Many of us travel abroad but not all of us are brave enough to live there! Read about starting a life in Northern France
We got home two days later and immediately phoned France with our offer. It was now the first week of November and we knew that, if the offer was accepted, we would have to act quickly.
When you agree to buy a property in France you sign a contract and pay a 10% deposit. Once that is done it is almost impossible to back out without losing your deposit; there is no changing your mind or pulling out because you can’t sell your own property. It means that everyone knows where they are, but it’s a bit scary when you need to sell your existing property to finance the purchase of the new one!
We had our cottage valued and then got to work with the paintbrush and repair kit. I have never done so much decorating in such a short time! Most of the house just needed a fresh coat of paint but all those little DIY jobs that had needed doing for ages suddenly had to be done in record time if we wanted the house to sell. Graham got to the point where he thought he had a screwdriver and hammer permanently welded to his hands!
Our offer on the house in France was accepted so our cottage went on the market and we waited for the masses to come and view…nothing happened!
We discovered that the agent had not been actively marketing it, but a number of threats and arguments later, the prospective buyers started trickling in.
Meanwhile things were moving fast in France. We had signed the initial contract and paid our deposit and were now committed; it usually takes two to three months to complete the sale so we knew we had to find a buyer soon. We finally got an offer on Christmas Eve; it was lower than our asking price but there was no chain and the buyer would be able to move quickly. We accepted, and settled down to enjoy our last English Christmas with my parents.
In the New Year, we realised just how complicated it is to move abroad, especially to a country where the language is not your own. Think of the problems of moving house in the UK and then quadruple them!
We needed a French bank account and had to work out the logistics and legalities of transferring our menagerie (a dog and two cats). The house had power but no phone, a real necessity when we were so far away from family and friends, so we had to get that connected. We had to get James enrolled in school and join the French social security system so that we had healthcare. We had to sort out all our tax affairs in the UK, and then find out how to join the tax system in France, which operates completely differently. We had to decide whether to take our cars and get them registered in France or buy cars once we got there. The list of things to do was endless. My list-making is a family joke, but I even had a list of lists we had to make!
Thankfully, our estate agent gave us a great deal of help and my A level French just about got us through. These days, nearly all the answers can be found on the internet, but ten years ago moving abroad to ‘live the dream’ was in its infancy and there was little information to be easily found. We had to do it the hard way by contacting the relevant bodies ourselves and asking the questions – we usually found that we were asking the wrong questions and had to start again!
Eventually things started coming together in France but had shuddered to a halt in the UK. Our buyer kept delaying things and we were starting to get seriously concerned that she was going to drop out at the last minute. We got a call just before the February half-term holiday to say that the formalities were ready to be completed in France but we were still no nearer exchanging contracts in the UK. We were unable to delay the purchase in France any longer so we had to arrange a bridging loan and set off during the school holiday to sign the final contract.
We packed the car up with camp beds and sleeping bags as we had decided that once we had picked up the keys we wanted to spend our first night in our new home. We spent the first night in a hotel en route and arrived at the notaire’s office on the Saturday morning to sign the contract.
This is a formal and civilized affair in France and requires the presence of the seller and buyer. We all crowded into the small office, James sat in the corner on the floor and read a book while we signed the contract. THIS WAS IT! We were now the proud owners of two homes with no sign of selling the English one. We all adjourned to the local bar for a celebratory drink and then had to admit to the estate agent that we didn’t actually know how to find our new home! We had only been there once, and that was in the rain. AND it was in the middle of nowhere…
Apparently this wasn’t unusual; the agent just said: “Follow me!” and we drove off in convoy (us, the estate agent AND the seller). Thankfully the house was just as we remembered it after our single viewing, and this time we even had the seller to give us a guided tour.
Eventually we were left on our own with our bottle of champagne and reality set in; we were in a strange country, we didn’t know anyone and we didn’t speak much of the language. It was heaven!
It was also very, very cold. We looked out of the windows and pondered what we had been told about the climate: “It doesn’t snow and you never get a frost.”
Admittedly it wasn’t snowing, but the ground was completely white with frost and stayed that way the whole time we were there. Thankfully there were logs in the barn so we lit the fire, turned on all the heaters and snuggled down in our sleeping bags to keep warm. An old electric cooker had been left in the kitchen so we were able to cook a meal and we managed to get BBC radio on our portable stereo. We stayed for a couple of days, making yet more lists of things that had to be done and then it was back to Oxford to try and hurry up the sale of our cottage.