We called the first estate agent that we ever had the fortune to do business with ‘Monsieur Moustache’ on account of his formidably waxed and curled whiskers. I will never remember his real name despite the fact that he very nearly succeeded to sell us our first French house. The most recent, last week’s agent presented himself in tight black leather trousers, a black shiny jacket and open shirt, before offering me a lift in his black open-roofed convertible! He was Mr ‘Smoooth’, … Monsieur Lisse.
If you have never experienced French house buying, here’s the nub. French Estate agents charge astronomic commissions on house sales. Something in the region of 8% and so they never, never let you know the address of the property, but whisk you there under a cloak of mystery and ensure that you sign a slip of paper after the visit acknowledging that ‘They’ were the ones who made the introduction.
Monsieur Lisse had two houses to show me and he did a very convincing job of trying to sell at least one to me. “Which, in my opinion” he asked” was the forerunner? It was fairly hard to be enthusiastic about either. It couldn’t compete with one i’d seen a few weeks earlier and which wasn’t on his books. When I advised him that the first house had a pleasant interior, but it’s exterior left a lot, and I emphasise ‘a lot’ to be desired he said..
“Ahh, mais Madame, on ne vit pas à l’exterieur, on vit à l’interieur. L’exterieur est sans importance…”
“Ahh, Madam, one doesn’t live outside, one lives inside. The exterior has no importance..”
There I couldn’t disagree more.
I’ve always been somewhat of the opinion that the facade of a building is its face. Some wide eyed and open, others closed and sleepy, some sharp and mean, others friendly and welcoming. Its windows as its eyes, its door as its mouth. How can one choose a house based on its interior alone. A house is a reflection of its owner, it has presence; it frowns or it smiles, it forbids or it welcomes, it cocoons or it energises.
Normandy has a rich architectural history. Beautiful buildings in stone; in red and golden brick with silex infil (a kind of stone cobble and mortar) and in colombage. Each style can be found in town and in country and each have their own particular style and beauty.
silex to be broken to form wall infil
Here are just a few examples of what can be found:
classic and imperious,
Stylish but moody,
Classic but austere,
open and friendly,
grand and imposing,
reclusive and protective,
and houses in colombage:
neighbourly and reticent,
charming and restful,
friendly and welcoming,
sleepy and protective.
or houses in brick and silex:
formal and quiet,
informal and friendly,
neighbourly and perky,
charming but secretive,
or perhaps a mix:
It’s not just a question of location and view but how a house will interpret and reflect one’s mood.
So what am I looking for in a house?
In the city I would like one with presence. I like to have a beautiful front door on which I can hang my holly wreath at Christmas, and ideally with a front garden to protect it from passing revellers, perhaps a balcony and a space for hanging baskets in the summer. I would prefer stone with beautiful large original windows to throw light into the deepest recesses. It must be welcoming yet classic, friendly but demure.
In the country I would like a grassy drive so that my kids can hang out of the sunroof as they do every summer holiday, and practice driving the last few metres home. The house must be friendly but a refuge, capable of being opened up on the hottest summer days and battened down on cold wet wintery nights with a large chimney promising a roaring fire within.
So here is my choice for my great French house hunt:
My town house – this..
and my summer retreat – this, with a mountain or sea view!
So when Monsieur Lisse presented me with this:
and despite the fact that it had exactly the same internal layout as it’s neighbour..
..it was clear that it had been very badly manhandled.
What Monsieur Lisse hadn’t understood is that buying a house isn’t just about finding a house in the right location, nor is it about finding a house with a functioning interior, it’s about that feeling of pleasure as one rounds the corner, sees a beautiful piece of architecture and thinks to oneself,
“….at last, i’m home!”
Lots of interesting architecture – good to see places from your area. I’ve only ever passed through. Our houses are mud-brick and river stones with colombage. Some are very pretty, some not so. I felt right about our place the minute I saw it, despite the fact that it was in a mess having been empty for 30 odd years and used as a store for agricultural machinery and maize, which equalled rats. How could we have bought it? Well, apart from feeling right, it had a huge covered entrance which now has huge double, studded wooden doors and, wait for it …. a heart carved in stone over the front door, which was very pretty anyway. It’s been our home now for seven years and gets more attractive as time goes by and we manage to bring it back to its former ‘glory’.
Much happiness in your new place.
My imagination is running away with me when I think of your place. I love the idea of the carved heart. Houses do make you come to them I feel, don’t you? I will know when I see it and I hope it has plenty of renovation to do – somehow that gives a greater sense of ownership than any paperwork could!
Now that is one ugly house! I think anyone could see that! Some people might not be bothered by a house’s exterior and that’s fine. However if it is something that is going to bother you, shouldn’t the real estate agent keep that in mind when showing you houses? Also are you thinking of staying within Rouen or moving out into the suburbs?
We moved to the current house we live in summer of 2001 (in fact a month before 9/11, sadly that is how I remember the date). We had the most fantastic realtor who pretty much bent over backwards to help my parents find the house of their dreams. She even brought us dinner the first night we officially moved in since we had no food in the kitchen! My parents are still in touch with her, eleven years later.
But I remember my parents working with pushy, insensitive realtors who just didn’t seem to get what my parents were looking for. This is why I think looking for a house is so complicated! Not only do you need to find a house that fits, you also need to shop around for the right realtor as well!
I’d be happy with just about any of them!
Like the intimate one. Like yours too. The door seems welcoming. 🙂
I love your post and you are so right! First impressions are very important!