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A letter from France Part 2
Vanessa Howard
September 4, 2020

A letter from France;Should we, could we, will we and will it be good for our health?    

Vanessa Howard

Owner of a Holiday Accommodation Business and Fashion Museum in South West France

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A few weeks ago, I recounted part of our journey on finding a property, business and move to France. We left it at the point we were about to buy a B & B near Bergerac…
Well, later that evening having shook hands, we mulled it over and over assisted by a glass of wine or two. In the dim light of the following day, we realised that although it was a perfect business opportunity it was not really for us. As lovely as it was, this standalone house was next to a terribly busy road and having lived next to one is Suffolk we were keen to have a little more peace and quiet. More importantly we would have to be available 24/7 and arguing who was cooking breakfast was probably hand on heart not how we had envisaged the next episode of our life to be. So, it was back to the drawing board, well not quite because now we knew we had to earn. A gite or holiday self-catering business we thought would offer more flexibility and of course time to enjoy the odd sherbet or two!
For potential ex pats each day in France is a huge learning curve, and a major thing we picked up early on was that unlike the UK there is no free health system in France. The healthcare they have though is to an extremely high standard with little waiting time. However, everyone has to pay for it via the equivalent of National Insurance which covers 70% of health costs (by the way that’s total body including eyes, ears and teeth too) the other 30% is what they call Top-up and is done via an insurance policy, which you don’t have to have (but is roughly about £100 for a couple per month). This 70% is paid by either the company you work for, you as a percentage of your own business or the British Government, should you be retired and drawing a state pension. You could of course take a flyer and not give any thought to your healthcare, but should you need it out of the blue, you had better have the immediate readies and possibly lots of them!

House hunting in the Dordogne or is it the Perigord?

For those of you who fancy flying to the Dordogne, there are four airports, Limoges in the North, Bergerac in the South, Brive to the East and not in the Dordogne but to the far West is Bordeaux. The Dordogne is about 9000 km2 which probably means little until I say that Yorkshire is 11900 km2. So, with just over 400, 000 inhabitants against Yorkshires 5.3 million, there is room to move here.  Known locally as the Perigord, its divided up into four areas. Perigord Noir because of the black truffle around the Sarlat area. Perigord Pourpre, purple due to the vineyards around Bergerac, Perigord Blanc, referring to the chalky ground around the capital Périgueux. Last but no means least, Perigord Vert in the north because of the forests and lush green landscape. 

So, back to house hunting only in more earnest now as time was moving on. Having covered both Southern corners various people warned us off the North as being rather quiet! Always find out for yourself is our motto, as what is one man’s meat is another man’s poison or so they say!  
We found a very pleasant gite in the tiny village of Grand Brassac in the North West, but it was now the third week in October and starting to get quite chilly at nights. The gite had no heating except a log burner, which looked all romantic and pretty but not when you have been out all day and have to find logs in a shed in the back of beyond in the dark. Then of course argue who is going to light it, so made a mental note not to have one should we ever find our gite!  
Back to house hunting, some of the time we dealt with French estate agents some who spoke good English and others truly little making conversation at times a but difficult to say the least. Mind you we were doing the classic, expecting everyone to speak English, because well why not! The two biggest British agents, Beaux Villages and Leggitts; however, had an eager supply of Brits working for them. Then we discovered why, because estate agents that take people around properties are self-employed, get paid a percentage of the sale, and further do not need qualifications! Its not an easy life though as it is the buyer that pays the estate agent (normally built into the price). So, unsurprisingly some properties are on the books of up to four different estate agents at the same time.

With a raft of different styles of properties on their books, you simply indicate your price bracket, and roughly what you are looking for and the agent pulls out details of what might suit. Given they need the sale, its however not always what you are looking for, but then on the other hand you need to keep an open mind because, well you never know!  Properties are terribly slow sellers in France, and many are on the market for two years or more, so with room to negotiate we didn’t rule out looking at those on the market above budget.   It’s also still possible to buy something small with two bedrooms for around £30 000, but there are usually a reason for the low price such as its dilapidated as its last housed a herd of goats or it has no water and electricity! At the other end large to die for manor houses and small chateaux can be still bought for the same price as a 3 bed Terrace in Chelmsford! You do however have to not let your eyes rule your heart, for there is a reason the French leave their crumbling old relics to the expats. Generally, because the expats have more money than sense! By the way there are over 1000 chateaux in the Dordogne, some open to the pubic but many in private hands, so you could find your own ‘Escape to the Chateaux’! 

From Greggs to gourmet food and going Dutch?
You know how in the UK lunch is normally a sandwich and a packet of crisps, then half an hour later you are back at work? Rural Dordogne is a tad different; it basically closes for two hours from 12.30pm-2.30pm and if you do not want a three-course sit down meal with wine, you are very much in the minority. Village shops close, so we very quickly learnt we needed to keep a supply of sustenance in the car for even the estate agents pop off for the hallowed lunch! Where is a Greggs when you need it!
As you view properties its immediately obvious which ones belong to ex pats and which ones are French. The expats carpet the floors, whereas the French we found carpet the walls instead, still working on why on that one! Brits we find are quite house proud even if to be so means living off baked means, whereas the French will prefer to wait for something to fall to bits before buying new, if this means the best food and wine on the table! So, what side of the channel are you on?
You also meet some interesting people along the way from the house divided in two including two pools because the owners had fallen out with each other. Then there is the aged ‘y’ list rock star who ‘just can’t be bothered man’ to welcome people to stay in his property anymore. To the lady who used to live in the middle east with her now ex-husband, holding back four strays she brought from there, their eyes screwed, and tongues drooled they looked longingly at our legs. God knows what they ate in a previous life, but they obviously needed a little more house training! 
By now we had looked at over 30 properties, but you know you need that tingle as you walk over the threshold and it was still obviously yet to come! Clutching paperwork at the end of a long day at a bar, a wise old expat eyed us up and asked how our house hunting was going. Seeing 30 properties was chicken feed he said, it took him over 300 to find his property! Bet he was easy to please but ‘chacun son gout’ as they say!

William then dropped into the conversation he had found an independent estate agent in the beautiful village of St Jean de Cole. I was amazed as it was an hour’s drive away, talk about needle in a haystack, anyhow it turned out to be Dutch and we were introduced to Kate, from Ireland. She had lived in France for over 15 years as an employee of the estate agent and did up houses. So, we felt we may be nearing the end of our search.  By now we had a long wish list of requirements ranging from village location with a bakery to having no fosse (septic tank) but mains water. Apparently over 5 million homes in France still do not have mains water. Further, if the fosse they have does not conform you may have to put in a new one (if you can find it!) which cost from 5k euros upwards.

Well, we dutifully handed Kate our list and we were told to come back in 3 days, for she seemed confident there would be some properties to view that fitted our criteria! Our eyebrows raised because that list was quite long!
NEXT EPISODE  – Will we find what we are looking for? To be continued…

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