Sunday, January 1, 2017

The End of Normal Reloaded

31 December 2016

And so we are at the end of another year.  I shall be ending this blog here and starting a new one for 2017 called Towards a New Normal.

See you there!

Friday, September 23, 2016


Friday 23 September 2016

Sunny 26 degrees

I was out on prospection when my phone rang.  A french lady whose name translated as four poster bed.  Would I like to come and have a look at her house?  I asked her for more information and was it with other agencies so I could have a look at the condition and fittings.  Ah yes, said the lady, but I want to discuss it with you first....

The main reason, of course, I wanted to look at the other agency advert, was to see which agency it was and what was the price being asked.  The agencies chosen by a vendor give useful clues.  

A french person who goes initially for an english facing agency is saying that they want a price which the french will not pay.

A person who has myriad agencies is desperate

I am usually reluctant to go and see a house without finding out in price band the owner wishes to run around but it wasnt far to go so we made an appointment.

A French person normally goes into the local French agencies.  French people like walking into a physical agency, shaking hands and having a real person sitting opposite them at the desk.  They have not taken to the internet in the same way as the English speaking world because of their preference for human contact.  Perhaps, in the future, when all the English speakers have shut themselves away in a hermetic space with only their android phones for company, things will be run by verbose Spaniards and flashy Italians and oh là là French people.  And things will be very different.

But back to Madame 4 Poster Bed:  I found the house easily and it looked presentable.  M4PB had told me it was magnifique - a word which indicated a high price and second most overused word in the French language.  A 19th century property with large extension, brand new roof, garden with mature trees and freshly painted facade and shutters.  A black cat watched me from between the blades of a Yucca plant.

Madame opened the door in a rattling of jewellery and flash of very whitened teeth.  She was a talker.  We went around the house and she didnt draw breath. Was pleasantly surprised.  Apart from the violently custard yellow hall, stairs and landing, the rooms were spacious and the floors were original.  The walls had chalk rendering and matt colours which glowed in the afternoon sunlight. Ornate Indian shutters as bed heads.  Subtle lighting.  No space for storing clothes.  Massive loft.  Large yoga room with bathroom ideal for installing granny at ground floor level or as rented holiday unit.

I measured up and took photos and the lady produced some Earl Grey tea and biscuits and we got down to the business of price.  

I will tell you how the international agency estimated the price so you can see how it is calculated; said the lady.  

It is 1400-1600 euros/m2 in this village; I replied.  Was it xxx agency?

Yes!; said the lady; and that is what they used for their base of calculation.  

I felt much happier - perhaps for once they had not gone for an utterly bonkers price.  But no....

The lady continued... And then they added on an amount for my very large loft space.  And then they added on the price of the land....

I was almost stunned into silence.  But Madame, the average price is for the totality!  A house does not come without land - it does not float in space.  A house has a roof and under that roof is often a loft.  

The owner looked at me and I looked at the lady N'est pas? I added.  The lady was upset.  She had trusted this agency and as a consequence, her house was on at a price of 1950/m2.  She was a single widow who could not afford her mortgage.

And I was suddenly very angry.  What sort of service do this agency think they are providing?  True, they had found her a 'buyer' but with not enough cash and in his early 60's so unable to borrow enough money to make up the difference. And six months had passed and, with it, the Spring and Summer clients.

This lady believed in the myth that English speaking buyers are rich, that they are willing to pay 'top dollar', that they love old houses and are just desperate to spend their time doing them up.  In reality, this is no longer the case. 

In the early 2000's yes, people did snap up old houses and pay prices which astounded the locals but since then, prices have risen significantly.  People 'blame' the British for pushing up prices.  But who was asking the price - who was seeing how much they could achieve for Granny's old ruin in the back of beyond?  Brits dont come along and insist on paying as much as possible.  They are savvy. Americans and Australians drive a very hard bargain. No one is anyone's fool.

I had always wondered how this particular agency arrived at its prices.  Having suspected for years that they just asked the sellers how much they wanted, I now realised that it was all just calculated.  Calculated to thrill the vendors. Calculated to make the other agencies look mean and stingy.  Perpetuating the myth.....

I persuaded her to drop the price somewhere nearer the upper average market price and left with the mandat in my bag and a heavy heart.  Not for myself and the difficulty of getting people over the doorstep but for the lady, alone in her large house and with her unrealistic dreams of the 'big' buyer.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


21 September 2016

Sunny 20 degrees

After the violent storms of last week, all of the sticky heat has gone and the air is delightfully cool with the temperatures hovering between 16 and 20 degrees during the day.

When we came back from the UK, our batch of swallows had departed.  I missed being dive bombed by them in the evenings and their chirruping conversations on the phone wire next to the bedroom window.  However, a few days later, a new crowd arrived and they are fat and healthy and fill the skies above our house; like tiny flecks of soot from a lively wood fire.

Work wise has been busy but most of the contacts have not even put their houses on the market.  And they dont want to raise bridging loans.  They want to get a 'feel' for the market.  They can go and feel someone elses properties. The thing is: I tell my vendors that I will only bring around clients who have cash in the bank or know that the bank is willing to extend credit.  Why do other agents show house after house to people with no money?  In the early days, we used to charge people 100 euros to show them houses and if they bought, we refunded them.  If people didnt want to pay, they went and got a feel elsewhere.  99% of people who paid the fee then went on to buy.  The market, alas, has now changed.  There is a lot of stock and far fewer buyers.  Properties can take years to sell.  OH is lagging about doing the necessary work in our house and I wont put it on the market without it being in top condition.  I do very, very sincerely hope that it doesnt take years to sell.  I am sad without the children and I cant face doing the garden.  I have a visceral hatred of housework.  Being in the UK gave me the longest break I have had in 13 years and it was bliss.

Back to the moutons....

1.  The Swiss couple who came to see a house in the north of my area.  Very tall.  I felt like I was standing in a hole.  Came back within the week and said they wanted to show it to their children.  I thought this was just a formality and so did the owners.  The children came and hated it.  Went away feeling very depressed.  Since then the parents have come back to me and are waiting for the Mairie to answer their queries about building loose boxes on the land.  

Yesterday the owners rang and said they had another person interested and he had been shown by an agent who hadnt got around to dropping the price of the house from its rather startling starting point.  I tell the Swiss couple this and they say they will not make a decision until they have heard from the Mairie and the owner is free to sell to whomsoever he wishes in the interim.

Why do people never believe agents?  I am not making up this other buyer and feel miffed they were shirty.  Then, when as often happens, the other interested party goes aheads and secures the property, my clients are then very upset.

2.  The French couple who offered on the scary Chateau.  Are we any further ahead on this?  One year after he contacted me originally, the potential purchaser has discovered that the French banks wont lend him any money at all and especially not the 700k he wanted to borrow.  So he is selling all of his property around the world in order to finance the purchase.  How long will all this take?  I hope they are in places where properties sell very, very quickly.  I have a few 'buyers' who live in these places.  God knows, I would prefer being an agent there rather than here.  Wherever it is....  

3.  The French couple who offer on every house they see.  These people are bad for my nerves.  I showed them a house near the coast.  They loved it.  They wouldnt find better than this; said the lady.  We will make an offer; said the man.  I negotiated and we came to an agreement.  We will come back; said the man.  We must see other houses to make sure; said the lady.  

One week later they came back and told me that they had offered on a couple of houses near the coast but had been knocked back.  Within minutes, they had gone off the first property I had shown them.  There was too much work to do. The decking was buckling.  Was the house also structurally unsound?

We stood outside and they smoked many cigarettes.  I got on the phone and found another house to show them.  They loved it.  They wanted to come back to see it.  And they did and they still loved it and actually signed a written offer.

I can just see myself here; said the lady.  She was wearing the colour of lipstick which makes a very young Goth look good and someone of a certain age look like an autopsy subject.  Her jewellery rattled and she waved her cigarette expansively in the direction of the flower borders.  So little work to do; she sighed.  Has this woman never gardened?  Gardens around this neck of the woods are beasts which are just waiting to spurt in every direction.

4.  The retired French couple from my town.  After having sold to Miss Tea, I showed them a flat belonging to another agent in town.  Compromis set for next Friday but bxxxxd notaire is insisting on seeing us in a town 60 kms away.

A suivre....

Thursday, September 15, 2016


14 September 2016

You may be wondering what happened to Mr Wearing, did the couple buy the dive and are people still buying in France following the UK's ill advised and potentially catastrophic decision to leave Europe (you will note I am pinning my colours to the mast here)?

Well, Mr Wearing did manage to complete all of the paperwork, get all of the monies over to the notaire, and come and sign and purchase .... at the end of last month when we were still in the UK.  I stepped back from the dossier when they started arguing over the furniture and left them to sort it out.  So job done and cash in the bank.  Happy times.

The couple were horrified at the dive and are still looking - the Pound has fallen against the Euro - down from 1.44 when they first started looking and as at yesterday 1.19.  They are still fixed on having a lake and gites.  The lady is still terrified of all air and water based forms of transport.  But it is the man's dream...

Speaking of dreams; you may not be aware but when a buyer starts talking of dreams, an estate agent's heart sinks.   This estate agent wants a realist in front of her - someone who will know what they want when they see it and has cash in the bank to buy it.

This week has brought realists and dreamers.  Yesterday's couple were definitely of the second variety.  

We had arranged to meet at 11 am.  Time ticked on.  Commune workers were dismantling the marquee from the weekend's concert.  People came and went from the Mairie and the Tourist Office.  The sun started heating up the tarmac. After 30 minutes and no answer from the client's phone, I started to think of going.  An English car drew up outside of the Tourist Office and a man staggered out.  I went over and stood next to the car.  The lady in it smiled and carried on looking at her mobile.  I tapped on the window.  Are you Linda?  It was....  I said that I had been ringing her and she said she had had the volume turned right down on her phone.  She didnt like the ringtone.  
There was a massive Hound in the back of the car.  Her husband staggered back out of the Tourist Office.  I had a bad feeling

They had got horribly lost.  Despite having the full name of the commune, they had only put the first of the three words of the name into the Sat Nav.  It had given them a choice of six communes.  It was by sheer chance that they had arrived in the right one.  By the end of the day, I was wondering how they ever made it out of their front door.

We were now very behind schedule so I said we would walk to the first house. They got the dog out of the car.  The mercury was heading for 30 degrees and it was panting like a steam train.  The house was only 200m but it took about 20 minutes as the man seemed incapable of walking and talking at the same time. Finally we got there and I let them into the garden and opened up the house. After 20 minutes, when it was apparent that the lady hated the house and the man wouldnt stop talking, I went and got my car and we drove back to theirs and onto the second viewing.

We were there a very very long time because they couldnt take the dog in and I had to show first one and then the other and they said they loved it.  I had had another couple who had also loved it until they had discovered the existence of an American sect just up the road (thanks a bunch, Google) which was news to me.

We went for a drink in town.  There were a lot of wasps about and I suggested that water would be a good idea rather than coke.  They ordered coke and fanta and we spent the rest of the time together being attacked.  Was aghast to find that they have not actually sold their house, despite having been told that they had, and that they had had no visits since May.  I asked to look at it.  I have seen Phil Spencer Secret Agent and Selling Houses with Amanda Lamb.  Surely it cant be that difficult to give some helpful pointers....

The man found the agent's ad on his phone.  The facade was attractive if you like Mock Georgian but oh dear, the interior.  Downstairs was plain to the point of austerity.  Upstairs was madly floral with the most bizarre beds.  Were they four posters for midgets?  Had he ran out of wood?  They certainly drew the eye.  The windows were infested with Laura Ashley's finest.  The garden was just lawn and paving slabs.

They looked at me expectantly.  The man actually stopped talking for once.  The Boxer panted in my direction.  I was thinking 'oh shxt, why do I get myself into this situation?'  I had to draw on my very slight reserves of tact and diplomacy. Some quick thinking was required.  I started off by asking them who were their target market - a young couple with children...   OK what style of decoration would they find appealing - contemporary.  Yes.  I showed them the picture of the front room with its vast expanse of olive coloured carpet and the furniture shoved back against the walls and the tiny fireplace, like a pimple on the wall.

It is good for the dog to run around and I dont like clutter; said the lady.  Yes but we have to see it from the view of a potential buyer; said the man.

I told them they needed to inject some character into the front room - delineate areas of activity, cut up the expanses with furniture and rugs.  Put a seating area into the garden (they drew the line at any form of plants or trees because of the dog), tone down the bedrooms and put the midget four posters into storage.  What the MFP actually needed was a quick trip with a chainsaw...

They left and I got back home and OH had gone fishing.  Made a huge omelette with onions, green and red peppers, chorizo and mushrooms.  Green salad. White wine.  Sat outside together and noticed for the first time in an age that there were no swallows.  We had all been going South.  Dragonflies still overhead like small helicopters.  

The evenings are drawing in and there is a smell of storm on the air.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

DON'T FAINT WITH SHOCK but I am back to blogging....

14 September 2016

Terrific storms in the night and hopefully end of canicule: 20 degrees

Dear readers, first of all my hearty apologies for having abandoned you since the 18 of May.  It went like this:

1.  It was a Thursday and I had passed an enjoyable day at the market, drinking coffee, finding interesting buttons and reassuring people that I had not (yet) retired. My phone rang and it was SFR - did I want the same contract as I have at the moment but at 15 euros a month less?  I said I did, agreed to the new contract and went home.  The internet went off at 3 pm and with it, the telephone.

2.  It was then the normal parcours of events - SFR rent from France Telecom so the SFR technician had to come out and check nothing was wrong in the house - he found nothing so FT then called out engineers.  They are always called for a Saturday and come from Bordeaux which is absolutely hours away.  They fiddled up the phone post for ten minutes and then got back in the van.  I barred the route and they told me they would be back.  They weren't and neither was our internet and telephone.  Bastards

3.  Nine weeks went by and dozens of phone calls to complain - often to people who understood nothing.  No notes seemed to be on file.  No one could tell me what was happening.  Could I cancel the contract for non delivery.  Oh no, Madame, you have just contracted for two years.  It would cost you 550 euros to cancel.  They cannot grasp the fact that my mobile doesnt work when I am at home.  They would ring me back and could I stay next to my mobile in the interval.  Oh yes, I just love hanging around for someone not to ring me.  Which they didn't.  Utter bastards.

4.  I find out about Brexit and am horrified and have to go to the end of the lane to express my rage and frustration.  Go down town that evening and not a single sodding bloody stupid Brit in the bars is talking about it.  More about Brexit in another post

4.  After seven weeks I get a phone call finally saying that they can't fix it and SFR will cancel the contract.  I wait a further week and nothing comes in the post and I ring back again and find that my mobile has been blocked.  Go to the neighbours house and rage at them and am told that my 'new' supplier will take over the lines.  Insist on seeing evidence that my contract is at an end so they finally send me proof

5.  Join France Telecom and discover because my contract has officially been cancelled, my landline no longer functions and I need a new one.  I am still giving it out to all my former contacts. 

6.  The new modem doesnt work so France Telecom come out and find that I have a rusty wire and a dodgy filter and that is all that was the problem.....  I hate SFR with a passion.

So we were back online but, in the intervening period, we seemed to have acquired yet another property and this time in the UK.  A delightful early 20th century end of terrace in the north west of England.  So we went there for a month and avoided getting our head boiled and fitted it out with furniture and effects.  It was rather like starting out all again and wonderful not to have to bring all the accumulated effects of our 30 years together to clutter up the lovely polished floors.

And so here we are and it is September and the heat wave has finally broken and clients are back so game on.  Normal reloaded.....

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

FAINT HEART DOESN'T CHANGE COUNTRY (or you can change the well but you cant change the water

18 May 2016

18 sunny periods

How are things with Mr Wearing?  I hear you ask.  Well, after only just a very long time, we are signing the reservation contract on Friday.  Providing he can get his power of attorney over to me on time.  And pay the deposit.  Yet more things for my ever healthy and ever growing list.

And the scary chateau?  The buyer is over again next Thursday and, despite my having prodded the french resident brother many, many times we do not have the diagnostic reports and consequently the notary hasn't drawn up the reservation contract.  This is top on my list.  He will appreciate my tenacity, if nothing else.

I have been very busy bringing on new property - largely stimulated by the promise of lots of euros in a company sales incentive.  A couple of weeks ago, a lady rang me up.  A friend of a friend had recommended me.  It is a good thing I was sitting down when I heard the name of the friend because it was a former seller with whom I had endured a tortured ten month sale at the end of which, and in front of the notary, he had refused to pay more than fifty percent of the agency fees.  I have mentally stuck him full of pins over the intervening two years.  The lady said I must come and sell her house so I went to see it.

The gardens were stupendous, with rhododendrons and arum lilies and palms and tree ferns and huge fish ponds, a lake and wonderful arboretum.  The passion of the lady's husband, now shuffled off this mortal coil.  Inside the house was rather horrific.  Brown wood absolutely everywhere.  The three gites, let out for an average of 350 - 450 a week, were not somewhere I would even overnight.  The bathroom suite was avocado.  The wallpaper was tartan or Tarzan.  Some of the ceilings were drooping, showing the laths underneath.  We sat on the terrace under the bignone  (see pic) and she showed me photos of the garden in all months of the year.  Eight foot high daturas.  Azaleas. Bamboo. This was one of the rare properties where I have thought - yes, we would have bought this....

So, when an English couple rang and said they were looking for somewhere for themselves and their four children and the mother in law, I sent them the pictures and the lady rang me up.  I raved about the gardens and how they could walk to the river, and the lake, and the peace and quiet and no car noise or dog noise or break ins (they live in Essex) and we booked an appointment.  'I am 40 something' said the lady 'and I haven't lived'.  I thought of the owner of the house, 40 years and had never travelled other than vicariously through her visitors.  One trip to Italy on her honeymoon and decided she didn't like abroad. Would her house resonate with the English lady?

I spent the morning with a lady who showed me her house, told me about many things completely unrelated to her house, made me coffee, let me measure up and take photos, before telling me that she was suing the former owner for having not declared that the electric was dodgy, the heating didn't work, there were termites in the house etc.  I had been getting my sales contract form out of its case.  I put it back in.  Either she sells the house or she sues the former owner.  You cant do both.  Suing the former owner can take up to three years and even if she wins, there is no guarantee that the former seller, who is in his 70's, would pay her a penny.  She said she would have to think about it and would ring her advocate.  I said, in my experience, the only thing advocates were interested in were their fees.  Left, feeling hacked off.

Back home and had lunch and siesta and then it was time to run out to meet the English couple.  They were a very long time.  The man had never driven in France before.  The lady had never been on a plane (or a boat).  She was white and shaking and had cried all of the way over.  They had a quick drag on their roll up cigs and then we went to the house.  I decided to start off with the gardens and grounds.  No point in horrifying them too early with the inside. They were enchanted.  We then went in the first gite 'oh my God' exclaimed the lady 'it's a dive!!'.  I am not sure what the man thought because OH whipped him around the outside to show him that the roof was new and in good condition.  

Went to look for a bar and everything was shut so took them back to the motorway and they left to go to their hotel about an hour away.  Had beer and pizza in the garden and listened to the birds singing in their roosting places and the moon shone three quarters in the blue and paling skies.

Will the lady have the guts to go for France?  Is her OH up for the renovation? Will the fact that the price is 100k lower than anything else they are looking at have major impact on their deliberations?  The moon had no answers so we went in and left the evening fold gently over our house.