Try before you buy they always say don’t they? And prior to moving to France, I would have said nah just pick a region, google it and job done. You don’t really need to live somewhere for 6 months/one year to know a place – everything can be found on the internet. Oh, what an amateur. Yes, you can find out loads from the comfort of your own living room, prior to moving (well just about anywhere in the world) but you don’t really know a place until you’ve actually lived there.I did find out lots about schools and services before we arrived. I pretty much orchestrated the majority of our move via my laptop. But I was totally oblivious to the fact that:-
Some areas have NO mobile reception. Yes, the last time I checked France is a first world country but yarp this one can take you back a bit. Don’t believe me – then read all about my mobile woos here
Do you want to be a slave to your land? “Oooooh you couldn’t buy this amount of land in the UK” they often say. Absolutely. But guess what? You’re not in the UK! I always find this statement to be a bit of a nonsense. So yes, tempting as it might seem to buy somewhere with masses of acres, you still need to maintain it plus who’s looking after the animals if you go away? Not me that’s for sure.
Flies. The first thing I noticed here in the summer (so gawd knows what it’s like down South) is that farm animals = flies. So if you’ve rented a property and thought living next door to the farmer who has a whole heap of cows was charming – you at least have a chance to have a re-think. Don’t get me wrong many people do and have invested heavily in their fly squatting equipment. The most effective are the unsophisticated sticky spiral things that drop down from your ceiling. A great addition to any kitchen. A collection of dead flies swirling above the kitchen table.
Do you really want to have to pop in your car to get some bread every morning? Whilst this is all quite quaint on holiday – I suspect the novelty will wear off pretty darn quick or this may be your ideal of heaven. Peace and quiet. Again, try before you buy. You might surprise yourself. There’s rural and there’s back of beyond.
We bought our property on a whim and luck would have it we are not in the village, less than 3 miles down the road, that has a mini micro climate. In all seriousness, some days I come out of my house, drive to the next village and it’s snowing, fog, rain, fog and rain – who knew?! Not only that sometimes it has it’s very own black cloud directly above. You know, like in a cartoon? I had no idea.
There are other considerations – this area isn’t totally crime free, being more isolated you can be targeted by burglars. We know of someone that has been done 3 x now – granted it’s a holiday home but when they clear you out they really clear you out. This is why so many people have guard dogs.
So why am I telling you all this when we didn’t rent at all before we bought?! Well because I’d like to speak a bit about renting in France. Although we bought the property in 2004 we needed to rent somewhere whilst Mr Normandy was renovating. So here goes.
French Estate Agents
Firstly, I have yet to come across a French Estate Agent that will return your email. They may exist but I haven’t found one yet. If you are trying to find a property and it’s listed by a French estate agent you’ll need to phone. Even then they may not get back to you but persevere. It is actually harder than it may seem trying to find a place to rent. I would also recommend the local newspaper of your chosen region.
I would google ‘a louer’ and then Normandie and various local papers would come up with details. However, again it was very hard to get a response and if time is an issue it might not be practical to go out and visit estate agents to find a place to rent. Also French tenancy agreements tend to be for 3 years although business is business and I’m sure you can find one with a shorter agreement. A paper version of your local rag is also a good way to find properties.
The Kitchen Sink
Say what? When a property is unfurnished in France it seriously comes without the kitchen sink. Many properties are stripped so bare you have to install a kitchen. This is a major downside and the reason why many plump for the next option.
British Gite Owner
Now this is what we did. I initially made contact with lots of gite owners via home and away. There are so many gite owners across France – if you are looking at renting off season you will almost certainly find a suitable property. It makes good business sense for the owner. However, be aware that just because an owner is British this doesn’t guarantee you won’t be taken advantage of.
Firstly, they’ll be aware that in France you have serious tenancy rights after 3 months of living there plus you can’t get kicked out in the winter months. Also, here in Normandy many stone cottages are not propertly heated. Yes, that log burner looks like it’ll warm the whole house up. No it won’t. Many do not have adequate central heating so if the rent looks cheap plus bills find out how much wood you’re likely to go through, oil and if there’s a night tarif for electricity. Electric is cheaper on some tarifs in the evening so you might get a nasty shock if you’ve been wacking on the washing machine during the day like you would in the UK.
Many gite owners are honest and nice but there are some that will see you as fresh money (as some are quite desperate for the cash) and take advantage irrespective of whether or not you’re a Brit.
Make sure you get a contract in French. Pay the deposit via cheque. Ask what the tarifs are for the electric/water and how many gas bottles they get through. All these questions should not be a problem to a good gite owner. Naturally if you are staying for a long period there has to be allowances for general wear and tear. Does the property have a mobile signal? Your bank may give you a code for bank transfers. Does it have wifi? What’s the speed?
We had a bad experience with our first rental. I signed a contract to say we would be there for 2 months, a month out of the property and then back in with no expiry.
The property seemed perfect as it could house all our belongings from the UK – so we didn’t need storage. However, it became apparant very quickly, that the property was in a poor state. The heating was non existant and whilst it was hot outside it was freezing inside. It was damp and ruined many of my items even seeping through plastic container boxes, lots of flies, there were no taps in the bathroom? You had to fill it up with a shower head! I could hear mice every night scurring about above our bedroom and the list went on. I didn’t complain as it suited us to have the storage facilities and we thought we’d put up with it.
Also we were meant to move back in after a month as the owner claimed to have a booking. When in reality they had no intention of us ever moving back in as there is no way the property would be legally habitable in the winter. So, unbeknown to me I had booked a cottage just up the road (from a lovely, decent honest couple) which had no wifi or mobile. I figured it was in the summer holidays and we would make do and get back to the old place. This caused us a lot of problems as we were in the height of getting services connected. Thankfully we had wonderful neighbours who allowed us to use their wifi.
Then the owner sprung it on us that we couldn’t move back in. To be honest we had no intention of doing so as it was so dire. We had had to bide our time so that we could move our belongings into our unfinished house. Mr Normandy was under a lot of pressure to get it water tight. During that time we just kept relations amicable until we were in a better position.
After paying the extortiant bill for electric and water, I never once saw what the rate was – just how much we used and that equals this magical number. To add insult to injury, the owners wanted to charge us 20 hours cleaning and came to a figure of 300 euros! Let us just take a minute. 20 hours of cleaning. Like seriously how could you even write that without hanging your head in shame. Which I most certainly told them of this in a scathing email.
By the way, they were divorced so the wife was doing all this from the UK although keeping up the facade that she was inbetween countries. Oh, I forgot to say the money also went into her daughter’s account – no trace then you see.
I had an instict that they would try and turn us over so I filmed and photographed the place as I left it which, quite frankly, was cleaner than when we arrived. To cut a long story short – not for the first time I had to write a very
aggressive strong email to get my money back. To be honest, it felt good to say “and another thing” about that god awful property. Mr Normany also made a visit and sure enough we got the best part of our deposit back. I wouldn’t mind but I see the owner driving around regularly and it takes my best self control not to throw a duster at him whilst driving past shouting “shouldn’t you be cleaning you utter “£$££”!” but I’m 44 and have 3 kids so my inner Reggie has to stay contained.
We then had to move out of the temporary rental – which was extended by a month with no contract. The reason being is sometimes you do get a great instinct about someone and this couple couldn’t have been more helpful or kind to us.
Enter another lovely couple who said we could move in with no expiry, same rent plus bills. Against my own advice I didn’t get a contract as you feel a bit bad asking. However, whilst the property was great and they were very fair with the bills etc – three weeks after moving in we were told actually could we be out the second week of December as family were coming to stay. Fair enough but would I have moved my children for a third time had I been made of aware of this? No.
The moral of this story is to get a contract and don’t assume everyone is nice and helpful. Ultimately they are looking out for their own interests and not yours. Not all but some.
Facebook Groups/Anglo Websites
A shout out on facebook groups like these will see a response and you should be able to get a lead from here. However, please apply the above advice!
Also don’t forget your local Mairie – they will often have details of local properties available for rent or even a house that belongs to the commune that is available for this purpose.
Below are some more comprehensive guides on renting in France without references to Reggie Kray.