I have never lived in a house. When I was in Singapore, I lived with my parents in a condominium, a condominium that my parents have been living in for close to forty years. The reason why my parents have never bought a house in Singapore is because they are not Singapore citizens. In Singapore, you do not have the right to purchase a house if you are not a citizen.
Living in a house is NOT a childhood dream of mine. That said, if I am given the opportunity to own and live in a house, it would be ‘super cool’ if the future house resembles one of those pretty houses found in the books I read as a kid or one of those charming village houses that are commonly found in Europe. I don’t need a fancy dwelling. Just a little house that comes with a patch of earth to grow some fruit trees and flowers, a chimney and big windows that allow lots of natural light to pass through.
House Search Criteria
Back to earth, Claudia. You are not living in the Lala Land. You must consider the practical aspects of daily life.
First, since I must travel to Paris at least twice a week, a walking distance away (less than 15 minutes) from the train station is essential. In terms of other practical points, there are more like adjustable “preferences.” For instance, we would like to continue to live in Orsay. Next, the house should be detached, a standalone, and not “mitoyen”; it should not be attached to other houses. A standalone house will minimize the risk of having noisy next-door neighbours. Besides, it will potentially be easier to sell in the future. Then, in terms of size, we hope to purchase a house of around 100m² with three bedrooms, that comes with a total land area of at least 500m².
Considering our budget and looking at our preferences objectively, I didn’t think we were being unrealistic. The agents we talked with had also confirmed that our quest was not unachievable. However, one did not always get everything one desired in life and the current sanitary situation was the biggest hindrance to obtain what we want. Our preferences had to be constantly adjusted to adapt to the various constraints.
We started panicking towards the end of January. The sale of our apartment took place much faster than we expected and we would have to move out by mid-July. Yet, we still had not seen many houses that came close to our criteria. We gradually enlarged our search criteria. First, by increasing our budget… 5%, 10%… That was one point we upped our budget by 30% as our parents kindly agreed to increase their financial assistance.
The generous assistance of our parents was a double-edged sword. A bigger budget meant that we had more options; however, it also meant that we had to fork out a bigger one-time notary fee. The annual property tax (la taxe foncière) which was based on the property value, would increase as well. Thus, getting a more expensive house was not really a viable option in the long run.
We also loosened our criteria by dropping the number of bedrooms and the size of the house/land, exploring towns that were further away from Orsay, getting farther and farther away from the train station. At one point, I was willing (though very reluctantly) to accept the fact that I had to take a bus, instead of able to just walk, to the train station.
At the rate we were going with the house search, it was in all likelihood that we would not have a permanent roof after mid-July.
Waiting For Houses To Change Hands
Even with the easing of the search criteria, the situation did not look up. We had to acknowledge that not many houses in Orsay were for sale. Based on our later discussions with various agents, we underststood that houses in Orsay and some of our nearby preferred small towns like Gif-sur-Yvette or Bures, seldom change hands. These houses were usually sold when the owners—mostly retirees—passed away or moved into a retirement home. Getting a house through this means seemed a little morbid…
Goldilocks’ experience—Right size
Hunting for a house of the right size reminded me of Goldilocks’ experience with the bowls of porridge and the beds. Based on the houses we had reviewed so far on seloger.com, it seemed that the French houses were either too small (two bedrooms/80m²-90m² living space) or too big (five or more bedrooms with 150m² living space) for us. If the house was too small, it defeated our purpose of finding a bigger “prison” for future lockdowns. If it was too big, other than the cost, we would be paying through our noses on the annual property tax and also spending too much time on housework!
We were so desperate that we toyed, at one time, with the idea of acquiring one of those dilapidated houses at a much lower price, and using the money saved to give it a total makeover. Since most people are reluctant to buy a completely-not-ready-to-move-in house, we thought that we would have more house choices. However, we know our limits. Since both of us work and neither of us has any experience in renovation, such an undertaking is due to doom from the start.