Makeover marathon

As he spruces up his new home in Langue­doc, Paul Cherry fills us in on his brushes with builders, bar­be­cues, bu­reau­cracy, Brits, boil­ers and bul­locks

French Property News - - News -

One man’s ef­forts to do up his new home in a Gard vil­lage

Life here in the Gard is just as lovely as I had hoped. How­ever, adapt­ing to it has been a two-way street for both me and the lo­cals since I moved here in Septem­ber last year. Firstly, a lot of things needed do­ing to the house. My first true friends in the area (and I say this with some irony) were the staff of Mr Brico­lage, which is French B&Q to you.

Not a day went by with­out me vis­it­ing to buy or re­turn some­thing. Luck­ily I am a prac­ti­cal kind of guy and un­fazed by most tasks pro­vid­ing I have the right tools and parts. In the end I have done pretty much all the home im­prove­ments my­self be­cause: 1) I can’t un­der­stand the French builder’s pric­ing, and 2) I can’t un­der­stand the French builder’s pric­ing.

The builder So af­ter five months of hard work, which in­cluded fit­ting 37 new lights (yes, the pre­vi­ous own­ers took them all) in the main house, I de­cided to get the guest­house in shape.

Once I had done all my tiling and fit­ting out, the only job left was to cou­ple up the kitch­enette waste and wa­ter. Now this was a lit­tle com­pli­cated so I called in a pro­fes­sional. If it leaks I will look a fool to my guests, whereas if it leaks and a pro­fes­sional has done it, I can just call him.

So the builder looks at the job and then tells me he will come back with a price. As he is there, I de­cide to ask if he would also like to give me a quote for do­ing the same job on my ter­race, plumb­ing in a sum­mer kitchen and build­ing a small bar­be­cue.

Now I’ve been around the block a cou­ple of times so I re­alise its all about the art of ne­go­ti­a­tion, but I was flum­moxed by the email that popped up with my es­ti­mate. The cheap­est quote was for the guest­house. Plumb­ing in the sum­mer kitchen was go­ing to cost 30% more for at least 40% less work. And the quote for the bar­be­cue? Well let’s just say the price must have in­cluded James Martin cook­ing ev­ery Satur­day. Even with ne­go­ti­a­tion it was go­ing to be ex­pen­sive.

In the end, I de­cided to get the guest­house done as it wasn’t some­thing I could do my­self. Then I went to see my friends at Mr Brico­lage to buy all the fit­tings I needed for the sum­mer kitchen that I’d bought from Ikea. A to­tal of €135 later, ev­ery­thing was in and work­ing. The bar­be­cue On hear­ing that James Martin was not go­ing to be avail­able to me on an exclusive ba­sis, I thought about the bar­be­cue prob­lem. A few years ear­lier, I’d bought an Ital­ian pre­cast stone bar­be­cue from a store in Cheshire, so I fer­reted out an old business card and rang Sally who runs it. Now, buy­ing gar­den and out­side equip­ment is a bit like buy­ing a con­vert­ible car – the best deal is in the win­ter. Sally or­gan­ised a bar­be­cue di­rect from her sup­plier in Italy and I bought a big one for 20% of what it would have cost to have the same one built.

The truck ar­rived with a pal­let of stone com­po­nents weigh­ing 346kg, which I had to get up three flights of stairs. This is where French com­mu­ni­ties come into their own. Luck­ily, I have been taken into their hearts – or maybe they just like help­ing mad old peo­ple – and 40 min­utes later we had it all in place.

With this done, my home has be­come BBQ Cen­tral and the vis­i­tors have been many, with no bouts of food poi­son­ing as yet!

The bu­reau­cracy Next on the list was to give the out­side a makeover. Strangely, in the 18th cen­tury the French showed their wealth by cov­er­ing their beau­ti­ful stonework with rock hard ce­ment. This again was a job for a spe­cial­ist, Pas­cale, and she was fan­tas­tic. Days of chis­elling and drilling were fol­lowed by what ap­peared to be a mud-throw­ing com­pe­ti­tion – it’s the only way to get the mortar into the joints. One week later, the scaf­fold­ing was down and I only had to hang my newly painted shut­ters which I had been do­ing in the cel­lar.

Now this is where I should ex­plain about French plan­ning rules. I live within 500m of a beau­ti­ful old church which means that ev­ery­thing in the area must be in keep­ing. It shouldn’t have been a prob­lem as all I was do­ing was mak­ing my house look like it was in 1751, yet I had to make five – yes five – ap­pli­ca­tions, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from the colour of the mortar and shut­ters to a re­quest to close the road. Four copies had to be made of each ap­pli­ca­tion, sent to four dif­fer­ent de­part­ments. So I hand all this to the mairie and ask how long it will take to be ap­proved. Four months, I’m told! Well, as you might imag­ine, that was not what I wanted to hear.

That evening I see the mayor hav­ing a Ri­card

at my ‘lo­cal’. I ap­proach with a view to buy­ing him a drink (he de­cides it’s eas­ier to buy me one) and 10 min­utes later he says: “You can do all the work; start as soon as you want.” In the UK, this would be like build­ing first, then ap­ply­ing for plan­ning per­mis­sion later. At the end of the evening, the mayor told Pas­cale to get on with it and three months af­ter she had fin­ished, I got my per­mis­sion through the post.

The Brits When I bought my home, the es­tate agent told me the area was the “New Provence” and, of course, I be­lieved him. But in all hon­esty I do see it. Prop­erty is creep­ing up in value and there is a more cos­mopoli­tan feel to the area.

We are in the bot­tom cor­ner of Gard, so we have Provence on two sides; how­ever the area has be­come in­ter­na­tional. My vil­lage has a pop­u­la­tion of 647 and there are enough Brits to have an ar­gu­ment in the tabac/presse when the four copies of The Sun­day Times have all gone. There are also four Amer­i­cans, a Nor­we­gian who di­vides her time be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and here, seven Ger­mans and four Syr­i­ans. This last group were wel­comed into the com­mu­nity in Novem­ber and are very happy to be safe and among friends.

The boiler I ar­rived in Septem­ber last year and the weather was gor­geous, in the mid 30s. In Oc­to­ber, this be­came the mid 20s with lunch and din­ner eas­ily eaten out­side. Novem­ber was up and down but never less than 16°C and when it rained it rained, but four hours later it was bright again. De­cem­ber be­came cold and I had to or­der more wood for the fire. Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary were not good, though by that I mean I had to wear a coat oc­ca­sion­ally. By the mid­dle of March, the heat had re­turned and con­tin­ued to rise – bliss.

Wood in win­ter is damp so you soon learn to buy it in spring so that it will be dry for win­ter. Oh, and if your lo­cal wood seller drops off four square me­tres, it’s go­ing to take at least three hours to stack. On the sub­ject of heat­ing, I have an oil boiler which does the heat­ing and wa­ter for both houses. I filled my tank up on ar­rival in Septem­ber and only re­ally started to use it in De­cem­ber. By mid Jan­uary I needed to top up and that’s when les­son num­ber two came in. Oil is cheaper in the sum­mer; in Jan­uary it costs 20% more. Ah well, we live and learn!

The bul­locks A year on, the house is as I wanted it and the guest­house is earn­ing its keep. It’s a lovely place to be and I am ex­plor­ing more and more of the area. The vil­lage has just had their ver­sion of the ‘run­ning of the bulls’… calves who do a lap of the vil­lage then have a rest with wa­ter and food. No an­i­mals were hurt in this pro­duc­tion!

With Brexit the buzz­word, life here is as it pos­si­bly al­ways has been. The French work to live and are happy with that. I am still a fan of the area, the peo­ple and the way of life. Some­times I look back and won­der if I did the right thing. Then re­al­ity sinks in. Yes, yes, yes!

And the quote for the bar­be­cue? Well let’s just say the price must have in­cluded James Martin cook­ing ev­ery Satur­day

The fa­mous Pont du Gard is not far from Paul’s home Paul has no re­grets about his new life in France

The wood runs out pretty fast in win­ter

View of the River Gar­don from the Pont du Gard Paul’s new home in south-east Gard The bar­be­cue has pride of place on the ter­race

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