French Cottage Update

It’s been ages since I’ve shared an update on The Cottage in France — mostly because there hasn’t been anything to report. : )

Here’s the latest: We had an unexpected offer from someone who wants to buy it! The property is not listed for sale, so this was just someone making an inquiry, but it got us thinking about what we want to do with us.

You may remember, a couple years ago we spent the summer in France with the intention of working on the cottage. But after we got there we hit pause. On a fluke, we ended up visiting other properties for sale, and realized that it would be less expensive (and much less complicated!) to buy an already livable, useable space.

But, we still liked the idea of working on The Cottage. We had already worked with an architect on plans. We had already replaced the roof. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to it.

We are lucky, because when we bought it, the property was a bargain (about $25k), and we ended up paying for it in full with the money we’d saved up for a down payment on a more expensive place. This has been good, because it has allowed us to sit on the project and approach it as slowly as we want — we haven’t had to worry about how to keep up monthly payments, and we haven’t had to try to rent it out to cover the mortgage.

But it also means we haven’t felt any urgency to work on the project. Our life is full here in Oakland, and we have enough exciting things going on at any given time, that it’s easy for months (years!) to fly by where we don’t really think about The Cottage. This was definitely a surprise to me — I had no idea how “out of sight, out of mind” I would be about this project.

The offer we received was low, and we’re not planning to accept it. Prices have actually dropped since we bought The Cottage, so if we do sell it, we don’t expect that we’ll be able to earn any money on it — we don’t even expect to break even — and we aren’t in a hurry to sell. But getting the offer has got us thinking about France again.

Shopping for property in Normandy is different than it is in the U.S.. There’s no Zillow or Realtor.com that lists everything for sale in one place. Instead, you have to go to each separate real estate company website, and they each have different listings. And each town has it’s own real estate offices — so you basically need to know the names of the real estate companies that work in the area you are interested in.

We’re still interested in Normandy, and especially being near the town of Argentan. Here are four real estate sites that have listings in the area we like best — my friend Caroline, who lives in Argentan, sent us these:
NPS Immobilier
Hexagone Immobilier
Century 21
Porcon Immobilier

It’s really fun to browse, because prices there — even with the Euro/Dollar exchange rate — are really good (especially compared to the Bay Area!). Here are a few properties that someone should definitely buy:
This house looks like it belongs in a fairytale — and it’s 149k euros.
This one’s a charmer and a bargain — 88k euros.
Here’s one that reminds me of the home we rented in France — 180k euros.
Or how about this little farm! — 72k euros.

So that’s the update. We’re not sure what we’re going to do with The Cottage. Maybe we will officially list it for sale and invite other offers — and then buy something more habitable instead. Maybe we’ll just continue to sit on it. Or, if we can figure out when/how to move back to France, it could still be an awesome project that would be much easier to manage if we lived nearby.

Your turn. Have you ever looked at property in another country? Are there any houses on those French websites I listed above that look appealing to you? If you bought a house in the French countryside, would you want to move in? Or maybe rent it out as an Airbnb? I’d love to hear.

30 thoughts on “French Cottage Update”

  1. If you could do most of your work on the internet, would you still want/need to live in expensive Oakland/SF, rather than in the French countryside where life is slower and fresher and more relaxed ?

    1. Right? We talk about this all the time. We’ve been in Oakland for almost six years (July will be six!), and we’ve been tempted to move back to France several times, but there have always been solid reasons (work related or family related) that the timing wasn’t right. Maybe this is our year.

      1. I would loooove to read more posts about your potential move and/or living in a French cottage! So fun. I feel we all have the tendency to get “caught up” in our lives + comfort and it’s easy to forget how much the enjoyment of another/new place might make change worth it.

      2. Curious – would Olive being in France make you more or less likely to want to move there this year? I would think more, because how awesome to have you all close by when she has breaks! But – would it feel like you were cramping her style, or horning in on her big adventure, if she moved to France alone, and then you “followed” her? :)

  2. Does the donkey come with the house? Because that is one cute donkey!

    My sister moved a few years ago to London (Kensington/Chelsea) from Austin, TX. She loves it there! She had to downsize considerably, and they travel to the states about 3 times a year to see their kids and g-kids, but they enjoy being able to see so much of Europe for about $35-$100 in travel expense, depending on location and how long they stay. I think she was nervous at first, but now she is visiting so many different countries it feels like a very long vacation!

  3. Only 25K!!! Wow! I had no idea properties were that flipping cheap! It means mere mortals like myself could actually afford them….!! The wheels are now turning for me…

      1. Yes, definitely. Far less of a financial commitment, which I’m sure only adds to the enjoyment. :)

  4. My husband and I relocated to France about 2 years now and are still renting, but hoping to buy. Besides the individual real estate company sites, it can be good to look at leboncoin.fr (kind of like the French Craigslist). A lot of real estate agents post their listings there and you can view a lot of different options at once.
    For two of the area codes you mentioned, for example.
    Anyway, maybe you already knew this, but thought I’d throw it out there just in case. It’ll be fun to know what you decide to do!

  5. We talk every now and then of buying a cabin or cottage as a second home, but always come back to the conclusion that we prefer to just rent/vacation places and not have the ownership upkeep concerns. It seems far less pricey to pay for a couple nights away every month or two (or whatever) than taxes, insurance, repairs, and so on. For those of you who own second homes, what are the advantages?

    1. I think that’s totally valid, Anita. If you won’t be using the second house much, renting makes more sense for sure. I think people that really love having a second house use it a ton — like maybe it’s close enough that it gets used all summer long and a weekend or two each month. And others like owning a place because they can offer it to friends and family to use, or rent it out and create a revenue stream.

    2. Hi Anita,
      I own a holiday a home in the mountains – I inherited it from my mom. It’s close, only a two hour drive and we use it A LOT. I think even a 4 hr drive would feel very different. My family and I love skiing in winter and the lakes and hiking in summer, so it works year round and we never have to plan ahead. We decide to go there in an instant. And I don’t really have to pack as I have all the basics already there: no thoughts wasted on organizational stuff. It is work though as there is always something to do, heating to repair, windows to paint, hedges to cut, you name it. But to me it feels like my real home, I go there and everything falls off me and I let go instantly. A true luxury we all love. We travel somewhere else once or twice a year for excitement iand Inspiration if we can manage. I agree with Gabrielle, a second home should be close so you’ll go for weekends and I personally would add activities you’re family loves – if it’s reading in a nook or outdoor stuff just whatever works for you.
      Mimi

  6. We bought a little home in Puglia Italy 4 years ago. The house “found us” – it had been fully renovated 10 years ago by a German architect as his holiday home. I know I could not have survived the stress and unknown expenses of a renovation! While the ability of putting your own stamp on it is exciting – I do think there are wonderful properties out there that have been thoughtfully renovated. As for why we bought rather than rented… we wanted to be integrated into our new community (even though at the time we only go twice a year). Yes, there is some maintenance involved – but that process has helped us meet local tradesmen – work on our Italian and invest in the local economy. Best wishes as you sort thing out in France!

    1. “As for why we bought rather than rented… we wanted to be integrated into our new community”

      Totally! That’s how we felt when we bought in France. The community had become so important to us, and we liked the idea of keeping a formal tie — something that bound us there — even though we were moving away.

  7. Why yes, in November of 2016 we started looking at property in another country. Jobs and children have made that just a dream so far, but we will see how we feel in November of 2020.

  8. We’re in the process of buying a house in Colorado – which seems totally foreign to me, but isn’t! The process is a little different to our experiences buying a house back home in Australia, and the houses in Colorado certainly are very different to what we’re used to. I love the idea of having a little cottage in France or Italy one day that we could use as a holiday home and rent out when we’re not there, but I know from experience trying to deal with a home ownership from overseas that it’s not always so easy, especially if you get stuck with bad tenants. We had that happen with our house in Australia after we moved to California and it was no fun.

  9. My sister and I have talked about buying a place in Italy to share as a long-term vacation spot. We both have dogs though, so not quite sure how feasible that really is.

  10. Barbara Dabney

    I started reading your blog about the time you moved to France. My daughters directed me to your site and I eagerly awaited your posts. Your experiences gave me a window to an adventurous lifestyle – to raising a family abroad and really making the most of it. I loved how you reached out to your French neighbors and became part of a community in a rural area of France. My children and I discussed many of your posts since they were relevant to our efforts to create an inclusive experience for our own families. I love that you are considering returning to France for even part of the year. I hope that happens and if so, I look forward to reading about it.

  11. I’ve been wondering about the cottage!!! My husband and I just got back from our anniversary trip – Muir Beach, San Fran and Yosemite – was amazing. Thought of you and your sweet family driving through Oakland, and was like yeah my friend Gabby lives here… have enjoyed your blog for years – thank you!

  12. I was just wondering if you didn’t have to pay tax fonciere on your property. Are you exempt from tax if you live abroad? Because if you have to pay tax you may still lose money while not using the house. We live in Île de France and tax fonciere for us is around 2000€ /year (tax depending on area and size of property)

  13. I can’t believe you own a house near my home town!! I’m French, living in Asia, following you in the US. This is such a small world 😍

  14. It’s so cool. We also want to buy a home in France, but we don’t work remotely so it would be for vacay only. I used to live there. My oldest is a senior this fall and so already I’m seeing that we have missed the boat. We travel a lot, but have never been in the position to buy until now. I feel there is no point since adult offspring have and need to have their own agenda. I am taking my 15 year old to Paris in the fall. We don’t have time during summer so I’m taking her out of school to go. I hate them missing school, but it sometimes gets in the way of life.

  15. Just the other day I was thinking about your cottage and wondering how that project was going. My husband and I have thought a lot about purchasing a place in France for many years. Normandy most high on the list as this is where our French ancestors came from. My biggest stumbling block is when we think about how much time we would actually spend there, is it worth the investment? We would love to take the plunge.

  16. France from France

    Hi Gabby,
    Actually, most of the real estate agencies also post their listings on Seloger, so there’s a good chance you would find all the ads there in one convenient place.
    Good luck, whichever route you go!

  17. My husband and I have considered buying a place in the Yonne Commune in Burgundy for a few years now. Most villages are within 2 hours to Paris on the TGV, and the prices are very reasonable. I stumbled upon green-acres.fr when we were looking, and it seems like a european version of Zillow. No one I’ve talked to seems to know anything about it though, and I’m not sure if it’s “legit”, but it’s nice to use it to window shop. The name of the immobilier is usually listed on the property listing and you can then go to their website and actually check out the property there as well. If we do buy we’ll probably find an agency to manage the property as a short term let to defray costs when we’re not there. The taxes and laws for renting out property in France however can be prohibitive if you buy in a big city, or in certain parts of the country. It’s complicated, like so many things in France.

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