Cottage Shopping

On Monday afternoon, we visited two more cottages for sale in our area. I think of them as Cottage #2 and Cottage #3 (because we visited Cottage #1 on Friday). Cottage #2 was charming as can be, but had major mold problems, so we passed on that one almost immediately. Cottage #3 (pictured above, see more pics here) was pretty much fantastic.

We really like it! It’s on a bigger piece of property than the first cottage, and the structure is more sound. The living space is almost non-existent — just one room with an amazing old oven. There are attached barns on either side of the one room, and huge attic space above. So if we bought it, we would need to work with an architect to create more living + sleeping areas in the attic or barns.

It hasn’t been lived in for many, many years and it’s currently classified as a barn instead of house. So before we can consider it seriously, the homeowners need to get a certificate that says the building is allowed to become reclassified as a house. But we were told we could go ahead and start getting bids on work if we’re interested.

This would be a major endeavor. (Understatement!) The property needs electricity, a septic tank, and roof repairs (luckily, not a whole new roof) just to get started. That’s before we get into projects like adding a stair case or creating bedrooms. I am no stranger to renovations, but this definitely intimidates me!

Ultimately, we love the idea of having a little place here. Something to keep us connected to France even after we move home.

For those of you who are curious, in our area, bare bones properties like this have low, low price tags (this one is around $33,000 after taxes), and require approximately $65,000 in work to make them liveable. The low price tag means we could buy the home outright without having to get a mortgage, then save up for the improvements as we go.

Tell me, friends. Does a project like this appeal to you? Or does it give you a headache just thinking about it? : )

P.S. — Do you know of an amazing architect that would love a project like this? 

86 thoughts on “Cottage Shopping”

  1. Love & Envy! I was about 15 when my French grandmother passed away leaving the house to all the kids (5 including my mom). This was the house my mom mostly grew up in. Pretty much two rooms with attached loft and barn. When my mom was young it didn’t even have indoor water (though it did in later years) and it never had indoor plumbing. My mom and her siblings slept in the hay loft with big down comforters made by my grandfather. An uncle and his wife lived in the house for about 5 years when mom’s other siblings put pressure on them to either “Buy” the house from them or sell it so they could gain the proceeds. When it was said and done the house and property (about 2.5 hours from Paris) sold for $25K or so. My dad was shocked and couldn’t believe the low price. He said many times had he known they wanted so little he would have bought it and made that their summer home in their retirement years. I love to think of what could have been and hold those memories close to my heart now that my dad has passed away and my mom suffers from a rare dementia. All this to say … do it! You, nor your children will regret it. And remember me and probably 1000’s of other readers will rent it to live a slice of the French life when you’re not using it.

  2. After reading “My Year in Provence” I might be overwhelmed, but you guys are pioneers! You can do it! Or have it done.

    One of the top firms in Santa Barbara CA. You should definitely call them because they are very environmental and Martin Hartmann has experience with earth and adobe homes and well as other earth structures. I think old stone homes might qualify too. Not sure if they work out of the country, but worth a call!! Ask for Martin! Tell them Whitney. Sent you! Good luck!

  4. Congrats! We recently moved to my boyfriend’s summer home in Cornwall. A house definitely needs to be lived in or taken care of, it’s the little things, changing lightbulbs, bugs, doors that are sticking. His parents had a gardener who kept things from going wild but otherwise spent a good deal of time when they visited n cleaning, gardening, fixing up etc. I would recommend hiring an agency. It’s common here to do holiday cottages and hire an agency to do the bookings. You get first pick on when you want to be there but it’s rented out the other weeks. And you have the peace of mind that someone has keys and is looking out after it.

  5. Sounds like a great project! We are a Dutch family who have been living here in South-Normandy for 4 years. After renovating our own home, we completely renovated a lovely cottage nextdoor, that was in a much worse state than yours (just four walls!) It is now rented out as a holiday cottage (gîte). Have a look at our website for before and after pictures (only in French and Dutch for the moment):
    At the moment we are preparing to attack a third wreck! So , if you want to pick our brains on how to tackle your project feel free to contact us. I also have a very good Canadian (from Quebec) )architect friend who used to work in France that might be able to help.

    Good luck!

    Gea Keller-Visser

  6. Hi Gabi,
    It’s been a while since I am reading you website and your adventure in France. I am the mother of 2 boys (5 and 2,5) who together with my husband bought one old house in Italy (dated more or less Xvii th century). My dream is to have a post on your website under “Living with kids” :). But before this, our house needs major renovations from top to bottom. My brother who lives in Romania (by the way I am Romanian but moved to Italy some 15 years ago) offered to send a team from there (considering the lower labour costs from Romania). However we preferred to work with Italians ( from architect to ingeneer to plumber, etc) because they have to know the local regulations for renovating/building (you will also need to request an authorisation at the townhouse), the materials used in loco, how it was built as to not interfere with what was built already, etc. I think it is fine to have an American architect with whom you will have no language gap problems during works, but he/she should be based in France ( or more, in the region where you live and the barn is located, as sometimes the regulations change from town to town or region to region. At least this is what is in Italy).
    Good luck

  7. I would first say Bill Ingram, MacAlpine-Tankersley or Steve Gianetti. There’s also Jack Arnold who seems to specialize in cottage type homes. Me, personally, I would say Bill Ingram because his structures seem to have that cottage feel, but a little cleaner at the same time. Just something I would prefer. Best of luck…I would do it in a HEART BEAT!

  8. Oh! I hope you buy this charming place to add to your family’s adventures! I think we’re all hoping to follow along as you post about the progress of the project!

  9. I love the character of older homes but possible health issues that come with them like lead pipes and lead paint make me nervous. Not sure if that is an issue where you are, but that is something you may want to look into.

  10. I am hopelessly idealistic about houses and renovations, so I say go for it! I would be another rich experience I a sure and as long as you treat it as an adventure, rather than the only abode you have, it is sure to be fun!

  11. I would say go for it! But I would recommend not living in the environment until the renovations have been made. Exposure to the dust, debris, and VOC’s isn’t healthy for children or adults. Good luck!

  12. My husband and I bought a fixer-upper farmhouse 5 years ago. There’s a lot of things that are great about it and a lot of things that aren’t so great. But trying to do the renovations ourselves while working 40 hours a week has made it very difficult to get much done. But I wouldn’t trade it for a modern house, that’s for sure. :)

  13. Oh what a lovely idea! I would be so excited, constantly sketching out ideas and different layout options. Before we decided to build a custom home (which is also thrilling!) we looked at some dilapidated old homes and dreamed of how to renovate and reconfigure them. I love houses, architecture and interior design. So exciting!

  14. Wow…what a fun idea. so much cheaper than your typical beach house, minus the airfare, of course. =) re: your one room/barn/cottage–I recently read At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, which talked about the evolution of the anglican home, and it was very typical of the ancient houses to be “halls,” which where one room structures with a stove/hearth that the entire family ate/slept/played in! I think you would love the book, as it touches on nearly all facets of domestic life!

  15. Before I give any practical advice, I’m just going to say that I think this sounds like a great project, and I’m so happy that you have this opportunity. :) Now I’m going to write what is probably too long for a just a comment…

    I’m a soon-to-be-architect (working, but not yet licensed), and I wholeheartedly agree with Robin and Heather that you should check into what is actually required in France for signing drawings — especially since you will be reclassifying it as a house so you may have to submit it to certain authorities. As long as you can communicate, I would personally be less concerned with the architect being an American and more with their ability to 1) Legally sign the drawings and 2) Do the work. In a restoration like this, I would select someone who had considerable experience with restoration work in France — not just some residential experience and not just that one really cool restoration they did as a side project.

    Also, I haven’t worked in the construction industry in France, BUT I have worked in the construction industry and I have lived in France, and I would say that $65,000 sounds pretty low to me, especially since it looks like it needs some serious work on both the exterior stone and the roof. I conferred with some other architects in my office, and they concur that $65,000 sounds very low.

    If you are able to, I recommend consulting with your designer or architect to discuss the investment and feasibility of the project. I’m a money gal, so I would have to ask “Would the final product be worth the [insert pricetag] I put into it?” It may not matter to you since you would conceivably own it for a long time, but it’s worth asking.

    Also consider things like: Who is going to manage the project if you’re back in the US? If you are thinking a contractor is managing the project, they may not be willing to manage a project in small spurts. Would you really be able to pay for parts of the work as you go or would you have to come up with pretty large sums all at once? (i.e. all the electrical and mechanical work).

    I hope I’m not raining on your parade. :) Again, I hope you are able to figure all these details out and get this place. It sounds great, and I’m extraordinarily jealous!

  16. I’d like to suggest my father, Klaus Philipsen, as an architect. His firm, ArchPlan, is based in Baltimore but he is originally from Germany – so he knows the metric system and European standards, he has experience with historic preservation, he speaks french, and he’s wonderful!

  17. Just reading this makes me exhausted…so I guess I would definitely pass on a project like this. But good for you! Can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

  18. This is so awesome and I’m completely inspired/jealous. I say do it! This will be a great bonding experience for you and your family, and by owning a home in France, you will become a permanent part of the country and its culture.
    Please keep us updated!

  19. Congratulations! I can hardly wait to follow you along on this project! So exciting! I thought I was brave buying a house in New Canaan, CT last year without seeing it since we still lived in southern California. What an exciting project and one I would jump at the chance for! A beautiful stone cottage is just about as perfect as it gets for a starting point!

  20. You MUST check out a collaborative workspace called co-construct. Your architect and builder set it up, and everything is managed there, from deadlines, sourcing, message boards, to progress pictures. We are currently managing a renovation of a country house about an hour or so away, and depend on it. It organizes everything, sends updates, and notifications about decisions that are due. Hopefully your guys are fairly tech savvy (although it is very quick and easy to learn) because I honestly can’t imagine managing a project any other way… especially remotely. There is even app so that you can check in from anywhere. I check in every afternoon to see what they did! He posts pics daily. (My builder is also on pinterest to see what I have chosen.. that has been great too.) He has six kids himself so anything that saves time and energy (and money) for everyone is a huge bonus. Good luck!

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