Sunday, 22 February 2015

Our House in Brittany...The Simplest of Pleasures...


In the UK we have a town centre house on the Sussex coast. Life around us is what you you might expect from our position... articulated trucks make TK Maxx, Sports Direct and McDonald's deliveries at unsocial hours, revellers walking home after late licence bars fold in the early hours... We've even had inebriated folk nestling down in the corner of our garden to sleep it off. This is probably one of the aspects that makes our house in Brittany such an oasis by comparison. There you can hear a pin drop during the day in lulls between bouts of birdsong or watching the circling Buzzards, the murmurations of Starlings - I think that's October... and, of course the 2 or 3 tractors a day which seem to be far more plentiful than cars. I even saw Peregrine Falcon parents teaching their offspring how to hunt, plummeting down at 100mph and then pulling out to ascend and do it again... then their kids having a go... A magical day. All are a welcome alternative to the domestic UK entertainment of rolling 24 hour (bad) news... back to back programmes about folk trying to decide whether to move to Australia or not. Others regretting their tattoos and body piercings and others wanting to display their own embarrassing bodies - all very graphically played out. Lovely! We don't have TV of any description in Brittany... French or English. Well, actually we do take a Humax recording box and have an old telly to watch stored programmes on... So that might be watching The Commitments for the 100th time or documentaries about Squeeze... Steve Winwood, Clapton, Hendrix or Springsteen...
As the antidote to all of the annoyances of home, our house in Brittany, was a rare find indeed, at a price that meant we just couldn't walk away without going into overdrive during the last few hours of a 3 day viewing trip...The last of three. So, possibly 15 or twenty properties were viewed before happening upon this one. Even getting the opportunity to view it had taken us by surprise. We got back to our digs to return a large scale map we had borrowed and to bid farewell before making a dash for the channel port and home. It was back in the days when the French system for UK residents making expeditionary sorties to buy property there hadn't really been catered for properly by an emerging agency infrastructure... Of course, 16 years down the line, things have changed radically.


At the end of what we thought was a well planned trip that had gone ragged toward the end, we had found our house more by chance than by design. The house had been lived in 3 years earlier by a lone elderly lady, Madame LeRoy, unable to tend to the three quarter acre garden for perhaps another 7 years before moving to a nursing home, so it was massively overgrown.  A barn, just 25 metres from the house, was completely invisible, overgrown with Ivy, its roof slate covering punctured by Elder saplings. It was very much more akin to a day in the undergrowth with Davy Crockett or Jacques Cartier than viewing a property via Right Move or Zoopla.  So Rick (our B and B host) asked, when he opened his door to us for the last time... "Well? What was it like?" - "Brilliant" I said... we had both agreed as we drove back to his place... We had 'buzzed' about the prospect of maybe buying something with so much potential. "There was a window open to what we now know as the kitchen, so we climbed in and had a look round"...
"Amazing! What are you going to do then?" What we actually did was attach our video camera to Rick and Lynne's TV and watch our antics as we viewed and as we overcame the undergrowth and trotted in blind panic through the house which, to all intents and purposes, could have been occupied by someone with a shotgun and an intent to use it! We had already had a similar experience further south during an earlier trip...more later probably. It looked very much like a Marie Celeste situation where, in the dining room, there was a card table canted over on one corner where a leg had given in to woodworm - a chess board and playing pieces scattered on the floor. The camera careered up a rickety barn style staircase to the first floor - into a room sectioned into two. The communicating door creaked as `I pushed it open - camera in hand - to reveal two single mattresses on bare wooden floorboards... a hurricane lamp between them and crocheted woollen blankets cast aside by the last occupants. Who, we wondered, had been here? Squatters? Maybe, but it looked too tidy for that... although the window was open. Grandkids of the last owner enjoying an end of exams break at "Gran's old house"? More than likely, "yes", but there was none of the teenage detritus, beer cans, food packaging... no evidence of anyone skinning up. The rapid and rickety tour scuttled on through a door and up a spiral staircase to a loft where oak boards roughly laid looked anything but of weight bearing capacity... Thus the video camera zoomed shakily and speedily around the house and garden into and out of the barns suggesting quite definitely a feeling that we felt we shouldn't have been there at all. And it clunked to black and clipped to silence to leave just the rapid breath, beating chest and scuffling at our car door out in the lane. The video at an end, Rick said... "Well that's it then! You can send the Notaire a fax (ahh those were the days) and offer the asking price and... It'll be yours!"

And so it has become. And since that time, 16 years ago, we have enjoyed snatches of very special quality time at Le Roz, relaxing (well sometimes) renovating, gardening, walking, cycling, rambling, foraging for wood for the woodburners, sight-seeing... exploring, visiting agents... finding new ones...sampling restaurants, running our websites and very much enjoying life!

Chris Slade
Drone Photography: Benn Slade

www.ahouseinbrittany.com
www.ahouseinnormandy.com

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Quick Look at the French Property Buying System...

What's in store if you find a house you want to buy...
There are a number of ways you can house hunt in France...

•  Visiting Notaire's offices in whatever region, town or city you are drawn towards.

•  Visiting Immobiliers whose websites you may have found....

•  Driving through areas of the country that have an appeal and calling into
   Immobillieres or Notaire's offices on spec.

•  Surfing the internet and browsing property portals and websites. It is so very convenient... 
But it's good to know who you may be dealing with and a little (if not more) of how the system works.

You've happened upon this article because you're looking for a house using the latter method. That's great. Naturally we think we offer a comprehensive and well informed way of viewing... allowing you to scan through a thousand or so properties across Normandy and Brittany from the comfort of your computer, laptop, tablet or smart-phone. We work with around 20 agents across both regions and have done so since 2002... after we found out for ourselves in 1999 how ad hoc and 'full of holes' the system at the time was. All the agents we work with are fully registered and operating legally under French law (it's good to check this kind of thing). Our agents are English speaking and all can help you through what may seem initially a complicated system. It isn't. It's just what the French have been up to for the last five hundred years and it works very well. We place a contracted agent's properties on our sites as well as it appearing on those of the agents with whom we work...and, when clients make contact with us we make appointments for them to view in the most sensible order without crowding too many into a tight schedule. Let's have a look at a typical client situation... Let's assume you have travelled to view and fallen hook line and sinker for a house that looked worthy of viewing when you saw it on a website and can now be sure that it's what you want... because it isn't surrounded by intensive chicken farming sheds or on the edge of an industrial estate...

ALL PROPERTY TRANSFER IN FRANCE IS HANDLED BY A NOTAIRE. The Notaire is an employee of the state and it is he/she who must oversee the transfer of property between Vendor and Purchaser. It's similar, but not identical, to what goes on in the UK - except you don't have to panic yourself witless about how slowly things appear to be happening because in France - it happens when it happens! But there may seem to be a 'maƱana' element about things. In the UK you may get on to your solicitor to see if you can hasten the process. In France you should and will, quite naturally, direct enquiries through the agent/Immobiliere. In France the Notaire acts for both parties. That's always a surprise for buyers from the UK. Our own experience was very straightforward - without any reason to be concerned about this or anything else. We have seen problems occur when purchasers have involved their own solicitor back in the UK or having insisted that a second Notaire acts for them whilst the Vendor too has their own Notaire. The phrase "when in Rome... rings true for a smooth transfer." Merely make sure that the agent is fully aware of all your needs and wishes (in writing if you wish) and then listen out for these wishes to be brought up at the main points of signing the documentation. The Notaire also deals with all of the searches. Incidentally - in the event of two Notaire's working on a property transfer then they split/share the charges and so the cost is no greater than just one Notaire being involved

THE OFFER to BUY So... you have seen something that looks just right for you and you have expressed your interest to proceed to the person who has shown you the house. Maybe you've even made an offer of a price lower than the one advertised. Be careful here because it is only an offer of the full asking price that secures the house irrevocably as yours... In France, strictly speaking, if you make an offer to buy in the presence of the vendor and they accept - then that constitutes a contract... So be a little reserved and show your enthusiasm to the agent when you are back in the car or at their office. In some instances the buyer may be asked to sign a pre-printed form known as an offre d'achat (offer to buy)... This establishes your interest... and signals the need to proceed to...

THE COMPROMIS de VENTE Legal documentation is drawn up by the Notaire...And the first document in the buying process is The Compromis de Vente. You will no doubt have heard this term before. This is the document which must carry the Vendor's agreement to sell at the stated price, what is included buildings and land etc., and any exclusions... special stipulations regarding the compromis being signed subject to funds being forthcoming from a lender (the law always assumes that a mortgage will be being sought). It's an agreement also on behalf of the Purchaser to pay the price as stated... So, it's a contract between both parties to proceed at the figures agreed. There is a 7 day Cooling off Period.(for the Vendor the Compromis is binding and there is no going back). But the signing of the Compromis is the time when the deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price) will be required - and if the cooling period elapses and there has been no formal withdrawal in writing then that deposit will be forfeited. The Compromis can be sent to the purchaser (back to their current home address) for signature and returned for the process to continue to the Acte Finale...

STRUCTURAL SURVEYS For many years there did not appear to be a parallel profession in France to that of the UK's Structural Surveyor within the buying process... The rule seemed to be... "you like the house... you go ahead"... but things have changed... the buying process has now legally to include a survey which will establish the state of the property in terms of the presence of termites, the presence of asbestos, and the energy efficiency of the building if it has a system of heating. Electrical wiring is also a concern - any new installations must be passed by EDF... The Septic Tank (fosse septique) must also have passed a survey and it must be what is known as 'all water'. Here's an instance of the reluctance of French property owners to observe the deadlines for conforming to new regulations... Let's just say that the winning post keeps on being moved further away from the 'start'. An all-water fosse is what you want and it is the seller's responsibility to see that it has been done. We can supply contact information regarding Surveyors (usually ex-pats themselves) who have set up in business on the French side.... where more and more buyers are arriving from Great Britain too - so it's a system that works for all parties. Some feel more comfortable doing it this way. Also there are many builders (and ancient buildings are a lot easier to 'survey') who are prepared to offer their advice and guidance and follow on building services. We know a few of these too.

THE ACTE FINALE Between the signing of the Compromis and the more formal Acte Finale (on average this can take between 8 and 14 weeks)... our own signing was 4 months after the Compromis because 7 brothers and sisters, who by then were in all corners of not just France but, the world, had to agree the principle as well as the figures and sign and return the documentation. By and large the searches in France take a similar time as they would in the UK.

NOTAIRE'S FEES These are regulated by the French Government and vary according to the price of the property (a sliding scale which reduces in percentage as the value increases). Also - even though the fees are referred to as Notaire's Fees, in fact the fees that the Notaire finally receives are around 1%. The remainder covers stamp duty, registration taxes and disbursements.
  • Older Property - The total fees and taxes payable for the purchase of an existing property are between 7% and 10% of the purchase price, excluding estate agency fees, although for very low priced transactions it may be higher.
  • New Property - You will pay around 2% in fees and registration taxes, plus VAT at the rate of 20.0% (remember that's on New Property not old) on the purchase price (except for sales between private individuals), excluding estate agency fees.
Are you still with me?...It's worth saying here, because the process sounds complex (as does any when you begin to study the legislation in detail) that you should not feel nervous, confused or vulnerable.

In fact as I have understood it over the years it is the French government's taxation differential between new property against old (it's the age which has the greater appeal to Brits)...newer property is more attractive from a final price point of view and that has resulted in so much 'ancient' housing stock (shunned by many French)... the older, dearer by comparison, still very attractive from our side of the channel...being very attractive... in other words - their loss is our gain. See also the section below... headed Making a French Will.

The Acte Finale itself has, in the past, always been a meeting held at the Notaire's office where the document is read through in full and, at the end of each section/sub section all parties must initial to indicate that they have seen and understood the clause concerned and then, on the final page, to sign and date their approval of the whole document... (a lot like a police statement... But I swear I can't remember how I know that...officer!) After that there will be a trip to the nearest bar to seal the deal with a drink. Actually that last bit isn't strictly adhered to anymore. Traditionally both parties - buyer and seller, would both be present... In our case and that of many - especially in the case of an executor's sale - the vendor might nominate a proxy to sign - sometimes an employee of the Notaire may sign on behalf of the vendor and often, in some cases the agent or another proxy, may sign on behalf of the purchaser...All of these eventualities, of course have to be covered by letters of authority to cover the deputisation element of things.

INHERITANCE: Making a French Will. This is a good idea for the simple reason that your property in France (if you live there) will be part of your world wide assets. If you live elsewhere but own property in France then French Inheritance law affects the house you have there

1. If you are a resident in France these rules will apply to all of your worldwide assets, except for property held abroad - somewhere else other than France; if you are not a French resident, then it will apply to all real estate you own in France

2. The inheritance laws discussed below are those that apply in an intestate inheritance or, in the absence of prior inheritance planning measures being taken

3. Only that element of the estate belonging to the deceased is subject to inheritance laws. In the case of a married couple, it will normally be 50% of their shared/joint wealth.

If you were  to die leaving your  spouse as survivor and two children, the spouse will receive 1/4 of your estate and the children 2/3 of your estate, with the remaining 1/12th freely disposable, e.g. to your surviving spouse.

These rules apply in the absence of any inheritance planning steps having been taken, such as a French marriage contract, purchase en tontine, a will or gifts etc.
If you were to die leaving no spouse but two children, the children will automatically be entitled to two thirds of your estate, and you are free to dispose as you wish of 1/3 of your estate.

Accordingly, it is possible to increase the rights of the surviving spouse, but this requires that some prior inheritance planning steps are taken to bring it about..

The watchword probably should be... best advice is a French will to act as an adjunct to any arrangements may be necessary. 


NB:- My notes above on these matters are by no means comprehensive... they are a quick guide to the salient points. There are nuances which may have to be addressed in specific cases which differ from the norm and any specific elements or peculiarities should be addressed to the agent with whom you view the property and/or with whom you sign the initial offer.

Our Service is Free of Charge to the purchaser (and vendor as it happens)... Our service of introduction to the agent responsible, on whose books the properties you have seen on our websites - which you may have elected to view are covered by a commission only payable after the signing of the Acte Finale.


Chris Slade - A House in Brittany Limited (February 2015)






Sunday, 15 February 2015

Is it any Wonder That Brittany is Such a Passion?

For seventeen years now we have been to-ing and fro-ing between Worthing in Sussex and our house in Brittany. It's fair to say that we've had our money's worth. And, since it cost us £12,000 just 10 weeks after we first saw it, then each visit has cost us just £125. Brilliant! Mind you the cost of the ferry crossings would buy the house twice over and on the way to a third! Eek! And then there's Cost of the renovations...


Well I don't suppose we have spent more than a total of £75,000 including the purchase price. And the joy we get from each trip is immeasurable... from simple walks along the towpath of the Rigole to the Son et Lumiere at The Abbey of Bon Repos (it's an annual must to see if I can improve on the previous year's photographs). Even in December we have eaten lunch in the garden...on the magic bench ... Evenings having had dinner or barbecuing fresh sardines under the tenty thing in the courtyard and probably having just a little too much to drink is always a very pleasant way to spend an evening (can't wait for May or June - for being outdoors I mean) well it's been great.





Poking about under the chestnut trees in October or November, looking for the pick of the crop to roast on the wood-stove. Which reminds me... we go for a walk along the Rigole after nights when the wind has been more noticeable. It brings down the dead and dying branches; ideal for burning without the need for two years drying in the barn. If the wind's been particularly punishing we don't even bother to walk, but go out in the truck, because we know we will find enough to fill the pick-up back without walking too far along the towpath. I have been designing, in my mind, as we rummage, a transom, barrow or trailer that we can easily pull, push or trail behind the bike(s) to make the job more interesting and leisurely. But then there is the Wheelhorse! That's got a tow-ball... I bought this mini tractor with it's mowing bed, from a couple who were selling up and returning to UK. It was spluttering a bit when we first saw it - needs a bit of a carburettor service - but I have that in hand and, I must say - it was 200 Euros well spent. I would feel a tad conspicuous on this though. It does make a bit of a clatter and, as round our way you can usually hear a pin drop even during the day, it might just attract more attention than you would want it to when what you're really after is peace and quiet...

 

There are so many latent projects around this house and its land... At the lane end of the courtyard is a building we call the Baby Barn (Micki made a stained glass window for this little gem very soon after we took over tenure) and, attached to the rear of it, but with only exterior access, is a bread oven (above) ...   Its roof is long gone and its chimney, badly in need of repair at the top - just a couple of the many elements  that need sorting out. Merely keeping the domed brick roof above it free of weeds is an arduous and thankless task... the weeds, it seems, have a special ability to reappear fully during the periods we spend back in the UK. I have rescued some terracotta Victorian pavers from outside the back door of our place in Worthing and some 250 year old slates from the time13 years ago when the back of the house was re-roofed and these are the materials that will give the bread oven new life... hopefully! Rest assured I will be boring the crap out of those who stumble across this blog-space when the first loaves, rolls and pizzas are served at the Chez Slade 'Bread Oven Cook-Out'. Micki said she wants to fire it up on our next trip but I'm thinking that the only fitting time to do so is when the whole thing is back to the way it was in 1765 or so - with an al fresco dining experience to match the cuisine of the day the oven was used for the first time... so pizza is definitely out - but maybe a touch of hog-roast will go down well. The drink of choice in those days would have been cider to wash it down but, for me, the amber and dark beers originally brewed for the coal miners of the Pas de Calais is the only ale worth drinking... Thank heavens these days it's imported into Brittany.

When we first saw the place...


 

...You'll notice that the garden was a wee bit neglected... Madam LeRoy was unable to handle the quarter acre behind the barns after her husband died... and, in the years since she stopped keeping the courtyard under control, nature was beginning to move back in with a vengeance. In fact there is a barn in the photo above right that, at the time, only really needed re-roofing in order to begin the claw back to become a cottage. Sadly it didn't make it and, once the roof timbers collapsed, the plan had to change and now we want to have it as a sheltered vegetable patch. There is a cart in there which because it hasn't moved in 30 years or more has had a tree grow round its wheels and spokes. I still  haven't removed it. But the garden is a delight and you can bet, even before we unlock the front door on our arrival from the docks at St Malo, that Micki will be dead-heading and weeding as the unloading of the truck is in progress and before the water is switched on and the first cup of tea is made! And then, of course, if it hasn't recently been done she will mow the grass!


 



 Is it any wonder that Brittany is such a passion?

Friday, 13 February 2015

France is gripped by a Flu Epidemic!







It's probably all that kissing!

They are dropping like flies in France! An epidemic is defined by 165 cases in every 100,000 head of population. And figures show that France currently has a whopping 905 in every 100,000 going down with it which means they are on red alert. It may be nothing more than an established custom, a way of saying hello or goodbye - and most do it without thinking, on auto-pilot. So they are bringing it on themselves. I'm also sure that, as distant cousins, and quite cold by comparison, us Brits are definitely less affected by 'la grippe'. But, having been supplied with a vaccine designed for last year's strain of flu which has apparently mutated somewhat...this winter's jab has not had the desired effect and so many of those in high risk groups are being left without the protection they hoped for.
All I can say is, that for our French friends, as Valentine's Day looms, then probably the whole nation will be spreading the virus and France will be out of business for a week or two... all because of that 'faire la bise'!

I have always used this simple test to diagnose flu (as opposed to just a heavy cold or chesty cough) ...by pointing out that there is a £20 (OK make it £50) note on the lawn outside... It's raining, windy - or even snowing out there... If the individual claiming a 'sickie' gets out of bed to claim the money as theirs they have a cough or cold. If they just moan and sink back into the pillow they have the flu.

While you are getting over your bout of the bug... have a look at our property websites... There are some barmy bargains out there!

www.ahouseinbrittany.com
www.ahouseinnormandy.com







Thursday, 5 February 2015

Watch out there's a banker about...




If your experience of buying a house in France is anything like ours was back in 1999 then you are embarking on one of the most exciting phases of your life...
It might be my age, but the more I hear about life in the UK compared with the way things used to be (the need for reporting just about everything negative on 24 hour rolling news might have something to do with it) then the less I like it right here - right now. But Brittany and Normandy offer a lifestyle very similar to that of the UK the way it was back in the 1950s (yes, unfortunately I am old enough to remember what that was like! but I did look at it through a child's eyes). The pace of Breton and Norman life is very leisurely, the roads are good, no actually - they're great (NO Road Tax) and comparatively empty too - and the folks you encounter are friendly (if you are keen to integrate) if not they'll wonder why...because everyone is eager to give you a welcome nod, a smile and a "bonjour". But, before I digress into how good things can be, there are a few things we may be able to help you with. Since buying our own place and starting our business we have come up against a number of situations where a helping hand, a recommendation or a positive experience is well worth passing on and, most often... it's appreciated. But there's no hard sell. Why would there be? We introduce people to houses. But we DO hate hearing stories of clients who have had bad experiences in situations where we may have been able to point them in the right direction.

Mortgage/Property Funding:-
Buying in a foreign country is something that causes trepidation with everyone... so don't feel that you are alone if having found a house that alarm bells are going off in your head. Firstly, to me, it seems logical to source funds for purchase in France from an organisation... in France... That phrase 'when in Rome' etc., rings true to me... As with their Notarial system... it's something the French have been doing in their own way for a very long time. Having said that it too makes great sense to deal within someone you can speak to in your own language and who knows his or her way around the French lending market. Martin Heathcote is just such a person... English, yes - and working for France Home Finance... over in France. Martin has been living and working in France long enough to know the French system inside out)... Call him to discuss your plans and how he can help make them a reality:- Call 00 33 144 88 59 44. There'a very interesting and informative website too: France Home Finance

Foreign Currency Exchange
Now this is really all about keeping as much of your own money in your pocket as possible on both sides of the channel... And, until the UK joins the Euro (Eek!.. or, until Hell freezes over)... when you buy a house abroad...you will have to secure the services of a currency exchange house. Who to use? Well, there are dozens of these and most of them will save you money when compared to your High Street Bank (now there’s a surprise).
So, whatever you do... Don't Do a Dave! Names have been changed to protect the hapless! David was very happy to find his house in Brittany... nay ecstatic! And we offered, as we sometimes do, to recommend someone to exchange his funds from Sterling to Euros. Dave said he felt very happy about leaving the conversion of his £300,000 to his bank. "Well they've already got it, haven't they?" he said confidently. This simple assumption - that they would be the best and cheapest to convert his funds caused him so much anger, annoyance, anxiety in reality... all the A's. His house effectively cost him £9,000 more than was necessary. Afer this dawned on him he was incandescent (well you would be) and he was intent on suing them... but that would have just been throwing good money after bad! Caveat Emptor is the phrase to Google if you haven't come across it before. And my well worn phrase... "watch out there's a banker about" is true, in as much as it will always cost you more to use a bank than a dedicated and specialist Currency Exchange House. And even here timing the exchange is also very much the key... It's definitely not a DIY job!
We have come across a good few currency houses over the last 15 years and we are called virtually daily with offers of help for our clients and to enter affiliation agreements. We have settled on MoneyCorp - quite a while ago now. They are one of the larger ones but are structured in such a way as to offer ‘one to one’ dealings via your own account executive. So the feeling is good and, you’re unlikely to feel like a small fish in a big pond... Speak initially to our contact at Moneycorp, Carole Jaskarzec. Carole is very approachable... She speaks perfect English as well as her own native French and will explain the system and she'll guide you through what may seem initially like uncertain territory. Personally with my grasp of maths being so disastrous at school I am like a rabbit in headlights when confronted with the prospect of losing out from my own misunderstanding of things. But here you'll be in good hands. Carole will see that your funds convert at a competitive rate of exchange going forward to meet your purchase needs...Call her if you wish on 0207 828 7000 (Carole Jaskarzec)
There are many reasons and purposes for movement of funds from just purchase to regular pension payments as well as lump sums for renovation stage payments etc., Check out the MoneyCorp website It's full of interesting facts.
Also - here's a handy tool to check the 'up to the minute' value of your purchase budget... using the MoneyCorp "Converter"

Above all "Good Hunting" and... it does make good sense to get your ducks in a row before you travel to view! - CS


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Renovation... at a snails' pace... but, we're really getting there!



Yes... renovation at a snail's pace...That's how life in Brittany has seemed so far for us. Most enjoyable of course. And all of the peripheral stuff that goes on, the 'time off for good behaviour' when we knock off at 4 O'clock in the afternoon for a drive to the coast for Moules Marinieres or to Lake Guerledan for a woodland walk around the lake; you have to have a sense of balance - so progress can sometimes be painfully slow over time with intense short bursts and, yet tempered by gentle relaxation.
We spend around two months of each year there in bite sized (two week) chunks. Infuriating at times because I always feel that we don't have sufficient time 'at the coal-face' to get the required amount of work done each trip. It's a slow burn toward job satisfaction. But first I have to roll out once again... that we have done 6 return trips each year for 16 years now. So that's 192 crossings of La Manche (that's what our French cousins call what we know, pretentiously, as the 'English' Channel) lol. 192 trips WITHOUT an upgrade to the 'smoothy' Commodore cabin with proper beds, TV, en suite and free part stocked minibar. Now that would never happen on Virgin or BA!


But sorry... I digress (as usual)... Renovating! Our house was worth a lot more than we paid for it back in 1999, but we weren't complaining about that. It had water it had electrics and someone, I'm guessing a friend of the family had spent a lot of time 'improving' things apart from a dozen or so holes in the roof that were beginning to allow nature in... the 'friend in the trade' had begun by taking out Breton fireplaces and the stone or timber corbels set deep into the walls that supported their superstructure. Tragedy! Well not impossible to replace, but almost a step too far. The work had been designed to turn an 18th Century farmhouse  internally to a'la Parisienne', to cover the rustic stone walls with flat walls that any home counties Barratt home would be proud of... and there were many other examples of the artisan's craft if, often, in the wrong direction for the preferences of many would-be Breton longere owners. But thank heavens we came along when we did! And it was all there to be uncovered and to revert to using original materials and maybe also techniques that would have been used 250 years ago. It's beena real privilege.


Initially there was roofing work, extension of electrics, extending water supply to 'next door' (for bathroom 1) solid floor for the lounge, creating a temporary kitchen (which actually hasn't yet been converted to a permanent one - but we're working on that. We have tiled throughout the ground floor (it took us 4 years before we actally found the tiles that we always knew we wanted. I did spend 6 weeks in residence on my own - way back now - fitting up the bathroom in what we call the low-loft... Now most people would think that was a long time to be messing around with a few copper pipes. In fact if you have to create the floors, walls/ceilings, fit the doorway as well as the obvious plumbing for bath, basins, bidet and loo, well it's actually not that long single handed. I thought my mouth was going to heal up from lack of use as I was so into it that I went out very rarely and, by getting up early and going to bed late, managed to lose two and a half stone in weight! Only to be recommended as part of a calorie controlled diet. I did though manage also to update the websites - even given that in those days our software was steam driven and the simplest amendments were very long winded... Oh for an eight day week!


So now we have a 60sq metre loft over the kitchen and dining room (where the previous owners had just a store for things they no longer wanted) but now it includes a bathroom, a lounge area and bedroom area meaning that visiting family or friends have a self contained suite. On the other side... the three storey part of the house, we have replaced the lounge floor (this was an oak floor that whilst it looked good superficially, had been laid directly on to earth and also had dry rot) that went straight out and was burnt - without even warming the house up) we smashed down the terracotta internal walls from the 1960s and used them as hardcore for a solid concrete floor which is now tiled. Regrets? Yes...Why didn't we lay the wiring for underfloor heating? OK... too late for that now - so thank heavens we now have the biggest woodburner it's possible to get and it fits snugly into the hearth where the 'paris style' mahogany (it offered about one tenth of the heat needed for the 35sq metre space).


Most recently we have begun reclaiming the last loft, the one above our preferred bedroom, on the 3 storey side of the house...I have skimmed the oak roof timbers to remove excess worm ridden areas and generally clean them up and Xylophane treated thewhole loft twice. An original spiral staircase which had been badly sandblasted (all the softer grain had been blown out leaving razor sharp hard grain)...and anyway 250 years of use had taken its toll. So a new oak spiral has been made and installed but until our last trip it remained a couple of treads short of the new top floor level. With my O'level woodwork from 52 years ago I have finished the job off by chasing into the central pillar to support the inside of the step and cut stone out on the wall side it has come together well. We have already laid 35sq metres of tongue and groove flooring on new chevron/joists to level up a new top over original oak boards which have never really offered what modern occupants expect of a floor. Next we will suspend insulation to sit between the tile batten, membrane and roof slate and the plaster-board which will sit at purlin level. We will repair and rebuild the low external walls to meet the plasterboard before building cupboards and shelving to skirt the edges of the room.... More later... But I don't know how much later!


But...we're getting there!