All in it together
What’s it really like to live in a copropriété? Christine Tewson shares her first-hand experience and words of wisdom
An insider’s guide to the collaborative world of property co-ownership
More than 15 years ago, my husband and I decided to buy a property in France as a bolthole. We were both working so hard and needed somewhere to go for a short break every now and then to recharge our batteries. We opted for Normandy as it was within two-and-a-half hours from Calais, meaning we wouldn’t arrive exhausted. We bought a detached house which had a large back garden but nothing else. It was down a lane outside a village, so little things like mowing the lawn and keeping the garden in shape soon became a problem. As it transpired, although the food, the language and the way of life were different, it was almost the same as at home. On top of that, it rains a lot in rural Normandy!
Five years later, when we retired, we tried again, deciding this time to find something further south as we had more spare time and wanted to enjoy the sun. As we were looking for something different, an article in French Property News led us to a concept that was new to us – copropriété (co-ownership), referred to informally as coprop. The article featured a site being renovated by an English architect in north-west Dordogne. It would have eight stone houses (each very different and each with its own private space) around a courtyard, all of which would share communal land including a large solar-heated swimming pool, a hard tennis court, a boules pitch and wifi, the total cost of which would also be shared.
Perfect – all the fun but only one-eighth of the upkeep! What could be better? We would all pay in €120 a month to a communal fund and this would cover all the maintenance and upkeep, including such things as a new swimming pool cover, a new shower for the pool, planting and mowing as needed, and anything else that may have been required, all the while building up a fund in case of any future emergencies. This was to be administered by the representatives of two of the eight houses each year – we have all taken our turn, and it works well.
Doing the homework Before committing ourselves, we visited the architect and asked him all sorts of questions, not only regarding the renovation itself but also about how a coprop worked. He had a great deal of experience to draw on, as over the previous years he had developed other such sites. This particular site, Le Repaire, was to be his 10th and last.
As far as the building works were concerned, he was using the same artisans as before, so he knew and trusted them all, and they knew exactly what was required to meet his high standards. We went to look at some of his other projects and were impressed by them, so we decided to go ahead. It took almost 18 months for the site to be completed but all the owners agreed that it was worth the wait.
After the quality of the houses themselves, the grounds and the facilities, the next important point to consider was what the other owners would be like – would we all get on? As it stands, we had no problems and everything is discussed at our annual meetings (required by French law) or by email during the year if quicker decisions need to be made. We all own our own houses; it is only the communal grounds and facilities that are shared. All the owners get on well and meet once a year to decide on what, if anything, needs to be done during the following year. There are not usually many decisions to be made so it becomes more of a social event and a get-together.
Daily life Part of the nature of a coprop is that when you arrive, you may find only one or two of the other properties inhabited for the time you are
Living in a coprop has been a great experience and one we wouldn’t have missed for all the enjoyment we have had
there, or maybe none at all. To help, there is an online calendar so that people can keep up with what others are doing.
We are also extremely lucky in that we found an amazing English chap and his colleague. They started as the gardeners but now do all sorts of maintenance as and when required, including the upkeep of the pool and keeping an eye on the site for us all.
We have tried to spend nine or 10 weeks at the house every year in blocks of two weeks or so at a time. Because Le Repaire is on a hill overlooking the village of Champagne-etFontaine, we don’t interact much with the locals, but we do try and support the shop – and it goes without saying that we have been known to visit the little bar!
We have also tried to attend local events such as the Christmas market run by the school and the chasse supper (the hunters’ dinner), and we made sure that right at the beginning we visited the maire to introduce ourselves.
Fun in the sun We have seen more of the sun and have enjoyed the pool and the tennis court – sometimes with friends and family, with other owners or even on our own. Living in a coprop has been a great experience and one we wouldn’t have missed for all the enjoyment we have had from the house and our friendly neighbours around the courtyard.
Champagne-et-fontaine is a typical French village with a shop, a school, a church and a bar. The nearest supermarket is 10 kilometres away at Villebois-lavalette (where there is also a very good restaurant, a bank, a garden centre and a Saturday market).
Ten kilometres in the other direction is Verteillac, which also has a number of restaurants, a bank, a church and a monthly market, plus a shop which sells absolutely everything from jars of mustard through to woodburners and garden furniture. The nearest TGV station is Angoulême and the nearest airport Bergerac.
Sadly our house is now on the market, as my husband died two years ago and it is unlikely that I will go down so often – although I will miss it and the lovely rolling countryside. The house has two large reception rooms retaining some original features and a big private balcony overlooking a lake and fields. There are four double bedrooms (two of which are en-suite) and a family bathroom. Outside there is a private storage area where we keep the garden furniture, the barbecue and the logs and some bicycles.