Sunday, August 24, 2014

House Hunting in Bordeaux - France & End of Summer update!

Our Process of Renting a house in France 
Summertime fun -ending with the reality of moving...Beach in Arcachon
I know I promised posts about our vacation and yes, I'm working on them - but other matters have taken precedent in the past couple of weeks cutting into my time.

I thought while I had a few minutes, I would update everyone on our life in general right now.  We learned last Winter that the current house, we are renting is being put on the market, so our lease is was going to run out at the end of the summer.  Since we were not interested in buying this house, we had to start looking for a new one.  A process that initially I looked forward to...but quickly found out it was not fun and definitely not what my "American" brain was use to.

We apparently got REALLY lucky three years ago when we found this house. We had met with the relocation specialist (provided to us as it was an overseas move) and as it was August - she only had this house to show us - but it was basically perfect.  One house, one visit, submitted application, it was accepted-all set in one day!  That was great.

Fast forward to now.  No relocation specialist and in France there is no centralized listings!  Basically, each rental is either given to a specific real estate agency or agencies or put up individually by the owner on "le bon coin", France's equivalent to  Classified ads or Craigslist.

So as a renter you have to speak or look on-line at the various agencies to see if they have what you may be looking for.  Yes, the agencies do also cross-list their rentals on "Le Bon-coin" or other more general sites but some don't.  As a renter, you can also be in touch with and speak with the various agencies but they may not have what you are looking for and then it's up to you to keep following up!  You might get lucky and have an agent call you to follow up but mostly it's your own responsibility.  If a house is listed with an agent and you find a house through an agent - as a renter you pay an agency fee (which is usually equivalent to a month's rental), in addition to your first month's rent and security deposit.

Luckily, most on-line realtor sites have searches that you can set up - so you can be alerted to when a desired house becomes available. This is what I did for about 10 different sites.  The whole process just feels complicated and at times overwhelming. Not to mention takes a lot of time looking, following up with agents and also visiting houses.

The long and short of it - it becomes a daily task to monitor emails and double check sites.  Then you have to match when you want to move with when the house is available.  Additionally, in our case, I wanted to stay in the same  part of town we are presently living in, so to be close to my younter daughters elementary school.  Our town is a long narrow rectangle, so I would always have to double check with the listing agent as to the exact location of the house to see if it was located close to where I wanted to be.

Another complication here in France is that they don't really market the houses too well on the Internet.  There are often very few photos, minimal descriptions and it's hard to really know what the house looks like until you visit it.  

I began visiting a few houses last June and nothing seemed to feel right.  Either the house needed too much work (i.e. kitchen was very basic - needing cupboards, or no closets), or the location was just too far away from where I wanted to be, or rooms were too small.  It was not easy.

I thought I found a really nice newer home in mid-June and we decided to submit an application to rent or what the French call a "Dossier".  This is tons of paperwork - You identifications papers, your work contract, copies of your last 3 paychecks, copies of taxes from the past 2 years, letter attesting that you previous owned or paid rent on time from landlord, plus assorted other documents!  This is what I like to call typically French - tons and tons of paperwork!

However, we came to very quickly learn that the rental market for the price range we are looking at was very competitive.  Often real estate agents were only showing the house to 5-7 people and then would receiving 3-5 applications for each rental and then it was up to the owner to choose which family worked for them.  You need to act fast when you saw a possible house so you could at least get on the list to see the house.  (We sometimes got locked out of seeing houses as by the time I would call, they would have closed the viewing)

We submitted 2 dossiers earlier in the summer for a couple possibilities and were not chosen for either one of those. So as the summer was quickly coming to a close, I just kept looking for more possibilities.  Luckily more and more houses were popping up. - but it was something I had to stay on top of, in order to get an appointment for viewing a house.

Last Tuesday, I ended up seeing 3 houses back to back.  That was just coincidental as to when appointments were given. I was determined that one of them was going to work.  None of the houses seemed absolutely perfect but each had a lot of promise.
Colorful kitchen - newer built in cabinets
One side of the "L" shaped - Living room/Dining room 
The first was a newer house - in a small development attached by the garage to the next house.  (The French word here is "mitoyenne" - meaning attached).  I would describe it like a townhouse with an L shaped living/dining room - small kitchen and 3 nice sized bedrooms upstairs.  A small yard wrapped around 2 sides off the house.  The good news about this house was the bedrooms upstairs were nicely sized. Washer/Dryer hook up was in the bathroom upstairs.  (This is also not uncommon - for space purposes usually the washer/dryer are in the bathrooms or kitchens) The yard did front the street but was private.  Kitchen would need a stove,oven & refrigerator.  This is not uncommon as most people own their own appliances and move them with each move. (We currently own our own refrigerator - but our oven/stove came with the current house).  If ads say "Cuisine equipee" - it means some appliances are included in the rental.

The second house was bigger with an additional room downstairs that could function as a guest room or den.  This house was older with lots of charm. The downside of this one was the kitchen had no built in cupboards and we would need to purchase portable cupboards to hold dishes and pans in addition to a stove/oven.  The house was on a corner of a busy street - very convenient to a bread store and other small shops but definitely a bit noisier and it lacked privacy.  The advertisement for this house, only included a photo of the outside - so a visit revealed a charming house.
Love the charm of these stairs and the wonderful parquet floor.
One side of the Living Room/Dining room - both doors open to yard - lots of light
The third house was a private rental (no agency fee) which I found on le Bon Coin.  This house was situated on a quiet street and was also a mitoyenne (attached) to another house next door.  It is located on a small street with other matching houses all (duplexes) built at the same time located in a residential area but easily accessible to a bus route.  This house has a very small patio off the back and a small patch of grass in the front.  The yard extended from the front all the way around to the back but is narrow and small.  Tall hedges in the back give privacy from the neighbors on each side.  The house was similar in square meters to the first house but had a larger kitchen.  The "Sejour" or living room /Dining room was rectangular at the back of the house.  Upstairs - 3 average sized bedrooms and a full bath.  The washer/dryer hook up in this house is located in the insulated garage.  Each bedroom had built in closets (not super large but big enough). However, I was one of 15 people looking at this house this particular day.  

Nice newer kitchen - plenty of built in cabinets - almost room for narrow table/bar on left side.
Love the white stairs - in Living room/Dining room - Tile floors.
A couple of other things to note about looking at houses - often they are smaller than US equivalents.  For instance we moved from an 1800 square foot house in New York State to approx. 1400 square feet - but still gained an extra bedroom and bath.  Due to rent costs, we are choosing to downsize  again, but it's actually nice to clean out and not accumulate too much stuff!  Most of the houses were are looking at now are around 1000 square feet.    It may seem small by US standards, but if space is efficiently used, it works nicely.  

So which one did we choose?  Or which ones did I submit dossiers for? If you follow me on instagram or twitter you might recognize the one we chose.  It's funny, I was ready to submit dossiers for 2 of them - The first one and the third - and had handed in most of the dossier for the first house.  However, as I was enjoying a lovely lunch with a good friend of mine on Wednesday, the owner of the third house called and offered it directly to us! 

Kismet, I say!  Having lost out on 2 other houses earlier in the summer, I was thrilled by this offer.  He knew only what our monthly salary was but was not accepting dossiers until he sorted through those people who were interested.  Originally, he had told me that he would call those perspective renters who he wanted to collect dossiers from - and then choose.  He told me he just "had a good feeling" about us and offered it directly to us! 

So later that afternoon, I found myself back at our new house, signing our rental agreement and walking through the house to complete the "State of the Condition" form with our new landlord.  I left with keys in hand!!  What a great feeling!

As we had to give our current landlord at least a month notice - we actually have until the end of September to move out.  But it's nice to be able to measure and move things over to the new house.  A big sigh of relief and here's to new beginnings and new memories to be made!!
Lege - Cap Ferret - Ah - the relaxation of summer!
So now, I'm off to enjoy a few days with girlfriends out in Cap Ferret!  The last hurrah before summer ends and we get busy with La Rentree!!  


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Guest posting Today - Did you ever return to your hometown or home Country?

Vacation - What it's like to be home for a visit...
Bike Tour in Amsterdam
I'm in the process of working on several different posts.  I want to share our bike tour in Amsterdam, our quick visit & boat tour in Niagara Falls, our time in Rochester at the Museum of Play, and many other fun experiences we had over the past few weeks.  It's been a whirlwind tour - but so much fun!!
View of American & Bridal Falls from Boat
But, as with most people on vacation - the girls and I are enjoying our time seeing friends, exploring new & old areas and just plain relaxing....so all these posts are still in process.  Again, feel free to follow on facebook, Instagram or Twitter and you will see photos of what we are up to.  Here's just a small sample.
Museum of Play in Rochester
In the mean time, I wrote a piece for Multicultural Kids Blogs about our impressions as we returned home for the first time.  I found it interesting to get the kids opinions and also how they felt about visiting their old friends and town.  I expected many of their reactions but were surprised by others.
Hanging with cousins
Check it out - Here - Family Travel - Impressions and Perspectives

Kayaks & canoes - love our Adirondack hideaway!
More Cousin time - How many can we fit on a paddle boat?
 So I hope you enjoy a few photos here and follow our adventures through other social media and I promise you will hear all about our experiences shortly!! Are any of you on vacation - Have you ventured back toy our hometown or former town? What did you think?  Have a great end of the week!!


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