House hunting

Day Five

K – Today was ok. We saw a massive house in a horrible village then a horrible house in a nice village then a great house in a great village that we’re going to buy. Now we’re in a great B&B which has inspired us. Ask me later about mum’s new invention – a fabric wrap for the roof of a house to protect it from the wind. Night night.

P – OK, so that was Kev’s version of the day, he is very tired because he has driven all day. He has already decided which house we are going to try to buy – I say try because having bought and sold houses there is no definite guarantee you can get what you want, but he seems very determined.

Our day started with a 40 minute drive to Belveze du Razes, a nice–ish village in the Aude, then an interesting double property in another, much nicer village, Pech-Luna, again in the Aude – it’s a perfect location as it’s only an hour’s drive to the Mediterranean and to the Pyrenees and all the ski resorts, plus they will tell you that the weather is that much better. BUT as much as I would like to have liked the villages and the houses (we will be back, however, to explore Mirepoix – a medieval stunner), neither felt right nor ticked the boxes, and our thoughts keep gravitating back up to the Tarn or Tarn et Garonne. Both departments are lovely and quite similar, I could list a load of things we love about these departments; the undulating hills, the vineyards, the style of houses etc, but it’s not a singular thing – it’s a gut thing. In hindsight, they are the only departments where the agents haven’t actually tried to sell us the virtues of the area – they’ve sold themselves. We just love both departments and that has answered a big question which all the agents have asked us: where do you want to live? And now we know.

We have a short long list or a long short list which ever you think sounds better, and we started looking at the houses on that list today and will finish by 4pm tomorrow, then in good old X factor style we will sit with big glasses of wine in a smart Toulouse restaurant and go through the pros and cons of all of them and whittle them down until hopefully one rises to the surface. Kev’s has already risen, as you may have gathered.

So keep an eye on the blog on Sunday for news of which if any we have chosen as our front runner. And to see if Kev gets his way.

K – I’m on a weird sleeping pattern, but it’s fun, because I’m waking early. And this is giving me a little chance to edit all the blogs before Phill posts them! Mum’s classic line yesterday was a comment about all the little houses which had their own wind turbans. I’ve got the patent application in already, so all you entrepreneurs out there can just sit back down.

We started our re-visits this afternoon. Six in total. One is my favourite, another is Phill’s, and one’s a dud (just to keep mum and Ian on their toes). The one we saw today is my favourite, and here’s why. You look at the agent photos and it’s nothing special. But this place is going to keep us busy for 10 years – a magnificent garden to landscape, a 4 bedroom house to renovate, and 3 attached barns and stables to convert. It’s got a great view, on the edge of a little village on top of a hill, surrounded by vines (though, unfortunately, not in the direction this house looks), with a VERY trendy little cafe, and summer events, and smack bang in the middle of what is known as the Golden Triangle – the tourist destinations of Albi, Galliac, and Cordes sur Ciel, and 40 minutes away from another of our favourites, St Antonin Noble Val. And, a 55-minute drive for me from Toulouse airport. The price needs to be worked out, as it’s too expensive at the moment. But we have a persuasive agent on our side. We’ll fill you in tomorrow!

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Day Four

P (edited by K) – Unfortunately, the sun most definitely did not have his hat on today. He had his umbrella up and sou’wester on.
But the rain didn’t deter us on our quest, so eastwards we went to the Tarn and Aveyron (both very different looking areas) for a packed morning before having to head to Toulouse airport to pick Kev’s mum and her boyfriend up. We started the morning in the Tarn with house number 32 on our map which is situated on the outskirts of a lovely little village called Fayssac, quite high up on a hillside, with amazing views of the countryside. We parked in front of a beautiful rustic church where a craggy old man was setting up stalls for a cross-stitching exhibition on the weekend. Ooh this town knows how to live, i thought. And then i spotted a really trendy looking bar bedecked with vintage furniture, so you can imagine I was drawn straight there like a magnet, for a gander, and I wasn’t disappointed. It looked lovely and the garden was well groomed and planted. I lost myself for a moment in a daydream of sitting with chilled glass of rosé in awe of the view in front of me. Back to reality I quickly joined Kev to meet our agent Laurette, a really lovely lady. I thought she was French, but she greeted me with a very pucker English accent. Now, this was one of those last minute addition properties – see it cos we’re passing by, but surely will come to nothing. Can you guess what happened next?!?
She swung the iron gates open and in we marched to be greeted by a grand looking house and large garden which in fact turned out to be huge as it has lots of pasture land slopping down from the back of the house, perfect for walking Barnaby Pickles. Kev and I looked around the exterior whilst the house was opened up for us, the views were really beautiful and we had already started to plan the garden in our heads. The house and adjoining buildings didn’t disappoint, in fact they really excited us with possibilities of what we could do with them, although the cash signs were also ringing in my ears. Laurette told us she thinks the house is overpriced at 318’00k for the market and had had to rein the owners in as they wanted to put it on for 600’000k, so room for movement we thought. We quickly worked out how much we thought we would need to spend on it and gave here an amount we could afford to buy for just for here to sound out the owners. We left her with a possible second viewing time and to come back to us with news about what the owners would accept.
K – before we move on, those of you who’ve had to suffer our (surely) annoying banter about our dream house at Gayraud (how appropriate), also pre-named Maison Maurier, ref 12 – see Day 6 blog – will be happy to know that my passions have moved on to this property. Especially after the agent slipped another house under our noses – an identical Maison de maitre in another village which had been completed, and renovated to a high standard. Now on the market for 4 times what she thought it was worth!!
So, on we travelled, north slightly, to meet Steven, who was going to be showing us 4 properties. In brief summary, 2 were no-goes, not even worth a mention. One, ref 42, was utterly mesmerising, but on a scale I couldn’t even imagine. It was more of a commercial property, and one day it will be opened up as a boutique hotel with about 15 rooms, and be a huge success. And I will willing pay an extortionate amount for a night there. The last, ref 41, was going to be ditched in an effort to get to the airport in time, but thank goodness we didn’t. The conversion had been started by an English family, and the workmanship was excellent. The price was good, and the potential for the remaining accommodation was exciting. But something didn’t work. And we’ve since worked out that it’s the area. Twice now we’ve been to the Aveyron, and decided it’s just like home. We want more French.
So, our viewing over for the day, we got to the airport just as mum arrived, we battled some storms on the motorway on the way to Carcassonne, and turned up at what is hopefully going to be the worst hotel of the trip – the Ibis. Quick relax, then out to find out why it was a Unesco heritage site. We turned left out the hotel. Please don’t make the same mistake we did and wander for an hour round the new part of town wondering what all the fuss was about. Turn right!!!!

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Day Three

P: Well we survived Chateau Rodie and awoke to the most amazing misty view from our room? We had an lovely breakfast in a very grand banqueting hall, Kev even toasted his own bread on the roaring open fire. The day was a lot less entertaining, sadly, if just as tiring. The sun blessed us with its presence all day and the mercury managed a balmy 21 degrees at one point. It was so nice to raise our pale faces to Le soleil, Kev now has a slightly redish forehead.
K: I was over the moon to have survived the night at the eerie chateau, and to have escaped without meeting the bolshy father (turns out he’s half Welsh, which explains a lot).
Our first meeting was in the most beautiful vine-surrounded village called Floressas with Tracy, who took us on an impromptu viewing with one if her clients she bumped into. Great view, but average house and overpriced I think. Next she took us to our reference 13. It was one of my more promising prospects, but it failed miserably. I truly think this could have been Tracy’s “heart-dropper”, but to give her dues, she stayed spritely and positive throughout. After leaving her, we saw two private sales advertised, and one may turn out to be a possibility.
We whizzed off to meet our lovely Jenny from January (no, she’s not a pin-up) who showed us references 2 & 38. Phill actually offered to drive, but it lasted all of 3 metres before he chickened out, and we had to swap back (P – bloody cheek, the car was manual gear and I’ve not driven manual for ages). Both properties have potential, but are dreadfully overpriced. Phill was making all the right noises about the second (P- it was amazing very bohemian lots of unusual spaces and hidden gardens and the possibility of a fantastic studio space/shop) – I thought he was just being polite, so I joined in, only to find that he actually loved it and I didn’t! He wasn’t happy at my perceived deception (not deliberate), and it has led to our first spat of the trip.
We arrived slightly early for our next appointment, at 1pm. We wandered about the village of Beauville for a while before passing the office/home of the next agent, and heard him laughing in his garden. When we knocked his door at 1250, his wife answered to say that he was out and would be back at 1. The lies didn’t endear us to Carl – that and his Bermuda linen suit, coiffured grey hair and moustache. Hence, we weren’t expecting much from the next viewing (ref 23). How wrong though! It’s little surprises like this which make the trip worthwhile. A great little ensemble of dwellings, at a great price, overlooking at 16th century church. We’re going back to see it on Saturday.
P – Our next appointment was in the Lauzerte which is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, mmmm it is really lovely but I wouldn’t go ga ga over it. Anyway we were due to meet Marie Hellene at 3pm outside her agency, no one showed up, we managed to find a contact number and called her to be greeted with “Oh I forgot” not a very promising start. 10 minutes later she turned up without much of an apology and sped us off up a hillside to see the property, which I may say from a distance ticked lots of boxes. After screeching up the virtually vertical driveway in first gear we were greeted by a really pretty house with a breathtaking view of the the valley below. Unfortunately the house and outbuildings didn’t really match up to the view and more worryingly she had to admit to us that there had been termites in the property, which I have read in many of my French books is a major disaster and I signal not to touch it with a barge pole. A big sigh from me as I do love a hillside view, must be my Welsh upbringing.
Off to Cazes-mondenard and at last a village with open shops hooray (most of France shuts down on a Wednesday afternoon). The village looked lovely is especially loved the gaggle of ladies gossiping outside the only boutique in the village. We brought some pasteurise and a coffee of a very friendly baker who once he new we were he to view a house tried to sell us another two in the village, in fact apparently everything is for sale at the right price.
We sat soaking up the afternoon sunshine waiting for our agent observing the workings of the village and thinking this feels like a great place and maybe we would fit in here, that was confirmed on the arrival of Liz our agent, probably the daughter of Dame Clare Balding. A vision in black with a John Wane swagger but the politeness of Dorris Day.
Off we swagged to see the oldest house in the village. Situated on the outskirts and with a fabulous garden views of the rolling hills, and one big white apple storage hanger, which I was happy to overlook but made Kev frown. The house and outbuildings are amazing and offer huge potential but need lots of money spent on them but with investment would I’m sure provide us with a fabulous home, business and from what Liz (our agent) tells us a great community, with lots of Fetes led by the 88 year old Mayor.
Anyway Kevs frowns aside we are going back for a second viewing on Saturday.

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Day Two

If the day started with a bit of a sore head, it didn’t dampen our spirits – we were still on a high from the wonderful night before, and we had high hopes for the day. Those positive, happy feelings lasted until, well…. midday, then it all went down hill from there.
We met our first agent at 10am – the lovely Sarah from Selection Habitat. She claimed never to have heard of Olivia Coleman, but we didn’t believe her – she was so obviously her sister!
We met at the church in Pellousens, a delightful small village in Gascony. This pleased us as our experience of the previous night led us to a revelation – why were we leaving our happy little street in south London to isolate ourselves on some hill side (however warm) in south France? The least we could do was place ourselves in a community and try to replicate some of the positive aspects of our little London street. This dawned on us when we witnessed the jolly camaraderie between our hosts, David & Vikki, and their neighbours and business partners, Bernard & his wife.
For those of you following our buying process, our first house was reference 37 on our house map. The main part of the house has been renovated to a very high standard, if not in our particular style. It was only when were taken into the unrenovated parts that I started to get excited. The amount of accommodation this property offered was immense. We could easily achieve 4 dwellings. But, our heart wasn’t in it – something was missing. Size of garden? Lack of great view? We scored it out of 40, but I can’t get hold of the figure right this minute! They’re online, and I have no access.
Then Sarah took us to Gourdonville. We’d driven through it on the way to the first house, and commented how lovely it was. She took us to a property (ref 42) she had lived opposite for 15 months, and was obviously very fond of. The owner had just gone into a retirement home. The main house was very old and run down, but the potential was amazing. Cosmetically, we could carry out all the work ourselves. The loft was unconverted, but had enough room for a huge master suite, and 2 ensuite bedrooms. Then, there was room to develop old barns and stables into further accommodation. Plus, the views (on top of a hill) were stunning. Add to that, a 400 year old open barn in the garden for open air films and a garden kitchen, and it all made it a very exciting prospect. The only negative was that the garden was north facing.
We left Sarah, still feeling the buzz, and headed to Nerac for our third meeting, with Carla, at 1345. We had about 15 minutes to spare and wandered around the town. It’s a beautiful place and we will definitely be back to explore more. Carla turned up. That was the only “up” bit about the next hour. In fact, the rest of the day slid into a mixture of disappointment, fear, and utter negative amazement!
Property (ref35) holds that rare quality of being the type of property you see and immediately know that you don’t want to even enter. I’m starting to read agents a little bit now, and there’s this trait I’ve noticed three times now; even with one we really like – Jenny. I’m sure every agent must have at least one property which, when a client asks to see it, makes their heart drop. I think this must have been Carla’s heart-dropper. And so, for that reason, I forgive her for her lack of enthusiasm when she met us. Both Phill and I vowed to be as positive as we could, while she was hunting for the fuse box to switch on the electricity (during which time we were both too scared to go upstairs with a torch). I think we might have overdone the positivity (I turned and took one last thoughtful glance at the building once we were finally released), because she seemed to be quite excited by our visit as we left. I don’t need to wait to check the score for that one. Our first null point.
So we set off to meet Antony for our third visit. At 1430 on the dot, approximately 5 minutes after we’d left poor Carla calculating her commission, we received a call from Antony enquiring as to our location. We’re about 45 minutes out, I replied, so we will be early (for our 1530 appointment). I meant our 1430 appointment, he replied? No, no. defintely 1530. Ok, no problem, he said. Drive safe. I did, of course, drive safely, while Phill busied himself using up our LeFrenchMobile ipad data allowance checking just exactly what time I had arranged. I needed to know whether to be profusely apologetic or smug. Smugness was to win the day, but as soon as I met Antony I knew neither an admission of fault nor apology would be forthcoming.
He showed us properties 29 and 40. To be honest they were both bitterly disappointing – 29 especially so, since many friends picked that as their favourite. They were a big waste of time, and I’m not going waste yours, or more of mine, with them.
So we sped our way eastwards after a busy day house hunting, anticipating our night in a luxury chateau with the tasty table d’hote (guest houses sometimes offer a meal in the evening-somewhere around €20 for a set meal and wine) I had prearranged.
Oh dear!
Forgive me, but I have chosen not to name this guest house chateau, for a foxy reason which will become clear. My heart was warmed, if pounding, as I tried to navigate my way through a hundred chickens, ranging freely across the fields – and drive – of the chateau. Phill offered to jump out and try to shou them away, but immediately found it hilarious that they were following him around – and under – the car. I found it less hilarious because I planned on having a chicken-squashing-guilt free night in our luxurious chateau. I finally exited the surf of hen and wound my way up to the entrance, to be met by our haunting hostess. Picture middle England scrawny farmer’s wife. Sweet, though. And hugely apologetic. The meal I had arranged had been cancelled because i had not responded to a fantasy email requiring a 48 hour confirmation. Nor had I sent a deposit? Oh, I utter, the deposit I had offered but was told was unnecessary? No…. that was a German guest who had been told that. Not us. Ok…. Being utterly British, we did not want to make a fuss. Alright! Being utterly terrified, we didn’t want to make a fuss. Picture a cross between Royston Vasey and Cold Comfort Farm. We, of course, double checked our info on the emails, and for the second time that day were proved right.
This building was outstanding, but was being run as a “nature reserve” farm. Oh, if we could get our hands on it!! We were shown to our room – not the one we booked because we hadn’t confirmed and it hadn’t been heated. For some reason, the one we got had been heated though – it turned out to be a mini apartment, with a kitchen, and 2 beds. Was that the real reason? We unpacked, and decided to grab our own pizza, salad, and wine from a supermarket, and have a night in. Unfortunately, on our return, we were met by the offspring, who insisted on showing us his baby rabbits, prize chickens, baby lambs, dead lamb, chic hatching oven, and caged fox. And this is why I cannot name the chateau. They had caught a baby fox when it was young, and recently some neighbours have sent the police around to kill the fox as they disagree with its captivity. While I also disagree with the pointless capture and cruel caging of an animal who spends all its day alone in a tiny cage, bored, I can’t be the one to disclose its existence and risk it’s death.
A car roared up the hill, and presented a young man called Johan. Our rabbit/fox/lamb/chicken guide expressed surprise that he was here – surely he was still in prison? We decided to make our excuses and retreated to the safe (?) locked environment of our apartment. As the pizza was cooking, and salad prepared, we heard a commotion in the courtyard below. We looked out just in time to see our host’s husband screaming and thumping the ex-con Johan, his children pulling him back, trying to stop him. Breakfast should be interesting!!

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Day One

What an amazing first day house hunting. We haven’t actually seen any houses yet but have had a great day, so here’s what’s happened.
I sped up the M4 at 3.30am to met Kev who was flying in from Lagos, landing at 5.20am. We had originally thought we would get the 2.30pm flight but decided at the last minute to get the 7.50am flight. Everything just slotted into place, Kev arrived on time, we got allocated seats and the flight was on time. We arrived to grey sky but a much warmer temperature than freezing London. We had arranged to pick up the car at 6pm and was told in the UK that it would cost over 300 euros to get the car earlier, but with a few bats of the eyelids it only cots us an extra 30 Euros. The drive to our first Chambre d’hote was beautiful, country lanes with amazing views of undulating hills and hillside villages.
Our sat nav announcer Timothy (think male version of Joana Lumley) tried to take us on a detour and kept telling us we needed to turn around frequently but he eventually shut up and we found our destination and WOW what an amazing place. Gramont it situated on a hill top and is built around a beautiful chateau which is now part of the French equivalent of the National Trust. This tiny hamlet is a picture perfect collection of stunning buildings, it has its own Honey museum and Auberge.

Click here to visit their website
After a few hours rest we set off for a drive around the surrounding area which even in the rain was stunning. We had booked dinner in the Auberge for 7.30pm but after glancing down for our bedroom window were summoned by the owners down for drinks. Well a great night started with a glass or three of the local fizz and Introduced us to an interesting collection of guests, two builders from the UK and a couple from Norway who were here to check out their wedding venue and to have a menu tasting. I have to say our hosts Vikki and David were so lovely and welcoming, as soon as we entered their house a glass of bubbly was trust into our hands ( our kind of people) how did they now that’s how we love to start the night? After some lovely chit chat we were take to dinner in the Auberge, we felt like gate crashes as the lovely bride and groom Linea and Erik be were having their wedding dinner menu tasting dinner. What a fab night the food was stunning the bridal couple so sweet and really lovely and the hosts amazing. This has been an amazing start to our house hunting week and I can only hope it’s the start of a fabulous French adventure.
I’ll let you know tomorrow.
Night night……..

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Exciting week ahead

Well the time has flown by and its actually time to head off to France for a weeks house hunting, Kev is sat next to me finishing off the google map of our rout for each days house hunting.

Barnaby Pickles is moping around the house and giving us those big brown eyed glances which says he knows somethings up and its time for his holidays to Dasa and Dione’s.

We were hoping that the weather in France would be much better than here and we would get a glance of spring sunshine, but alas its looks likes its going to be raining most of the time but 10 or so degrees warmer than here so thats something.

We have over 20 houses to see in five days, i think my mind will be frazzled by house number 10. Kev’s mum and boyfriend are joining us from Thursday night to see our pick of the best and our favourite from our first visit number 12 on our map.

Wish us luck, hopefully we will have some great news for you next week.

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Our house went on the market exactly a week ago today and we were a little bit nervous about what interest and reaction we would get. As you know we had over 11 viewings on the Monday night and a further 6 on Tuesday and had another 20 lined up for the rest of the week. But Monday night we had received 6 offers 3 for asking price the rest over the asking price and on Tuesday all the interested parties were asked to have their final and best offers in to the estate agent by 5pm. On Wednesday morning we accepted an offer for 6% over the asking price, OMG we never expected that in fact when kev and i first talked about selling we thought we may get £380,000,00 max.

We have to thank our amazing estate agents, they got us and our house, took fab photos and gave it a wonderful right up. If anyone is thinking of selling a property in South London we can highly recommend Wooster and Stock

So now its off to France next weekend to look for our new house.

Ill let you know how we get on.


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First viewings

Wow, we had our first viewings tonight and what started out as 3 appointments ended up as 12, so many Kev, Lynda and Barnaby and I had to decamp to the pub.
Amazing comments from people and the agent says we should get at least 3 asking price offers tomorrow. Lets see, I’ll let you know.

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