One of the ways we encourage people not to come and stay with us again is to convince them to buy their own house. Rod and Fee Thompson, for example, have been bothering us for years. They arrive every summer with undrinkable bottles of Cahors which they force my husband to stay up until three in the morning consuming. One year they even broke a bed. I mean, please, these people are over 40.
This year, after their obligatory annual visit to us, they rented a lovely farmhouse in the Midi-Pyrénées. Passing an estate agent in the local town, Rod spotted a picture of a château for sale. “It was totally wonderful,” he says. “In the middle of what seems to me to be God’s own country, with 17 bedrooms.”
It seems like a good idea at the time. The sun is shining, the wine is good (providing Rod didn’t buy it) and the countryside is spectacular. The trade in seems like a no-brainer. A terraced house in Clapham for all this? Why not buy a place and live in this paradise forever?
But before you commit to spending the last day of your holiday in the notaire’s office signing for the dream house, there are some things you should consider. First, is buying a place really the best option? The rental market is very flat at the moment, so you may find some bargains, especially off season. If it is a holiday home that interests you, consider that you could stay for at least eight weeks a year in the luxury hotel of your choice for the cost up the upkeep on a second home in France. And you would never have to worry about burst pipes or burglars.
According to Bill Blevins of Blevins Franks International, who has been watching Brits move to France for nearly two decades, the most common mistake they make is the lack of research. “Carry out a full analysis of what you are seeking to achieve from moving abroad and then spend as long as possible reviewing all the possibilities re the areas and then precise locations in those areas,” he says. “Check out the selected location at all times of the year. Some places are very hot in the summer but suffer from unexpected cold and wet in winter. Some places are a dream in the winter and a mass of tourists and the related activity in the summer. For example, fun fairs, noise, night-clubs that are open all night in summer but are virtually invisible in the winter.”
If you do find a wreck in the middle of nowhere that looks too good to miss, try to get a precise costing for renovation before you buy it. Many people assume that because property prices are cheaper in France, building work is as well. This is not the case. In fact paint is hugely more expensive in France than in the UK. Gavin Quinney, a wine maker who did up a château outside Bordeaux actually found it worthwhile driving back to England to buy paint, and luckily he was able to coincide his paint runs with Chelsea games.
Tony Tidswell, a friend who lives in a nearby village, rents out gîtes. He recently had someone to stay who fell in love with his whole set up and made him an offer for his crumbling and beautiful stone house he simply couldn’t refuse. “He basically said ‘I want to buy your life’,” says Tony. “And he has the money to finish renovating the house in a way we just can’t.” Tony and his wife Carole plan to use the money to build a new house. A British family in a French new build. That really is integrating.
Sadly Rod and Fee didn’t experience quite the same rush of blood as Tony’s guest. I even offered to lend them the money for the château. “Oh no thanks,” was the response. “We’d much rather stay with you.” Oh well, better buy a new (sturdier) bed.
Bill Blevins www.belvinsfranks.com
A great friend of mine who lives close by recently called me with an unusual request. “I have some people coming to stay,” she said. “And one of them needs an AA meeting while he’s here.”
“It seems to me we might all need them one day so we may as well find out where they are,” she added.
The French equivalent, Alcooliques Anonymes, has an excellent website where they list meetings taking place in every region in France, as well as meetings held in English. Just go to www.alcooliques-anonymes.fr click on Les Groupes and there is a link to the list of all the meetings you could ever need. The main contact number is in Paris +33 1 48064368.
Carte de Sejour
I have had several emails about the Carte de Sejour. When we first moved here it was obligatory for us to have one. I found it one of the most difficult things to get hold of, requiring several visits the mairie with hundreds of bits of paper. I am overjoyed to announce that no EU member will ever have to go through the process as it has been made obsolete. “The carte de sejour basically contravened the rights of free movement to member states within the community,” says Dawn Alderson, solicitor with Russell-Cooke. “It is no longer required for EU residents who wish to reside in France, but in some cases may be needed to carry out an economic activity.” It is still a requirement for non-EU nationals (bar Swiss nationals) who wish to become resident in France. There are no plans for anything to replace it for EU nationals.
Dawn Alderson, solicitor and avocat, partner with Russell Cooke Solicitors
email: firstname.lastname@example.org tel 0208 789 9111
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog www.beautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as contributing regularly for newspapers and magazines, writing short stories and studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, Helena is also working on a thriller called Welcome to Smullö that will be published in spring 2020.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and came out in paperback in April 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives between there and London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019