Anyone who has ever bought a house knows that the process is not an easy undertaking. Complications spike when you are buying your first house in a country where you are still trying to get your head around the various antiquated French administrative processes, speaking a language that you are not totally at ease with, and facing a global pandemic. For the next few posts, might be 4, 5, 6 or…depending on how many twists and turns we get ourselves into, please join Silviu and I in our house hunt in France.
Current Living Space
It’s not our first time buying a real estate property in France. We bought our current apartment in 2018, two years after we arrived in France. It’s a 75m², two-bedroom apartment in the centre of Orsay, a town of 15,000 inhabitants, 30km away south of Paris.
The apartment is spacious enough for two, with a balcony encircling it. It’s 10 minutes away from the train station that takes about 50 minutes to get to Paris. Basic conveniences such as the post office, bakeries, hair salons and doctors are just a few steps away. Last but not least, there is a lot of greenery in this area and the apartment is just a stone throw’s away from the woods where we do our trail runs. That’s nothing much to whine about the location.
Reasons Why For Buying A House
There are a few reasons why we decide to move into a house, especially only three years after we got our apartment.
The global Covid-19 pandemic is the key impetus. Like many French, we crave for a bigger accommodation with some personal green space after having lived a year of complete and partial national lockdowns. In the event of more lockdowns in the future, a bigger and more verdant prison would definitely be more comfortable.
It’s also because of Covid-19 that we realise that it’s impossible for us to keep sane with the upstair neighbour that we have. The thin walls and the boisterous, inconsiderate young adult with his regular late parties drove us up to the walls during the first two lockdowns in 2020.
We also have a next-door neighbour whom we very rarely see, and his existence was first made known to us by the nocturnal commotion that filtered through the thin walls. Every few months, we can hear some screams and shouts in the middle of the night passing through our bedroom walls. Sometimes, this noise is accompanied by a din that seems to be caused by furniture being moved. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it would mess up our sleep.
Last but not least, we have neighbours who
- left a trail of broken eggs along the corridor. If it’s an accident, the culprits should have cleaned up the mess. Silviu and I studied the trail pattern of the eggs, it seemed to be done intentionally.
- peed in the lift. We suspect it might be one of the several older residents who had a mishap with the bladder. Luckily, it only happened once, but it took a few days before the odeur was cleared.
- never close the entrance door (even though there are three small signs on the door, reminding residents to do that)
- are inconsiderate in the usage of recycling bins.
Another push factor is the extreme frustration that we have experienced with the Managing Agent (the “Syndic”) of our apartment building. We are currently paying monthly management fees of €250, and we believe that the deplorable building management does not justify the monthly fees.
For instance, it took the Syndic close to six months last year to have the lift fixed. In the first couple of weeks, we saw technicians being sent to repair the lift. But a few days after each visit, we would see the same sign attached to the lift, announcing that the lift was again out of order. So, this situation went on for close to six months before being permanently resolved. During this period, Silviu and I had to lug our groceries three floors up from the underground parking to our apartment.
During one of these on-off ‘Fixed’ lift episodes, naive Silviu and I thought the lift was finally repaired and took it to get to the underground parking. We entered the lift, pressed the button, and the lift descended smoothly to the parking level. The door remained closed. Closed.
It was the first time in my life being stuck in a lift. I have spent a great part of my life in Singapore, and then four years in Hong Kong, two cosmopolitan cities where skyscrapers and lifts are ubiquitous. Yet, my first experience of being stuck in a lift happened in a little apartment building in a little town in France. Fortunately, the help button worked and we were connected immediately to Ortis support; assistance arrived in thirty minutes.
That’s also the perennial issue with the lobby door which cannot be locked. To enter the building, it used to be that a visitor first needs to enter the compound by pass through the main gate (first line of security—not very secured either as anyone can enter either with the passcode or a security badge), and then buzz his host at the lobby door. For the past two years, anyone can enter the building directly once he gets into the compound—the second line of security has been removed.
Silviu tried contacting the Syndic through their online platform by filing a complaint on the malfunctioning lobby door. When the complaint was first made, the door was repaired within a few days or maybe a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, it was fixed…but only for a few days.
Silviu tried informing them again through the platform. This time round, the online status of his complaint was changed from “Open” to “Resolved.” Doesn’t “Resolved” mean that the issue has been fixed? We checked the door; the Syndic did not even attempt to fix it. Silviu tried one more time, and the history repeated. In the end, we just gave up.
Then, that’s the problem with the letter boxes. The wooden letter boxes are not well-made and each letter box can be easily opened with just a few hard tugs of the wooden door or a turn of a hairpin. Oftentimes, we would find the lock of our letter box having been tampered with. We suspect that there are people trying to steal our deliveries.
Nowadays, we do not take the risk of asking valuable purchases to be dropped off in our letter box. We prefer to have our purchases delivered to a nearby safer pickup point such as our supermarket.
Most of these issues existed before the pandemic. They cropped up from time to time but did not pose as glaring problems to us. However, these nigglings became unbearable during the first lockdown.
During the lockdown of one-and-half months, the upstairs young adult (or rather old teenager) having no venting outlets for his energy, illegally entertained himself with overnight parties. As for the next-door neighbour, the occasional bout of screams was perhaps his way of releasing his lockdown stress.
Prior to the lockdown, Silviu and I spent little time at home during the work week. That might be the reason why we did not pay much attention to the other inconsiderate actions of our neighbours or the Syndic’s incompetent mismanagement. Or, it was more likely that we noticed them but were too lazy or lethargy to complain. However, being constrained to our four walls and having more time in our hands to scrutinise our environment during the first lockdown, these harmless nigglings in our lives became threats to our mental health.
Result: we have to get out of this apartment and move into a house.
Second Lockdown Meets House Search
The 2020 summer holidays came soon after the end of the first lockdown. We were glad to have regained our freedom and ready to start travelling; our desire to move out slightly cooled down after being released from the apartment. We decided to wait till September 2020 before embarking on the house hunt, especially since the French property market (or rather the whole nation) usually stagnates during the summer holidays.
Our house hunt began in September 2020, the start of the new school year. Before we could actively launch our project, the second lockdown, albeit less strict than the first round, was imposed on us. With our work and the restrictions on physical movements, our search proceeded slowly.