We meet the couples who bought French real estate – and then started selling it
Kevin and Judith Whitlow hadn’t considered working in the estate agency business until they moved to France
What did you do for work in the UK? K - Initially I trained as a plumber but went on with my father to run a milk delivery business until 1998. I continued to work for myself after that as a builder and also did a short stint at the post office! J - I was previously a teacher in primary schools specialising in French and I have also worked as a PA.
When did you move to France, and why? J - We moved in March 2009. We met in 2007 through an online dating agency and when Kevin proposed I asked how he felt about living in France in the future as this had been a long-term dream of mine. K - I’d turned down an opportunity to emigrate to Canada in my early 20s so always had a lot of ‘what if’ questions. I wasn’t going to miss another opportunity. J - My father died quite suddenly at the end of 2008 and it made us re-evaluate our priorities. Having already found what we intended to be a holiday home, we felt that life really was too short and so made the decision to make a permanent move.
How was your experience as property hunters? K - Quite poor. We viewed with several agents with mixed results. We were shown properties that didn’t correspond to what we were looking for, and sometimes felt we were being used to placate vendors who hadn’t had a viewing. Finally, we met a good agent who listened and found us the house we eventually bought. The agency she worked for was nowhere near as good as her though and we weren’t surprised when she told us she was leaving.
The agency in question didn’t support us through the buying process and even left us to go to the notaire’s on our own to sign the compromis de vente. We arrived at the property late at night, after an arduous journey, to no water or electricity – despite assurances from the agency that they would sort it for us. It wasn’t a good start.
Thankfully, our new neighbour supplied us with water until we got it reconnected. This was a great introduction to the generosity of the French in this part of south-west France. J - The agent left her agency but kept in contact with us, supporting us at a distance throughout the rest of our buying process and move. Our experience has influenced our approach to the job – we don’t want anyone else to go through what we did!
What did you buy? K - Because of my building background, we bought a sweet little stone house in a beautiful
We’re busy but feel more in control of our own destiny – we don’t feel the outside pressures we did in the UK and have a better quality of life
location that needed totally renovating. I hated the idea of someone just handing me the keys without being able to put our own stamp on it. J - It was hard work, but worth it. We lived in a caravan and then a mobile home during the renovation, but I wasn’t prepared to do that through the winter, so we had our work cut out. We managed to renovate the house in just over four months – quite an achievement! K - We went on to buy the house next door and renovated that too, turning it into a couple of gîtes that we ran successfully for three years.
Describe your new life J - We’re busy but feel much more in control of our own destiny. Although we’re still working hard, we don’t feel the outside pressures we did in the UK. We have a better quality of life; great food, weather and space to just be!
Did you always plan to work in France? If so, doing what? K - We originally planned to manage other people’s holiday lets and Judith was going to run English classes for French children.
And then you became estate agents – how did that come about? K - The agent who found us our house was now working with Beaux Villages Immobilier and she contacted Judith to ask if she might be interested in covering someone’s holiday doing admin for a couple of months. J - At the end of the contract I didn’t want to leave and so I began my career as an estate agent! I’m now responsible for training our agents, using my teaching skills once again. Funny how things have gone round full circle. K - I’d been running our gîtes for three years and met some great people along the way, some of whom were househunting themselves. It seemed a natural progression to show them some properties and so, in 2013, I also joined the agency.
What advice would you give to the next generation of property hunters? Find a good agent and stick with them. Make sure they really listen to you. Give them every opportunity to find you the right property. Wild cards do work! Learn a bit of French if you don’t speak it already, it really does pay off – if only to give you confidence when you are out and about. In our experience the locals will love you for trying in French rather than you expecting them to speak English.
What would you change about your adventure so far? Nothing really. We’ve had a really great nine years here.
Is France your ‘forever home’? We have no plans to return to the UK. When we visit family we’re constantly reminded of how relaxed the pace of life is in France. At the end of the day, nothing beats having time for sitting on the terrace with friends and family, enjoying the view and listening to the birds singing – and there might be a glass of wine too!