Spring Property Survey: Building a new life in the Upper Dordogne: If you're thinking of crossing the Channel, Tim and Gilly Mannakee say buy the French way

AFTER several years of staring at computers and being on the telephone all day, constantly surrounded by people in a hurry, we had had enough. The time had come to break away - to find a place that offered peace, quiet and above all, space.

With the price of property in England out of our reach but the inclement weather all too close to hand, our eyes turned to France. Having gleaned information on the prices and types of property available from various magazines, we left our jobs and headed off to south-west France.

We were determined to find a house that was habitable, with at least two outbuildings and several acres of land. After 5,000 miles of driving and endless hours spent looking through estate agents' windows, we finally settled on an area known as the Upper Dordogne.

At first, although we spoke reasonable French, we felt more comfortable dealing with estate agents who spoke, or indeed were, English. We found that we were more inclined to accept their opinions on the suitability of an area, a property and its potential. As a consequence, we could have very easily ended up buying an overpriced ruin with many more problems than met the eye.

However, as we began to get a feel for the area and the true value of properties, our confidence increased and we felt more able to deal with French agents.

We soon became aware that in each town all agents deal with the same properties. As a result, on asking to view a property, we were presented with a form to sign stating which agent had shown it to us. This was to safeguard their commission, which is a great deal higher in France than it is in Britain. To avoid having to pay commission, many potential buyers approach the vendor direct, or contact the notaire (lawyer) involved in the sale.

In spite of the 'hard sell', we found viewing properties both exciting and informative. Many places resembled museums, with rooms full of old furniture, and outbuildings a graveyard for agricultural machinery. The owner or agent often spent more time explaining these artefacts and their uses than the details of the property.

Seven weeks after our departure from England, we were shown around 'Fleuret'. The property, which was once a hamlet and home to 12 families, is perched on a hillside facing the medieval village of Curemonte. The view is incredible, the buildings exactly what we were looking for and the main house had the luxury of running water, electricity and a telephone. The estate agent took us to meet the vendor and negotiations began.

Under French law, when a person dies their property must always be divided between their immediate family. In our case, the property was owned by two brothers and two sisters, all of whom had to agree on the price and what they actually wished to sell.

It transpired that the main building was already divided between several owners: the family, a schoolteacher, the bank and the state. The ancient bread oven situated in one of the outbuildings was originally for communal use and in theory, still is, while the surrounding land is criss- crossed with servitudes - public rights of way. Add to this the fact that a small area situated in the middle of the property apparently belonged to a lorry driver, and we entered a bureaucratic nightmare.

All those involved in the sale seemed amused by our concern over what actually was theirs to sell, claiming that what existed on paper did not affect anyone in reality. Having finally established what we were buying, a price was agreed, a figure which shocked us until we realised the family was dealing in old French francs (100 old francs to one new franc).

Unlike in Britain, once you have signed the compromis de vente (exchange of contracts) and left a deposit, both parties are legally bound, subject to relevant let-out clauses, to the sale. This avoids any possibility of gazumping. A date was set for approximately two months later for completion to take place. During this period the purchaser can, if necessary, arrange a mortgage, while the notaire carries out all the administration necessary for the sale. Without a survey to worry about, which is not common practice in France, for us it was simply a matter of waiting.

As the four members of the family were on speaking terms, (not always the norm in the French countryside), the proceedings were not held up and the date was set for the signing of the Acte de Vente (completion). We all assembled at the appointed hour in the notaire's office. The lawyer then read through the papers, which we signed on each page in turn, in descending order of age. Once the formalities were over, emotions ran high and the family, the estate agent and ourselves adjourned to a local bar to celebrate.

With the exception of the formal signing of documents, the whole process was undertaken in a surprisingly relaxed manner. The price was negotiated over a glass of home-made wine in the head of the family's house, and every visit to the estate agent ended with a beer at his local bar. And yet, despite this informality, all the paperwork has, for us, dispelled the myth that the French are always late.

What is perhaps the most important aspect of buying a property is to remember that you are in France and that the French have their own way of doing things.

(Photograph omitted)

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high