Buying A House In France (Part 5)

Over four months from January to April 2021, we visited a total of eight houses. The following recounts three of our experiences.

House Visits

1st House Visit

On Saturday, 15 January 2021, we did our first house visit. Since it was our very first visit, we were super excited despite the gray winter sky on the late Friday afternoon.

The house was situated in St Rémy-les-Chevreuse, a town 10km from Orsay. The house prices in this area were generally lower per m² than those in Orsay. Based on the high housing demand indirectly caused by the pandemic situation, we were more likely to get a house in St Rémy-les-Chevreuse than in Orsay. That said, this house was till 5% above our initial budget.

At the wooden garden gate, before entering the house, our agent, a lady in her late forties or early fifties, handed us a pair of blue, disposable plastic shoe covers each. Both Silviu and I were both slightly amused as we had never seen such covers. 

The owner of the house, a widower in her seventies, was present. Fortunately for the agent and us, she was not one of those meddling house owners who followed the visitors around the visit, and commenting on every single feature of the house. For us, as we would feel awkward with the owner watching our every step and that it would deepen our discomfort of being intruders (which we were). For the agent, as we understand that some owners, could unwittingly made comments about the house that depreciate its value in the eyes of potential buyers. 

I was surprised to find the fireplace lit even though the temperature wasn’t that cold (around low-teens). However, since I have never had a fireplace, who am I to judge what’s the best temperature to use a fireplace. 

The warm glow from the fireplace and the heavy wooden furniture created a cozy ambiance. As we toured the living room, we contemplated the house potential, the possible changes that we could make to the house. For instance, the current owner had covered up one of the side doors. If we were to buy the house, we would re-install the door, by putting a patio-door to brighten up the living room. 

The tour did not take long. The house was well-cared for, and not many changes needed to be made (except putting back the door). Besides, it came with a enclosed glass veranda where I could envision myself having breakfast leisurely on the weekends; a biggish garden where I could grow and handpick herbs and fruits; and its own built-in barbecue pit (prefer that to store-bought pits). 

However, we found that the rooms were quite small, especially the one under the slanting roof. In that room, you (even the 1.57m me) had to walk in the middle of the room if you would like to walk upright. If you walked slightly to the left or the right, you would have hit your head on the ceiling. This was definitely a room suitable for children. A solicitous host would not banish her guest to this room. In addition, we did not like the fact that the house was situated along a small but busy road that links the neighbouring towns.

The agent mentioned that someone had already given an offer which was currently under consideration by the owner. As such, we should quickly submit an offer if we were interested. The house did kinda of prick our interest, but we did not and could not seriously consider it because we had yet to launch the sale of the house at the time of the visit. We did have a budget in mind, but that budget could disappear in a puff of smoke if the apartment sale was unsuccessful. Seeing that houses were currently snapped up like hot cakes, we were certain that it would no longer be on the market soon by the time we sold our apartment.

For whatever reason, the house was not sold as fast we thought it would be. Two months after our visit, it was still listed as available for sale on seloger.com. Moreover, the price had dropped by 5%. 

2nd House Visit

Even the exterior looks dismal. (Photo: seloger.com)

The second house we visited two weeks later was a 77m², three-bedroom house built fifty years ago in Bures-sur-Yvette, a small town of 10,000 habitants, next to Orsay. We were very familiar with that area as it was one of our favourite running playgrounds. The house was way smaller than what we would like (100m²) but we were hoping to be able to extend it, given that the cost was 10% below our budget. 

Any hope we had for the house took a tumble the moment we stepped into it. We entered the house through a small, cluttered veranda that was connected to the kitchen. Just before we entered the kitchen, the agent pointed to us a toilet at the corner of the veranda. I did not actually poke my head into the toilet but, just by standing near the entrance was enough to deter me from examining it in detail. I could see that the toilet was tiny and badly lit, and feel the dinginess emanating from it. I guess first impression does count.

The photo is not from the house, but it is a relatively good representation of what we saw.

Our hope was not re-ignited as we continued with the house. It did not seem like a house ready to welcome new owners: the shabbiness of the house décor and the piles of electronic gadgets (cables, keyboards, CPUs, televisions etc) at the different corners of the house. Moreover, the house looked like it was in a permanent state of renovation. The current owner seemed to have tried fixing up the house but gave up halfway; we could see the remnants of the half-done work in the kitchen and a child’s bedroom. 

The tour gave us an insight into the life of the owner (a man in his forties who was present during our visit). He was likely to be a hoarder working in the IT field (explaining all the electronic gadgets in his house) and who recently got a divorce. Because of his divorce and his children likely to be staying with his wife, he decided to stop the house renovation, and sell the house. 

It was a shame as Bures-sur-Yvette was a town we would love to live in, even more than in Orsay.  The town had a livelier scene than Orsay, and it had more green space to run in. 

3rd House Visit

We went back to St Rémy-les-Chevreuse to visit the third house. The location of this house was ideal as it was just five minutes away from the station. It sat on a parcel of 700m², which met our criterion, but the house itself was small measuring 80m². From the exterior, the compound looked idyllic as the house was designed like a colonial-type chalet, surrounded by palm trees. However, the size (only one bedroom and an office) and the paucity of natural light were a big no for us.

In retrospective, we visited these the first houses more for the desire move away from our desktop research and do some on-site house searching. We knew that intuitively, even before our visits, that these house were not what we had in mind. 

4th House Visit

The fourth visit…Well, the fourth visit deserves a post on it own. We will get into it in the next post.

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