We talk to Sébastien Martin-O’Driscoll about expat life in the Vienne department, Poitou-Charentes, France.
Can you tell us a little about you and where you are from?
I was born in France, in the Auvergne, and emigrated to the UK in my early 20’s. I met my husband Fox, with whom I work as a Leggett Immobillier agent, in London. We both share an artistic background in Fine Arts (Fox completed his Masters in painting in 2000 at the Royal College of Art) and were working two jobs each. We were both hungry for a better quality of life, and find a place where we could have space and time to pursue our interests and art, grow vegetables and keep bees and chickens.
After visiting friends in France and realising what our budget could buy there, it was really a no brainer. So, we jumped and here we are!
What inspired you to move to Vienne?
We live in a lovely little village called Liglet, in the Vienne department of the Poitou-Charentes. When we decided to move to France from London we had no real idea as to where, it was by sheer luck that our little village was so welcoming, friendly and attractive as it was the property we bought that dictated where we were to live. We had no knowledge of this area at all! But as I said we lucked out as the weather is just right (real seasons, hot summers, short and usually mild winters) and the countryside is just beautiful.
Did you need to do a lot of renovation?
We actually bought what used to be the village girls school. There is the main house, where the teachers used to live, and attached to it another building made of two big classrooms and a long, covered area where the kids could play when it rained. Absolutely everything needing doing to the classrooms, the ceilings had collapsed, the floors needed ripping out, the space reconfigured, some heating needed to be installed and all the windows and front door needed replacing. We also dug up three quarters of the playground to make a garden.
At the end of this year we will start on the main house, luckily it doesn’t need as much work!
What made you fall in love with the house?
When we walked into the classroom that now houses the library and our private rooms, we just looked at the space and these huge windows (at the front of the building there are eight of them and they are 2.80m high) and just immediately saw the potential and what a fabulous living space this would make. We followed our hearts and put in an offer that was accepted. And then the work started.
The village is small and its people welcoming, it is quite traditional and has retained its shop and bar-restaurant. The countryside is beautiful (much like Dorset apparently) if you like walks and wildlife, the Regional Park of the Brenne is less than 10 km away and is well worth a visit. We couldn’t have asked for more really.
Any top tips that you learned when searching for your own house?
Rely on your agent to provide you with the information you need. He/she should be your first port of call. All Leggett agents know their area well, they will be able to put you in touch with trusted local artisans if you need their advice, inform you about the legal aspects of the purchase and negotiate on your behalf. As they have been in regular contact with the vendors they will know what can be expected. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need and don’t commit to anything until you’re satisfied that you have all the required information at hand and that you feel completely comfortable and ready to go forward with your purchase. Expect the unexpected. Clients often buy a house they never envisaged they would. All French houses are different, and all have pros and cons.
What do you love about the area where you now live?
The unspoiled countryside and the community spirit. There are a great number of local small businesses that provide fruits and veg, cheeses, honey, and for the meat eaters (I’m veggie) excellent quality meat. Everything we need can be found locally and a lot is responsibly produced. You know what is on your plate and you participate in the local economy.
Connections are also very important. We have two international airports roughly an hour away with regular flights to the UK (Poitiers & Limoges), and from Poitiers train station we have TGV trains to Paris (1h15) where we can catch the Eurostar. The A20 is nearby to go south of France or up north and the A10 isn’t too far either. It’s just perfect for friends and family visiting from the UK, and should they decide to drive it only takes roughly eight hours from the UK to reach us.
Do you consider yourself a member of the local community?
We certainly have been absorbed and adopted by the local community. We have been a kind of bridge between the British expats and French locals by often interpreting for them. We also have been involved in the creation of a bilingual library in the old post office and in creating an association looking to preserve and maintain old walking paths and the environment.
What would you do on a day off in your area?
Fox has joined a pottery class run by an English potter in St Pierre de Maillé and attends a French class too. As for me I’m trying to do some photography. Let’s not forget taking our two dogs for walks in the lovely countryside right at our doorstep. Nearby there is a lovely village called Angles sur l’Anglin, designated one of the most beautiful in France, where we sometimes go to eat (I recommend La Granges des Dames by the ruins of the chateau). On the 29th of every month there is the huge market of Les Hérolles where you can find anything from socks to a goat (plus wine from producers from the Tourraine who come every month to tempt us with their great and affordable wine, I recommend the wine of Mr Biet). There is also La Maison du Pays in the Regional Park of the Brenne where they do great food (amazing crêpes) and sell local products, from honey to oils, pottery to books of local writers, from local beers to jewellery. They all have regular exhibitions.
Tell us a little about your job…
Our job as Leggett estate agents differs greatly from UK estate agents and also French ones. We do not simply find the right property for our clients, we go the extra mile and make sure they have the best comfortable start in their French life. We have sold a house in our village to a recently retired couple from the UK. As neither of them spoke French we made sure that they settled OK by assisting them with most of their administrative needs. We went with them to the tax office and helped them register, as well as registering to the French health system. We organised their phone line and internet provider, and interpreted during meetings with the local artisans for the work they wanted done in their new home. We grew close and we are happy to count them among our friends.
What sort of properties do you typically have for sale in the Vienne
The properties where we live are usually very affordable, under €100k. They are mostly traditionally built and have character. We have a few manor houses on our books too, with land and outbuildings, and they too can be affordable. As an example, we have sold a totally refurbished manor with two big outbuildings dating from the revolution on 3.5 hectares for €305k. The roofs had been redone in slate and traditional small clay tiles, it is double glazed with a recently fitted septic tank and a pond in front of the property. There was also a guest house that was ripe for renovation.
What 3 key pieces of advice do you give to your clients when they’re looking for property in the area?
First check the area. Go on walks and to the local markets and have a feel for the place by also visiting neighbouring villages and towns and trying local restaurants and events. Secondly listen to your heart if a property feels right despite the fact there might be obstacles. You need to be comfortable and drawn to the place for you to be happy living in it. What might look like obstacles can be overcome with the right contacts, local knowledge and negotiation. Use your agent and rely on his/her knowledge and skills. Thirdly don’t try to view too many properties in a day, or you’ll quickly feel tired, overwhelmed and won’t enjoy this search for your French home. Rely on Leggett’s dedicated Sales Support Team to organise for you a sustainable itinerary. They’re very experienced and helpful.
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy yourselves along this journey. We all want a better quality of life by moving to France, it shouldn’t be a struggle but the first step towards a better life.
See Sébastien & Fox’s Portfolio of properties in Vienne here
Leggett are currently looking for new agents in this area – if you fancy joining their winning team, drop them a line: www.frenchestateagents