Who are you?
Let me introduce ourselves, I’m Jenny, I’m 42 and in my previous life I worked in Adult social care and supported housing. I left work full time approximately two years ago to work as a part time freelance Quality Management Consultant (great title, I know and roughly translated it meant that I inspected adult social care accommodation) but mainly to work with John as his labourer come dogsbody, so my family thought I had already had my midlife crisis before setting out on this one.
John is 48 and 4 quarters, he’s still not got his head around being 49 (and he is having more trouble getting used to his upcoming mile stone birthday) and in his previous life he had been a self employed builder for over, well let’s just say a very long time.We met a few years ago and had the same outlook on life and easy going nature, which is going to be essential for living in a house with no water, electric or other essentials. First tip to all considering this is to be very wary of French estate agent particulars, as we apparently bought a house with electricity and water!!!!!!!! Both had to be switched on but I’ll talk about that later.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
We had travelled around Europe for the past 3 years, the trips getting longer and longer before we realised we did not want to stay in England, work was also becoming scarcer so now seemed to be the perfect time to go for it.
In the UK we lived on the edge of Manchester and loved the live music, nightlife and the fantastic choice of restaurants, but the cost of living was becoming extortionate and we were beginning to live to work, this is not a good way of life, or not in our opinion, there was still so much to do and so much to see and we could always catch music festivals across Europe, Imagine Glastonbury without the rain, so a move to mainland Europe was ideal as we could easily drive to so many countries.
We had looked at a number of countries to move too and France was the ideal choice as it was still possible to buy renovation properties that would allow us to not work and leave enough money for us to live on for a couple of years. France is also easy to access from the UK; this is essential as we both have grown children there and now a grandchild.
So in August 2012 we bought a house in a village called Huelgoat (pronounced well gwat) in the Finistere region of Brittany.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The biggest challenge was finding somewhere to live, we arranged to put our property in the UK on the market and spend three months travelling around Europe with a full tour of Brittany to look for the perfect house, we realised after a previous visit that though we had an idea of what we wanted there was so much more to see when we visited, estate agents also don’t put all of their properties on the internet.
Unbelievably our house sold the day it went on the market to the first viewer; they also wanted to be in within four weeks and to buy all of our furniture. This meant our plans changed dramatically as we now had only four weeks to find and buy a property.
We found we kept coming back to Huelgoat and we fell in love with the village, we also found a town house (which we had not considered buying before) all went very smoothly and deposits were paid, then we hit a snag with our sale, the buyers had used a very inefficient solicitor and the four week sale turned into eight weeks, luckily because I don’t trust house sales I had ensured that we had an eight week back out clause added to our purchase in France, which meant we had breathing space, the sale went through on the last day of our eight week breathing space, we were living in a tent making twice daily telephone calls to the UK.
We also had a further set back as the exchange company sent the balance of the purchase money to the wrong Notaire in France, it took two days for a receptionist at the Notaires office to realise what had gone wrong, as we had e-mails confirming the money had been placed in the Notaires bank account but they were adamant they had not received it.
Other than these two setbacks the move went very smoothly, mainly because we had no furniture to relocate, all we were able to bring was what we could fit in our car, everything else had to be sold, given away or thrown away. It was quite a cathartic experience, especially as I am usually a bit of a hoarder. We just hope the new owners of our house enjoy music as we left two record collections in the loft.
How did you find somewhere to live?
We knew we were going to be in Brittany and I had spent many months scouring the internet, we had visited for one week to look at derelict barns which was what we wanted, or so we thought, we hadn’t realised how much trouble there could be with sceptic tanks. We knew we didn’t want to be in a big city and wanted to be able to access a beach reasonably easily, which is why we were drawn over and over again to Huelgoat, the village is beautiful with a big lake and an enchanted forest and we are only thirty minutes to a large town and forty minutes to the nearest beach.
As we had a limited time to buy we stayed in a tent for a couple of weeks in the area, the buying process was very simple as our estate agent spoke excellent English. When we came back for the sign up we had a friend with us who could speak French and he attended the final signing with us. We found the process in France so much simpler than in the UK, it literally is find a house, make an offer, pay a deposit (the seller is responsible for all surveys) and when happy pay for it, the UK would really benefit from using this method.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are a lot of ex pats in the village and surrounding areas, this has been helpful at times as there are people who can help and advise
What is your relationship like with the locals?
As we are living in the village permanently we have been accepted well, a number of Brits buy properties as holiday homes, but we are renovating a derelict house on the main street and this has been appreciated by the locals. Many of whom see us as the mad English living on a building site. Until the weather changed we kept the front door open and many would wander in to say hello and have a look at what we were doing. We also have French neighbours either side and we have got on well with both. Although until recently we had not been able to understand each other, this did not prevent us from having lengthy conversations, we were never quite sure what about but there were always lots of smiles.
What do you like about life where you are?
Our life here is much more relaxed, although we are working on the house daily, we have fitted in well with the long lunch hours, the easy going lifestyle and we absolutely love the food, so much more fresh fish and bread and croissants and obviously you can’t live in France without enjoying the fabulous wine.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
We have not yet found anything we dislike about our new life, we are still struggling at times with not seeing our families and I am missing my daughter and new baby granddaughter, but Skype is a wonderful thing and once the house is a little bit more child friendly they will all be able to visit.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The biggest difference is the pace of life, it did take a little while to get used to shops closing and not opening on Sundays, and the lack of 24 hour convenience. Living in Manchester you could buy anything at any time, here you shop during regular hours, but we now enjoy this and my diet is really benefiting from having no take a ways.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
The food here is generally better as most of what we buy is fresh, though there are some surprises such as how expensive chicken is, an example is going to buy some chicken fillets and ending up with fresh salmon as it was so much cheaper. The variety of fish available is amazing and always delicious. We had been warned that food was much more expensive in France, but if you shop around you can find many bargains, but if you want to buy English food then this is expensive, but our thought is why would you want to buy tinned food instead of fresh produce or food with an English label for at least twice the price of a French product?
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
1. Our advice would be to not spend years thinking about making the move but to go for it, if you don’t like it you can always go back.
2. Be flexible in your plans as they may change
3. If you are planning on doing a renovation like we have, then read my blog as it is not like the TV programs
What are your plans for the future?
We hope to turn our renovation into a successful B&B or chambres d’hôte and then move on to the next project before eventually becoming so successful we can retire to live in the sun in a house that has been fully finished.
Jenny and John share more imformation about life in France through their blog jennyandjohninbrittany.blogspot.com