Saturday, January 28, 2012


After a pretty sleepless night (we couldn’t seem to switch the boiler off and it rattled and banged most of the time – oh dear another job for the list) we nipped out for a quick breakfast and then made a start in the apartment.  I set to work with a roller and a very large trade bucket of white emulsion and Darren donned the rubber gloves and tackled the grime (there was lots of it as you know….). 

He started in the toilet – and yes the first thing to go was the tartan carpet!  The much needed disposal of this revealed a very serviceable  if not the most attractive tiled floor.  It looked like the same floor continued through the hall so up came the hall carpet as well – there seemed to be no stopping him and I started to wonder if there was going to be any apartment left by the time he had finished!

The bathroom was next– it was a closed door situation and he didn’t surface for some time – there was lots of huffing and swearing going on and I think shares in Mr Muscle must have rocketed from the amount of product he was using – but we eventually got a room that was usable and good hot showers were a distinct possibility at the end of the day.

The Mr Muscle treatment was taken into the kitchen but by the time Darren realised that the dirt in the very badly installed cabinets was not going to shift (neat bleach being the final effort) the decision was made to rip them out and start from scratch.  The death trap gas cooker that had been left for us as part of the kitchen (a section of garden hose connecting it to the gas pipe) wasn’t even attempted and was dismantled straightaway but despite several large chips in the enamel the sink came up relatively well.

Darren would be able to wash up with confidence.

Several trips to our section of the cellar later (we didn’t know of the local rubbish tip (…dechetterie) at this point) and the room was cleared.  A good job done but we hadn’t really given any thought to what we would replace everything with,  that could be dealt with at a later date.  The name IKEA kept getting mentioned – I was oblivious to it!

The painting was relatively straightforward – we had decided to paint straight over the existing wallpaper as we didn’t really have the time to strip and prepare – this was definitely a quick fix scenario and after a solid day the lounge was completely white and much improved.  I was beginning to feel a little more heartened.

The next day, what we were going to use as a dining room was tackled and I produced much the same result at the end of the day.  Darren had scrubbed floors, washed windows and cleaned pipes I wouldn’t say everything was sparkling but compared to what we started with he had done wonders!!! 

We packed up, as much as we needed to (we were due to return to the UK on the next mornings' ferry) and headed to what we were now calling our local bar – L’equinoxial owned by a young couple Amelie and Benjamin (now probably our closest friends in the town) who had only bought the bar and moved to Saint Malo a few months earlier. 

The locals were intrigued by what we were doing particularly as we had bought the apartment from the previous owners of L’equinoxial and it seemed that they wanted to get as much information out of us as possible.  We weren’t concerned, we were just delighted that the locals were friendly; that they were talking to us and that they were happy that we had come to join them! 

We stayed in the bar sometime – ouch!!!!

With sore heads we locked up the apartment early the next morning and headed for the ferry.  We were closing the door on a very empty but much improved home – there was obviously a lot of planning to be done before our next scheduled trip in about 4 weeks time. 

The laptop was fired up and within 10 minutes of boarding the ferry (and courtesy of Brittany Ferries WIFI at sea) the blue and yellow of IKEA could be seen across the screen.

Happy days!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Not the 4th Installment but something we had to share - DO WE NEED TO BUY SUNCREAM NOW?

We took this picture just before lunchtime today while we were out for our second walk of the day with Alfie.  Its the view from the marina to Chateau St Malo – our Hotel de Ville.

But its January – and look at the colour of the sky and even better the temperature was 14 degrees C.  We really think we are in a micro-climate and that we have moved to an area that benefits from significantly better weather than the UK.  I thought I would try and find some proof and came across these comparisons with the South West of England for average temperature, hours of sunshine and rainfall.

It looks like we made the right move although perhaps the budget set aside for suncream will need to be increased!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Let there be light........

The day to make our next trip to Saint Malo finally dawned and having loaded up our car with what we thought were essentials for our first few nights in the apartment (namely a bed) we headed for the ferry.

We had arranged to meet the agent the following morning as, as is customary in France the purchaser has the opportunity to view what they are buying on the day of completion.  Although we were excited by the prospect of owning our first French home this visit was something that Stephen had certainly been dreading.  We had been told that the apartment would be stripped of its furniture and in the best French way it would be “lightbulbless”, “curtain and curtainpoleless “and “carpetless”.

Stephens’ worst fears were realised and in its bare state, the apartment looked far worse than it had done before.  It was evident that this was going to be far more than just a paint job, it was a particularly low moment but we were committed so we had to bite the bullet and press ahead.

We were due to meet our Notaire in his offices that afternoon.  Our agent accompanied us so that he could go through everything and make sure that we were happy.  I wouldn’t say that happy was the word that Stephen would have used but we said yes anyway!  Our Notaire had prepared a stack of contract papers about 2 inches thick and we knew from past experience that we would be required to initial each page – back and front – and add the now well used words ‘je suis connaisance’ to ensure that we complied with legalities.  Needless to say we were there sometime. 

Because we were using our own Notaire (often in France the Notaire acts for both vendor and purchaser, in effect he or she is really working for the Government), we had to travel to the vendors’ Notaires office to sign the final Acte de Vente.  Our agent had said that he was not returning to Saint Malo so our Notaire kindly offered to drive us and drop us back in Saint Malo - kind indeed until we saw that the vehicle he was driving was an ancient soft top jeep – It was the end of November and of course we had no clue as to where we were going.  We set off….

The Vendors’ Notaires office was in the middle of nowhere and took an age to get to – especially as our Notaire didn’t really know where he was going and had no suitably sophisticated navigation devices in his ‘jeep’.  We eventually arrived, a little shaken up and a tad concerned that it was approaching 5pm and we were not sure how much longer things were going to take.

We were ushered into a tiny office getting the feeling that there was some element of flapping going on with the two Notaires and the vendor.  Much raising of voices and hand waving was evident – we were clearly unaware of what was going on so sat and waited it out.  Twenty minutes later our Notaire came to collect us saying that there was a problem – what now we thought?  It transpired that we had not kept any of the envelopes for the documentation that had been sent to us via registered and recorded post (We now know that these should be kept to comply with timescale regulations in terms of ‘get out clauses’ and ‘cooling off’ periods).  Our Notaire explained that we could not proceed unless we signed several more documents to say that we were content that everything had been done correctly and that we were willing to continue without the dated envelopes.  Of course we were and of course this required several more pages of initialing and ‘je suis connaisance’ ing.

Eventually we were ready and moved into what seemed an even smaller office for the seven people that were required to finalise the completion, the two of us, the vendor and his father, the two Notaires and our agent.  What ensued was basically a reading of the entire contract of sale with a requirement for additional initialing from time to time.  Finally, after an hour and a half had passed and we had mused at some rather comical translations from our Notaire, ‘dirty water cables’ for sewerage pipes for example we were ready to sign the final document.  Keys were passed over and the deed was done!

Much congratulating ensued and after all of this it was just before 7pm before we finally left, got back into the ‘jeep’ and returned to Saint Malo.  A little bemused but happy, despite the state of the apartment.

We picked up our car and drove through the narrow streets to our apartment.  It was decided that as it was so late a minimalist approach to our first night was required so we opened up the apartment, carried a mattress and a box that contained a kettle two mugs and the necessary coffee making equipment up the stairs, set up camp in the bedroom and made very grateful use of the only thing that had been left in the apartment; a very ancient, battered and paint covered desk lamp. 

Let there be light – and there was …………..


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Second installment....

Sunset over Dinard

So what do we do now …………….? We didn’t really have a clue but with brave hearts (balanced with the occasional breakout of fear) we applied for a French mortgage, made enquiries about transferring money through a foreign exchange company (we immediately transferred the 10% deposit to our agent as requested) found a willing French legal expert in the UK and most importantly booked another ferry crossing to allow us to sign the initial contract of purchase – the compromise.

The agent was as helpful as he could be, we were contacting him on a regular basis but with our stumbling French and his non existent English, conversations were not very meaningful.  Yes we had read the books and yes we had done the research on the internet so had a reasonable understanding of the differences between the English and French property buying process – but this was not hypothetical anymore, it was most definitely real – several cries of “WHAT ARE WE DOING” were heard.

We really wished that we had someone holding our hand …………

Three weeks passed slowly and worryingly uneventfully but eventually we got back to Saint Malo and arrived at the agents office as arranged (we had managed to agree a date despite our language problems) to discuss the contract and to make a visit to the chosen Notaire in Dinard.

What we didn’t know was that the Agents office had been closed and they had moved to new premises elsewhere in the town.  Immediate thoughts of “they’ve run off with our deposit money” were quickly eradicated when the agent arrived – and explained the situation.  We must have missed something fairly essential in one of our many seemingly meaningless conversations.

We had already seen the initial contract and had the ok from our UK based French legal expert so we were reasonably comfortable when we arrived at the Office Notarial.  What we hadn’t reaslised was that our agent had spent a considerable time on our behalf sourcing a Notaire who spoke English so the process of signing was completely painless (had someone advised us that this was possible we could have saved the £1,500 we paid to our French legal expert for basically reading two 28 page documents).

Well we say painless – what we were soon to learn is that the French authorities like paper and that they like everything checked and double checked so every page of the contract had to be signed by both of us with the addition of “je suis connaisance” each time.  Needless to say with the Notaires detailed explanation of what was happening, the selection of an appropriate day for the completion and the signature process we were in his office for a considerable time.

But there was no going back – we were committed!

The agent kindly drove us back to Saint Malo and took us to the apartment again for a third look.  It was still crammed with furniture, there seemed to be more shelves than I remembered and yes the tartan carpet was still as attractive as ever.

After an afternoon of cider drinking (what else) and an overnight stay in a hotel we headed back to the UK.  We had agreed a completion date of the 30th November so we had two months to get ourselves together and ensure that everything was in place to complete our purchase.

Many documents were copied and securely posted to our Notaire. Getting the mortgage (we didn’t really want) was relatively straight forward (we had used a UK agent and of course back in 2007 things were somewhat easier in the financial world) and secured what we thought was a great deal – 2% fixed for 20 years – no worrying about variable mortgage payments with this one or the need to change mortgage every time a deal ended. 

We nervously transferred the balance of funds (to our Notaire this time) and waited rather impatiently for our next visit to Saint Malo to complete the purchase.

TO BE CONTINUED............
Alfie loves the sea water pool, but still hasn't mastered the diving board!