Buying Our First House in France (Part 1)- AHHHHH!
This has been a whirlwind last couple of months (actually, since we arrived we have been in a whirlwind). Since April, the family has been working on buying our first house in Provence. We started looking around the end of February and, surprisingly, we saw a ton of houses. Between February and the first week of April, we just couldn’t seem to find exactly what we were looking for. Nothing struck our fancy.
Buying a house for me, is one of those things where when you see it, you know that it’s the one you want. You get that feeling (that oh je ne sais quoi) that it is calling your name. Well none of the houses we saw called my name. It wasn’t that they weren’t nice, it was more that something or some things didn’t quite fit right. We saw some that were all ready fixed up but had no land at all, some that had land but the house was in too bad a shape, and some that were just plain crappy.
Then one day, Dude spotted a village house on http://www.seloger.com/ (this is the most awesome website for finding real estate in France). I was not into a village house since we had seen so many and I wanted land! He was convinced that we had to see it, though. Well, it just so happened that I had already contacted the agency already who was selling the village house because there was another house I was interested in visiting just down the street from it in the same town. I called up the agency to see if we could see this village house on the same day. The RDV (rendez-vous) was set for 05 April.
The first house we saw was a no go. Same as always, lots of land, but the house was crappy. We were getting disappointed. I had 4 main criteria for what I wanted: (1) The house had to be old (the older the better). Coming from the states you can’t find a house that has middle ages written all over it! (2) I wanted some land. (3) It had to be in the countryside of Provence, but not more than 20 minutes from the nearest town (grocery shopping is a necessity) (4) The price had to fit into our small budget.
Dude added a 5th criteria, he had to be able to fix it up. Now Dude can do just about anything that needs to be done to a house. He is the construction wonder boy. The problem was that there are so many houses in France that are beyond what he is willing to do and pay for (and that means that are really messed up!) This doesn’t mean that they are beyond repair, it means that they are beyond my pocket book for the repairs!
After the first let down of the day, our agent took us over to the village house. It was tucked away on a small road and there wasn’t even a “for sale” sign on it. When the agent opened the large gates, we couldn’t believe how enormous the house was. Three stories and a beautiful yard! The house was surrounded by an ancient stone wall and the garden was full of beautiful trees that were just beginning to bloom.
Our first stop was the main floor. It had an enormous garage with a wine cave below that was full of old wine bottles, the oldest being 1957. They were all covered in dust and looking real cool to me! Off to the side was a small room where the original owners made their own wine. It still had all the equipment in it! The entire cave was made out of stone walls and the temperature was so nice and cool.
Upstairs and through the garage was a separate apartment that had its own kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. The front of the apartment faced out onto the garden.
Behind the garage, was the main house. When opening the front door, you had to go up a flight of stairs and this lead into the enormous kitchen, bigger than I have ever seen in France. Through the kitchen was a terrace that had been closed off and made into a large living room which looked out onto the garden. Just off from the kitchen was the master bedroom, a large closet (also rare in France) and a bathroom. Just off to the other side of the kitchen was the second flight of stairs up to the next floor. On this floor was the library (my dream, my dream) another bedroom, another closet and another bathroom.
We couldn’t believe how huge it was. The view of the town was in every room and it is situated not far from the church so we could hear the church bells ringing!
Michael was instantly all about this house. It was entirely made out of stone. The flooring in most of the house was this beautiful colored tile (very provincial) and the space was great, PLUS the apartment for having guest. I was in love with the furniture, some of it was ridiculously old.
There were, however, a few problems in the house due to it being vacant and old. Three of the main problems were that there was an exterior wall (that encompassed the apartment bedroom, the master bedroom and the upstairs bedroom) that had a leak in it coming down from the roof and it was damaged pretty badly. It was going to be a pain to fix. Another problem was a large crack in the side of the house that seemed to be getting larger as the house shifted. Lastly the entire house needed to be completely rewired (for this is was only a money problem since Dude is an electrician by trade-nothing like free labor!). Even with those three obstacles in mind, we told the agent “SOLD” and went off with him to make the “you Americans are the biggest suckers for France” deal.
When we got to the agency we were told that we had to submit what the French call an “offre d’achat” which means an offer to buy the house. Here in France, it is very common for the listed price to include the agency fees. In that case the house will be listed as “frais d’agence inclus”, this is very important to look out for. When making the offer you need to include what you are willing to pay in total including the agency fees. Then the agent sends this off to the buyer. Since the house needed some “tender loving care”, we offered them about 20 000 Euros less than asking price. Now we had to wait.
The next day, agent man called and said that our offer was not accepted, but they were willing to raise us 8 000 Euros more than our offer and throw in the super cool, ancient furniture. He said it was a brother and sister selling it and they had some arguing to do before coming up with a counter offer. I said I would talk to Dude and call him right back.
I couldn’t even finish my sentence and Dude said “yes-go for it”. Seriously, he had to think more about saying “I do” on our wedding day that about this!
I called agent man back and said, “It’s a deal. What do we do?” It turns out all we had to do was right down that we accepted their counter offer with the furniture included and then sign it and send it off to him. What? No formal paper work involved? Just a plain piece of white paper with my signature? Whatever. So that is just what I did and with that we were ready to make the deal.
We were also informed that if French is not your first language, by law, an official translator is to be there at the signing of the “compromis” (the official “I am buying the house” document) and also the closing escrow signing. Where the heck do I find an official translator? Agent man said, “No worries. I will find one for you.” Cool beans.
Fast forward to May. The deal was taking longer than expected. It had been a month and we had heard no news on what the heck was happening.
Here is some background for you: Another crazy thing about France is once all parties are in agreement, you have to go to a notaire and sign what is called “a compromis”. This is the solidifying thing. We were told by some friends of ours that we should have our own notaire. They are the ones who protect the interest of each party. If you have the same notaire as the buyer your interest might not be well protected and you could end up signing forms that will, in the end, burn you. Lesson to you, find your own notaire. I had found ours by simply asking my company’s accountant. She gave me the name of someone she new, we called her up and, bam, she was our notaire.
So back to the signing of the “compromis”. Before you can get to this point, the seller’s notaire draws up all the documents about what the conditions are for the sale of the house. Mind you, they can put in anything they want (even ask for your first born). Once the document is drawn up, it is sent to the buyer’s notaire for either a “yay” or “nay”. In our case, it was a “nay”. Apparently, the seller’s notaire stuck a bunch of crap in the document that totally favored them and would blind side us so our notaire rewrote some things and the war was on. Because the seller’s were being a big pain and were having difficulties agreeing to things, it held up our signing. Normally, it takes about 2 weeks from offer to signing. We were now into week 5 with no end in sight. We talked to our agent and he agreed that it was taking too long and said he would see how much longer the holdup was gonna be. In the mean time, Dude and I had done our due diligence and had gone to the bank and were already pre-qualified. I didn’t want it to be our fault that things were taking so long!
Finally we heard from our notaire and the date to sign the “compromis” was set for 12 May. During our waiting period, Dude was worried about the ever growing crack in the side of the house. I contacted the agent and said that we would like for someone to go out to the house and take a look at it. He gave us the name of a person who “professionalized” in this. This is an ever growing problem with stone houses here in France. The fix it man went to the house with the agent and Michael to talk it over. Fix it man took a look around and then told Michael that it wasn’t really that big of a deal. Ohhh kay….
The big day for the signing had arrived. Michael and I took off for Marseille and we were met by agent man, the translator and our notaire. Normally the sellers are there, too, but they live on the other side of France and so we were having a two-step signing process. The signing of the compromise took two hours all together. The reason why it took doubly longer than usual was because our translator had to re-say in English everything the notaire was telling us in French. Good grief! I do have to say, it is a very good idea to have a translator there, you need to know what exactly is in a document before signing it. Especially one that is going to bind you legal for all eternity! Plus it allows you to ask questions, as well. Normally, the escrow process in France is about 3 months which means that from the date you sign the “compromis”, it should take about 3 months to finish the whole process before the final escrow. Our notaire and the seller’s notaire had written down that our escrow would be done and ready for the final signature on 12 July, two months away instead of three. This was because it had taken so long to get the “compromis” done and going into mid-July, we would be running into “les grands vacances” which could hold everything up. We agreed and set the date.
One stipulation for the closing of escrow was that if we didn’t receive the loan from the bank, we were not bound by law to buy the house. This is very important and if wanting to buy a house in France, you had better make sure this is written into the “compromis”. If not, you will be bound by law to buy the house even if you don’t get the loan. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t happen to have enough money in my back pocket to outright by a house!
Once everything was said and done and agreed to, Dude and I had to sign a bazillion pieces of paper (front and back). Oh, how the French love their paper! Then we all shook hands and agreed to see each other again on 12 July for the final deal. We then had a 7 day period to back out. If in the course of the next seven days from the date of signing the “compromis” Dude or I decided we didn’t want to go through with it, we could back out, no harm done. Only the buyer has this option to back out. The seller does not.
With that finished, our paper work was sent off to the sellers for their John Hancock.
We were told that when the seller’s signed the “compromis”, a copy of it was to be sent separately to both Dude and I (cuz cutting down trees in France for extra stuff is no big deal). We would each receive in our letter box a registered receipt saying that we had to go to the post office to pick up our documents. Well, 10 days later, the registered receipt came and Dude and I went to go pick up the “you are a dumb American and just bought a French fixer-upper” documents.
We were told by our agent at the bank that we needed to give her a copy so she could start the loan process. So we made an appointment and ran those over to her straight away. All was good on that.
Dude still wasn’t happy about the crack in the side of the house so while all this was going on, we spoke to the agent to have his fix-it man go back out to the house and give us a quote. Since this is France and everything takes 100 times longer than usual, the fix it man wasn’t able to go out to the house to make a quote for how much this sucker was gonna cost until 6 June! Gosh! Cuz I got all the time in the world, thank you very much!
All we could do now is wait. Wait on the quote, wait on the bank, and wait for the final signing. I kept telling myself that “patience is a virtue”. I tell you, by the time this was over, I was gonna be so virtuous that Jesus’ disciples would pale in comparison.
To be continued………………….