We arrived in the Charente late at night on the 11th March 2018, after a long drive from the Alps. We had flown in from Bristol the previous day to Grenoble, where we stayed overnight with my dad. The drive had been long and stressful due to horrendous weather conditions. It also felt as though the excitement and the adrenaline of the previous days had been replaced with tiredness and the realisation of what we had just done. Our househunting journey in France had begun.
Reality started to sink in once we had arrived in the Charente. Our Bristol home had been emptied, and was waiting for its completion date. Our belongings had mostly been sold, the remaining items placed into storage. All we had were a few suitcases between us, to last us up until we found our new French home.
We were in a part of France we had never been to. We had heard lots of great things about it though, and wanted to discover a new area as part of our new adventure in France.
But the first day spent here, I remember feeling tired, sore from driving 8 hours straight in the rain and therefore a little grumpy…
We didn’t waste any time though. It was time to make things happen now that we had finally arrived in France. We went out to speak to local estate agents, checked out the local town and villages, signed up the kids to the local school and started our house hunt.
Falling in Love with the Area
Even on the drive in, despite the light starting to fall at the end of the day, Barry and I fell in love with the Charente stone. We kept pointing out cute stone houses to each other, and immediately agreed how beautiful the area seemed. This was promising start as it was winter, and nearly night time.
We started exploring as soon as we arrived, in between viewing houses. The kids were with us for the first week, and then started at the local school. Barry and I viewed houses whilst the children were at school, and started to familiarise ourselves with the area.
We noticed how open the landscape was. Having lived in the Alps, I never thought I would like a flat landscape, so I was surprised to find it brought a calmness with it. It also helps that even on a grey, rainy day, it somehow remains bright outside. It doesn’t seem to get anywhere near as dark as it did in Bristol on a winter day. Something we remain thankful for to this day.
And then the sunshine arrived in Charente, and the temperatures started warming up shortly after our arrival. Spring seemed to arrive much earlier than it did in the UK, with flowers and trees blooming. We were therefore spending many hours in the garden in just our tshirts, despite having been in snow just weeks before back in Bristol!
We marvelled at every Medieval village we came through, discovered lots of swimming spots we couldn’t wait to try out in the Summer. Pretty much straight away, we fell in love with the area and couldn’t wait to find our new home.
Househunting in Itself
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m a terrible person to househunt with. I was bad enough when just looking for a house to rent in Bristol when Barry and I first moved in together, happily settling for any old house just so I wouldn’t have to look at any more… Luckily Barry would normally help me see sense as to why the said property was not suitable.
I’m pretty much the same when looking to buy a house. I didn’t particularly like our Bristol home when we first viewed it. I still remember Barry’s face when I said so to him after the first visit. Luckily he convinced me otherwise and it was a great family home where our two babies grew up in.
When househunting for our new home in France, I can confirm that I was just as bad!
Our Search in France
We started viewing properties shortly after we arrived. I have discussed our criteria in my previous post. Mainly, we didn’t want a renovation project. Barry and I both had professional projects we were keen to get up and running, and we wanted a house we could simply move into and get on with our new French life.
We also wanted something with character, a beautiful stone house filled with history. So natually, this mainly meant looking at old houses, most of which had a fair amount of work required to make them work for us and our plans. The main query we had to face was therefore deciding whether the amount of work was too daunting or something we could work with (financially but also emotionally).
We viewed so many properties! Most required too much structural work, which we would have struggled to fit within our budget. Others had been on the market for several years and we struggled to see how we could make them a home once again. It got to a point that we would just walk into a house and Barry would know immediately that it was a no. As for me, I kept hoping I would know our home when I saw it, but I was yet to find one that made me think “oooh this could work!”.
That’s until we viewed the cottage, and I finally got the butterflies feeling I had been waiting for!
Initially three cottages, the property had been converted into one big property. The previous owner had started to renovate it but had sadly passed away before completing the work. The work was daunting but at the time we were told it would just be a finishing job, rather than complicated renovation work. It came with a good sized garden, outbuildings, a separate gite and it was in a quiet location all while being close to Verteuil Sur Charente and the N10.
More importantly, as soon as I walked in, I got butterflies and felt excited about all the potential it could offer.
We left feeling it was the one. We made an offer and it was accepted!
Two hours after having our offer accepted, our estate agent from the UK rang to say our buyers had withdrawn from the sale, so our Bristol home had to go back on the market.
It was absolutely devastating. We had to reconsider our plan of action. Should we go back to UK? Should we look for a rental? Were we going to lose the house we had our hearts set on?
Our estate agent in France was brilliant and reassuring. We were convinced we would have to walk away from the house but he held the fort for us.
In the meantime though, the longer it took for us to be in a position to complete our new home, meant paying rent for longer. Our savings were going to strongly suffer because of this. The house we were buying required a fair bit of work so it was crucial we avoided dipping into our savings.
My mum came to the rescue and told us to come stay with them until we had completed on our Bristol home. This was such a relief from a financial point of view. However my reaction was to cry non stop for several days! I remember Barry looking at me worried, saying he didn’t understand why I was so upset and reacting this way.
It is true that I am not one to cry easily, I think this reaction was brought on from all the stress I had been holding in from the previous months. Months spent waiting for a completion date and chasing solicitors who ignored us. Months of living with all our things packed away as we had initially been told that completion would be likely to happen shortly after christmas. Months of trying to put on a brave face and convince my 5 year old that all will be well in the end, just to have her crying and shouting she didn’t want to go to France every single day. I had not really acknowledged any of this stress, and it just came flooding out in tears when my mum told me to come home.
I was uncontrollable, almost unable to speak to anyone, whether it be the school director when I explained we would be leaving in a few days, or anyone else I met. I was a bubbling mess! But I feel as though it had to come out, and once it had, we could start again.
Back to the Alps
On the Sunday 8th april 2018, we once again packed all of our belongings into the car, and left the Charente. It felt heartbreaking to leave.
We drove up to Metz first to see my brother. We then arrived back at my parents a week later on 15th april 2018. I felt so disheartened at being back so soon. We had been so optimistic when we had left the Alps just a few weeks before hand!
We nevertheless got on with it. Barry started working as a gardener. I found a job in a local florist. And the children started at the local school.
Back in Limbo
We were back in limbo. Waiting for completion. Living somewhere we loved but knowing it was only temporary.
We’re so grateful for my parents taking us in and looking after us like they did. We are so lucky they provided us with a safe place to retreat to.
The kids loved being home with their mamie and papy. School was tough as there were no english staff or students at all there, so the children had no choice but to learn French fast!
We kept busy, going on hikes in the mountains. Going to the markets. We visited places nearby we had never been to before. I took Barry and the kids to the villages I grew up in, showing them the schools I went to, the houses I lived in as a child and a teenager. I took them places my parents took me when I was Siena’s age. There was a beauty to it, and despite all the emotions, it felt good to be back in the Alps, surrounded by so much beautiful nature.
We even kept an eye out on properties in the area. But we realised we had already left a part of us in the West of France, and we couldn’t wait to go back.
We finally completed on our Bristol home on 22nd June 2018. I still remember getting the email… we were in a walnut museum (yes that’s a thing!) near my parents, with my brother and sister in law. I couldn’t believe we had finally completed, six months after we had initially been told we would! We were officially cash buyers!
On 24th June, Barry and I returned to the Charente to revisit the cottage and sign the paperwork. We left the kids with my parents, and set off on a mini road trip just the two of us.
However seeing the house again brought with it many different feelings. We were both very quiet as we walked around this time. Seeing the renovation work that needed doing with perhaps a more realistic pair of eyes. Neither one of us said much, and I remember as we drove off, we tentatively started talking, both trying to gage how the other felt. It wasn’t long before we both admitted it didn’t feel right.
Despite feeling pressurised to sign the paperwork there and then, we held off. Whilst it is true we still had a 10 day cooling off period where we could have withdrawn from the sale penalty-free, we wanted to check out all the loose ends before signing anything. We met with the Notaire. We discussed the diagnostics with the company that had carried out the report. The estate agent helped us meet with artisans onsight, one for the fosse, one for the electrics. When the quotes came in, it was confirmed that this property was a much bigger renovation project than we had been told.
We knew our financial limitations, and so decided at that point to officially pull back. Another frustrating set back, but one that felt right and necessary. We hadn’t left our life in the UK to get back in a position where we had to work 24/7 just to keep afloat financially.
Looking Further Afield
We were back to househunting. This time, we with a little more sense of urgency. The kids had been in three different schools already that year. We were keen to find somewhere so we could sign them up for the local school, ready for “la rentree” in September.
Our trip was only meant to be a few days, as we had thought we would be signing the paperwork, and had even visited and signed up the kids at the school in Verteuil sur Charente.
Instead of heading straight back, we decided to take a little detour, and stayed the night in Aubeterre sur Drone, in South Charente. We also took the opportunity to visit some houses there too to see if we had more luck. We saw some lovely houses, but once again, realised we definitely seemed to have our hearts set on the Charente.
Back to Househunting
We eventually returned to the Charente in July 2018, this time determined we would find our new home. We had a few weeks before we were due back in the Alps, as my sister and brother in law were coming over from Australia. We had therefore planned an intensive few weeks of househunting!
Just before we left the Alps, one of the estate agents had contacted me saying they had an administrative job going, and she remembered I had said I was looking for work. So our trip back was also coinciding with a job interview!
As it was now summer, our days were taken up with househunting, swimming in the rivers and nearby lakes, visiting chateaux, and of course attending village fetes and events. All the things we had imagined when we first arrived in March. And it felt grand!
The children were spending all their days outside, and had never been so brown! They made friends, as did we, and we felt as though we were starting to settle in.
Choosing One House
We had seen sooooooooo many houses at this point. It honestly got to a point where we thought “this is ridiculous, we’re going to have to simply pick a house”. We had a few contenders… A Maison de Maitre in Hanc with a huge barn, and an old Priory with amazing character features.
As we were considering whether to put in an offer or not, I got an email from the agent who had offered me the job interview suggesting another property. I remember showing it to Barry saying “it looks alright, should we have a look?”, to which Barry responded “might as well it’s what we’re here for”.
So we went to see the house, and for the first time, Barry gave me a secret double thumbs up as we were walking around. The kids disappeared off to play in the neighbour’s garden, and the cats came up to us for cuddles. It felt… like home. At last!
Our offer was accepted, and around that time I was also offered a job with the same estate agent to start work pretty much straight away. We had found a house, and I had found a job. Everything suddenly came together!
We applied for the process to be accelerated, and stayed in a gite not too far from our new village so that we could sign up the children in the local school, and get them settled in.
Thankfully, the process went smoothly this time and we completed late September. We met the owners who were lovely and made us feel really excited about our new home to be. We accepted to adopt their two cats so the children were happy.
Nearly a year after deciding to move to France, we were home owners in France, on a new journey.
If you read this to the end, first of all well done! It’s not my shortest piece… it was such an emotional rollercoaster! But there were also so many good times. We also got to spend a lot of time just the 4 of us, which really helped us with the first lockdown in March 2020. Luckily all this time together really brought us closer as a family, and we created so many wonderful memories with the children whilst we were travelling all over France. We have tried to keep this going since we settled into our home and can’t wait to travel further afield when the world calms downa little covid wise.
If you are househunting in France and have some questions, whether on our journey or generally, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
If you would like to share your family’s househunting and moving abroad journey on the blog, we would love to hear from you. You can contact us here.