‘Well we could always buy a place in France’ ….was the well-worn phrase John used to throw at me when work or family got too much for either of us. That and ‘When we win the lottery’, were our fall back conversations at times of high stress. Normally these were just our pipe dreams but today for some crazy reason I thought ‘well why not’! And so it began.
It was early January 2001, it was cold, grey and we were both exhausted with our jobs. On top of that we’d had a couple of major bereavements in recent years and somehow the thought of a little bolt hole in France didn’t seem like a bad idea. We looked at our money and worked out we could re-mortgage our home and raise enough cash to buy a little apartment in the South of France.
By April we’d booked our first trip, all excited, notebook in hand and francs in our pockets. We had, as luck would have it, managed to agree on the Languedoc Rousillion. John loved it because he had fond memories of teaching windsurfing at Marseillian Plage about 20 years earlier and I’d fallen in love with it when visiting factories as part of my job working for one of the main French Cheese manufacturers about a year previously. So at least we’d narrowed down our options and felt it really wouldn’t be too hard to find our little bolt hole….or so we thought!
We hadn’t factored in just how large and diverse the region was, how unwilling to help most of the estate agents were and just how utterly exhausting and bewildering the process was.
We’d started in the Aude around the town of Castelnaudray and the surrounding area. We’d even made prior appointments with English-speaking estate agents. Some were Brits,some were French and all managed to make us feel like we were wasting their time! Oh and it rained constantly!!!
We so very nearly gave up, but then John said, ‘well we’re here now so why don’t we just go over to the coast and spend a couple of days chilling out’. We’d actually really wanted to buy near the coast but from our on-line and magazine search back home felt it would be too big a stretch for us. So we trundled off to Cap d’Agde for a well-earned rest ….and within 2 days had stumbled upon a fantastic whirlwind of a French agent, who really listened to us and clearly enjoyed creating a bit of theatre with every property we visited. We left the sunny south a couple of days later having signed our compromis de vent, committing ourselves to buying a little one bedroom apartment in Cap d’Agde, overlooking the Mediterranean, for about half the price we’d expected to pay.
We could have left it there but no! We’d caught the bug and the magnetic qualities of the South of France was proving too strong for us to resist. We finally ended up, over a two year period in buying a further two properties; one, a falling down townhouse that needed total renovation and finally a villa with a swimming pool in it’s back garden (as you do!).
Then just to prove to our friends and family how we’d totally lost our minds, we resigned from jobs that we loved to start our adventure of living and working in France.
We lived there for 7 years and on top of renting out our properties to holidaymakers, we also set up a business selling and installing swimming pools and hot tubs. How we got into a this industry is another story and one probably best saved for a future blog but in short it came down to appalling service from our pool guy and the desperate need to take control of a bad situation. We found that in those days quality pool technicians were few and far between, so the business basically grew out of necessity.
By 2007 we’d sold the apartment (through an agency) and the townhouse (privately) and just kept the villa to live in and run our business from. It was all going so well….. and then we were hit with the recession. Selling high ticket items at a time of financial austerity was proving harder by the day, it wasn’t that our clients had suddenly run out of money but they’d wisely decided that luxury items such as swimming pools and hot tubs were just that and their ‘lifestyle’ projects would have to be put on the back burner until the economy picked up again. Wise decisions but not good for our industry and early in 2009 our primary supplier folded.
We knew then that it would only be a matter of time before we followed suit and that we had to end our French adventure. We thought it would be for just a couple of years, but then at that time no-one could have foreseen just how long the recession would last. Closing the business and deciding to move back to the UK when we did was one of the wisest decisions we’ve ever made. We saw and heard of so many expats hanging on till the bitter end and losing everything. It was a grim time.
Over the years of living and working in France, we met many other expats who all had war wounds to show for pursuing their dream of buying a home in France. We often used to express surprise that there wasn’t ‘someone out there helping new potential home owners to realise their dream.
It took a few more years of waiting for someone else to do so, when it finally dawned on us that we probably had more experience than most. After all, not that many expats have the experience of buying and selling multiple properties, of setting up and running businesses in France….and not only living to tell the tale but managed to retain an utter passion for the country and most specifically the Languedoc.
This is how and why Chez de Chez was born.