Not buying a house in France

As we find ourselves in the midst of another round of property negotiations, I am reminded how much fun it is not buying a house. We had many hours and days of joy not buying a house in France.

Predictably, not long after settling into Quillan, we found ourselves browsing the advertisements in the real estate agency windows.

We do this pretty much everywhere we go – falling in love with each new country, region, town and village, quickly dreaming of how wonderful it would be to buy a wee place and picturing ourselves furnishing it from the local vide greniers (flea markets).

And so it was with Quillan – each day we would explore more territory and find new places to fall in love with.

The trouble with spending three months living somewhere, rather than just passing through on holiday as we so often do, is that dreaming and window browsing quickly turned into photographing for sale signs, actively viewing properties from the outside, meeting with real estate agents and, inevitably, viewing properties. Some properties more than once.

In true small town southern France style, our estate agent often hailed us on the street, to discuss likely properties over morning coffee meeting. If we felt like viewing something it was usually within walking distance, no problem to grab the keys from the agency on the way. It really was very convivial and a great way to while away several hours, exploring French property.

We saw a fabulous wee four-bedroom stone house entirely and tastefully renovated, with its own walled garden, a bubbling creek with old stone bridge, and a barn ripe for further renovation. It was in the small village of Laval, just 7km from Quillan. We fell in love with it, and both wanted to buy it on the spot, but really, though it was entirely affordable, it was above our ‘bargain basement’ price range.

In just about every village we visited we saw likely houses with for sale signs. Typically we’d eye places up, pass them by. Occasionally we’d exclaim in delight at a find, jump out, photograph the for sale sign and the house from every angle. By the time we’d got back home, reason had usually overtaken us again.

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In other villages we’d see houses with no for sale sign, but that we would happily snap up if they were for sale. I’m still wishing I’d had the courage to ring the doorbell of a particularly delicious one with a walled garden, in our favourite wee village of Ginoles.

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In another life, the house I would buy is perhaps one of the grandest in Quillan. A gorgeous pale stone mansion, with a walled garden, its own pool, impeccably maintained inside and out. I did go so far as to google the street address and, thanks to the power of the Internet, I now have the name and phone number of the current proprietors. If I win lotto, I’ll give them a call.

We saw the most incredible 6-bedroom, 3 bathroom house, for a ridiculously low price, in lovely Esperaza. It comprised two houses that had been knocked through to make one, with a very special secret garden – complete with outdoor shower – in an old barn off the back of the house. You could see the church tower from the bedroom windows. That was quite tempting. But what on earth would we do with six bedrooms for most of the time?

We fell in love with the delightful riverside village of Rouvenac, some 15 minutes’ drive from Esperaza, through gorgeous gently rolling hill country. We arranged to view one likely property, agreeing to meet the agent at the local auberge after our lunchtime coffee, as you do. The house we saw was a bit too quirky, but the agent said he knew of a couple of others, so we and our visiting friends ended up accompanying the agent on a stroll of the village looking at various other houses. While doing so, we got talking to a local woman tending her garden, who showed us through into her captivating back garden, complete with old village well. We asked her if she was interested in selling… 😉

We saw several properties in Quillan, in the old town, just off the Place de la Republique, having fallen for this idyllic and eventful location. All were well within price range, but there was always something not quite right – whether the lack of space, the lack of light, the quirky layout of rooms, the need for significant renovation, the lack of outlook.

We came very close with one lovely town house, simply renovated and maintained in original French style, but in the end couldn’t quite get past the lack of aspect. Having seen this particular place three times, we also thought we’d better crunch the numbers, in case our hearts got the better of us. And at this point, bitter reality set in. Even if we could get a property for cheap as chips (relatively speaking) it still wouldn’t be worth it financially to buy a place once you factor rates, insurance, taxes, agency fees and maintenance. Renting would be cheaper – and would come with the flexibility to choose a place based on our needs at the time rather than the same house every holiday.

About this time we also viewed a house that was becoming available right on the square. A lovely place, slightly larger than we would need, but with balcony overlooking the action. On our beloved Place de la Republique, fringed by our favourite plane trees. It turns out it had been bought only 18 months ago by visiting Australians who, like us, had fallen in love with the area, the idea of owning their own place and had been drawn by the bargain prices. Not even two years later, they’d realised they wouldn’t be visiting often enough to justify it, and back it was on the market. This was a bit of a wake-up call.

Besides which, the simple reality was that we couldn’t agree on a house to buy. Rural or central, town or village, house or apartment, three or four bedrooms, garden or no garden? This region or another? In trying to justify a house purchase financially, we needed to look for a place that would suit us long-term. The different needs of a house for short holidays, a year-long stay, and six months of each year in retirement were too hard to reconcile.

In my heart I’m sure we’ll buy something someday, but for now we’ll stick to window browsing.

2 thoughts on “Not buying a house in France

  1. margaret21

    I’ve had such fun reading this post, mentally re-travelling that road we so often took that included Rouvenac and Esperaza, and returning via Quillan. Ginoles was somewhere we’d quite often pass through on walks, feasting on wild cherries if they were in season. But I think you’re right to window-shop. I’d never change the six years we spent in France, and the benefits of integrating into a community are huge: we have French friends from Laroque staying with us this minute. But it does prevent wandering a bit. So you carry right on not buying!

  2. bizzyella

    I agree that buying is a big commitment. If it is just a holiday house for you, renting is probably the way to go. When you do get to that “six months a year” phase, things change. Then you might buy. Do go for the year-round house. You’ll find more use for the six bedrooms than you ever dreamed possible. I would never worry about a house being too big.


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