Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Brittany Bound? With this level of value, style & potential - at 238,000 (GBP)* why not?

An 8 Bedroomed Manoir, PLUS a 4 Bedroomed Longere/Farmhouse on a large courtyard, with stables, outbuildings and 7 Hectares of land - divided amongst parkland, woodland, grazing and gardens close by the house. Sounds idyllic, ne fait-il pas? Well it is... and it's now available for just 300,000€ + Fees! (£238,000*) Exceptional it certainly is and deserves to be seen! If this was in the Home Counties you wouldn't see change out of £1.25 million - but in Brittany at today's prices they are just this side of 'hen's teeth in terms of their rarity!

At A House in Brittany we don't often publish blog posts about individual houses - but now and again there is a good reason to buck that trend... and this house deserves it in spades. It has been on the market for a good while now and started off, as you can imagine, at a much higher price - some 650,000€ + Notaire's Fees. The current owner, from the UK had the misfortune to have a successful career cut short by illness and, not surprisingly, priorities as regards owning a house in France as well as maintaining a home in England changed things somewhat. The price of property in Brittany has always offered life changing opportunities at fairytale prices...

So this property has been reduced once more and is now priced 'to sell' and really just requires to be seen by the right prospective buyer to strike a chord with their future plans. Plans that will allow the complex to realise its true potential. It has possibilities as a leisure, wedding or holiday venue, a residential course centre or equestrian venue or, simply, a large family home with Chambres d'Hotes and Gite possibilities. The commercial uses are many and varied, as wide as your imagination in fact...and the price is definitely right, having just been reduced to *300,000 € plus Notaire's Fees!... Last one to click the link loses out!

Originally built as a hunting lodge and country residence for the Count Lanlay de Landemond, with a farm to support the manor house's gastronomic requirements... it sits between St Nicholas du Pelem and Rostrenen in the Cotes d'Armor, approximately 35 miles from St Brieuc (the Cotes d'Armor's departmental capital) and the beautiful Emerald Coast... 70 miles from Roscoff (ferries to Plymouth/Cork and 68 miles from St Malo (ferries to Portsmouth)... Air services are available at Dinard (73 miles) and Brest (74 miles).

All in all this complex exemplifies the difference in property value between the South of England and the Northwest of France with the added difference that a real human story and a desire to sell quickly can make. Not withstanding that it is an investment that can earn its new owner a new life, a new project at a price that makes it a reality and not merely a dream!

*The price of 300,000 € equates to £238,000 (GBP) at Currency FX rates as at 13th April 2016 (rates vary according to market fluctuation).

If you are interested as a potential purchaser or as a publisher wishing to feature this property then e-mail or telephone us, Chris or Micki on 01903 202272. More photo's and details are available.

Chris Slade • A House in Brittany Ltd.,
01903 202272

Rain... but No Clouds... Now that's a Weird Start!

There was no inkling when we rolled up that anything was unusual about Le Roz... 'The Rose'... an 18th Century Corps de Ferme (the heart of a farm with all but 3,000m2 of it's land redistributed amongst neighbouring working farms) we plucked it from dereliction. And from under the noses of some local would-be buyers, who we pipped to the post; those who might have had a weather eye on the place themselves...but bought by this barmy couple from England. Since March 1999 and the signing of the Compromis and the paying of 10% deposit, we had eagerly awaited the call to say that all the documentation was complete and we were ready for the Acte Finale... Balance wired to the Notaire for placement in his clients' holding account, we were on the blocks and ready for the 'off' when Russell (who had introduced us to the house in the guise of introducing agent) called to give us the preferred date for the transfer of ownership. He suggested that we should meet him at 3 O'clock outside the Notaire's office in Uzel, a small hilltop town, more suitable maybe as a location for a1960s Eastern European movie with grainy, moody shots and subtitles rather than the place where our Brittany property ownership saga might begin. He also suggested that we should 'swing by the 'ouse' before hand just to be sure that everything is as we might want it to be before signing the paperwork. Uzel is around 6km down windy lanes (Cornwall style) from Le Ros.

It was August 4th and everything had gone well on the channel crossing. Once again there was no shortage of enthusiastic chatter and, laughably, we had packed the interior of our (2+2) Audi soft top with all manner of nonsense... A Gaz Lantern, a miniscule camping stove, Lilo airbed and even a petrol strimmer poking through the hole above the rear seat armrest through to the boot where Audi designers intended us to store our skis! (lol)...I'm not sure that feature was included with us in mind... maybe wood from a DIY store or today the trusty strimmer - but not skis. There may even have been a spade and a garden fork in there too... All the required paraphanalia for our first night's stay before we made a more lasting base camp from which to tackle some meaningful renovations.

As we rolled to a stop in front of the house there was not a lot to separate this visit from the view we had looked at the last time we were there... The garden (that's a laugh)... was severely overgrown in front and to the sides of the house. Undergrowth of fairytale proportions engulfed the house and outbuildings and the house itself looked as neglected now as it had done four months earlier but the windows that had been open and that had allowed us to take a look round were now locked shut. The barn opposite was accessible - someone had obviously opened the doors as the grass had recently been laid flat in two arcs... like sections of a mini corn circle; windscreen wiper sweeps of flattened straw - for the summer sun had dried the grass. When we had viewed the place back in March opening the barn's doors revealed two old trailers tents, an upright freezer topped off with a cow's skull complete with horns... there was all sorts of detritus, hay bales, rotting timber, - bits and bobs you might expect to find in places like this scythes, sickles, pitchforks - even an adze and the rustiest old plough... All of the tools and implements to work a fermette were there. And everything had been covered with layers of dust.

The sun was shining (see pics from the day)... bright white clouds, just a few, skirted the valley beyond the drive in from the lane and they moved smoothly and gently on a warm breeze. So, engine off and, looking round over my shoulder for my camera...reaching for the door handle to go and explore. And suddenly - a clap of thunder preceded an instant downpour... No messing! Stair-rods that punched the ground and machine gunned the windows of the car and beat on the roof like a phalanx of Japanese drummers... It sounds hysterical but the deluge onset so fast and was so furious and unexpected that we could not get out of the car. Restricted to looking out of the window at what was going on and having to wipe the windows clear of condensation, puddles were forming on the mud and grass driveway within just a few seconds. The rain persisted for 30 minutes and hardly changed its pace or consistency. But, as if on a timer, it stopped as  just as quickly as it had begun. Just as instantaneously as switching off a power shower. 'Click' and it was gone... leaving just a steaming landscape... but after emerging from the car, avoiding the standing water and having a cursory wander around it became obvious that only the house and garden had actually been affected by the rain. Walking back toward the lane and having a look at the road's surface itself it was completely dry.... A further cautious walk around - because now it was beginning to feel a bit spooky... across the garden in front of the house - peering through the dripping foliage to the adjacent field... the wheat growing there was as dry as a bone and rustling in the slight breeze that still blew gently.  Walking right around the perimeter as best one could because the place had not been maintained and was a mass of brambles and undergrowth, it became obvious just the land on which the property we were about to buy stood - was wet...! The neighbours' house, which backed immediately onto land beyond our two barns, was completely dry... not a drip mark on it. It did seem very odd but it couldn't be said that it wouldn't be possible. So, returning to normality but now pressed for time we had a closer look at the house but without proper access we were restricted to squinting through the ground floor windows. It appeared to have been emptied of some of the nicer bits and pieces that we remembered... We were even able to recognise some fire damaged hinges from some cupboards we had admired (there had been some really handsome looking items and we had passed a message that was not heeded) and we recognised them as having been attached to items in the house when we had scurried from room to room when we had our impromptu viewing in March. Right now there were still puddles around the car and the grass steamed across the drive. "Shall we go"?

When we arrived at Uzel Russell was leaping from one foot to the other outside the Notaire's office. Maitre Didier Pencemont was waiting for us at his other office in Loudeac... rubber stamp poised. Loudeac is a larger town some 10 kilometres away. So, off we went... Russell was not the slowest of drivers so it was an eventful journey. The signing of the Acte Finale went smoothly with plenty of nodding and occasionally some explanation of clauses that either he or Russell felt that we might not comprehend. Having worked our way through the initial Compromis where simply we agreed to buy at 120,000 Francs and they agreed to sell at the same price and what exactly was included... this was not a surprise - nor was it that difficult to follow. We merely had to place our initials... all of us... at the foot of each page, indicating that we agreed to all of the points hitherto and then sign in full and date etc., on the final page. Representatives of the LeRoy family, the vendors, engaged the Notaire to sign the documentation on their behalf. The transfer of funds had been received and, indeed, we were given a cheque for the equivalent of £175 to represent, I think, the discrepancy in funds between Francs and Sterling since the first document had been signed back in March. This came in handy in the bar round the block to which we repaired immediately after we had done all of the forelock tugging that was necessary as we backed out of the Notaire's office, keys to Le Ros in hand!

As I said it was August 4th and, as the deed had been done, we booled round the corner and watched Russell burn rubber out of the town centre car park (it's always free to park) and we headed toward a hotel which we had spotted a few times as we'd passed through Loudeac - and asked if we could have a room for the night. "If you have not a reservation - then I am afraid we have nothing" said the concierge. "It is August and hotels everywhere are complet" he said with glee. We hadn't booked and so having tried also the hotel across the town square too to no avail, we quickly realised that the tiny stove we'd brought with us and the Lilo were about to come in very handy. We popped back to the bar that we'd been in with Russell and enjoyed our first meal out as French property buyers! Then we headed in a winding back roads kind of way back to our very own house in Brittany!
It was still way before night fall, being only around 7pm so after letting ourselves into the house we pulled a couple of unmatched chairs out of the barn and a circular folding metal table, patterned with holes and enjoyed a fine sunset and a bottle of red... but not before we had set up camp on the first floor and had an opportunity to have a look round at our bargain buy... Biggest moan? Obviously one of the team who had cleared the house of all the decent stuff and burned what they didn't want for themselves... they had taken the plastic tap tops from the kitchen sink - so turning taps on (sorry, tap singular) and off was a mole grip job. That night, because we'd had a fair bit to drink, sleep came quite easily amidst the excitement of realising we had a house in France... but, at around 3am I reached the floor with my bum and my shoulder blades as I realised we had a slow puncture. Foot pumped back to full pressure took us back to sleep state until morning proper.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Grass Really IS Greener on the Other Side! •  Brittany & Normandy!

Our £12,000 house when we first saw it in 1999.
Have you outgrown life in the UK? or almost anywhere else for that matter… Apart from all the hype and hyperbol√© about Europe the 'are we in', are we out - is it good, is it bad?... How could we have turned this down at £12,000 back in 1999? Maybe you're empty nesters - We were in our time, 'rattling around' in a house that is getting a bit baggy now that the kids have left home. OR, you're younger possibly… and maybe technology has set you free and - lucky you - you can work from home…wherever the difference between income and expenditure is the widest (George Osborne - take note) - anywhere at all in fact. You are, as were are - and still are, 'have laptop… will travel' and all that,. Brilliant! But, whatever makes you footloose, you might just want to take a look at North West France. Out of reach - but not out of touch. Brittany and Normandy have plenty to offer apart from Moules Mariniere, Crepes and Galettes, Calvados and Croissants. Economically speaking property in France hasn't been better value for money for years than it is right now. The UK economy has made your existing house worth more than you might have imagined and the Sterling-to-Euro exchange rate that has been through some stormy times has settled on a very positive note for those thinking of buying in Euroland. Recently it's the best that it has been for years but it's walking the high wire at the moment because of referenda and Euro - tensions etc., Good time to make a silly offer in my book!

My but the wisteria has grown - 2014
We're not all renovators… Some of us wouldn't even class ourselves as DIYers. But that doesn't mean you lose the ability to take advantage of the increased value wrapped up in buying an 'ugly duckling' that can be turned it into "a very fine swan indeed". There are still great bargains to be had because of the undulations of the market. The European market - the Euro specifically, and within France too and this has meant that vendors are lowering their prices to appeal to the UK market which is set a rung or three above.

Speaking for ourselves we were lucky enough to happen upon a house in Brittany on our 3rd leisurely viewing trip. Toward the very end of our time and right out of schedule (we should have been on our way to the Channel port when we viewed 'our find') when we happened upon an executor's sale - that of a Corps de Ferme. The land holding had been pared down to leave the 3 barns, the well, the bread oven and three quarters of an acre Brilliant!. The ridiculous price meant that we were at the house - big scale map in hand at 9am on the day of our trip home. The check-in time for our boat back to Portsmouth was to be 3:30pm but the drive to Caen would be more than three hours (St Malo is just 75 minutes)… well we couldn't just walk away and put it down to bad timing. Something had to be done…So there we were on the doorstep…well, getting through the kitchen window actually!

The Lounge Fireplace... uncovered. Not the monumental original...
that was ripped out in the 1960s...
On climbing out of the car we knocked on the door, we walked back to the car and sounded the horn, we waited, we wandered up and down the small patch of grass that hadn't given way to undergrowth. We knocked… we sounded the car horn again, we waited. And, throughout this carry on our attention kept being diverted to an open ground floor window. After a long silence poised… like a diver on the high board I climbed in! I'll admit to just a little apprehension. No actually - quite a lot! And then, having decided I'd 'crossed the Rubicon', I launched into a zoom, careering around the house like a thing possessed - with a video camera clasped to my shoulder… 

This is how the lounge looks today
I was very taken with everything that I saw and it wasn't just the price talking. Upstairs on the higher side of the house, two bedrooms, one, worringly, with beds unmade even with items of clothing scattered around… Like the Marie Celeste. They coild be back any moment! I didn't hang around. Back downstairs on the lower end another staircase led to a huge open loft area… all manner of detritus there - even a pair of skis… and more amazingly, water skis. the amount of seemingly useless stuff, bales of moth eaten material, hundreds of polystyrene ceiling tiles, about ten pairs of patent leather shoes - assorted colours… Market traders? Hoarders? It wasn't possible to tell. But as a house for sale it looked like … well, like a bargain! When I emerged blinking into the sunlight I encouraged Micki to make the same trip around the house. Hesitating at first she decided to give it a go too and must have got as far as the lounge (we used the term loosely) at the opposite end of the house before a second open window in an upstairs room, it's angle, disturbed by the change in air pressure, clattered and slammed shut giving her a jolt - at which she rushed headlong back to the point of entry. Feeling all the while that we were trespassing (actually we were!) we determined that this place, at just £12,000 in 1999, was just what the doctor ordered at our time of life. Kids off our hands and the sails set fair for an adventure discovering the delights of Brittany and Normandy…

These two regions of France are pretty much the nearest 'abroad' you can get to on either a permanent or dip in, dip out basis without the need to fly (for those bothered by that kind of thing)…and also, to give you that delightfully out of the country, but not totally out of touch feeling. Relatives - if you are daft enough to tell them exactly where you are - can visit and you can nip back to UK at the drop of a beret… provided you can find someone to look after your dog, cats, geese and donkeys… No? Oh… well that's what I have talked myself into, when I'm there long enough to put down roots. But each to his own. 

There is (why use a few words when a thousand will do?) a longer version of our story which includes much excitement, misunderstandings, tales of hapless Brits buying abroad finding the most incredible bargains, how we came, as a result of a ragged system (in those days) to be running a business dedicated to creating a better path for those who  but thus began a journey that we are still very much on and which has given us entry to the most exciting chapter of our lives. I must admit that the prospect of downsizing/relocating in the UK, spending more time in Brittany. There is always plenty to do there… The Forth Bridge analogy springs to mind and soon, with the acquisition of a camper van, the prospect of exploring more of Brittany, France, Spain, Italy… the world - when the schedule of life allows sounds just great to me... Forgive me if I don't come back quite all the way to UK 

We are renovating, in bite sized chunks... and for me :- the grass is still greener on the other side

Watch out... There's a Banker About!!

Buy a House in Brittany or Normandy - Definitely! But... Don’t do a Dave! Buying Abroad?  Got a minute? Read this... It could sa...