George East France - now in Brittany
If anyone knows his onions about living in France, it is travel writer, humorist and self-confessed serial French property buyer George East.
George East and his wife Donella bought their first home in Normandy in 1990, and made so many mistakes in the process that George wrote a book warning about the potential pitfalls. Much to the surprise of the Easts and their bank manager, Home and Dry in France became a much-loved classic, and millions of readers have followed the adventures of the ultimate innocents abroad at the Mill of the Flea.
After writing six more books in the series about their small adventures and, as the author says, complete cock-ups in rural Normandy, George and Donella moved with their menagerie to the Finistere department of Brittany two years ago:
“Plan ‘A’ was for us to make Brittany the subject of the first book in a new series,” says George. “ The idea was to live here for a year while I researched and wrote a sort of hybrid travel and life-experience book. Donella would settle in to our rented farmhouse in the mountains and get to know the locals, while I travelled around studying, sampling and soaking up the history, culture, traditions and - of course- food and drink of the region. We would also look at all sorts of houses and businesses for sale to see if we could find the perfect place to settle for Britons. When the book was published, we would up sticks and move on to another region for the next book in the French Impressions series. As there are 22 regions, that would seem to be enough to see me out to retirement!”
There was, as usual with George, a bit of a snag, however: “ We enjoyed ourselves so much here, that the time has melted away and the deadline for the book to be finished came and went in April 2008! Now, I have revised the target to this April, and the book will be finished by then or I will be in severe trouble with Donella- to say nothing of the bank manager..”
The official website of George East can be found here:
George-East-France.com - For hillarious books about rural France and an up-to-the-minute blog of day-to-day life in Brittany.
Although the Easts are apparently having a great time in Brittany, it's worth sharing with you George Easts list of cautionary tales for property buyers.... keep reading...
Cautionary Tales from George East
Nowadays, George East gets hundreds of e-mails, calls and letters a year from would-be British buyers asking for advice, and those telling him about their own mistakes en route to their own French property.
“The sometimes almost unbelievable stories provide wonderful material for my books,” says George, “ I suppose I should feel bad about profiting from other people’s misery, but at least they help warn off other potential victims. Most surprising is how utterly naïve so many British buyers- many of whom are extremely intelligent middle class professionals- can be when trying to turn their dream of a picture-postcard cottage in France into reality. All too easily, the dream can turn into a nightmare..”
Examples of the things that can and do go wrong for Britons buying property across the Channel because of a lack of information, pre-planning or common sense vary, but there are some common areas:
“ Many Britons don’t realise that it is the buyer rather than the seller who generally pays the estate agents’ fee in France, and at up to 6 percent, that can run into thousands of pounds. There’s also the taxes that the local notaire collects from the buyer on completion, plus, of course, his fee. I know people who have not been able to go ahead with a purchase simply because they did not allow for the fees and taxes when they did their original calculations.”
Exactly what the buyer is getting for his money- and even how much of the property he will find still there on completion day- is another potential problem:
“ When we bought our first property in Normandy, we found that the next-door neighbour owned our garden, and was not prepared to sell it at any price. In France, it is not uncommon for someone else to own bits of your land – or sometimes even bits of your house. Once, we saw and fell immediately in love with a charming cottage on the coast. It was a snip, but unfortunately, a neighbour owned an extension to the building, and it was the room which directly overlooked the sea. The estate agent pointed out that if we bought the place, we would actually own a room with a view in the neighbour’s house, but he would not even think about doing a swap!’
“Nearby was another fisherman’s cottage for sale, but it had a condition attached. Usually in France, all the significant family members have to agree to a property sale- it’s a law dating back to Revolutionary times, and meant to stop property falling into evil capitalist hands. In this case, the sons all agreed to the sale of one of the two adjoining cottages the fisherman owned, as long as they got their share of the proceeds, But the eldest son had insisted on a clause being written in that he would still be allowed regular and perpetual access to the only bathroom in the two properties, which happened to be in the cottage which was up for sale…”
Another potentially disastrous proviso which can be written into a contract is that the buyer agrees to accept the property in the condition it is on the day of completion, which may not be as it was on the day of viewing: ‘ In Britain, the outgoing owners may take the curtains or even light bulbs with them; in France, I have known of vendors taking out a complete bathroom suite. A friend bought a water mill in our area, and arrived on the day of completion to find the new and highly sophisticated and expensive central heating boiler had disappeared…
“ I would never want to frighten anyone off from realising their dream of buying a property in France,” says George, but it is very important that they know exactly what the conditions and terms are in their area, and regarding the specific property they are hoping to own…”
To help would-be buyers, George East has compiled a list of the most common mistakes made by naïve French property buyers, including never viewing your dream property after dusk and/or strong drink:
“ We once found an 18th town house which appeared absolutely magnificent when we arrived to see it just as the sun set. We had drunk far too much wine at lunch and the electricity supply was off, so we looked at the place with the agent’s torch and through rosé-tinted spectacles. We put in a bid on the spot, then returned the next day to look at ‘our’ house and measure up for curtains. In the cold light of day, we realised that it would cost at least five times the purchase price to restore it, that it was right alongside a very busy daytime main road, and that there was a car scrap yard next door. Luckily, we were able to undo our bid, but it taught us another lesson about looking for and buying French property..”
More information on Brittany, George, his books and what and what not to do when looking for a home in France can be found at: