I see to my shame that the last blog I wrote was almost a year ago ,which is just not good enough! But my excuse is that we have been VERY busy with the French fantasy ,as you will discover if you read on.
Not long after I wrote the last blog we had a booking for a fortnight from an American couple . So we decided to go to Italy to visit part of Janelle’s past and to buy some Amarone ,our very favourite wine.
Our base for the wine part of the trip was a winery/agriturismo near Verona called Massimego.I have blogged about it previously. It’s about a 7 hour drive from the house ,through the 16 k Mont Blanc Tunnel and then via Turin and near Verona Camilla,the owner of Massimego was elsewhere preparing for her marriage that weekend. Heide is the accommodation manager and she installed us in a lovely room( they are all lovely). I asked for her advice on wine buying. She said “that’s easy – go to the Iso Tosana supermarket in Vago. The range and prices are amazing!” So we did. And she was right. A fantastic range at rock bottom prices. But more amazing was the rest of the supermarket – absolutely huge and really busy. The top end supermarkets in Europe just seem to get better and better. The sad effect of that is that many small businesses in villages ,such as butchers ,are going broke and the villages are dying. There’s no work for young fpeople ,so they leave their villages for the cities or they migrate- if they can. It’s very very sad.
Our other ambition on this trip was to return to a restaurant in the hills near Massimego where they do a great fiorentina steak. I love cooking with fire and wanted to have another look at how they cook the fiorentina. In Italy they use a variety of beef called chianina and cook it over coals. Fiorentina steaks are huge and intended for sharing. At our restaurant they have a massive piece of beef on a block in the kitchen and cut it to order. It is placed on a rack about 2 inches ( I still think in inches. Sorry!) off the floor of a fireplace and hot coals are raked under it. The localised heat is obviously intense .After about 15 minutes the meat is turned over and some fresh coals added. When it is judged to be done enough it is rested at the side of the fireplace and served. It is served rare and is marvellous!
We then spent a few days at Janelle’s favourite place- Badia in Coltibuono ,in Tuscany ,not far from Siena. It’s a 13 th century monastery in extensive and very beautiful grounds. Janelle did acooking course there some years ago . We love it.
MEANWHILE,BACK IN FRANCE
Then a return to our French House where our guests were getting ready to leave. To cut a long story short they asked if the house might be for sale and we agreed a deal which included most of the contents.
We agreed to a settlement early in december. Someone had told us that there was a house for sale in the village ,about a hundred metres away. We looked at it and thought we could make it nice ,but with a fair bit of work and expense.
Close readers of the blog will recall that in my blog of a year ago I mentioned a cafe in a nearby village called Vers ( full name Vers Pont du Gard). In passing I said how much we liked Vers and that we could live there. Well ,that’s what has happened!
Here’s how. Vers is only about 10 minutes drive from Sanilhac. It’s just off the main road to Avignon. We drove through one morning and the La Grange cafe was open. We went in for a coffee and met Amy ,who is one of the two owners. Amy is originally from the USA. She’s a winemaker and her winery is in the middle of the village, next to the cafe. La Grange seats about 30 indoors. I noticed a lady sitting at another table on her own peering at her laptop . I asked her if she was Amy’s mum. She wasn’t – her name was Katherine, she was from Canada and had a house in the village and would we like to come around for a drink. So we did and were joined by a couple of her village friends ,including a charming young man named Daniel and his very elderly greyhound ,George . Daniel showed us the house he was restoring in the village.Just beautiful. Everyone spoke really highly of the village ,which is very much alive. It has a post office ,tabac,pharmacy ,doctor ,dentist ,two cafes,hairdressers ,very good boulangerie and a weekly market. We saw Daniel subsequently and he said that he thought we should look at a house that he had just seen in the village which was for sale. By this stage our trip was rapidly coming to an end but Daniel was quite insistant. So on the day before we came back to Oz we went to Vers and knocked on the gate. The owners ,a delightful English couple were about to go out ,but agreed to give us a quick look. We loved it! It’s quirky and different.
It was more than we could afford ,but as the man said (I think it was Henry Ford) nothing succeeds like persistence. After a lot of to- ing and fro- ing we agreed a deal to buy it and with settlement on the same day as we would settle on Sanilhac. Then we got a bonus. The vendors said that they would prefer to leave behind most of the house contents if we didn’t mind! So ,we could move into a fully equipped house , keep what we wanted and discard what we didn’t. Perfect.
OUR ( NEW) FRENCH HOUSE
So ,what’s the new house like?
It’s a “maison du village”- stone ,semi- detached ,in a lovely village and just 3 k from World Heritage listed Pont du Gard. Like so many village houses it is hundreds of years old and no doubt not in its original form. We think we can see traces of at least two previous houses.Our vendors owned it for about 20 years. Before that it was owned by a couple from Paris and we are told that they carried out an extensive restoration.
It’s L shaped. The front of the house is one away from a corner. So there’s a house each side. Our house wraps around the corner house ,with our garage ( whoopee!) opening onto the side street. Garages in villages are few and far between and highly prized.
Like our previous house ,pretty well all you see from the street is a high stone wall and a pair of wooden gates. Through the gates is a courtyard with two doors in the facing stone wall. Behind these doors ,to our amazement ,are two mangers where animals were once kept. They are virtually untouched and still have stone troughs for food and water and stalls for the animals. Perfect cellars I thought when I first saw them.
To the right when you enter the courtyard is a set of steps leading up to a terrace across the front of the house. At the far side of the terrace is an area big enough for a table and chairs- just the spot for one’s evening cocktail ,looking across village walls and roofs. The railing of the terrace has been laced with a beautiful and bounteous grape vine.
Off the terrace is the front door which leads into the dining room. Welcome to our new home!
The house faces south and the windows are comparatively large ,so most of the rooms are light. Off the dining room is the lounge ,the kitchen and a set of stairs leading to the bedrooms upstairs. The lounge and dining room are sort of one big room., so it feels quite open and roomy. The lounge has a really beautiful old fireplace and beside it a “parterre” where the hot water and stockpot would have sat. The floors are tiled. The house is centrally heated.
Off the dining room is the kitchen. It isn’t huge ,but it works well and we think is very attractive ,with its provencal furniture.
There are two doors off the kitchen. One takes you outside to a courtyard. The other leads to a bathroom / laundry. Very convenient compared to our previous house ,where the bathrooms were upstairs. The courtyard puzzles me ,because it is one storey above ground level. Why?
Anyway,resuming the tour ,we walk through the courtyard and up a few steps to a wonderful outdoor room. The outdoor room has a huge old fireplace ( for cooking those fiorentinas). We’re told that this area is great in summer. It looks back at the courtyard and the stone walls of the house. It is covered and stays cool . Lovely old tiled floor. Off the outdoor room on one side is a bedroom which Janelle and I have appropriated. There is a room above our bedroom which is not used.To access it at the moment you need to climb a ladder. We’re a touch beyond that ,but it would be great for kids ,or storage.
On the far side of the outdoor room is a doorway beyond which is a walkway to a small terrace onthe far side of which is a room above the garage. It’s an old granary with a big opening onto the side street through which bags of grain would have been winched. It could be a terrific one room apartment. Parallel to the walkway is a staircase down to the garage level. On this level is the garage ,a workshop area and two huge vaulted stone cellars ! Every boy’s dream!
But let’s return to the dining room. Off it is a set of stairs which lead to two upstairs bedrooms , a bathroom and a very private terrace ,which overlooks the courtyard. The bedrooms are generous and overlook the front of the house and the village.
That’s it! That’s our new French house , in our new village. Hope you enjoyed the tour. There are photos elsewhere on the site.
BUYING AND SELLING IN FRANCE
IT’s a bit different. But similar enough that you sort of know more or less what’s going on most of the time!
First of all ,all property transfers in France are handled by Notaires. There is no equivalent under our English common law legal system. They are partly agents of the French taxing authorities ,partly solicitors and partly conveyancers. It seems that you can’t just set up as a Notaire ,having passed your exams ,you have to buy one out. The Government is trying to change this ,but as you can imagine ,the existing Notaires are fighting the proposals tooth and nail. What Notaires do for the French Government is collect fees .The Notaire’s fees are about 8% of the selling price ,but most of this goes to the Government. There is a CGT if you resell for a profit. It’s 35% if you are a non resident. You can deduct from your gross profit the cost of i mprovements if you can produce invoices. But you don’t get a deduction for items you buy at say Ikea. It seems to be only for work done by artisans. If you keep a property more than 4 years the rate of CGT starts to abate on a sliding scale over about 20 years. But ,on the other hand , there is no stamp duty.
The big shock is the commissions charged by real estate agents ( immobiliers). 6% ! No ,you aren’t seeing things .I thought that I had mis heard when this rate was quoted. But had to struggle to get the rate down to 5%. The commission is paid by the vendor.
So what’s the process?
W hen you and the vendor agree a deal you sign a document outlining the terms .This is prepared by the agent and I think is non legally binding. Then the vendor commissions an ” expert’s” inspection and report .This can take a week or so. It seems to cost around $ 1000. Those that I have seen are abou t 30 pages long . Apart from zoning and rates and taxes the report covers such things as lead in the paint ,earthquake proneness , state of the wiring and plumbing . It is very comprehensive ,but it is in French.
The deal terms and the expert’s report are then sent to the Notaire , who drafts a contract ( compromis) .This can take a week or two. Bear in mind that while all this is happening noone is bound. So the compromis gets issued to the parties for signature. At this point the purchaser pays a deposit of 5 or 10% . Then there is a 10 day cooling off period! Then and only then the parties are committed. Needless to say ,the compromis is in French. You can get it translated for a fee by a translation service . Or you can rely on the professionalism and experience of your Notaire. This is what we have done . The final settlement ( l’acte) is usually three months after the signing of the compromis although we have had it take place after two months. For the settlement you can either attend the Notaire’s office or appoint the Notaire your attorney to carry out the settlement on your behalf. On settlement the Notaire gives you a document called an Attestation which certifies that you are the owner of the property. Your certificate from the French Government will be along in about 6 months!
Our bank in France has offered to lend us money ,but we haven’d needed to go down this path. I imagine that it would be interesting.
OUR PURCHASE AND SALE
went pretty smoothly. There was one little hiccup about three weeks before the settlements.
Jean,our vendor’s wife ,rang the Notaire to check on something .She was told by the Notaire’s assistant that they had decided to postpone the sale for a few weeks . They hadn’t bothered totell us this. The reason was that ,unknown to us ,not only were we buying the house in the village , but we were also acquiring a small plot of land about a kilometer away. I guess this might have been used once as a veggie garden. Anyway it seems that on transfer all these small plots have to be offered to a Government Dept. which has the right to acquire them ,but in reality seldom does. And their standard turnaround time is two months. But ,as this is France there is a way of expediting an answer- the payment of € 160. We did this and got a very quick “no” ,so the settlement could proceed on time. We never got to the bottom of why the offer to sell the plot wasn’t made as soon as the compromis was signed. Just a series of shrugs and headshakes. Quite a bit of that goes on in France. If I had had the compromis translated I would heve seen that we were buying two bits of real estate and probably asked about it. So there you go.Now that We are not only house owners ,but property owners I like to be addressed as Le Patron .
To be continued…….