Buying a house in France is the dream of many but what if you live on the other side of the globe and have never even set foot in France? This describes Annette Charlton who made her dream come true and now lives between her homes in Newcastle, Australia and Brittany, France.
So, is the dream of owning your own slice of rural heaven in France as good in reality? And how do you maintain a French house from Down Under, or indeed from anywhere afar? Annette shares her tips on how to maintain a French home from afar and how to avoid costly mistakes.
How to manage your holiday home in France when you live overseas
I say the reality is even better than the dream and buying our holiday home in France has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding things we’ve ever done. Don’t be deceived though into thinking that means it has always been easy, it has had its challenges, but it has been wonderful and I cannot imagine my life’s book without its ‘French Chapter’.
However, managing a French household from afar can be tricky so I’ve put together some tips to help you wherever your hometown is.
Being from Australia our home bank would not recognise property in France, so we have a French bank account with credit cards, cheque facilities and internet banking set up. This enables us to manage our affairs remotely. Remote control is mandatory.
You will need to be on top of all utility bills otherwise you may find yourself with no water or power when you arrive. We organize for as many bills as possible to be paid by direct debit and for the few that cannot, we use our hometown mailing address rather than the address of the French property. Taking the time to set up debits and change mailing addresses is well worth it.
For the bills that make their way to Australia, I am ready to dispatch them back quickly by having prepaid international envelopes and copies of my Coordonees Bancaires (bank details) to attach to the TIP slip (utility payment slip). By the time we receive mail in Australia it is very close to the payment due date so a quick turnaround is essential to eliminate penalty fees for late payment.
Making friends in France
Installing a lock box at the back of a house with a full set of keys is an option but we find leaving a full set with our friends works well. I think giving full access to a friend or neighbor is essential as you never know what emergency repair may need to be done, like when we had to have a new chimney flu installed whilst we were in Australia after our chimney caught fire.
Making friends with your neighbours is part of the fun of living in France and an all-round nice thing to do, but it will also ensure you have a set of eyes constantly watching over your house. Some of our best dinners have been watching the sun set with our neighbours over a glass of wine.
Look after the basics
Most of us love a clean house but when you may not be returning to your home for a couple of months it really is important. Fridges, toilets and showers don’t go well uncleaned and unused for a couple of months. We also turn of the water and drain the pipes to prevent water leaks and frozen then burst pipes. Turning off the power is another precaution we take – just in case.
We employed a local housekeeper to clean the house on our departure every trip for the first five years when the children were younger, but now we find if everyone mucks in and helps we can do without this service. My suggestion is to contact your local real estate agents as they usually have a list of small businesses that specialise in cleaning, gardening, key storage and even grocery shopping in readiness for your arrival.
For the first few years we also had our garden maintained as we found after 30 hours travel and three young children to entertain we were not up for the work. We now love spending time each trip trimming, weeding and mowing. We’ve decided against potted plants as they easily die in dry weather and we heavily mulch the garden to reduce weed growth. I recommend you think about the length of your stay and the work involved, remembering that even disposing of déchets végétaux (green waste) at the déchèterie (local recycling center) can be time consuming), and weigh this up against the cost of getting help.
Having a landline installed at the house and connecting the internet has been a fairly recent thing for us. Getting tired of working off dongles, expensive sim plans and searching for free Wi-Fi we’ve committed to an ongoing monthly plan, which while more expensive, means we can arrive and be ‘connected’ immediately.
Kids have now handed in school assignments from France, I’ve kept blogging and my husband has been able to conduct business while based in our little farming village. I suggest at least looking into all telecommunication options at your local Orange store. It may pay to ‘stay connected.’
Depending on what time you intend to arrive at your maison secondaire (second home), finding stores open to purchase food may be difficult. Our answer to this is to keep your pantry or cupboard stocked with a few cans, jars, pasta, long life milk, Nespresso pods and dried fruit packets so you can whip up a couple of meals until you next head to the shops.
So, armed with these tips and knowing that you can successfully maintain a home from afar, buying a holiday house in France might just be one step closer.