Thursday 28 November 2013

A second home in France

We bought this house because it was within walking distance of the Village of Plouer (which we love) and
within walking distance of the harbour. We also bought it because it was beautiful, aged, quiet and tranquil, it had a reasonably sized garden, a courtyard, a barn, and nothing needed to be done to it.

We have met many English people who purchase second homes in France very cheaply because they are in need of restoration. Perhaps some may have thought that renovation would be equally inexpensive.  They then discover that the cost of renovation is pretty much the same as in the UK or elsewhere. You’ll pay the same for a bathroom sink both sides of the English Channel. No wonder French friends tell me that the English in France have a reputation for demanding the cheapest possible solutions regardless of safety, quality or aesthetics. Quite simply, having invested in a second home, there isn't much left in the pot for renovation. The other problem of course is that the low property prices encourage you to purchase more than you need and often more than you can cope with.

So, our house had to be good for a few years until I could devote time and energy to it. We chose well – as a second home it was like the Little House on the Prairie - dark oak floors, a log burning stove a small but modern kitchen, bedrooms and bathroom upstairs, a well-insulated attic above – and it came with all those French effects that everyone likes – huge fireplace, quaint old wooden staircase, beams, inward opening windows with shutters, beautiful granite walls - pleasantly furnished too – in a shabby chic kind of way.

Hardly a hitch – except when I fell through the floor – oh! and when we discovered that the newly installed septic tank had never been connected – and then there was a flood, and a dead owl in the chimney which didn't help matters. Not being able to connect appliances to water pipes without leaks appearing everywhere was a bit trying of course  and then there was the time that the wall fell down - but these were teething troubles mainly!

Let’s face it – you can’t realistically expect to purchase a stone house, several hundred years old, keep here locked up for the best part of each year and expect to find her exactly as you left her several months before. Oh no, things happen, even to quaint old properties that time forgot.

In truth, time doesn't forget – it just waits until you sign the papers – then it comes at you all at once.

If you're thinking of doing something similar here is a resource not to be without
Buying and Renovating a Property in France: 2nd edition (UK Readers)

Buying and Renovating a Property in France: A Comprehensive Overview for Those With Little or No Knowledge of Buying and Renovating in France (USA Readers)


Sunday 24 November 2013

Cold Night in Plouer

It must have been a cold night last night. I came downstairs at 8:30 (well it was Sunday) and I was greeted by warm and toasty floor tiles. The underfloor heating had kicked in during the night and as a result I was more comfortable in bare feet than shoes. 

'Well, OK', you might say 'is that such a big deal?' And I would reply 'Oh yes. You should have seen the state of this place at this time last year'.

Susan and I bought this place almost seven years ago. Our plan was to use it as a holiday home and then as soon as possible afterwards we would renovate and move in permanently - trading a degree of affluence for a better quality of life. The process is described in the Home Page of this site.

Personally, I blame a guy called Maslow. He came up with a Hierarchy of Need, arguing that everyone is seeking a similar goal - but it can only be achieved when more urgent and pressing needs are met. On a simple level, he would argue that everyone needs to eat and drink but if you are drowning at the bottom of a swimming pool, a burger and a glass of beer would be the last thing on your mind! There is a hierarchy you see. Now when we bought this house we believed we were close to the top of the list - we could breath, eat, drink etc, had a comfortable amount of money and the final goal - self-fulfillment (the Americans call it self-actualization) was just around the corner - if only we could have more time for us and if only we had to devote less of this precious resource to the job.

Well, maybe there was a trade-off -- I could break with traditional employment and have more time - but of course there would be less money - so frugality would be the keyword.

We came here full-time at the end of August 2012 and began renovating. By November, this time last year,
we had the shell of an extension built - but there were no doors or windows. The ground floor of the house had been ripped up. Drainage channels and wires chris-crossed the concrete screed. The dry lining had been removed an it sat in a wet pile in the courtyard. There was only one electric socket that worked in the entire house. We had a one burner camping gas stove I had brought from the boat and we had water - but it was from an outside tap and it was cold. Every surface even in the attic was covered in plaster dust. In a period of only three months, eyes open, we had both voluntarily thrown ourselves right back down Maslow's hierarchy - not gasping for breath at the bottom of a swimming pool - but certainly we were cold, wet, miserable and living in a hovel. We did manage to eat but whatever we cooked tasted of concrete dust and old stuff, you know the sort of material that drops from old stone walls. Bathing and washing up required use of the bath, which had to be filled from an old kettle and the garden - well it had ceased to exist - more like a bomb site really. No green, just brown rocks, holes, trenches and piles of rubble.

I can't say the experience left no scars, still shudder when I see a pile of rocks - but I can say that this morning, toasting my toes with a good coffee in my hand, I at last feel able to tell the tale and maybe share a few ideas with people undertaking or planning similar attempts at self-fulfillment through a similar frugal route.

As this is my first post I should also mention that while all this has been going on, I have been attempting to renovate an old sailing boat on the estuary here. That story is called

Simple Sailing Low Cost Cruising