Thursday, 25 March 2010

Day 3 - getting carried away!

Why does life come up and smack you in the face when you least expect it? I had thought that with all the stress of the house purchase over the last few months things would gradually start to get easier and life would become "normal". It never does become straight forward or "normal" does it?! My life has been a catalogue of successes and disasters but after having my palm read about 10 years ago have realised everything she said was true. I was told that I was a strong woman and that I would have to make my own success in life. I was not lucky and would never win the lottery but would live to a ripe old age and at some point be content! Well i'm not there yet!

Rant over!!!.... on with the saga of moving to France.

Last week we had to go to the house to try and buy some of the furniture from the vendor. She is 82 and moving back to the UK. We did make offers for the items we wanted but after much haggling she decided that we could not offer her what she wanted so decided to auction all her possessions instead. In her words "you can come to the auction and you may get a bargain or you may not!" nice.....

I have never been to a house contents auction, let alone in France so did not know what to expect. Half of me was not really looking forward to going as all sorts of people would be poking around our new house.

I was collected from work by my husband and we arrived at the bed and breakfast in Valence d'Agen at 11pm last Friday evening and flopped into a tiny double bed with plastic sheets!

The house was open for lot viewing from 10am on Saturday with the auction starting at 2pm and the same for Sunday and Monday.

First problem, the bank had not sorted our new account so we had no cheque book or card and could not easily pay for anything in Euros. However I had had the forethought of taking the RIB details (account info) and persuaded the auctioneers to accept a transfer at the end when we knew what we had spent. So off I went happy with my paddle!

There were about 100 people in total and the auction started slowly. It was not long before I realised that my French was good enough to grasp what was being said and after the second row between the auctioneers (one had sold an oil painting under its reserve) I knew we were in for an interesting few days.

I cannot believe that so called professionals could have acted so badly in front of so many people, but perhaps that is how it works in France! The 150 piece Spode China dinner service went for a song, but one of the casserole dishes was smashed by an auctioneer so it reduced the value. They had absolutely had no idea what the English items were that they were selling. Spode, Minton, Lalique, Auvillar antique plates that were 150 years old were all sold at incredibly low prices. The poor old lady was nearly having a cardiac arrest! Final straw was when an oil painting was slashed by mistake and items that I had bought the day before were being sold again! I had to say something..... I politely mentioned to the auctioneer that I had purchased the same wardrobe and two lamps the day before and rather than listen to me he just threw his gavel on the table shouted "Vivre La France" and stopped the Auction.

Everyone was horrified and muttering in both French and English spread around the assembled crowd. When he had calmed down he actually realised he had in fact sold me items twice and refunded me but with no apology!

This week was make or break, yet again on the purchase, after another 10 day cooling off period with the mortgage company (normal practice in France) as we had to renegotiate the price, we could sign the documents to accept the mortgage offer and send them to France. Easy I!

Firstly we had to determine which papers were to be signed and returned and , scanning and sending by email was not an option. So off I went to the local staples to organise DHL to courier the paperwork to France. Minus £25 and half an hour later the documents were on their way.. Great I thought, things are going to plan.

I go on a jolly with a friend shopping for interior furnishings for the new gites. Midday, a spot of lunch in order... shopping hard work you know! After my first non-alcoholic beverage (as I was driving) phone call... removal men. Furniture now being collected tomorrow (Thursday) not Friday as planned................ OMG quick dash home to stressed other half who was none too chuffed about rushing around to pack boxes. Can men not cope with pressure? Took the reins as usual and hurriedly packed youngest daughters bedroom, throwing toys and papers in boxes and sealing them, while she was wailing she wanted xx teddy to travel with her in the car! Next on to the airing cupboard, and main bedroom. Way past 7pm when I realised nobody had eaten except me at lunchtime! dash into kitchen, russel up some pasta dish and garlic bread, bath daughter, shout at older daughter to clear table and carry on with packing until midnight.

Did not sleep last night worrying about all the things on the to do list which seems to be getting longer not shorter. Anal I know but I have to keep a pen and paper by the side of the bed now to note everything down as I think of things that need doing!

School run as usual this morning, followed by a short concert for my 8 yr old who was playing the Ukelele, back to the house to meet the removal men and then out again to collect both kids from different schools in different locations. Return home to continue helping pack the lorry. Lorry finally goes at 5pm. Flop into chair exhausted.

Now we are living for the next 5 days at least out of a suitcase. We leave the UK on Sunday morning with two cars, two kids and two dogs to make our way south to our new home. Furniture will not arrive until Wednesday or Thursday next week so we have to wait with what we have.

Will be off line for a week or two while France telecom get their act together and get us internet access and a phone number. In the meantime our new website will be live from 1st April - hopefully! take a look on

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A new life in France - section 2

Are you ready for the next instalment?

So where was I, oh yes, we have found our dream home. I was amazed that it ticked all of our boxes and that the structure was sound. The property had been well maintained by a live in caretaker and house keeper for its elderly English owner who only visited a couple of times a year, perfect.

After a number of visits with my husband and children as well as friends and relatives, we decided in November 2009 to put in an offer. The Euro was against us but due to the fact that the property market was in decline in the whole scheme of things we got a bargain.

So where are we up to now. Well after much tooing and froing we signed the acte de vente and paid over our deposit once our offer had been accepted. I did extensive research into how best to transfer money and came up with a company called currencies direct, they were excellent. Quick and efficient transfer of money and we forward purchased a specific exchange rate in advance. To do this you need to specify a preferred currency rate, ours was 1.15Euro to 1 pound sterling. Terrible I know and if only we had done this three years ago when the rate was over 1.45Euro to 1pound sterling! Anyway, We watched the currency rates fluctuate on a daily basis and being sad that I am had as a window on my PC at work everyday to keep check of what was happening! When we hit the magic rate our purchase kicked in. We paid an initial deposit for the money bought and had a month to pay the balance.

We then set to sorting out our French bank account. Be warned bureaucracy rules and it takes forever, for us it took over 3 months! The mortgage process is even worse, we move next week and it is still not completely finalised after nearly 5 months!

Bored yet?

A New life in France

My name is Allison and I have just joined twitter as I thought it a good outlet for keeping everyone up to date with our family life and our new business venture in France. So many people have said to us, we so envy you and what you are doing, but we do not have the courage to do what you are doing, good luck!

I hope we are not making a huge mistake, but my husband and I are determined to put in maximum effort and hard work to ensure our success. However, only time will tell what life we manage to make for ourselves, I am sure we will need a lot of luck!

Bit of background first - We have been planning a move from rural Southern England to sunny South West France for over two years. The TV programs make moving abroad look relatively straight forward and show you lots of lovely properties, believe me it is not straight forward and certainly not something I would recommend for the feint hearted. Valium and plenty of alcohol are pre- requisites when embarking on something as big as moving your whole family and all your possessions to another country to start a new life and business.

We seem as a profile, to follow alot of others making a big move in that my husband now 51 was made redundant at the start of the credit crunch from the IT industry and I had to pick up the reins being in sales and start bringing in the main income for the family. Dont get me wrong, I was not a stay at home mum in the first place, but ran my own small business from home selling cosmetics and beauty products which was very successful but did not bring in the income we needed to pay all the bills on a regular basis. After 2 years of struggling we decided enough was enough, the country was going to the dogs the weather was terrible and we wanted out!

Anyway, after choosing France as our preferred country, we set our expectations high and had a list of things that needed to be available either at the property or in the local vicinity.

I have a reasonable grasp of French but my husband is currently only able to order a beer, which he seems to think is all he needs - rude awakening on the horizon, me thinks!

We wanted the following for our new life.

A property that was within 1 hour of Toulouse
Close to major road and rail access points
Rural and quiet
Close to a restaurant
Close to a pretty village with shops and restaurants
Warm and sunny for more of the year than we got in the UK (not hard!)
Within a reasonable drive of the sea and the mountains
The property had to be old and full of character
It also had to have the wow factor
Ideally 5 bedrooms in the main house
Space for at least 3 large gites
Potential for B & B too
Space to conduct training courses
At least 3 acres of land
A lake
A swimming pool
Not major renovation work to be done
And not too expensive, as we did not want to commit to a huge mortgage

As you can see the list made it almost impossible to find the perfect property, but as we were adamant we wanted to make the move and it had to be right so after hours of scanning the internet, we embarked on a mamouth tour of the Toulouse region.

We viewed over 100 properties in 4 day stints driving hundreds of kilometers a day to maximise the time we had available to us. Finally last autumn we came across our dream home, a stunning stone complex of buildings built around 1800 and set in beautiful grounds and close to lots of amenities.

Getting carried away now, feels like I am writing a book. Better stop and get on with packing as we move on Sunday 28th March! If you would like to know more let me know!