Sunday, August 24, 2014

House Hunting in Bordeaux - France & End of Summer update!

Our Process of Renting a house in France 
Summertime fun -ending with the reality of moving...Beach in Arcachon
I know I promised posts about our vacation and yes, I'm working on them - but other matters have taken precedent in the past couple of weeks cutting into my time.

I thought while I had a few minutes, I would update everyone on our life in general right now.  We learned last Winter that the current house, we are renting is being put on the market, so our lease is was going to run out at the end of the summer.  Since we were not interested in buying this house, we had to start looking for a new one.  A process that initially I looked forward to...but quickly found out it was not fun and definitely not what my "American" brain was use to.

We apparently got REALLY lucky three years ago when we found this house. We had met with the relocation specialist (provided to us as it was an overseas move) and as it was August - she only had this house to show us - but it was basically perfect.  One house, one visit, submitted application, it was accepted-all set in one day!  That was great.

Fast forward to now.  No relocation specialist and in France there is no centralized listings!  Basically, each rental is either given to a specific real estate agency or agencies or put up individually by the owner on "le bon coin", France's equivalent to  Classified ads or Craigslist.

So as a renter you have to speak or look on-line at the various agencies to see if they have what you may be looking for.  Yes, the agencies do also cross-list their rentals on "Le Bon-coin" or other more general sites but some don't.  As a renter, you can also be in touch with and speak with the various agencies but they may not have what you are looking for and then it's up to you to keep following up!  You might get lucky and have an agent call you to follow up but mostly it's your own responsibility.  If a house is listed with an agent and you find a house through an agent - as a renter you pay an agency fee (which is usually equivalent to a month's rental), in addition to your first month's rent and security deposit.

Luckily, most on-line realtor sites have searches that you can set up - so you can be alerted to when a desired house becomes available. This is what I did for about 10 different sites.  The whole process just feels complicated and at times overwhelming. Not to mention takes a lot of time looking, following up with agents and also visiting houses.

The long and short of it - it becomes a daily task to monitor emails and double check sites.  Then you have to match when you want to move with when the house is available.  Additionally, in our case, I wanted to stay in the same  part of town we are presently living in, so to be close to my younter daughters elementary school.  Our town is a long narrow rectangle, so I would always have to double check with the listing agent as to the exact location of the house to see if it was located close to where I wanted to be.

Another complication here in France is that they don't really market the houses too well on the Internet.  There are often very few photos, minimal descriptions and it's hard to really know what the house looks like until you visit it.  

I began visiting a few houses last June and nothing seemed to feel right.  Either the house needed too much work (i.e. kitchen was very basic - needing cupboards, or no closets), or the location was just too far away from where I wanted to be, or rooms were too small.  It was not easy.

I thought I found a really nice newer home in mid-June and we decided to submit an application to rent or what the French call a "Dossier".  This is tons of paperwork - You identifications papers, your work contract, copies of your last 3 paychecks, copies of taxes from the past 2 years, letter attesting that you previous owned or paid rent on time from landlord, plus assorted other documents!  This is what I like to call typically French - tons and tons of paperwork!

However, we came to very quickly learn that the rental market for the price range we are looking at was very competitive.  Often real estate agents were only showing the house to 5-7 people and then would receiving 3-5 applications for each rental and then it was up to the owner to choose which family worked for them.  You need to act fast when you saw a possible house so you could at least get on the list to see the house.  (We sometimes got locked out of seeing houses as by the time I would call, they would have closed the viewing)

We submitted 2 dossiers earlier in the summer for a couple possibilities and were not chosen for either one of those. So as the summer was quickly coming to a close, I just kept looking for more possibilities.  Luckily more and more houses were popping up. - but it was something I had to stay on top of, in order to get an appointment for viewing a house.

Last Tuesday, I ended up seeing 3 houses back to back.  That was just coincidental as to when appointments were given. I was determined that one of them was going to work.  None of the houses seemed absolutely perfect but each had a lot of promise.
Colorful kitchen - newer built in cabinets
One side of the "L" shaped - Living room/Dining room 
The first was a newer house - in a small development attached by the garage to the next house.  (The French word here is "mitoyenne" - meaning attached).  I would describe it like a townhouse with an L shaped living/dining room - small kitchen and 3 nice sized bedrooms upstairs.  A small yard wrapped around 2 sides off the house.  The good news about this house was the bedrooms upstairs were nicely sized. Washer/Dryer hook up was in the bathroom upstairs.  (This is also not uncommon - for space purposes usually the washer/dryer are in the bathrooms or kitchens) The yard did front the street but was private.  Kitchen would need a stove,oven & refrigerator.  This is not uncommon as most people own their own appliances and move them with each move. (We currently own our own refrigerator - but our oven/stove came with the current house).  If ads say "Cuisine equipee" - it means some appliances are included in the rental.

The second house was bigger with an additional room downstairs that could function as a guest room or den.  This house was older with lots of charm. The downside of this one was the kitchen had no built in cupboards and we would need to purchase portable cupboards to hold dishes and pans in addition to a stove/oven.  The house was on a corner of a busy street - very convenient to a bread store and other small shops but definitely a bit noisier and it lacked privacy.  The advertisement for this house, only included a photo of the outside - so a visit revealed a charming house.
Love the charm of these stairs and the wonderful parquet floor.
One side of the Living Room/Dining room - both doors open to yard - lots of light
The third house was a private rental (no agency fee) which I found on le Bon Coin.  This house was situated on a quiet street and was also a mitoyenne (attached) to another house next door.  It is located on a small street with other matching houses all (duplexes) built at the same time located in a residential area but easily accessible to a bus route.  This house has a very small patio off the back and a small patch of grass in the front.  The yard extended from the front all the way around to the back but is narrow and small.  Tall hedges in the back give privacy from the neighbors on each side.  The house was similar in square meters to the first house but had a larger kitchen.  The "Sejour" or living room /Dining room was rectangular at the back of the house.  Upstairs - 3 average sized bedrooms and a full bath.  The washer/dryer hook up in this house is located in the insulated garage.  Each bedroom had built in closets (not super large but big enough). However, I was one of 15 people looking at this house this particular day.  

Nice newer kitchen - plenty of built in cabinets - almost room for narrow table/bar on left side.
Love the white stairs - in Living room/Dining room - Tile floors.
A couple of other things to note about looking at houses - often they are smaller than US equivalents.  For instance we moved from an 1800 square foot house in New York State to approx. 1400 square feet - but still gained an extra bedroom and bath.  Due to rent costs, we are choosing to downsize  again, but it's actually nice to clean out and not accumulate too much stuff!  Most of the houses were are looking at now are around 1000 square feet.    It may seem small by US standards, but if space is efficiently used, it works nicely.  

So which one did we choose?  Or which ones did I submit dossiers for? If you follow me on instagram or twitter you might recognize the one we chose.  It's funny, I was ready to submit dossiers for 2 of them - The first one and the third - and had handed in most of the dossier for the first house.  However, as I was enjoying a lovely lunch with a good friend of mine on Wednesday, the owner of the third house called and offered it directly to us! 

Kismet, I say!  Having lost out on 2 other houses earlier in the summer, I was thrilled by this offer.  He knew only what our monthly salary was but was not accepting dossiers until he sorted through those people who were interested.  Originally, he had told me that he would call those perspective renters who he wanted to collect dossiers from - and then choose.  He told me he just "had a good feeling" about us and offered it directly to us! 

So later that afternoon, I found myself back at our new house, signing our rental agreement and walking through the house to complete the "State of the Condition" form with our new landlord.  I left with keys in hand!!  What a great feeling!

As we had to give our current landlord at least a month notice - we actually have until the end of September to move out.  But it's nice to be able to measure and move things over to the new house.  A big sigh of relief and here's to new beginnings and new memories to be made!!
Lege - Cap Ferret - Ah - the relaxation of summer!
So now, I'm off to enjoy a few days with girlfriends out in Cap Ferret!  The last hurrah before summer ends and we get busy with La Rentree!!  


  1. Wow, it all sounds very complicated and tiresome! The agency fees sound extortionate considering our very expensive fees here in London dont come close to that.

  2. Thanks for this French version of House Hunters International! The complications involved in renting a place are pretty astounding; however, as my wife has spent a lot of time in France, I understand the love of paperwork. Glad you were able to find a nice place and relax with your friends afterwards.

  3. U know where we are if we had decided to rent thru an agency their commission is also about one month rent as a landlord and that is just to find you a tenant! Congratulations on the new house

  4. Sticking through is the only option I guess and it paid off :)

  5. Househunting can often be a nightmare, and more so if you are doing it in a foreign country where you are not used to the way things are done. Glad you got it all sorted out in the end!


  6. So 120 km in Europe can make a big difference. Big city to rural in less than an hour with rental markets to the total opposite.
    Here in Jarnac, rentals seem a dime/dozen. Probs because there are no well paying jobs?

  7. I'm so glad to hear you finally found a place you're happy with. While we own a home in one state, my husbands job takes him out of state for long periods at a time and we are faced with having to find rentals frequently. So although I can't understand going through this process in a different country I still have a good idea of what you went through. Enjoy your girls weekend away!!

  8. Such a shame that renting a house could be so complicated. Could imagine what you went through. All the best!

  9. Its such a releif to find a home after a challenging house hunt-congrats!

  10. That sounds like a very confusing and complicated process, but I'm glad it all worked out for you!! Congratulations!

  11. It sounds like the third house was meant to be. I hope you'll be happy there!

  12. I love the white stairs too. Definitely something I'd put in my dream house (if I ever own one) The whole non-centralised system of rentals can get pretty crazy (we have the same chaos here in India) And did I mention how jealous I am? Lucky you!

  13. Yes it can be very exhausting house hunting and from your french example it makes the Portuguese system look like a breeze!

  14. Ha house hunting in France...
    When I had my first appartment as a student in Lille and even as a French native I can tell you it was just a bloody pain! I had to go through so many of them, see good and bad things and then the "dossier" brrrr!
    Hope you'll enjoy your new place, "leboncoin" is really the place to go these days for renting!

  15. House hunting must be stressful. I am glad you at last managed to rent something. Have a great weekend!

  16. Really surprised there is no centralized listings, and it seems like it would be a great opportunity for startup to fill this need.

  17. It must be stressful househunting in a strange land

  18. I definitely think house hunting in one of those universally pain-in-the-ass things not matter where in the world you are! It's always a nightmare but totally worth it when you find the right one and things like that always work out in the end. Glad it worked out before the end of summer!

  19. This sounds like an exhausting process. All the paperwork...Welcome to Europe! ;)
    Great you found your house in the end and now: have fun at Cap Ferret.

  20. There is definitely a lot of work to be done. They have such different way of things there. I guess it comes with their culture and market economics. I think it helps if you have friends with some locals who work in the field. Anyway, I like how charming the second house is, though I think the third one has the most potential for you. I hope everything goes well with your move. Thanks for sharing! All the best!

    Naomi Walters @ Chicora

  21. Wow! What a process! I'm glad it had a happy ending. Best of luck in your new home!

  22. It is for sure a lot of work - we have a smililar process here in Germany paperwork, and hard to find houses because the houses are all listed with independent realtors/companies. I think it is intereting that often rental properties do not come with basic needs like full kitchens and you have to provide them here in Germany and we have found this in Lithuania and the Czech to me that is very strange compared to the USA - do you have that in France as well or everything is included?

  23. Sounds like you went through quite the hassle to rent that home! I'm happy it all worked out in the end. That third home is beautiful. Also sounds like the French are opposites of the Spanish. I have never tried renting a home in Spain but I have rented an apartment and it did not require all that paperwork.

  24. Enjoy your girl getaway before the big adventure! Wish you all the best in your new home :)

  25. Wow! What a relief to have found a place after such a process! Congrats and good luck on the move :)

  26. Congrats on the new place, enjoy the trip!


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