Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

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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