Saturday, January 21, 2012

“C’est bon, c’est bon vous etes Malouins maintenant!!”

A proud moment indeed when the local residents are happy to accept you as part of their community and a far cry from four years ago when we took our first tentative steps into the French property market and a new way of life – for holidays at least!

I’m Darren and my partner, Stephen and I have been together for 12 years.  Having always had what has  famously been called our 5 year plan to escape to a new life in France (a plan that has actually taken 10 years) we have finally achieved our goal and moved to France permanently.  But how did we get here and how did we discover the delights of what is now our new home, Saint Malo, Brittany?

Our search took us a few years (varying budgets and regular mind changing didn’t help our cause) - and we soon found out how difficult it was going to be trying to find the perfect place when you are not actually living in the country you are looking in!! It was incredibly frustrating driving 300 km only to find that the agent immobilier is a master of photographic deception and what looks amazing for the price on the internet, has no floors and walls made from asbestos or is actually a mobile home with a wooden chalet style façade!

So after many fruitless and expensive trips to France (we still hadn’t even narrowed it down to a specific region at this point) a lightening bolt struck!

We were due to stay over night in a budget hotel room above a café-betting shop just outside Saint Malo prior to our return journey back to Blighty and a meal and a glass of wine or several  were certainly required!  We had been driving all day and we were very tired but as we drove through the streets of Saint Malo, passing our hotel several times due to the fact that it had recently changed its name and had decided not to tell us (we hoped it wasn’t a conspiracy), we stumbled across the medieval walled city of Saint Malo, Intra Muros.

“Wow” this place was perfect, a beautiful old French town with narrow cobbled streets and tall granite buildings that changed colour as the sun set and shadows were cast from the elegant street lights. We felt right at home!

The City, as we should refer to it, is also surrounded on three sides by amazing golden beaches with rocky outcrops similar to the Cornish coastline. This was a real bonus , we really wanted to be by the sea,  not to mention the other big draw of course - the amazing number of cafes, restaurants and bars.

After finally finding our hotel and enjoying a fine dinner of local seafood with Breton cider, we had a somewhat restless nights sleep with the anticipation of trawling estate agents windows early the next morning before our ferry departure.  We were frustrated that we would not have much time so it was clear we would need to return as soon as possible to continue the search in what was now our chosen location.  We were getting somewhere and it had only taken 3 years!  We postponed our trip home ……

The next morning we walked the streets and trawled the windows of the many agents offices but saw little that we could afford (beautiful place =premium price and we had agreed that we didn’t want a second mortgage) so we took the plunge and went into what looked like the most ‘friendly’ office and asked, in what was very stumbling French at the time, if there was anything worth looking at in our price range.  After much “sharp intaking of breath” and “oh la la ing”, we were asked how much work we were prepared to do.  It appeared that if we were happy to be armed with a paintbrush there was an apartment that had just come onto the market that might suit us.  We were delighted (we didn’t even think about the price and the the no mortgage idea was now ancient history) so we asked if we could see it.  We fully expected the agent to say that he didn’t have keys or that they weren’t 100% certain that the vendor actually wanted to sell the place as had so often been the case; but no all was well and we arranged to meet the agent again later that day!  Was it meant to be?  We were starting to think so!!

The apartment was on the second floor of a corner block.  There was a lounge with dual aspect windows,  a good sized kitchen,  2 bedrooms one of which had a small balcony, a small shower room and a separate toilet.  It was crammed with furniture, badly fitted shelves were everywhere and it was incredibly dirty.  But seeing through the grime, the dated décor and even the tartan carpeted toilet floor I could see that this could be our perfect Brittany gem!  

Having said that it took several local ciders to convince Stephen but I did and we agreed to make an offer – it was an offer on the low side but an offer none the less.  It wasn’t accepted so we left France without success yet again! There was much heated debate on the ferry home and the next day we called the agent to increase our offer.  After several days of hearing nothing we had a call to say that the offer had been accepted – SUCCESS at last!


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