Just a few things I’ve picked up along the way that would smooth a move…
1. Before you decide on destinations, houses and areas, falling in love without any real sense, you might want to get all the stake-holders together (including someone to speak for any animals!!) and ask everyone to write down a list of all the things they want. Every person should have at least a list of 10 things, if not more. Then, when you’ve all got your lists, identify your personal top 5, including 2 ‘deal-breakers’ that if you don’t get, you won’t be going. We all started by writing down 20 things we like to do. We decided we should still be able to do these in the new place.
You’ll be amazed by what people want, and what are deal breakers. You’ll also ensure you’re all on the same page. There’s no point starting out if you want shops and your partner wants wilderness. Either you’re in tune, or there need to be compromises, or you’re heading for a big fall-out. Steve wanted space, workshops and land. I wanted the same. We both wanted heat and sunshine and better weather. The coast isn’t a big priority for us, and neither is a town, but it was for Jake. You also have to think about the future as well as now. Whilst it’s okay to raise Jake as a country hick, he’ll want colleges with lots of courses, friends, a social life… we can’t move to a place where we’re depriving him of these.
Plus, you need to do it for your animals. My cat is an outdoors cat who likes space. He’s never lived near a road and to move near one in his old age would have been murderous. Likewise the dog. We need places to walk her, lots of space. Not much different than here, but worth thinking about!
2. Once you’ve got your list of 3, with your deal-breakers, share the list. Jake wanted a big bedroom, McDonald’s and space for a tree-house. If you use the list to form part of your ‘List to Give to the Estate Agent’ it’ll make it much more helpful. Come up with a list of your collective needs, and a price. Know it WILL cost you a fortune to move, so be aware of that.
3. Decide on the work you’re going to need to do, if you’re of a working age. Know that this will play a factor in where you choose to live. Plan now. Train now. If you have a specialism, get your papers translated. If you are a crafts person, so much the better, but get your certificates translated. Research the jobs market and know that, whilst paperwork is a pain, being self-employed is a lot more flexible, if risky. If you are dependent on getting a job employed by someone else, France is going to be so much harder to live in and work in.
4. Start learning French. Not tourist French. Not book French. I have an A level in French, but being able to read the works of Moliere and Racine is about as helpful as knowing Shakespeare and working in B&Q. Get the whole family involved. Speak it at home, listen to it in the car, read it, reinforce it. Watch films without the subtitles. Put French subtitles on English language films.
5. Start learning about the social system. If you don’t know who URSSAF are and what RSI is, who deals with what, what CAF is… it’s going to be a nightmare. The French aren’t going to (and neither should they!) make it really easy for you to come in. Don’t moan about bureaucracy. Get used to it. It once took me 3 hours to pay a bill. Such is French life. If it bothers you now, it’ll be a deal-breaker in the future.
6. Buy a proper, hard-back French dictionary. Use dictionary sites like http://www.larousse.com/en and http://www.le-dictionnaire.com as well as sites like http://www.wordreference.com LaRousse is particularly good because it has very simple audio files you can click on to hear the word said. What you think it says and how it’s said can be worlds apart.
7. Don’t rely on google to translate stuff. First, it needs you to write and spell it with accuracy in English. Even then, it can make garbled attempts at French. A very simple phrase can end up so badly wrong. Google Translate works if you have a big piece of text you want to translate into English or French and you can already read these and correct them yourself. Avoid it like the plague unless you want to write the kind of French that certain Chinese mass-producers like.
8. Read children’s books in French. Build your way up. Look up every single word you don’t know and keep a running dictionary.
9. Read French online newspapers and magazines. Read French versions of wikipedia. Read everything you can get your hands on.
1o. If you don’t have someone to do these things above within your family, you will find it really difficult to integrate or be happy within a community. You’ll find it impossible to shop, to live, pay bills. Whilst England has an internet/no-interface lifestyle where you can pay bills online, manage your bank accounts, order things, buy your food from the supermarket, France doesn’t. If you can’t speak to someone about your electric bill or telephone bill, you’re going to end up hating the place.
Chances are, you already have an area in mind. If not, you’ll need to do a bit more research to find a place.
1. Find the names and addresses of all the local immobliers (estate agents). Make appointments with them to discuss what you want. In more English areas, they may have someone who speaks English, but don’t depend on it. First, tell them your budget. Most immobliers have files of their houses with details for you to browse through, and these are categorised by price. Then tell them what you want. Be realistic about it too, and research! A lot of them have houses online, but their sites aren’t like English estate agency websites – they are thin on detail and ‘fluff’ and hard on square metres and habitable rooms. They can be very vague about ‘dependences’ (outbuildings)
2. Leave half a day per estate agent. See a good few in the area. Allow them to take the lead – there are often really surprising places you didn’t expect to see. Know that French estate agents don’t work like British ones. Often, a house will be with many immobliers, and whoever sells it gets the commission. You pay the commission as the buyer, unlike in Britain, where the seller pays it. This means there is sometimes a bit of room for negotiation over fees: one immoblier will have the house on for a bit less, and that’s because their fee is less. This does not mean you can hunt around for who is selling it cheapest: French immobliers are very fussy about this and you may be asked to sign forms to say you won’t buy the house via somebody else.
3. Adapt your ‘deal-breaker’ list as you go. I realised Steve didn’t want a ‘semi-detached’ house – he really wanted to be isolated from surrounding houses. Fair enough. I had to adjust what I said to the next estate agent. Don’t budge, either, especially on how much land you can manage. It’s easy to get all pie-eyed over land, which is so cheap and so available, but can you really manage a hectare without a tractor?! It’s gone from being an allotment/potager to being a small-holding, and easily unmanageable.
4. Choose your house! You put a bid in via the estate agent. They’ll say yes or no. You can bid however much you want, but be reasonable. Nothing is in stone until you get to the ‘compromis de vente’ which is the ‘exchange of documents’. French sales work on the premise that whoever offers the asking price must be sold to, but there can be multiple people who offer the asking price and you still might not get it, because then it is up to the owner to decide who they want to sell to. You can only be gazumped if you haven’t offered the asking price. You will need a notaire to handle the sale. They deal with property and are a neutral, independent legal representative. If you don’t speak good French yet, you might want to find an English speaker. You will probably find you use the notaire in the local area where you bought your house, other than that.
5. Once you’ve signed the Compromis De Vente, you have 7 days to change your mind. It’s like a cooling off period. You can decide to back out, with no strings attached. You get many of the reports at this point, including the energy report and any initial findings. It should include three reports for asbestos, lead and termites. The asbestos report might not be very accurate: they only test in the house, and not often in the dependences. We had much more than we expected to have. Don’t worry too much about it. Most French houses built before the 1980s will have some asbestos somewhere. Roofs and walls are the main places, since it’s an insulation material. You may have some lead in the paint. Don’t lick the paint! Termites are a real problem, however, so you don’t want termite damage. You will also have details of any woodworm (capricornes, vrillettes etc) but don’t be too worried about those. There are many toxic treatments that you can use if the wood isn’t softened. Even on spongy wood, it will sometimes firm it up. Otherwise, the wood will need replacing. You should also get a flood report, a report on the chemicals in the area and a report about any environmental factors you should be aware of.