What should have been a four hour drive to our new hotel take close to six hours as the traffic near La Rochelle is horrendous. Our plan to follow the coastal road down was a bad idea, we should have stuck to the motorway to Saintes. Our hotel is a former mill and we are staying in an area of reclaimed marsh. Very flat indeed, and with lots of egrets and herons in view.
We travelled down to the coastal town of Royan tonight for dinner - huge plates of mussels, calimari and chips followed by ice cream
Across to Jarnac to meet Matt, our first estate agent. We pass Saintes and Cognac on the way, where Daughter was the other week. Matt drives to a small village to see property 1. This is actually a very promising house - big and quirky, with an outdoors that is really wild. The village is ok, but the overall location is quite isolated. Nonetheless, this is a definitely possibility and is below E200k, so might be available at below E180k.
The wild garden - a feature I really liked
We liked it enough to repeat the journey in the afternoon to see some more of the local area. So now we have a very possible candidate and the one that everything else will have to beat
Dinner in Soujon as a really nice pizzeria - a good choice after a full day out.
Today is our big day house viewing - 6 properties to see with Amanda from Mansle.
Property 2 is so awful that I didn't even take any photos of it. It hasn't been lived in for many months and is musty and damp inside. Property 3, next door to 2, is not much better, but does have a nice garden slopping down to the beautiful River Charantes. In fact this is the best thing about it.
Property 3's garden down to the river.
Property 4 is more promising. Quite a nice house with a barn with great development potential. Not as good as property 1 though. The wife is quite ill and the owners want to return to the UK as quickly as possible. All rather sad really.
I always quite like hangers and outbuildings.
Property 5 is very promising as a possible rival to property 1. The house is a bit dark, but it has four marvellous outbuildings, a huge field out back with uninterrupted views over more fields , and even a large fish pond, which is a nice feature, but not for us who won't be able to look after it.
Now that is what I call an outbuilding
E10,000 worth of koi carp in the huge fish pond
Property 6 is our new favourite. A classic four-bedroom Charantese farmhouse, with about two acres of wild garden and even a pool. Priced at E225k, we might get it for under E200k. The main disadvantage is that it is east of Angouleme and so too far from the coast.
Finally, Property 7, seen because it was very cheap and had a row of four cottages to convert. But it was surrounded on three sides by a working farm, had no garden and the four cottages were derelict. They also contained a huge amount of brandy casks - was this some sort of illegal alcohol operation?
Back to Royan for dinner tonight. This is a big mistake as it is a national holiday and the town is packed. It takes 30 minutes to park and all the restaurants are full and have 45 minute waiting lists. We have ice cream for tea and retreat to the hotel.
Lots to think about of course.
Part of our decision making plan was based on going to see at least one more-expensve house so we could get an idea of what one could look like when we had finished renovating or decorating it. So this morning sees us off to the tiny village of Taillant to meet Dave who is going to show us one priced at E285k.
This is the key decision of our trip and highlights what our decision really is. Should we buy one in good condition in a good area for a higher price or one in poorer condition to do up, but much cheaper? I had previously assumed that the answer was the second choice, but now I think it is much better to buy one that is more expensive. Property 7 is lovely. The furthest west of the houses we've seen, just 45 minutes from La Rochelle, and restored by the builder who owns it. Very nice indeed.
After viewing for 45 minutes, Dave takes us into nearby St Jean d'Angely, which turns out to be exactly the classic French town that we like. We have a couple of hours chat during which we discover that the property we now like best has been on the market for over a year and hasn't yet received an offer. AMAZING, given how nice it is. But the credit crunch has hit foreign house buying and locals can't afford such properties - nor do they seem to want them.
Later that afternoon, Wife and I decide to make a low-ball offer of E250k and see what happens. We would be happy to go to E260k but above that, we'd have to see it again.
Dinner tonight is in the local town of Le Gua, when a huge number of gypsies roll up. I have a rather nice entrecote steak with chips.
So we have seen 8 properties now and like the most expensive best. We aren't planning on seeing any more properties this trip but have learnt enough to significantly fine tune our wish list ready for my next visit in September.
Lots more to think about. Will our offer be accepted?