Why Jonathan is saying ‘non’ to any more self-builds in France
Jonathan Cocking bought a ready-made home in France, but his new project took him almost four years. Sharon Dale reports.
LIKE many of us who have holidayed in rural France, Jonathan Cocking dreamed of owning a home where the roads are never congested, the pace of life is slow and the bread is always fresh from the oven.
His enthusiasm wasn’t shared by his wife Catherine and he spent almost ten years trying to persuade her to buy a holiday property there.
“She was right. She loved central France as much as I did but she didn’t want the hassle of a holiday home. My dream was a house on its own at the top of a hill, but she pointed out that the pipes might freeze in winter when we weren’t there and in those days before cheap flights, it was a 14-hour drive to get there, at least,” says Jonathan.
But in 2004 he spotted an apartment in a newly-converted chateau in Lot, South West France, and he threw caution and marital harmony to the wind, and jumped on a flight to check it out.
“It was perfect with all the original features. the estate agent out there was originally from Holmfirth, Ryanair started cheap flights to Bergerac and there was a concierge. Catherine came out and agreed it was perfect,” says Jonathan, who owns an arboriculture consultancy in Barkisland.
The property, which is near the town of Martel, is one of nine apartments and has three bedrooms and bathrooms with a shared swimming pool and tennis courts. The only slight hiccup was that Chateau de La Garrigue had been converted by an Australian developer, whose workmanship couldn’t be faulted, unlike his grasp of the French tax system.
Shortly after the sale, he disappeared, leaving the mainly British owners to manage the building themselves. They have put their various talents, ranging from gardening to law and accountancy, to good use and pay £2,000 a year towards maintenance. This includes the services of part-time concierge Mark Sampson, who featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs building his straw bale home in Lot.
“We’ve spent all our holidays there and it has been magical for us and our three children. There are now cheap flights from Liverpool to Bergerac and Limoges, which take just over an hour, and we sometimes drive via the Euro Tunnel, which takes about 13 hours,” says Jonathan. “We’ve been out there over 100 times between us.”
Leaving the apartment, which is on the market for £220,000, is a wrench but it marks the end of a long and torturous French property odyssey for Jonathan.
After satisfying his original ambition, he became more adventurous and decided he would like to build his own dream house “high on a hill, overlooking the River Dordogne and close to a bread shop”.
An agent showed him and a friend the perfect plot and they were lulled into a false sense of security by the ease of the negotiations and the relaxed planning rules.
“It was for sale for 120,000 Euros with permission for two houses but it turned out only to have permission for one, so after a beer with the owner we got the land for 60,000, which was fantastic. Planning permission was absolute breeze. It took 15 days. I knew the area, had lot of friends and contacts and I assumed that building would be just as easy,” says Jonathan.
He was wrong. As many who have trodden that path will tesify, building a home in France is far from simple.
Firstly, although planning permission was no problem, the French are very particular about position and will make sure you tear a property down if it is a few centimetres out of the agreed boundaries.
“We had to pay 600 Euros for someone to peg it out. Then we realised there would be a problem with the height of the rear corner so we had to pay 13,000 Euros to cut off the top of the hill. Then we hadn’t ticked a particular box when we asked for a temporary supply of electricity so one day a man arrived, switched it off and drove away. That took some sorting out and stopped work,” says Jonathan, whose major problem was getting contractors to do the job. “Then when they started, it was impossible to get them to stay on it,” he says. “Noone in the area uses email, they use faxes they don’t respond to and telephones that always seem to be on an answer machines. Trying to manage the project remotely from Yorkshire was very frustrating. There were lots of phone calls and lots of trips over there.
“The roof was also a nightmare because it was quite complex and no-one wanted to do all of it. We eventually found a lovely guy to do the electrics, plumbing and heating but it was difficult to keep him on site. I liken it to sweeping water up steps. It was a fight to build it.”
The four-bedroom property is finally complete after almost four years and Jonathan has been rewarded for his perseverance. Build costs were 250,000 Euros, the plot 60,000 and the house has been valued at 600,000, but he says: “After this experience I will never build anything again but it hasn’t dimmed my love affair with France.”
Jonathan’s apartment is in Lot and has three double bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen, living/dining room and a private terrace with countryside views. Outside there are gardens, a pool, pool house and two international sized tennis courts. Price: £220,000. Contact: email: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 07778 391986.
PIED À TERRE: Jonathan’s home in Chateau de la Garrigue is a stunning three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment full of original views. The terrace boasts sensational views and there is a pool and two international size tennis courts in the gardens. It is now for sale, as Jonathan’s dream home on a Dordogne hill top is finally complete after a four-year saga.