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Moving to France – How NOT to do it.

Moving to France – How NOT to do it.

| On 05, Jan 2008


We paid the deposit and were due to move in during July 2005. In June, I visited the area with my two older children, looking for a school for my daughter Chantal to attend. The owner of the farm had kept two plots of land for himself, one to build his new home on and the other (we thought) as a garden area to grow his vegetables (which is the main use for most gardens in the South of France).

We were then astonished to be told he had sold his garden plot to a young couple to build their house on. The fact that his intention was to sell this plot as building land was a total surprise to us and worst of all the new building would directly overlook the farm and meant we’d have no privacy at all. We immediately went to see the notaire who was dealing with our purchase.

We sat in stunned silence as he told us he’d known about the sale of the land all along! We asked why no one had bothered to tell us and he said he thought we already knew about it. In France, unlike in the UK, the same notaire usually acts for both the vendor and the purchaser, and the sums of money the notaire stands to make are higher than solicitors fees in the UK.

We felt let down; we had not exactly been lied to, but neither had we been told the whole truth. They all knew that we would pull out if we found out about it, – and after a great deal of discussion, and another visit from my husband and I, that is exactly what we did – but not without a large penalty. We lost our £10,000 deposit, because we broke the contract of sale – the all important “˜Compromis de Vente’. When a house sale is agreed in France a contract is drawn up, detailing the property, land, previous owners, rights over the land etc, but you can also have clauses drawn into the contract if everything isn’t as it should be – for instance a subject to survey clause, or a subject to gaining a mortgage clause.

As we had not stated in the compromis that the extra plot of land was not to be used for building, it was not considered a valid reason for pulling out of the sale. We could have contested their decision and taken them to court, but the legal process in France is very protracted and it could have taken us years to sort it out – and even then we could have lost the case and had to pay all the costs. So we simply cut our losses and moved on.

Something else had also become apparent on this fateful trip in June, which was that the school system in France is very different to our own. Chantal, then 13, was told by all the French state schools we visited, that because she only had a small understanding of French, she would automatically be moved down a year in the school and that she would get no extra help provided by them at all.

It was obvious to us and to her, that she would really struggle. The private schools were a little better, but still not ideal; the only one she really liked was the International School we visited in Bordeaux, but that meant a two hour train journey and she would have had to be a weekly boarder.


The cost to us was prohibitive, as we had no way of knowing what our income was going to be. To say the least she had been very put off from this experience and I was very very disappointed and surprised by the negativity and backward thinking of the French schools towards foreign children.

Still, unperturbed by this first non house buying experience, and promising ourselves that next time we would be more careful, we started looking for another property. But then a surprise came when my mother and wheel-chair bound ttep-father, asked if they might be able to come with us. At 73 and 83 years of age respectively, this was a brave decision. They were both quite adamant that it was what they wanted, so it was decided that my mum and I should fly to France together and look at some property I had found on the internet.

The remit had now changed somewhat, as my mum wanted to be independent of us but still on the same property, so that meant looking for somewhere with a separate house or apartment as part of the whole, still with business potential and the 5 acres of land.

We looked at several properties but one stood out, a 20 bedroom Hotel, located in the Languedoc National Park, with a separate four bedroom owner’s house plus an additional two story property that had been used as a conference room, general store and café.

{mosbanner right}It was just perfect to convert into a house for my mum and Harry. The hotel also came with a laundry, garages, a large restaurant with professional kitchen, bar, swimming pool and 5 acres of land. We instantly fell in love with it.

The hotel was situated in the Espinouse Mountains and the drive to the property was spectacular, with amazing views. It was also close to a huge lake that had lots of attractions for tourists, including various children’s play areas, a marina, man made beach, restaurants, bars, and even a riding stables. It seemed idyllic, if rather larger than we had been planning, but still it was a great challenge and because it was a well established business it had instant income potential.

We were informed that the property would be sold fully furnished with its class 4 alcohol licence (which can be difficult to get). It couldn’t have been better. It was on the market for 450,000€ (around £321,500). A week later I flew over with my husband Craig and he too could see the huge potential of the place and we were advised to put in a low offer by the estate agents.

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