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Renovation of a derelict house in Brittany

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Well this is it, we’ve done it!!!!!!

We have sold up lock stock and barrel and moved to France, Huelgoat in Brittany to be precise and I would like to welcome you to join us on our adventure, I plan to complete a daily blog (well when the hangover or work do not get in the way) detailing the trials, tribulations and joys of renovating an old town house in to a luxury B&B. You will probably get to hear about the drunken antics, rows and tears as well, but John isn’t too happy about that bit, but hey ho, I’m the one typing!

Let me introduce ourselves, I’m Jenny, I’m 42 in my previous life I was a Quality Management Consultant (great title, I know and roughly translated it meant that I inspected adult social care accommodation). I left work full time approximately 18 months ago to work with John as his labourer come dogsbody, so my family thought I had already had my midlife crisis before setting out on this one.

John is 48 and 4 quarters, he’s still not got his head around being 49 (it was a recent event) and in his precious life he had been a self employed builder for over, well lets just say a very long time.

We met a few years ago and had the same outlook on life and easy going nature, which is going to be essential for living in a house with no water, electric or other essentials. First tip of the day is to be very wary of French estate agent particulars, as we apparently bought a house with electricity and water!!!!!!!! Both had to be switched on but I’ll talk about that later.

Everybody has seen the TV programmes and read the magazines about how fabulous it is to renovate a property abroad, this blog will give you a realistic, detailed account of what it is really like, including leaving children and parents behind, made doubly difficult as one child (she will not be pleased at being called a child) is currently 6 months pregnant with her first child, am I going to be nominated for mum of the year??????

We have travelled around Europe for the past 3 years, the trips getting longer and longer before we realised we did not want to be in England, work was also getting less and less so now seemed to be the perfect time to go for it.

We chose Brittany as the area is stunning and it’s also easily accessible from England, in case we need to go back for any reason i.e. a call from the hospital saying labour has begun. If you are considering moving abroad this is an important consideration, how would you really feel if you have elderly parents or children and it will take a couple of days to get back, I’m not being a kill joy but this is something that not many of the programmes actually mention, and it does need to be considered. The other main reason is the price of houses, our 5 bed roomed town house cost 44,000 Euros and with the exchange rate, roughly translated to £36,000 BARGAIN!!!!! But only because we are going to do all the work ourselves, if you have to employ artisans the price will sky rocket as French builders are extremely expensive, definitely something to bear in mind if you are considering doing this.

We lived in Reddish, Stockport (on the edge of Manchester) and put the house on the market on the 26th May, with the intention of spending 3 months pottering around France and Spain, but unbelievably the house sold on the same day to the first viewer and as an extra bonus they wanted all the furniture. This solved the dilemma of do we take the furniture or put it into storage. The buyers were already well on the way to selling their house and we were told it would complete in 4 weeks. So our 3 month trip turned in to a week trip to find the house in Brittany. We had a number of viewings booked; we had also been earlier in the year and viewed a lot of properties. This was when we realised we did not want to be in an isolated farm and that a town house was a much better first go at renovating in France. The houses in France often have a septic tank (or not!!!) and only houses in towns are connected to the main drains. This can result in a big cost if not doing the work yourself.

The estate agents are also really useful if you give them an idea of what you are looking for, as they will select more properties for you when you arrive. The estate agent we used was fantastic, we emailed during the day and a reply was guaranteed by 9.30pm that night,

There are 2 options when buying in France, you can buy from an estate agent but beware of who is paying the costs. There will also be the Notaire costs to add on, so often the price you see is not the price you pay.

The second option is to buy direct, there are no estate agent fees but you will have to pay the Notaire’s fees. With this option you miss the services of the estate agents, who do work well in France, they also provide excellent aftercare such as liaising with electricity, water, telecom companies etc.

When we found our chosen property, we knew it was right straight away. It is currently a 5 bed, one bath town house with a 500 square metre garden, close to all amenities and only 100 metres from the lake. We cancelled our other viewings and put in the offer, it was accepted and a meeting was arranged with the Notaire.

The Notaire in France is the equivalent of the solicitor in England. The seller has to complete all the surveys and you all meet together to go through the paperwork. This took approx 1 and a half hours (due to having to be translated)

We arrived in France on Sunday 29th July (after spending 4 weeks in Spain) a week at FIB – Festival International de Benicassim. Luckily we also acquired a new tent courtesy of some young Irish girls who couldn’t be bothered to take it down, so a big thank you to you, if you ever read this.

The other 3 weeks were spent at Andy’s, who was our next door neighbour in Reddish until he packed up sticks and moved to Spain. Andy will be joining us for the first 4 weeks to help with the work.

We set up at the local campsite, which looked beautiful, but had an unofficial bedtime of 9pm (this is only a slight exaggeration!!!! The first night was spent at a local bar and a merry time was had by all, until the family next door started to cough at us, ever so polite there was no shut the f**k up, just a very loud and exaggerated cough, which resulted in us coughing back at all those inconsiderate people who got up at 7am and disturbed us, yes we really are adults and not teenagers.

We had hoped to exchange on the 31st but due to our buyers employing the most incompetent solicitors in Manchester this was not to be the case (when I remember the name I will add it to ensure that nobody else has to put up with them).

In total we spent 8 nights at the campsite, and had the campsite police come and discuss our rowdy behaviour, luckily he got the wrong day so we could legitimately say it wasn’t us on that occasion, phew! But one evening the campsite police turned up again to ask me to be quiet; I was on the phone to my daughter!!!!!!!!

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  • Comment Link jenny lovett Wednesday, 13 February 2013 13:15 posted by jenny lovett

    Many apologies for not replying, I have only just been able to access these messages, so wonderful to hear form you all and would love to be in touch with anyone close by.

    Hope you are back in france now KIS, feel free to get in touch :)

  • Comment Link mistyeyes Wednesday, 13 February 2013 12:25 posted by mistyeyes

    Hi Jenny & John
    Welcome to France, Huelgoat is a lovely place to be good luck with your project. I loved your blog very refreshing to hear such positive news and to have so much energy. Good luck John with adjusting with being 49 i have celebrated my big 50 not sure about that because i am still getting used to being 40 in head. We are in our holiday home not far from you and we are going to return to France full time this summer i will follow your blog with interest

  • Comment Link KIS Friday, 21 September 2012 16:17 posted by KIS

    How exciting! I look forward to reading more. I too have done the renovation bit to a couple of houses in France some years ago but had to sell up sadly due to divorce.(not anything to do with France or renovations) I am now with another Francofile and hoping to do it again soon. Currently stuck in the UK so very jealous and still will be even when I read about any problems you are having. I look back on my renovations and know without a doubt that despite the unavoidable stressful scenarios, it is the sense of achievement and the wonderful way of life that you have stepped into that make it all worthwhile. I shall be reading with pleasure. Feel free to contact me. It always helps to hear other peoples similar experiences, stresses or just contacts and support to file away in the "just in case" file. I had loads of unusual scenarios and by hook or by crook found solutions to most :)). I'm an interior designer by trade but these particular renovations were both my own family homes, so it was very personal to me and not business. It places more stress when it is personal because your love is invested in it all. I am also very aware that if you are in rural France it can cause problems with the supply or sourcing of products of quality and at a reasonable cost. Good luck and keep up the blog.

  • Comment Link Diane ANTONE Thursday, 20 September 2012 15:45 posted by Diane ANTONE

    Hi Jenny and John, Welcome to Finistere - I moved to Poullaouen, just ten minutes away from you, three years ago, and have had my house here for 8 years. Suffice to say it wasn't what it was cracked up to be and it has taken all that time to get it renovated, but I am nearly there. I hope things go well for you, Huelgoat is lovely little town in the summer, if you need any advice I might be able to help! Good luck !

  • Comment Link Diane ANTONE Thursday, 20 September 2012 15:21 posted by Diane ANTONE

    Hi Jenny and John, Welcome to Finistere - I moved to Poullaouen, just ten minutes away from you, three years ago, and have had my house here for 8 years. Suffice to say it wasn't what it was cracked up to be and it has taken all that time to get it renovated, but I am nearly there. I hope things go well for you, Huelgoat is lovely little town in the summer, if you need any advice I might be able to help! Good luck !

  • Comment Link jenny lovett Thursday, 20 September 2012 14:39 posted by jenny lovett

    thanks for the advice, we have actually been here for 6 weeks now, but only just got the blog on this site.
    We have a french phone line and inernet insalled, much cheaper than in the UK, the calls to UK landlines (and many other countries) are free! we used skype internet to keep in touch with families, very easy to install and can be used anywhere, just download Skype, it is free if you use video calling (PC to PC)

  • Comment Link Joanne McKean Thursday, 20 September 2012 14:07 posted by Joanne McKean

    Hi, loved reading your blogs. My husband and I are half way through converting a barn not far from Dinan. We can appreciate the working hard and playing hard! We currently still live/work in the UK but travel to France at least once a month but hope to move permanently next year. Would love to hear more about the Skype phone UK number... is it easy to get set up?

  • Comment Link Rogerinfrance Thursday, 20 September 2012 11:59 posted by Rogerinfrance

    Hi, been there done that, well sort of!!
    I would suggest that you have an i depth chat to your marie, it will save trails and tribulations later.
    Also, medical, you somehow need medical, unless you have an old E121, (I cannot remember the new one) then you may have expensive problems!..
    Get THAT sorted BEFORE you move in. You will possibly also need to keep paying in to the UK system, talk to the DWP and Newcastle, again BEFORE dropping the proverbial anchor (legally).
    Do NOT close you UK bank account, try also to get another that has a free card without charges.
    Do also sort out skype, get a skype phone and UK number so that when you get to France people can ring you and not know where you are!
    Give us a shout if you need more, email me and I will give you our UK in France number!

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jenny lovett

jenny lovett

Hi we have recently moved to Huelgoat, Brittany, France from Manchester in the UK. We have bought a semi derelict townhouse which we intend to renovate into a B&B. I will be keeping a daily blog of our trials, tribulations and triumphs.
Hope you enjoy the read

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