orangerie du Chateau in Chancelade.  Sadly, we only had one night planned here and would have loved at least two so we could spend time exploring local wineries and points of interest but did enjoy a wonderful meal at their restaurant where I had an interesting conversation with the sommelier – I asked about the wines and how I noticed they were served much cooler than I was accustomed to.  He replied, “Red wine is to be served at 12-18 degrees Celsius – anything above 20 degrees is considered disrespectful to the wine.  White should be served at 6-8 degrees Celsius.”  Ok – now I’ve been schooled! Personally, I now prefer the cooler temp which allows the layers to unfold more cleanly – not masked by too much of the alcohol blurring the palate.

Monday morning, we continued through the Dordogne, passing through Beynac, (which, incidentally is the area where the movie Chocolat was filmed), Domme, Sarlat de Caneda, all along the Dordogne river, exploring the valley, lush with wineries – then stopping in Martel at the Relais Saint-Anne.  This Relais could be a destination all on its own.  It is a little abbey with rooms for rent, a restaurant, patios, nature trails, gardens, and has its own little chapel – absolutely enchanting!  The little village it’s in has a town square with bistros, wine bars, shops, and is truly like stepping back in time.  The delicacies to discover here include liquors and syrups made from the local fruits – not to be missed is the black walnut syrup the locals use to flavor their white wine or champagne as an aperitif.  You’ll also find truffles and the local wine is Bergerac – an earthy, yet light red that perfectly suits the foods of the region.  I really needed to review my itinerary on this one because thought we had 24 hours here, it really felt like three days!

Magical places have the power to do this to you – transport you outside of space and time where the perfect amount of time exists to absorb the experience you’re intended to have.

On Tuesday, the 15th, we drove to Avignon for our longest stay since Paris – four days and three nights at the Hotel de L’Atelier in Villeneuve-les-Avignon.  I am convinced there is a place for pretty much everyone in France given the diversity throughout this country.  Avignon is a place unique to itself with its rustic medieval architecture and completely unfettered simplicity.  In Avignon, there were four experiences that truly stood out to us – 1. The quaintness of the streets and structures, 2. The kindness and generosity of the residents, 3. The farmers markets – which rivaled nothing I’d ever seen.  Here, you could buy foods either cooked or fresh, cheeses, meats, fish, nougats, clothing, mattresses – you name it!  The market was roughly the size of a football field, so not for the faint of heart.  and 4. The proximity to Chateneuf du Pape to the north and to the south – the Mediterranean coastline!

The first night we dined at a restaurant called Les Jardins de la Livree that we loved, in fact, we enjoyed it so much this is where we dined on our last night in Avignon as well.  Day two in Avignon, we drove to Chateneuf du Pape where we literally needed to stop ourselves because the wines were so ‘off the chart’ amazing we were buying wine at every place we stopped – and seriously, you can only bring so much back in your suitcase, so stop we did!

That night, after more wandering around and taking pictures, we ran into another American couple out walking and also taking pictures – legit pictures.  Turns out, they are professional photographers and camera operators for big events and functions in Vegas.  Interestingly enough, we ended up at the same restaurant and though we arrived separately, they seated us beside one another – polite conversation ensued, but by the end of the meal we felt we’d found new friends as well.  To this day, I am still in contact on a regular basis with Joan and one day, I’m sure we’ll meet up again.  The restaurant was incredibly charming, the food so-so, the company outstanding!

We really had toyed with the idea of having a retirement property in France, but it was our last day here that sealed the deal.  We woke, had a light breakfast, went to the farmers market and collected items for a luxurious picnic, packed a bottle from our amazing wine collection and headed to the Mediterranean Sea.  We ended up in the town of Cassis, parked, then walked out to the rocks along the water where we found the perfect spot to have our picnic.  That is the place where time stopped, everything re-organized in our universe, and came back together with us knowing this country would be the perfect place for both of us.  Temperate climate, fabulous architecture, wine, food, simplicity – one of us could enjoy skiing in either the alps or Pyrenees while the other could be on a warm, tropical beach.  We’d be close to the coastline and have easy access to stunning cities like Paris, Bordeaux & Lyon, and all the adjacent countries we also yearned to explore – Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and so on.  We still weren’t sure exactly where, but knew we’d figure that out soon enough. We loved Provence, but were not sure it was entirely ‘it’ for us.  What we would do is explore this vast country region by region – and what fun that would be!

The following day we drove to Lyon to drop off the rental car and board a plane home.

Still drunk from the experience, I immersed myself with online real estate websites, webinars on purchasing property in France, and reading everything I could that might help.  I figured the real estate sites would give us a better understanding of what types of houses would be available in each region so as we developed our ‘wish list’ it would be within reasonable expectations.  I recommend this exercise to anyone with similar aspirations.  One option we were also considering was renting a place to give a town or village time to settle.

It’s important to remain open to the experience because otherwise, I believe you can miss amazing opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t see.

Life goes on they say, or is it more like the John Lennon line that ‘life is what happens when you’re making other plans’?  Because my husband and I own a business and do not have the luxury of taking frequent vacations that would take us both away from work – and at this point are at lease 10-12 years away from retirement age, we loosely planned to visit a different region in France once a year.  That was the plan.  In July of 2014, as I was beginning to plan our next sojourn, I came home to my house flooded from a broken water pipe.  The unraveling of our daily lives commenced and eventually, though on the path to recovery, it seemed clear there would be no possible way for us to gather the resources needed to take our yearly trip.  That did not satiate my need to return to France, so we decided I would go with our daughter for a glorious mother/daughter trip to Paris.  My daughter had been obsessed with everything Paris since she was a very small child, so this would be her ‘end of college but not caught up in the working world yet’ trip.  Though there was no house hunting or new region exploration, just soaking up this amazing place – so in September 2014, the two of us were off, and I had my thirst quenched for a bit longer.

Over the next year, the business began growing by leaps and bounds, making it impossible to get time away.  My husband was not concerned because we really were on a 5-7 year plan, but I figured with 2015 having come and gone, and regretting I had not looked at any definitive plans to travel, I figured it just wasn’t going to happen.  So – I shrugged my shoulders, looked up to the sky and said to my spirit guides, “Look, if I’m supposed to travel to France anytime in the near future, you’ve got to step in and show me how because I have no worldly idea how it’s going to happen.”

Within 48 hours I received a message from my sister-in-law inviting me to join her and a few other women for a women’s trip to the south of France.  ‘Well, I can’t do that right now”, I thought, but decided to sleep on it before replying.  I woke up and looked at my husband and said, “I have to do this. I just know if I don’t I’m going to regret it.”  He looked me square in the eye and responded, “Then you need to do this.”

I thought about it and reasoned if he could join me after my sister-in-law flew home, then we could meet up and travel to Bordeaux, which is the first place we really wanted to explore.  I ended up with ten days with stops in Paris, Nice, & Eze, then back to Paris where I remained for 6 more days until he could join me.  So in April, 2016, we met at Charles de Gaulle airport and traveled to Bordeaux by train to spend a few days, look at a couple properties there, then drove to Saint Emilion for the next 5 days where we would meet with two more real estate agents to show us properties we had pre-selected online.

This is a good point to offer some advice on real estate vendors.  In the United States, we have what is known as a ‘multiple listing’ where any agent in the state or country has access to the database of what’s on the market.  Not so in France.  There are numerous agencies and those properties are only available to agents within that agency.  My advice is to begin with the biggest agency in France – and that is Leggett.  They will have listings and agents representing the greatest number of properties throughout the country, so it will save you an enormous amount of time!  That doesn’t mean you need to buy from them because you may just notice a property in an area with a different agency sign and there’s nothing stopping you from contacting them, but working through Leggett was one of the best decisions we made.   You can go to their website and set up an account where you set your preferences based on what you’re looking for, and depending on your preferences, you can request a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly listing update delivered right to your email box.  Once I week I would open my link and see what was new – I need to also say, the quality of the website and the thoroughness of details and pictures on the properties was also the best I found.

I had arranged to see six different properties which were being shown by four different agents – one of whom, ironically enough, was the same agent I had contacted a year earlier with questions about a property that looked interesting on the website.  We were not ready to buy at that point, but I remember she had been extremely responsive – something that surprised me at the time.  Upon request, the agency also recommended a place to stay that was central to these properties (also the recommendation of this agent).  We stayed at the Chateau de Courtebotte in St. Jean de Blaignac and the amazing host there – Isabelle, also arranged several dinners and wine tastings for us during our stay.

The day we were on our way to the Chateau, I was eagerly accessing the landscape, properties, for sale signs and amenities along the way as my husband drove.  We drove past one property that nearly caused my head to spin off my neck as I proclaimed, “That one’s for sale!!!” – to which my husband responds, “yeah, right – wonder what THAT one costs!”  We were, after all, on a pretty tight budget.

House for sale

This was the picture posted by Leggett

We are falling in love with this area and feel the need to focus our search here – not two hours away.  A meeting is arranged with the agent who ultimately sold us our property to discuss our needs in more detail and when we meet, she tells us she really doesn’t think the house she was scheduled to show us is the right one for us but we want to see it anyway.  She has, instead, another property she feels will be more to our liking.  Undeterred, we visit the property that’s about twenty minutes outside of any village.  The outside is lovely, and its possibilities are enormous – but the inside is somewhat disappointing, because despite the prospect of renovating every surface we conclude this house has all the space we need but in all the wrong places.  Renovating cannot fix that.  If the outside only matched the inside….

Next we visit the house she is insistent to show us in Lavagnac.  To our surprise, it is only five minutes from the Chateau and is the property I saw on the way into town.  Hold that thought for just a minute.  Let’s go back about a year now.  As I am reviewing properties online, I come across house we feel has potential and send an inquiry to the listing agent with a few questions, thinking, I probably won’t hear back for a while, if ever.  The next day I receive a very complete response and am taken aback because we really aren’t quite in a position to be purchasing. I had somewhat forgotten that correspondence when I realize Ironically, or should we say, synchronistically, this was the same agent and now, she is showing us a house – the very one that caught my eye coming into town.  And it is in our price range.

La Maison….

La Roseraie before renovation –

Let me first say – this visit to France was all about finding the location, the greater area of place that would resonate with both of us, feel like it could be a place we’d want to spend more time or live.  It would have the right places and spaces for us, would be near large transportation centers for ease of getting to, close to a large city – but not too close, and amenities, restaurants, shopping, wineries, etc. would be readily available.  This was most definitely not about finding ‘the’ house.  So when we found, ‘the’ house it was jolting, and a bit unsettling.  Were we ready for this?  How could we not be?

We enter the house, it is dark, very old, and though we open several windows and shutters, it is still dark, yet very beautiful.  Like a beautiful woman left unkempt.  No one has lived here for years, it is clear.  There is no active electricity, the water has been turned off, the kitchen has been removed, and there is no furniture.  We go through the house, room by room – ground floor with the grand entry opening on each side with double doors into the salon/living room on the left and dining on the right.  Each with its own fireplace.  There is a powder room off the entry and the kitchen at the rear of the house adjacent to the dining room.  The beautifully carved staircase winds to the first floor where we find another great hall with two bedrooms on one side and a bedroom and large bathroom on the other.  Each bedroom has a fireplace and beautiful mouldings.  Continuing up the staircase we find the second floor…. And there he is – I see the ghost of a man standing at the top with his arms crossed against his chest.  He is not smiling.  We walk past him and begin assessing the three rooms here, discussing the possibility of there being two more bedrooms and another bathroom.  I am also sensing much paranormal activity and excuse myself as quickly as I can.  Back outside, I share my experience and find both my husband and the agent also felt somewhat uneasy.  “No worries, I proclaim – I can take care of this!”  What am I saying?  Why did I say that?  I can ‘take care of’ this?!?  Sheesh!  I’ve got to really think before I speak.  This blurting out of things that are not my own words is becoming a habit and on some level, I’m not sure I even have control over it.

As a side note: I am a Shaman.  As part of this, I am able to journey, outside of time, in order to communicate with spirits.  I will use this gift often throughout the context of this renovation – 

As we drive back toward the Chateau we’re staying we are astounded it is only a few minutes away – just on the other side of the bridge crossing the Dordogne River, and since we drove here from the first property we visited today, we didn’t realize we had looped around and were this close to this area we’ve realized we had fallen in love with.    And now, we cannot stop talking about this house, planning what we would do, marveling at how close it is to everything we need it to be.  Back in our room, we’re sitting on the patio sharing a bottle of rose and dreaming of our life here one day and joking about this feeling like an episode of House Hunters International.  Later that night, as I’m ready to drift off to sleep, listening to the sleeping sounds of my husband, I journey to the house.

I connect with my power animals and teachers, then approach the house and walk immediately to the second floor where I sensed all the activity.  I acknowledge the spirit of the house, of the land and the place, then I immediately open a portal and ask all those who are ready to cross to do so, and to my amazement, there is a mad rush up the tractor beam of light leading to the portal and the place clears out!  Except, for the man.  Feeling the portal has served its purpose for the time being, I carefully make sure it is closed, then focus my attention toward the man.  I first respectfully introduce myself and explain my intentions.  His demeanor immediately softens, but he wants to see plans.  “What do you have planned?  I need to see the plans and I need to approve them.”

What the heck?  Did I just run into the local building inspector in Spirit form?!?  No worries – I lay out our plans, explaining we want to make this house beautiful again.  We have no interest in changing it and only want to bring it back to its original splendor and are thrilled no one has done anything to ruin it.  He will wait for me to bring him the plans and we will discuss them.

I go to sleep that night confident I can meet his requirements.  The next morning, I wake refreshed and share my experience with my husband – who believes me, but is always a bit cautious in his judgement.  The next day, we return to the house, determined to take measurements so we have them should we decide to move forward with this property, and when we do – despite the day being drizzly and overcast, the house is surprisingly brighter inside – and the second floor, much more inviting.  The shift in energy was noticeable to all of us.  I have continued to visit the house, visit with the man I now know as Padre, who I have shared our plans as they unfold.  He not only approved, but has proclaimed he will watch over this work to ensure it is done properly.  When I visit now, it is much more casual, he offers wine, we muse and look at details to be worked out and the last time I visited there were more helping spirits there – the body of maternal ancestors who worked from the other side to bring me here have moved in to help.

Yet the process continues to unfold as we wait to hear from the bank about securing the monies we need to pay cash for the property.  My head causes me to fill with fear because I want this so badly, my heart tries to comfort me because it ‘knows’ it is part of my destiny.  Yes, like waiting for the first heartbeat….

So – this has taken us somewhat by surprise.  We were only here to begin this process.  We have no worldly idea whether we can get a mortgage for what we need beyond what we have available.  This wasn’t supposed to happen yet – or was it?  Yet another synchronistic series of events unfolded to bring us to this place in time.  This place, this house, has everything we wished for – and it’s for sale now.  Not two years from now, not two years ago – now.  We have not pre-qualified for anything – we are simply here on a wing and a prayer, as they say.  We know what we can afford but that’s not always enough.

Get a French mortgage they said.  Rates are low and the process is easy.  Uh huh.  So, we’ve filled out all the preliminary information, made an offer on the house and are feeling somewhat optimistic.  The owners counter our offer so we counter theirs, and our second offer is accepted.  Ok – let’s get excited…. for a little while.  Then comes the news our mortgage will not be simple, or easy.  It seems, these ‘easy to get’ French mortgages are not so easy if you are over 55 – in which case, they will only consider 60% of your income, or if you are self-employed, or American.  Politics, you know.  We submit more information, tax returns both personal and corporate and a nicely bullet pointed list of why we will be a good credit risk.  And we wait. I distract myself with work, with dance, with writing and think this feels like childbirth.  One minute you are euphoric, then queasy, then will likely have some labor pains, but hopefully in the end will have a reward to look forward to.  This feels so incredibly destined; it’s frightening to imagine it will not happen.  Right now, I’m just waiting for the heartbeat assuring me this is viable.  For now, I must sit in limbo with the worrier on my right shoulder and the optimist on my left.

I can be a very calm person and am the one to have beside you in a crisis.  I am clear headed and steady.

I am also impatient.

All  of this waiting, dreading, wishing, dreaming.  So, what does a level headed optimist with a very practical nature do?  She doesn’t leave all her eggs in one basket, that’s what she does!  Time to apply for a mortgage in the good ol’ U S of A!  Having prepared paperwork, tax returns, etc. for the French banks, this process was no longer daunting.  Paperwork in, I decide to contact the French mortgage broker – surely after more than three weeks there’s some word and we now have more updated information.  Then the response basically stating we cannot possibly help you.  Oh, but wait, we CAN help you with a life insurance policy or transferring money.  Seriously?!? Here we sit in the best financial state we’ve ever been and easily able to afford this house, and they can’t possibly help us?  And exactly when was he going to share this news?  Would he have waited even longer if I had not contacted him?  You know what?  Time to put another one in the rear view mirror because we may be down, but we’re not out!  I can’t tell you if it was sheer desperation, our wanting it so badly, or what it was, but we actually felt more optimistic than before.  This was our house and no one was going to change that!  We have traveled by car, bus, plane, train, and covered more miles in this country that is both new and old to me at the same time and through it all every connection, every interaction has led us to this point in our journey – and to this house.

That said, if you are not a resident of the European Union and are over 55, you might want to consider having cash in hand or an American loan set up before making an offer on a property.