We chat to Carole McGregor from Manchester, UK who lives in the Haute-Garonne Department of what was known as the Midi-Pyrenees, now renamed Occitania. An estate agent for Leggett Immobillier she’s an expert on the area and housing market.
As a sales manager years ago, I was fortunate to be able to work from home in France and in London. I live in the middle of Haute-Garonne, equal distance to the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas. It’s just 10 minutes by car over the border into the Val d’Aran in Spain. I feel that here offers the best of everything – French life, the mountains, real seasons and the ability to nip over to Spain for tapas for lunch. The local people, beautiful scenery, mountains, the skiing, the price of property and eating out really was an unbeatable combination
What is your house like? Did you need to do a lot of renovation?
Our home is about 45 years old, with Spanish stone and wood a little like a chalet but without the big balconies. We have about 1800 m2 of land and stunning views of the mountains. The house was habitable but dated and though it didn’t need lots of renovation we chose to update it. We added extra guest accommodation, updated bathrooms, knocked down walls, put in a new kitchen, double glazing, central heating, new septic tank and built a two-bed extension on the side. All this work was done over 12 years little by little.
What made you fall in love with the village
We have always said our village is like Marmite – you love it or hate it! If you love it, then it is for ever. It is a traditional Pyrenees village with the Garonne river flowing through. We have downhill and cross-country skiing, snow shoe walking, rivers, lakes, horse-riding. The Tour de France comes through the village most years. There’s mountain biking, cycling, beautiful walks and hikes – everything you imagine from the mountains.
The people are amazing, friendly, genuine and have made us incredibly welcome over the years. We’ve made wonderful French friends and now British, Australian and friends from all over the world that have bought houses in this wonderful region.
Any top tips that you learned when searching for your house?
It is the battle between heart and head a lot of the time. I always say start with the heart because you must love your new home and then work logically through what it offers and the challenges that it may present.
Don’t just visit the house, visit the villages, the area too. We get buyers that have a 4-day itinerary seeing up to 5 houses a day and then trying to decide which one to buy – and occasionally it is their first visit to the region. That’s a lot to fit in. Think about climate, lifestyle, what is important to you – your must have’s and definitely don’t wants.
Ask questions. Leggett agents are local and have lived in their areas for many years. Use their local expertise to ensure you get the right property for you.
What do you love about the area where you now live?
The thing I love most is the simplicity of life here. The values of the local people, their genuine desire to get to know you, help you and involve you in the community. The scenery is out of this world gorgeous. To wake up every day and look out of the window at the stunning views is a privilege that I never tire of. The lack of traffic, noise, the pace of life and the real values that people hold dear are what I love most (and of course the climate but lovely weather on its own is not enough, there must be more).
In Winter there’s skiing and snow sports. We have local spas that are fantastic value. The restaurants are sensational both in France and Spain. Hiking up the mountains and discovering the beautiful lakes, flora and fauna is a wonderful way to spend a day. A trip to Spanish Aragon is a great day out – in parts of the region you feel you could be in the middle of a film set for an old Western movie. Bagneres de Luchon, known as the Queen of the Pyrenees” is one of my favourite places for a little bit of café culture.
Tell us a little about your job
The biggest joy for me is handing over the keys to the new owner and seeing the happiness on their faces to know they have found their little piece of France. But the job does not stop there, I have buyers contacting me each week wanting a little bit of advice, guidance or reassurance. I wish I had this when I moved out here – I would not have made as many expensive mistakes!
Many buyers become good friends and this another plus of being a Leggett agent.
What sort of properties do you typically have for sale?
My properties range from perfect chateaux, hotels, shops, restaurants and B&B, through to small renovation projects, parcels of land and everything in between. My most expensive property has been €1.3million and my cheapest €19,000.
The style ranges from 17th century stone houses/cottages through to beautiful modern villas and chalets – there really is something for everyone’s style and budget in this region.
What key pieces of advice do you give to property searchers in Haute Garonne?
- Be clear about what you must have and what you definitely do not want (otherwise you risk being swept away by your heart).
- Be realistic with your budget. Remember you have fees on top of the house cost, you might need to put a new septic tank in the property, do some updating. Leave some wriggle room for fluctuations in currency rates.
- It is getting harder to get a stone character property on the edge of a village within walking distance of a bar and bakery. That is most people’s dream but think about the other things that are important to you – your lifestyle, what you enjoy spending time doing. Do you really need a garden of 1 hectare (that is huge and will take some upkeep!).
What are your key tips for those looking for their dream home in France?
- If you are under the age of retirement and you haven’t won the lottery – think about what you can do to earn some money if you come to live here.
- Healthcare is important and most people will pay a top up private insurance – you need to budget for this.
- If you need a mortgage, start the ball rolling before you buy your property. Mortgage requirements are different in France.
- If you have cash it might be better to invest the cash and have a mortgage – speak to your Leggett agent to help you find an advisor who can help you.
- You can never do enough research and planning for your new life in France.
What makes Haute-Garonne a great place for expats?
If you love the mountains, like to ski, cycle, walk and sports activities galore – you’re spoiled for choice here. If you want to be further South and profit from the clean air, the sunshine and experience real seasons again then the Pyrenees could be your perfect spot. Great gastronomy, friendly people, stunning scenery, authentic French life, great markets – I could go on and on, but come see for yourself, this is a little corner of paradise…