Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Thursday, September 25, 2003

The perfect holiday home

On Thursday 25th September 2003 our holiday home search took us to the historic town of Josselin in central Brittany, our 6th French estate agent, and what was to turn out at long last to be our perfect French holiday home.

When we arrived in Josselin the night before we had trouble finding a reasonably priced hotel and so ended up in Hotel Le Pelican. The hotel was really a bar with rooms above and could only be described as "basic". The room was OK, if a bit old and worn out, and they couldn't do breakfast the next day.

Next morning after eating at the fantastic Hotel Restaurant du Chateau opposite Josselin's chateau, we were amazingly lucky to find the estage agency Bretagne Proprietes Services first time in the winding one-way system round Josselin, then met our agent Franck Guillaume to go through what we were looking for and what he had on his books.

Once again we laid out what we were looking for:
  • Reasonably quiet and not on a main road
  • Not too much land (nothing more than an acre)
  • House had to be in good enough state that we could reasonably easily move into (we didn't want to manage a rennovation project from afar)
  • Part of the house which could be our "future rennovation project" (e.g. barn or an unconverted part)
  • Maximum budget (including agent's and notaire's fees) of £100,000
Frank only had two properties that we agreed were worth looking at, one in a little hamlet half-way between Josselin and Ploermel, and one in the historic town of La Trinite-Porhoet.

Just before we left to look at these two, Franck remembered a third property that had just come onto his books near to the village of La Cheze. In fact the property was so new that the details had not yet been written up and all he could give us was a printed copy of the property photo.

The first property wasn't what we wanted. On paper it looked OK but the garden was too small and contained a hutch full of rabbits (to eat !) and it was very close to the noisy N24 dual carriageway.

The second property was much more interesting though, a large L shaped traditional longere with a hay barn and stables (complete with the original feed troughs) at one end and a separate detached barn. From the outside the property looked lovely with red-brick edging around the windows, a slate roof, ivy and roses climbing up the walls and a gravel courtyard in front.

Inside the main house was in pretty good condition, there was a lovely wooden fireplace (which strangely the owners didn't use as they had a sofa across it), great big oak beams and two reasonable sized bedrooms upstairs (although one was in a very girly shade of pink!)

The second half of the L was basically a water-tight shell which the previous owner had started work on and had got as far as putting in three bedrooms, but hadn't done anything downstairs. Next door was the hayloft (with outside staircase - the photo is of me and Franck taking in the view) and stables beneath.

Outside there was a reasonable amount of garden, mainly grass with very few flowers and shrubs in it, the barn, a few fruit trees, and the whole house was situated in a very quiet location with open fields opposite and hardly any cars passing by.

All in all everything we'd been looking for.

We took lots of photos and video of the house, asked lots of questions of Franck as to the process for making an offer, and moved onto the 3rd and final house - nowhere near as nice as the previous one.

That night when I phoned Liz to tell her that we'd found one we liked, she was strangely unexcited about the idea ...

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Monday, September 22, 2003

First day looking for a holiday home in France

Having convinced my friend Stephen that it'd be fun to go looking round France together for a holiday home, we took the Dover Calais ferry on Sunday then drove down Vire in Normandy where we were due to meet our first estate agent the next morning.

Rather than giving a blow by blow account of every one of the 22 houses we visited I thought I'd give a few examples of the good, the bad and the very very ugly.

On the Monday (like most days in the week's house-hunting) we'd arranged to visit one agent in the morning, then drive on to see another in the afternoon. Although it meant quite a lot of driving and eating meals on the run, it meant we maximised what we did in the week and worked out reasonably well (apart from being very tiring).

I won't comment too much on Monday morning's visit which was perhaps to set the tone for the whole week. Like many of the agencies we visited the agent who took us round was English but the estate agency itself was French. Estate agencies in France are very tightly regulated and you've got to actually study and pass an exam before you're allowed to act as an agent - this doesn't appear to apply to the people that show you round and I suppose it's a reasonably safe occupation for the hordes of Brit's that have moved to France.

The agent reminded us both of Joanna Lumley from "Absolutely Fabulous"; she chain smoked and seemed to spend most of the time living in the cafe bar next door to the agency. Unfortunately the two houses we looked at didn't have much scope for us to "make our mark" on them, and one of them we couldn't even get in to and could only look through the windows!

In the afternoon we drove down to Domfront on the Mayenne border to meet our second (English) agent Mike Broughton. Mike had a couple of properties to show us including a farmhouse in Couterne that he'd recently taken on that he was keen to show it to us. The farmer that owned it was retiring and selling up so off we went to visit it.

The 5 bedroom farmhouse itself was in reasonably good condition (although some of the wallpaper was a bit loud), with views over the fields and the farmer's orchard. Right opposite the framhouse was a large barn which was just ripe for conversion into 2 separate Gites.

Mike explained that the farmer currently owned 20 acres of land and we could offer to buy the farmhousem, barn and anywhere between 2 or all 20 acres of land !

There were only two things that put us off from buying the Couterne farmhouse; right next door was a large agricultural storage barn which was not included in the sale - would we want to be next to that; and the isolated location. The farmhouse was on it's own surrounded by the farmers fields. If we bought it then we'd have a tranquil location, but perhaps it might be just a bit too isolated.
The Couterne farmhouse remained our firm favourite for most of the rest of the week until we saw the house near Josselin.

After Couterne we were keen to view a house we'd seen advertised on the internet in Juvigne. We'd loved the photos of the house and it was one of the ones that we were very keen to see as it looked to be everything we wanted. The agent warned us that it wasn't as good as Couterne and we may be a bit disappointed with it, but nevertheless off we went.

At first glance this looks like a fine old house that just needs a bit of TLC, but look closer and you'll see the water cascading down the walls from the broken gutter, the damaged brickwork and window frames, the unfinished toilet, etc,

According to Mike, the French would consider this "ready to move into" ! The whole house needed serious building and rennovation work, and what decorating there was needed a lot of improvement.

One of the things that had attracted us to the property in the first place was that there was a barn for future conversion. 'In the flesh' we saw that the barn was massive - it must have been 100 ft by 30 ft and 50ft high - but it was just an agricultural building and would have required an equally massive amount of work to turn it into somewhere habitable.

And finally there was a third building/barn at Juvigne. Even though it looked great from the outside we'd already been put off so much by the state of the house and the barn so we never even battled our way through the nettles to take a closer look !

Just goes to show that you can't believe everything you see advertised on the Internet.

That evening we stayed at Derek & Carole Askew's lovely Mayenne farmhouse and dined on pate and wine before collapsing into the feather beds!

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Wednesday, September 03, 2003

A carefully planned French house-hunting trip

After scouring the internet for what seemed like months we finally had an agreed list of properties we wanted to look at. France is an awfully large country so we decided to limit our search to places we could reasonably easily get to from England - initially we wanted to look in Normandy, Brittany and Poitou-Charentes but in the end we decided on just Brittany and Normandy as Poitou-Charentes was just that bit too far south of the ports.

There's a lot of UK companies advertising French properties and as we weren't really sure of the precise area we wanted to buy in, we looked at all their websites !

By eliminating the properties that were too far from the sea, those that the house needed too much work doing to it or those that we just didn't like the look of, we found 6 UK companies that were offering properties that we wanted to visit:

Francophiles and Sinclair actually act as an introduction agency to the French estate agency so we ended up with 9 different estate agencies to visit. With a bit of jiggling around of dates and appointments we had the itinerary planned for a rather full week of property seaching in September 2003.

These two Autoroute maps show the properties we'd identified that we wanted to view. In the end we found that many of the properties we'd seen had either been sold or were in an appalling condition ...

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