Buying A House In France (Part 7)

After the 4th house visit debacle, we became a pair of more experienced house buyers. On the same day we changed our mind on the 4th house, we visited the 5th and the 6th houses. Would one of them, as the French would say, be un coup de coeur, capture our heart?

The Cat House, our favourite house so far.

5th House Visit

We named the 5th house the Cat House. The 107m² house was located at MondéTour, a neighbourhood in Orsay, about 2km from Orsay centre, where we  currently live. The proprietor of the Cat House had five cats of which three of them took the place of their absent owner to welcome us into their house. The unwavering stares from these felines on us as we toured their house made us felt like we were intruding on their privacy (which we did!)

This house was shown to us by the LF agent who helped us to sell our Orsay apartment three weeks back. Ever since he sold our house (and earned a fat commission from it), we had been harassing him to help us with our house search.

Are the birdhouses built for the welfare of the birds or to trap the birds for the five cats?

Of all the five houses we had seen so far, the Cat House was the most aesthetically pleasing. We were welcomed by the sight of a neat little garden as we entered the front gate. A walking path with garden gnomes scattering along it cut through the garden and led us to the front door.

The front door was opened to a living room that enjoyed plenty of the mid-spring sunlight. Bookshelves lined with history books and a few tapestries on the wall depicting scenes from the Middle Ages were the main déco in the living room. The kitchen was small, but homey and it came with a veranda overlooking the back garden which was planted with trees that each had a birdhouse perched on top. The house also came with an independent building that could be transformed into a studio, or a workshop. Last but not least, the house was totally liveable immediately. No refreshing work was foreseen except perhaps for a new coat of paint.

We had a crush on the Cat House itself, but not the location. For one, the house was relatively far from the train station (20min on slope). It was also quite far away from the nearest woods which meant harder for us to trail run. We might be impacted by aeroplane noise pollution since the house was near the Orly Airport flight paths. In addition, we also did not like the neighbourhood planning (houses were aligned in blocks, like an American suburb) and that it had a high population density (relative to Orsay). Moreover, we understood that there were already a few house visits before ours that morning; the Cat House would appeal to many people and thus, even if we were to offer au prix, without any negotiation, the earlier visitors would have the priority. After considering the above, we decided to pass on to the 6th house.  

6th House Visit

The 6th house was also shown to us by the LF agent. It was in Cyprenne, another neighbourhood in Orsay; a two-minute drive away from the Cat House. In fact, the Cyprenne house was separated from the Cat House by few blocks, on the other side of the main road. However, just because it was a couple of blocks away, the houses in this quarter generally commanded slightly higher prices. 

Fancy having just-out-from-the-oven buttery croissants for breakfast?

Even though the 6th house was more expensive, we were more interested in it than the Cat House, mainly because of its location. The disadvantages relating to the Cat House location were absent (almost) from this house. It was next to the woods, nearer to the train station (still a walk of 15 min on slope), had a less blocky neighbourhood planning and a lower population density. In fact, we could get to the centre of Orsay in ten minutes just by cutting through the woods next to the house. I could imagine Silviu running through the woods every Saturday morning to go to our favourite Orsay boulangerie and get us some just-out-from-the-oven buttery croissants.

The house itself was not as cozy looking like the Cat House, but we still liked it.

The current owners had extended the house many years ago. When you entered the house, you could easily distinguish the older part of the house (built in the 1920s) from the more recent addition. For instance, the corridor on the first floor, underneath the bedrooms, was narrower; its ceiling was lower; part of the older structure was supported by wooden beams. These features contributed to the quaintness of the house. Similar to the Cat House, this house enjoyed lots of natural light and the bedrooms were of a decent size.

However, one drawback of the house was the renovation cost we had to put up. The biggest component of the cost came from the kitchen. The existing kitchen was tiny. Since both Silviu and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, spacious was the key word here. That would mean we need to extend the kitchen into the garage space. As for the rest of the house, much work was required. We would need to fix the cracks on the walls, redo the dingy toilets and bathroom, replace the old, weary-looking fitted carpets with parquet floor, and repaint the entire house.

Despite our interest in the house, we could not and did not want to rush with the offer. One reason being that we were still tied to our offer for the 4th house. Secondly, being wiser and more cautious this time, we wanted to estimate the potential renovation cost before making an offer. Thirdly, based on our research in this area and after taking account of the Covid-19 price bump, we believed that the asking price was unreasonably high, and that was assuming no substantial renovation was needed. Even though, the Cyprenne neighbourhood was known to be more expensive, but we did not believe that a 9% higher asking price relative to the ready-to-live-in Cat House was justifiable.

We questioned the LF agent for the logic behind the seemingly unreasonably high price. After our insistent questioning, and perhaps because of our prior relationship (selling our apartment), he was candid with us. He revealed that the asking price was indeed higher than the estimated market value. The current owners quoted the price despite his advice against it; the former were not in a rush to sell the house. They already had a house in Brittany and just wanted to sell this house and retire definitively there.  

A couple of days after our visit of the Cyprenne House, we contacted the LF agent for the second visit to the house so that we could bring a renovator to estimate the cost. In the end, exactly a week after our first Cyprenne House visit, we offered to purchase the house for a price lower than the asking price, even lower than that of the Cat House.

After four days of deliberation, the seller came back with a counteroffer which we considered still quite high, mainly because of the foreseeable renovation cost. On the same day, we replied with a ‘in-between’ price, the average of what our initial offer price and their counteroffer. Hélas, our offer was not accepted.

One thing we learned from the Cyprenne house buying experience was the affirmation that the O agent from the Palaiseau house (the 4th house) was not professional. The key element that separated the two agents was customer service. The LF agent was prompt in his correspondence. It took four days before we got an answer from the seller, but the LF agent had made sure that we were updated regularly.

In the same week, during the ‘ding-dong’ with the sellers, we continued to search for houses. Just because we had offered for a house, it did not mean that we could sit on our laurels. After our experience with the 4th house, we told ourselves that we would rather risk spending a longer time in the house search, and perhaps even rent a house while continuing with our search, than to jump on the first available house.

That said, it seemed that the housing market was getting livelier during that period. We managed to secure two more house visits—7th and 8th — for the day after we counteroffered with the ‘in-between’ price.

7th House Visit

So, on the first Saturday of March, we ventured out with the hope that we would strike gold with one of the two houses we were visiting. The first visit was scheduled at 11:30 in Gif-sur-Yvette. This house was only put up on seloger.com the day before. Since we frequently combed through this popular residential real estate website, Silviu called up the agent for an appointment the moment he saw this 7th house new posting.

Based on the available online information, the house needed quite a bit of renovation, but it had an ideal location and sat on a substantial piece of land. It was situated in Gif-sur-Yvette, one of the neighbouring towns that we really liked, a stone’s throw away from the woods and 10 minutes from the nearest train station.

For a house in this area and of that size, we were surprised to see a price that seemed to be below the market value. There were two possible reasons: the agent did not do his due diligence on the house valuation or that the house was indeed in shambles and needed a total makeover.

We got to our appointment a few minutes in advance and waited before the big, closed gate. From the entrance, we could see 4 or 5 people, in two distinct groups, standing outside the house. They were talking among themselves, and occasionally pointing at the building. They had to be the visitors before us. I was surprised to see such a group of people such size. In these times, usually a tour was limited to two visitors and an agent. We guessed that the two sets of visitors might have overlapped.

The French customer service…or the lack of it has seemed to become a norm in our house search.

At the scheduled time, one member of the group, presumably the agent, walked towards the gate and in a harried tone, asked us the reason for our presence. After we told him our appointment, he stated, in his not very friendly way, that he had already received two offers from the morning visits. He said that we could still proceed with our visit if we like; however, in his not very subtle way he let it be known that our visit would be pointless. The French customer service…or the lack of it has seemed to become a norm in our house search.

Indignant at being brushed away, yet did not want to waste more time on a fruitless visit, we left without further ado. We were going to be early for our next visit which was just a few blocks away, at Gometz-le-Chatel. The 8th house visit deserved a separate post.

The House Search Continues...

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