The trials and tribulations of buying in France for those who live a long way away. Mark Galloway lives in Hong Kong but dreams of becoming an expat in France. Here he talks about long-distance planning for property purchases….
Thousands of would-be home owners nip across the Channel from the UK to France, but, spare a thought for farther-flung Francophiles. Those of us billeted in the ex-colonial outpost of Hong Kong for example, but still harbouring the dream of a life in France. When looking to purchase a French home, it can be a hugely enjoyable, not to say integral, part of the adventure to pop over for the weekend to view properties, or drive around the country roads in search of the dream. Part of the fun, and the experience, is to immerse yourself in the markets, villages and countryside which may become your stamping ground and to enjoy the local restaurants, wines, cuisine and quality of the village. If you think you may have found your Nirvana, you’ll likely return a few times to make sure it really is the one for you.
For the Hong Kong Francophile, however, it’s not so easy.
Clearly, distance is a factor, not to mention the expense! For starters its 6,000 miles from Hong Kong to Paris rather more than the 22 miles to cross the Channel. The time-zone (CET +6hrs) has pro’s and con’s. Leaving Hong Kong at midnight will have you enjoying café et croissants in Place des Vosges for breakfast. But if your dream home location is in St Emillion, Bordeaux (above), then you’ll be safer to plan your rendez-vous with an evening aperitif.
As for the trip back to the Far East, you effectively lose a day. So, the weekend recce becomes a long-weekend at best. In an employment culture which views 20 annual days holiday as excessive, this can be problematic for the Hong Kong Francophile.
Thankfully we have the world of digital media to help and we build relationships with those ‘on the ground’ who are able and willing to support our quest. Without doubt, it’s easier now, the internet is our life-line; YouTube, Facebook, Facetime, Skype and GoogleMaps all help bring Lembeye, Monsegur, Navarrenx et al into our reach, allowing us to have questions answered and concerns understood.
And so the pattern emerges. Many months of research and planning will be undertaken before embarking on a two-week holiday, during which time the short-list of properties will be visited and assessed. It’s important that significant time is budgeted to relax and enjoy the local areas too as, after all, this could be our new habitat. It’s also a holiday and a much-needed respite from the frenetic corporate life of one of the world’s busiest financial hubs.
This time-driven focus provides another pressure, albeit subconsciously. You’re aware that time is short and it will be some months before you can return, so decisions need to be made. Do you grasp the nettle and sink your cash into a property, and an area, you will most likely have limited acquaintance with? For many, they will ‘just know’. Others like to re-visit a place at different times, in different seasons. Each to their own, but when those opportunities are more limited, it can raise anxiety that you’ve made the right choice.
Hong Kong itself has a strong and ever-growing French ex-pat community, and so there’s every opportunity to enjoy your love of all things French and prepare for your new life ahead. The French International School is a vibrant core, not least at the famous Hong Kong Rugby 7’s weekend where they raise the roof in support of their heroes – Les Bleus. Hong Kong has a popular annual French festival, an extravaganza of arts, culture and gastronomy. Established in 1993, it is now one of the largest cultural events in Asia. And there’s no excuse for your ‘schoolboy French’ deficiencies, as the Institut Francais will put you through your paces with a wonderful array of educational options to improve your French!
The world may indeed be getting smaller, but finding your hidden gem can still be a challenge. For all the benefits of digital media and modern day infrastructure, perhaps I’m just an old fashioned romantic at heart. I’d like to stumble upon my dream home, almost by surprise, as I wander along the road after lunch at the auberge – and perhaps just one too many wines!
By Mark Galloway, a Francophile in Hong Kong who is searching for his dream home in France…