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
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
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

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Technical Sales Manager

£45000 - £53000 Per Annum plus bonus plus package: The Green Recruitment Compa...

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor