I was sure I’d written a post about our permanent move to France, but I hadn’t as I discovered some days ago when Aiva from Our Crossings asked me about it as did Amanda from Forestwood. You can find Part I here.
We first had to decide where to live. Initially, my beloved favoured the hill towns such as La Colle sur Loup, Vence or Tourettes. I preferred the littoral largely because it’s always sunnier. Furthermore, I wanted a renovation project, while my beloved wanted a large pool and garden.
It wasn’t long before reality dawned. I really didn’t want the day-to-day hassle of maintaining a large property, garden and pool. Remember, I’m married to “the man who just turns up” and has no competencies in DIY, gardenening or housework. We looked at six properties in the afore-mentioned locations which just confirmed my preference for a home within walking distance of the beach, a croissant and a sea view.
As is so often the case in our property searches, my beloved found our current home. He spotted the picture of the 50 metre pool advertising a large flat on the coast for sale with a fabulous view. It does have a beautiful large communal garden – much appreciated during lockdown – and afore-mentioned outdoor pool. But thankfully someone else looks after both while we get to enjoy them.
We viewed the flat and discovered that a couple from Paris had already made an offer which luckily the owner, a retired GP from Corsica, hadn’t accepted it. We topped their offer and, as cash buyers, were very much in the driving seat and able to move quickly. The ex-doctor was moving to Chile to be near one of his children and matters were swiftly concluded. This was our second property in France, we were old hands, we knew what to do.
The previous owner had bought the apartment from the developer, moved in and had done absolutely nothing to it, apart from hanging some truly hideous 70s wallpaper which subsequently proved a nightmare to strip off. The bathrooms and kitchen still had all the original fixtures and fittings, long overdue an upgrade.
We had looked at seven properties in total, more than we usually do, and we’d found our forever home. A massive renovation project with a fabulous view, just a 10 minute stroll to the beach and our nearest croissant, with that all-important (to my husband) pool.
We exchanged in November with completion in early January 2005 and my beloved thought we would be able to move in around Easter. I did keep telling him that redoing the electrics, three bathrooms, the kitchen and laundry would take longer. He honestly had no idea of the work involved.
The layout of the flat which occupies a corner plot, with a wrap around terrace, had already been reduced from eight to six rooms – French property adverts typically talk about the number of rooms excluding kitchens, bathrooms, launderies etc. In order to get a decent sized kitchen, I reduced it further to five. We now have a very spacious two-bedroom, three bathroom flat with an office.
I already knew which kitchen I wanted and, armed with a detailed floor plan of the flat, had my order placed by early February. I had worked with the company on a simpler ie easier to clean, example of one of their bespoke, painted, solid oak kitchens. I used the electrician recommended by the kitchen company to rewire the apartment, put in an alarm and the internet.
I contacted the plumber we’d used to make some changes to the bathroom in our holiday flat and worked with him to acquire everything we needed for the new bathrooms and toilets. The advantage with this plumber was that he did both plumbing and tiling so I wouldn’t need any other contractors, though we did seek the assistance of the building’s on-call plumber, as he was fully conversant with all the block’s eccentricities.
All the contractors were probably much amused by an Englishwoman giving them very detailed and precise written specifications, in French. At no time, thankfully, did they ever have any contact with my beloved.
Good workmen everywhere are always hard to find, usually very busy and often unwilling to work outside of their geographic area. France is no different and there’s no shortage of work here. In addition there are quite strict rules as to how, when and where work can be undertaken in blocks of flats. No noisy work during July or August, week ends or Bank holidays, just week days 08:00 – 12:00 and 14:00 – 18:00 and any major works have to be pre-approved by the building’s management company.
I did everything by the book (of rules) even going on a charm offensive with my new neighbours before the work started. I made sure a note was left in the entrance hall with all the relevant contact details in case they wanted to complain. I had plenty of calls but funnily enough none of their complaints related to my works but to others who had not been quite as assiduous.
Plus, I closely managed my contractors lest they were inclined to use their own initiative. I also discovered, much to my relief, that French workmen don’t need endless cups of tea with biscuits to get them to work, nor do they constantly stop for idle chit-chat.
We finally moved into the flat in August. It had all of the necessary services but had still to be decorated, largely because the decorator I’d found was too busy to start until the following year. His father turned out to be an excellent carpenter so that kind of killed two birds with one stone.
Decorating proved a much slower process than anticipated because my decorator had a nervous breakdown in the middle of the project – nothing to do with me. Meanwhile, his father did an excellent job on all the mouldings, radiator covers, storage, dressing rooms, book cases etc
The entire renovation project took two years and some, at which point I never wanted to see another workman anytime soon. Since then I’ve replaced the windows, blinds and shutters. And, of course, 15 years down the line I’m now looking at redecorating but I’m waiting until my beloved retires, not before. I have some quite radical plans which I can work on until we’re ready to start. You all know how I love some planning and preparation.