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.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

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: jon@jcaac.com 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.

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