From Texas to the Dordogne • Jeff and Liz find a home
The reasons why Jeff and Liz selected France for retirement would fill a book in itself (and indeed they will as Jeffrey is completing his manuscript). They love the lifestyle, the climate, the access to the rest of Western Europe, and the ability to live, rather than just be making a living.
Tell us about yourself.
I'm Jeffrey Poster, a recovering litigator now involved in alternative dispute resolution, including mediation & arbitration, and teacher of both subjects at a law school in Texas. I have a BA, Master of Public Administration, and JD degrees and I'm a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. I also write [see excerpt from his book below]. My wife Elizabeth is the daughter of Hungarian refugees born in a camp for displaced persons near Munich. She is the Dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Texas at Arlington with a Bachelor and Master degree from Boston University and a PhD from Boston College, and she somehow found the time to become an accomplished jewelry maker.
How did you come across your Property Finder Jacqueline Hanks?
After a first frustrating house hunting trip, we asked about a property we found on the FrenchEntrée.com website. The very helpful person who responded to my inquiry (FrenchEntrée seems to suffer from an epidemic of effective and helpful people) asked if we would be interested in speaking with a property finder and Jacqueline called us within a few minutes. Jacqueline then led us through our home search and guided us through the buying process.
Why did you choose this particular house?
We had little doubt that we would find something in the Dordogne. We loved the area and chose the house because we felt it had everything necessary to move in without renovation, was convenient to village services, and was in a location where there were a lot of services available for expatriates. What we did not know until the morning after we visited was that the house is located in the town that is the setting of the TV production of Little England.
Do you have plans to move here permanently?
In the coming years we hope to be living here full-time enjoying visitors and local friends, and traveling in France and Europe.
In hindsight would you have done anything differently?
Not really. Perhaps we could have given ourselves some more time in France to complete our search.
What would they recommend to someone who is just starting their search?
I would suggest that a good start is a large property show like Earls Court [The France Show is held in London every January]. But most importantly, unless one has been a resident of France and in the area in which one wishes to buy, it is essential to engage a property finder, and if one is looking in the southern Dordogne, it is best to engage Jacqueline.”
The following is a condensed excerpt from the first few chapters of Jeff's book.
The coffee always tasted better on Sunday morning. It was a ritual. We would always make a fresh pot of coffee, and a good breakfast. Then, we’d turn on CBS, open up our local paper and the New York Times, and settle in for the next few hours. The relaxation and talking about the articles we reading made the coffee taste better. One Sunday morning in early April Liz completely surprised me by asking if I wanted to retire in France. I had been saying I wanted to do that for years, so she knew the answer would be yes!
We had our periodical meeting with our financial advisor coming up soon so decided we would not do anything until we met with him. He had good news for us and because the Euro had weakened against the dollar, it was a good time to buy. In the 20th century we would have begun our research at the library, but instead of that, we logged on.
We love the Dordogne for its wonderful combination of food, scenery, and history. It was fortunate that our resources matched our inclinations. We found that the Haute-Savoie, another favorite area with its combination of rich summer activities and access to skiing, was entirely out of reach. There appeared to be an overwhelming selection of properties among the many websites. But these websites were produced by selling agents aimed to get buyers into their offices so appearances were positively misleading. By the time we were finished with our first few hours of looking at websites, we were convinced that French property agents would describe the Acropolis of Athens as a “home in need of renovation, great views, roof repair possible.” We started to learn the secret code, for example if the description said the property had many rooms, that meant that the rooms were tiny, and we found that attractive homes had unattractive neighbors. We quickly learned to eliminate the listings that failed to have any photographs of either the exterior or the interior, or those that showed three views of the kitchen, but somehow managed to avoid a photograph of the stove. But, this left us with many properties we might want to see, and we decided to make some calls to France.
We had a cruise planned from more than a year, that left from Dover so we left a few days early and spent some time in France. Our conversations with the estate agents all began to have certain sameness. They wanted us to meet them at their office, review their catalogs “to see what listings were current.” and then visit some properties. We later learned this was a frequent method of showing properties in France.
(After some looking) we had currency exchange established, a French bank account, and a mortgage broker, all we had to do was find a house. We were feeling as if we needed more direction, because we were wasting a lot of effort and making very little progress. I felt like a hapless husband trying to find something for his wife in a lingerie department. I was surrounded by pretty alternatives, but I knew nothing about fit or utility. Fortunately, we were about to be helped out of our confusion. After looking at an ad for a particularly attractive house, I asked for more information via the website, and expected an email response, but the following morning the phone rang and the caller was a representative of FrenchEntrée, which I thought was one of the better property and information web sites. She had good information about the property I had asked about, but in the course of the conversation, she asked if we would be interested in talking to a property finder.
(Property finder) Jacqueline immediately tuned in to our American sensibilities. We spent a great deal of time talking about our preferences and the service that she would provide. She would review the ads we selected from the internet; and would suggest some that she could find from sources not available to us. When we selected a manageable list, we would consult via email and telephone, and put the homes in priority order. She would then visit the leading homes on the list about two weeks before our arrival. After those visits, she would send us her assessments and recommendations – also known as “reality check.” She also explained her fee, which was a small percentage of the purchase price, and that she would need a deposit to start her work. After a brief discussion with Liz, I phoned in the deposit first thing the following morning and then we sent our list. Oliver Cromwell famously sent a message to the Scottish Parliament, asking “to consider the possibility that thee might be mistaken." Jacqueline was somewhat more direct. She pointed out some of the problems in our list, and we narrowed it down to the chosen few for a visit in June. Because we hoped to purchase a home, we were burdened with more than our usual luggage, cameras, measuring devices, and a pad of graph paper. We were guardedly optimistic. Jacqueline claimed she was certain we would find a house we loved. She would turn out to be correct.
Before anyone can visit a property, the visitor must sign a “bon de visite.” This binds the visitor to that showing realtor, and if the property is bought from another realtor, or the owner directly, the realtor has the right to demand a commission from the errant buyer. Our home was only the third one we had seen in our search, but we decided it was perfect almost as soon as we had done the first walk through. Not only was it very different from the other houses on the list, it was not in the small hamlet we had first envisioned, it was not stone construction, and it was in a very formal Napoleon III style. It was also substantially above our budget. It was, in short, just about the opposite of everything we wanted and was perfect for us. It was on a quiet one-way street, near the Mairie and the Post Office, was around the corner from a boulangerie, and a short walk from a supermarché. We went off to our other appointments, but the rest of the day was now ruined, because we wanted the house but knew we did not dare make an offer on it, because it was priced well above our price point. The following morning we returned to the house, then known as the Napoleonic house for its style, attempting to appear guileless and carrying a substantial level of anxiety. We were going to negotiate a price and in this matter, we were dealing with two professionals, each trying to do the best for their respective clients.
In a few minutes, the notaire arrived. The four of us went into his office and went through the introductions. He was, surprisingly to us, very much concerned that Liz and I would be comfortable with the purchase process. He spent a good deal of time explaining all the buyers’ safeguards required by French law. He made it clear that he was charged with protecting the purchasers’ interests. Then he told us that he was very familiar with the house in which we were interested because it had been the Bureau des Notaires before they moved into their current offices. It’s a small world and it got even smaller when we heard that the sellers and buyers can sometimes be represented by one notaire. In the United States an attorney would not be able to be involved with both parties to a sale because of a conflict of interest. In France it is common for one notaire to deal with all the parties to a sale.
We made an offer, below the asking price, and waited. One evening, as we got out of the car, Jacqueline’s phone rang. By this time, our anxiety had increased to something akin to panic, and we had infected Jacqueline as well. She practically tore her phone out of its pocket. Then, Jacqueline’s thumb went up! Liz went crazy! And, now we had to deal with the reality of purchasing a home in France. While that reality sank in, Jacqueline passed on the details of the purchase process and we took mental notes on all the details we would have to complete in the next few days. None of that seemed to matter to us, because now we had a home in France.
•S.Davis, Property & Living Editor
Photos courtesy of ©Jeff Poster
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