This was our 8th house visit, and the last stop of our ‘Buying A House in France’ quest. We started our house visits in the middle of January 2021, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, and it took us 2.5 months of active house searching before completing our quest.
We visited the 8th house at the end of February, submitted our purchase offer three days later. Our offer was accepted the following day. However, at the time of writing (early July), we are still not the owners. The French paperasse has taken us more than four months to trudge through. If nothing goes wrong, fingers crossed, the last piece of document will be signed on the eve of the French National Day.
Gometz-Le-Châtel, a little town
The 8th house we visited was the second house we visited on that sunny Saturday early afternoon. We arrived thirty minutes early after the incident at the 7th house visit. Even though the 8th house was only a few blocks away from the precedent house, it was situated in Gometz-le-Châtel, a different town from the 7th one. Gometz-le-Châtel was one of the smaller towns in this area with 2,500 residents and located 4km from Orsay.
Unlike the other house visits, we were not provided with the exact location of the house. The agent just told us to wait at a small junction. After finding a parking space a block away from the meet-up venue, we explored the neighbourhood, trying to guess which house it could be. We noted that the photos listed on seloger.com, the online platform where we found the house listing also did not include photos of the house exterior.
It was not uncommon to not include these photos. Reasons for not displaying the house exterior possibly include the exterior not being attractive and sellers not wanting strangers loitering and checking out their homes. Silviu and I could relate to the second reason as running or driving by on-sale houses had been one of our favourite pastimes for the past six months.
Visit Didn't Augur Well
We did not have high hopes for this visit. Firstly, I think our mood was negatively impacted by the 7th house visit (or rather, non-existent visit). Secondly, we were aware that the nearest train station from this part of Gometz-le-Chatel was about 1.7km away. That meant, at least 20 minutes on the descent and a few more minutes on the ascent for my twice-a-week commute to Paris. Thirdly, Silviu recognized a house for sale (through seloger.com) sitting right at the junction. Based on what we could glimpse through the thickly grown hedges, we did not like what we saw; we suspected that this was the house we would be visiting.
Five minutes passed the appointment time. Then almost ten minutes later before a blue Audi slowed down at the junction. A man in his fifties poked his head out to inquire whether we were there for a house visit. After hearing our confirmation and without apologizing for his lateness (which seems to be a typical French trait – lateness and no apologies), he told us to follow him with our car. Hearing that, Silviu and I commented to ourselves with relief, that it could not be the house at the junction that we saw.
We walked swiftly to fetch our car and met him at the junction. The agent made a right turn at the junction, and then climbed up a narrow meandering residential road. Less than a minute later and 20m higher, we stopped directly in front of IT.
When we got off the car, the agent explained to us that the elderly owner was currently in nursing home, and she was under judicial protection. If her absence from the house was made known to the public, it would attract squatters. In France, it is not that simple to have squatters remove from your properties. So as not to attract unsavoury attention, the agent could not put À Vendre sale sign at the house, upload photos displaying the house exterior on seloger.com and give the exact location to house visitors. That was why he chose the junction, and not at the house, to meet.
The first impression was not a WOW… From where we stood, by our car directly in front of the house, the first word that came into my mind was FLAT. Two-dimensional. Perhaps the flatness was due the effect of light on the three principal colours of the house: green, brown, and white. Or perhaps the fact that the all the windows and the doors were closed creating a plane surface did not help to mitigate the flatness. I felt liked I was looking at a drawing on a piece of paper (look at the main photo).
1960s French House
The house was built like a typical 1960s French house: rectangular block with double storeys, a balcony stretching the length of the house and ending with a stair that leads to the ground floor. The compound was enclosed by a green wire fence and a weary looking emerald-green metal gate. From where we stood, we could hardly see the ground floor as it was blocked by the metal gate and the wire fence lined with plants and a bare tree. We could see two wide wooden windows on each side of the house dominating the off-white façade. Between the two windows stood a narrow, dull emerald-green metal door with a tiny window next to it. A few pots of plants dotted the balcony which had a metal handrail running along the entire length.
A Forest Cottage
The interior of the house reminded me of a cottage in the forest because of its dominant wood-themed design. Paquet floors on both storeys; wooden windows; wooden cabinets and wardrobes; tall wooden clock in the living room; big oak dining table with a set of wooden dining chairs; the wooden stairs leading to the ground floor etc. Despite the prevalent presence of wood, the house did not look gloomy. It benefited from the abundance of light streaming through the wide window in the living room and the two glass doors leading to the glass veranda that overlooked the small garden.
A Sink In The Toilet
Like most French homes that I had seen so far, this house had its bathroom separated from the toilets. However, unlike most homes, the two tiny toilets were equipped with wash basins! OMG! When I first came to live in France, I was shocked not to be able to wash my hands immediately after using the little girl’s room. Even the toilet in my current apartment does not come with a wash basin. I have learned to live without this essential convenience, but I still cannot get over the fact that a sink is not a given in a French toilet. You can imagine my amazement when I discovered a miniscule sink being squeezed into each toilet.
Or maybe the owners were just manic about washing hands. There was a small sink in each of the bedroom! Other than the first bedroom that we went into where the sink was in plain sight at one corner of the room, the other three rooms had the tiny sinks behind the doors. We did not realise this quaint feature of the house until we checked behind the doors.
Our Hearts Were Captured
Veranda & Garden
The thing that captured our hearts (or at least mine) was the veranda overlooking the garden. The veranda could be accessed either from the closed kitchen or the dining room. From the veranda, you could see the small but very pretty garden, planted with grass, bushes, flowers, and fruit trees (3 to be precise – think it was peach and apple). We came at a propitious time when the late spring sun rained down on the various shades of green that were dotted with splashes of vibrant colours. The wow factor that was markedly absent at the entrance of the house, was clearly displayed at this moment.
The veranda with the garden. The woods for trail running. Not to forget: a fireplace! I always have a thing for fireplace. I associate fireplaces with the forest cottages featured in the fairy tales I read as a kid, in a world inhabited by dwarves, fairies, witches, elves and other wee folks. Cuddling in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate in the winter is always something that I want to do.
Space, Space, Space
There was plenty of space in this 120m² big house for just the two of us. With four bedrooms (two upstairs and two downstairs), we could turn two to study rooms. Having a study room each would be a luxury! On the ground floor, other than the two bedrooms, there was also space for a workshop, a storage, a small kitchen, and a shower.
Longer Commuting Time
The overall first impression of the house was a positive one, and it met most of our requirements. The only one requirement that we (or rather I) had to compromise was the distance to and fro the train station. The estimated commuting time would increase by 25%, from 30 minutes to 40minutes, and the route was not flat. However, I did not have to do this daily since I only needed to teach in Paris up to three times a week.
A Different Life From Orsay
Other things that we had to sacrifice was the daily conveniences. We could not just pop by the bakery or the supermarket. The nearest amenities were 2km away and they composed of just the basics: a bakery, a supermarket, pharmacy, a hair salon, and the post office. Indeed, life at Gometz-le-Chatel would be quite different from Orsay.
A Good Deal?
The house at its current state was liveable but there were some design changes we would like to make which would require cash. However, the money we ‘saved’ from the selling price (lower than expected as mentioned previously) could be used for the renovation. Moreover, based on the current soaring house prices brought about by Covid-19, we did not believe we could do better for a house of this size in this area.
We visited the house on a Saturday. Like what we did immediately after the 4th and 6th house visits, we ran from Orsay to the 8th house the following day, to explore the neighbourhood and the woods. After balancing the pros and cons during the weekend, and then having had to temper our impatience to offer for the house on Monday (many businesses are closed on Mondays in France), we gave our offer four days later.
Even though we believed the selling price was not unreasonable, we started with an offer 5.0% lower. The agent rejected the offer immediately. He explained that the seller had very recently rejected an offer that was not far from ours. If our offer was to be considered seriously, it would have to be at à prix, no negotiation would be entertained. We got back to the agent soon after at the selling price. Our offer was accepted by the seller the day after.
Our belief that the house price was lower than the current market values, was later confirmed to be correct by the agent. He explained to us that the house was valued at the end of 2019, just before the start of the pandemic. It was based on this end-2019 value that the house was sold at in February 2021. If what the agent said was true, it meant that it took 15 months of French Administration before the house could be put on the market. The timing couldn’t be more fortuitous for us.