Taking On A Fixer-Upper In France: How It All Began – (Part One)

3 years ago, Nick and I developed an obsession with devouring daily the British TV show “Escape To The Country”. The show is mainly about couples and families who move from the city to live a new idyllic life in the countryside. The production team assists them to find the perfect country home. Some of the selected properties are turnkey and ready to live in, while others need renovation.

At the time, we were living in Casablanca and were constantly longing for those green hilly landscapes so particular to Northern Europe. After watching a gazillion number of episodes, an idea started to slowly grow in our minds: embark on our own “Escape To The Country” challenge with a fixer-upper in Europe. Our plan was to create a modern, chic country house that would reflect our personal interior design influences. Read my post Inspiration Is A Personal Affair to learn more.

For a period of about 4 months and working within a set budget, we actively looked through online property listings that lead to us finally making an offer on a French three-story house that seemed at the time to be just right for us. The choice of destination was driven by our love of French stone houses, especially structures with black slate roofs and charming wooden shutters. 

Located in a quaint village in Pays de la Loire, this house was almost in its original state, untouched since it was built more than 200 years ago, except for a few half-hearted attempts to improve what was already there. What this meant in reality was that only few drywalls were added, which in effect did nothing to improve the property. Additionally, someone had attempted to install a kitchen and a bathroom which on first sight, seemed functional until we looked closer. We were informed by the estate agent that we should not touch the bathroom light switch and anything metal in the shower, at the same time, for fear of being electrocuted. Clearly, the house was uninhabitable. However, throughout the sale process, we were given a stack of paperwork containing reports and assessments for how the house was ready to move into. No, it wasn’t. The roof, front door, windows, insulation, plumbing, electric wiring, floors, fireplace and loft were in ruin, and everything was in absolute need of a major dose of TLC. Something to watch out for when investing in property here. 

Upon finalizing the sale, our first immediate action was to strip the house back to its original shell, stand back and look at a blank canvas so we could start making decisions. 

As we are mostly used to city life, we absolutely wanted to enjoy the best of both worlds: the healthy, laid-back lifestyle of the French countryside and the comfortable standards of urban living. Bringing both worlds together is quite the adventure and challenge, the ambitious kind, especially for two foreigners who have never lived in France and have had no experience in handling major renovation projects before. In addition, navigating some of the complicated local processes has become an on-going learning curve. Sometimes, I must admit, it takes some getting used to. We constantly remind ourselves, in the most challenging moments, to take a deep breath and stay flexible while carefully adapting to the way things are done here.

So far, as you can imagine, this project has been a mix of highs and lows. You may ask what is it that keeps us going? We believe it is the potential we spotted the first time we visited the house, the appeal of the village and where it is located. It is, as I call it, “our own gated community” amid the beauty of the Pays de la Loire region. Besides that, we have a lot at stake here, we changed our lives, crossed 3000 km in order to get established here and we are investing time and money.

You may wonder where we are with the process today? Up to that point, meaning up to April 2019, we had managed to get some work done such as installing double-glazed windows with a new front door, improving insulation, installing new plumbing and electric rewiring and a bit of basic painting. In effect, scratching the surface.

During those 8 months, stress level was at its highest. Mistakes were made, some contractors failed us while others did a good job and frankly some of our expectations were unrealistic too. A break was badly needed so we could regroup, reassess the whole project from a different viewpoint and resume the work when we felt the need to do so. Today, we are ready with a brand-new realistic plan. More on that in my next post.

This could potentially be one of the best experiences of our lives or the worst decision we have ever made. Only time will truly tell but everything will be documented here. The good, the bad and the ugly. A successful outcome is not guaranteed, but one thing is for sure, Nick and I are one hell of a team. We are resilient, tenacious and in no way do we quit. We get things done.

Thanks for reading my post and until the next time,

Inass,

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