Selling our House on Le Bon Coin (in a week!)
After much deliberating, at the beginning of this year we decided to officially put our tiny house up for sale in Maussane-les-Alpilles. The year that followed was an absolute whirlwind.
We were confident our house would sell relatively quickly since there isn’t a lot for sale at the lower end of the market here in Les Alpilles, especially in chic Maussane. Also, did you see how charming it is?
We put the house up on Le Bon Coin, which is the marvellous French version of Craigslist, or Gumtree or Kajiji or whatever equivalent you have in your country. The next day was a chilly day in February when I started to make one of my favourite curries to warm our bones that evening. Since our renovation and Househunters Intl show we had quite a few curious glances through the windows so I was used to it and thought nothing of the man looking anxiously into my living room. When he let himself into the courtyard however… I opened the door, and was surprised to learn that he had seen the announcement on Le Bon Coin and wanted to tour the house. His wife had sent me a message as well through CuriousProvence Facebook about 15 minutes before he arrived. I didn’t realise that it was her until that evening.
An Impromptu House Visit- with Curry
Now, traditionally one is supposed to put a loaf of bread in the oven or even bake a batch of cookies (in the western world anyway) to conjure up the sexy smells of domesticity in order to sway potential buyers. NOT, especially for the non-spice-loving French, a curry! Panicking, I pleaded with this mysterious man that was adamant to see the house to come back in an hour. While I couldn’t do anything about the curry I could at least tidy up. So, after 55 minutes of running and scrubbing and throwing things into closets (everything except the cat), the man promptly reappeared on my doorstep as I still had the vacuum in hand.
He asked if we had done all the renovation ourselves. Yes. That was his only question. He walked quickly through the small house, studying nothing. He was there about three minutes. When he left without saying anything I of course didn’t get excited and got back to the numerous emails from real estate agents that were desperate to get the listing.
Three Offers in 36 Hours
When you put your house up for sale by owner on the Bon Coin local real estate agents contact you incessantly, all vying for your listing. The problem is of course the fees. They’re somewhat negotiable if you’re confident like I was. The fees are a larger percentage for less expensive houses about 7%, which may make sense to them but not to us! In the end, I was wrangled into an agreement by an agent that agreed to a 5% fee of the house sale and a “contrat simple”, where we’re allowed to sell the house ourselves if we receive an offer.
The day I signed the agreement, she brought over a couple to look at the house. The next morning, we had an offer. They wanted absolutely all the furniture, including the art on the walls, so that they could rent it out immediately on AirBnB.
I sent an email to the mysterious man, just in case he was serious, informing him that we had received an offer of the asking price but with the furniture and through an agent. I knew that his wife loved the house and had seen the articles about our renovation on this site. Five minutes later, he counter-offered with 4,000€ less but there would be no fees. We would still receive more money.
Promesse de Vente
That night, I signed a Promesse de Vente (a promise of sale) with the anxious young French couple. The next morning I went to our neighbour’s for the obligatory weekly cup of coffee and told her the good news. A couple hours later, she ran over to the house screaming and waving her arms “Ashley Ashley Ashley!!!” In her Provençal accent. She blurted that her son wanted to buy our house.
She hadn’t told him that is was up for sale and when she called and told him that morning he was angry at her for not saying. Our house was the end sliver of a large mas, or provencal farmhouse. As the son would eventually inherit, if he bought our portion he could knock down the walls and make an even bigger house, as it was originally. Anyways, all to say, after some inquiries we learned that we were bound to the promesse de vente that we had signed the night before. Three offers for the house in a space of thirty six hours. Phew! It was exciting!
Looking for Our Next House in Provence
Meanwhile, the ongoing search for something to buy ourselves was becoming nail-bitingly desperate. We had been looking for over a year and had only visited five houses in our budget. There really wasn’t much in our category. One dwelling was a falling down barn made of horse hair and mud surrounded by pear trees on a main road. Another was a nice house in Maussane, behind the butcher (his bathroom looked onto the garden) but with no access to one’s front door without crossing the grumpy neighbour’s garden.
Another was a 1960s depressing bungalow in Paradou in a suburban development that would honestly only be a fixer-upper for the least amount of time possible. We couldn’t even see ourselves living there. We looked at a confusing house in Mouriès, again on the main road, that was a farmhouse cut into odd segments. For sale was the room above the neighbour’s garage, and the room next to the garage but no access between the 2 rooms unless you go outside. That would be interesting on a chilly January morning in our pajamas.
When the farmhouses were left to multiple children in the family, (see Napoleonic code) the dividing up of the houses was not always rational or agreed upon. For example, the last house we saw was a dream house in Oppede. Overlooking vineyards and the Luberon mountain we had to check the price on the listing numerous times. It was less than 150,000 €. When we arrived at the house we promptly understood. The property had suffered a hostile division between the previous owner and her cousin. The cousins didn’t speak to each other except to exchange complaints. The houses were originally one large farmhouse, an almost hamlet at the end of a dirt road. Surrounded by beauty but stuck together, the cousins made life as difficult for each other as possible. Sounds like a perfect sitcom.
They grew plants in front of the other’s windows. Blocked the driveway and were unreasonable about “passages” that were common territory. We were welcomed by the estate agent into a war zone that was only initially obvious by the many human-sized creepy doll scarecrows on the driveway. I think it was a ploy to scare potential buyers off. It worked. Well, that and the fact that the only way to install a much-needed septic tank would be on the other’s land. As if she’d let us!
Scouring the Internet
Robin spent hours scouring the internet for listings. There are many estate agencies here which all have only a few listings each. Either way, perhaps our budget was too low for agents to waste their time with but they all told us just to look online. Thanks for the help! Many houses have one dark picture and little information, as if they don’t want to sell. Many others don’t want to give you the information or pictures because there’s an odd sharing situation with the neighbour or some other odd thing like the cousin situation.
A Farmhouse in Provence
We were considering the depressing bungalow until Robin found a listing on a notary’s site. Sometimes notaries (le notaire) sell the house directly for a client, though they still have their own in-house real estate agent. The house, in Mollégès, was much larger than our house in Maussane (thank goodness). We saw the potential instantly. It had a plane tree, a barn to convert into a rental (!!!) and was within baguette-throwing distance from the nearest bakery. I have to admit I allowed myself to be slightly enamoured by the fact that the owner’s grandfather used to grow vegetables for the market. Consequentially, the garden was filled with random seedlings of wheat, camomile, mint, sage, spinach, savoury and more. In the summer we found sunflowers, tomatoes, potatoes and courgettes (zuchinni) too.
Yes. We bought that house in June. But first, we had to beg our bank for a mortgage. This process takes at least three months here in France, and that’s after you have all the paperwork and have exuded false confidence. It got to the point where there was 5 weeks between when we would have to hand over our house before we could move into the new one. The couple buying our house wanted the house asap and wouldn’t agree to let us stay unless we paid what they thought to be the reasonable price of 60€ a night. That adds up quickly.
A friend of a friend had a beautiful shell of a house in the middle of St Remy that was possible to rent. So we moved once more than necessary. We didn’t have internet or electricity for the first week but it was June and the weather was gorgeous. When we finally exhausted ourselves and moved into our new home in Mollégès (how does one manage to acquire so much junk even living in 38m square?), it felt like a dream. However, the previous owner warned us. “This place is paradise in summer, hell in winter.”
Paradise in Summer, Hell in Winter
The previous owner, a 40 year old fireman, has for the past two years been selling off the large parcels of land that used to be attached to the house. As a consequence, there’s new houses all around us. He saved the house for last, and sold it begrudgingly, after what we suspect was a tricky divorce. He told us that he doesn’t like foreigners though liked the fact that we were young. Whatever that means. That was before he ranted at Robin that a man must be a man in the Mediterranean. This isn’t Paris. Oh don’t we know that! ha! I paid for our coffees myself in front of him as he stared at Robin mouth-agape.
He informed the notaire that he would be dismantling and taking the poele (freestanding fireplace that runs on wood pellets), the only heat source in the house. The notaire looked at me and I read in his eyes that I would have to fight for that poele, and dammit I did! Robin was going to let him have it. Thankfully I put my foot down because it allows us the luxury of one warm in the house. Sadly that room is not the kitchen, so we’ve taken to cooking meals that take the least amount of time possible as we stand next to the oven (on if we need it or not) warming our hands in coats and scarves. Cooking with a scarf on is not ideal. I’ve learned the messy way.
We’re the only people on our street that aren’t related to everyone else. Or, in fact, people keep coming up to us in the village and telling us that the previous owner had been their cousin, or their second cousin or other. So, basically the only people not related to everyone in the village. Ha!
Mollégès, in a way, is like going back in time. Maussane was chic and right in the Alpilles National Park, which I miss, but people are kinder here. More relaxed. If you see the vegetable seller in another village he comes up to you to give you the bises (kiss greeting). It’s a quiet town where you hear people on horseback for their Sunday rides each weekend. The local bar owner welcomed us to town with a free glass of wine and I’m on a tutoyer basis already with the Post lady. There was apparently a worrying verbal agreement with our neighbour’s grandfather and the previous owner’s grandfather that she had 2 metres of our land. That may be tricky eventually…
The previous owner gave us all the documents that he had on the house (as well as a rather lost of dusty hay). The oldest house sale record we have is from 1893. The barns are older than the house but we don’t have exact dates. The owner in 1893 was a café owner, the subsequent two owners were farmers. There’s everything from a sausage drying room, to rabbit hutches, and jam making pots. Should we start our own smallholding? I’ve always like goats…
The last owner (the grandfather) bought the house on viager. This is when you “buy” a house from the current owner but allow them to live in it until their death. Their agreement was that he would pay 5,000 francs to the older man every year until his death. Upon his death, the house would be his. This used to be more common but still takes place in France. It’s a gamble and something we entertained. I like that in their agreement (which I have a copy of) there was one stipulation by the old man that the new owner was not allowed to destroy any of the vines or Cyprus trees in the fields until his death. I like his style.
Getting started with Clearing and an Architect
For the first time we have a garden of our own, weedy as it may be. A plane tree. A horse chestnut and two tiny figs. Two grape vines and a few raspberries. We also have junk. Soo much junk. The previous owner left us years of rubbish, a couple rusty treasures but mostly rubbish. We’ve found 1950s pushchairs, photos, pots and pans in the garden, broken chairs and enough bullet-making equipment to arm a hungry gang of French hunters for at least a season. The past few months have been spent clearing, by consequence trying to figure out the best way to bribe the decheterie (local waste disposal) girls.
For the past few months we’ve been waking up to rivers in the bedroom, getting electrocuted in the shower, and learning what it’s like to live in a house with absolutely no insulation. We each know when the other gets out of the shower from the yelps and squeals in the freezing air.
Needing an Architect to ask for Town Hall Permission
Our architect, necessary to ask for permission from the town hall to renovate, is trying to work quickly as even she was laughing at the fact that we could see our breath in the house. I told her about the fact that I’ve taken to mopping the walls with bleach twice a week to counteract the mold and her eyes widened. We’ve been to her office every Friday for the past six weeks, trying to get her to understand our Anglo-Saxon vision of bathrooms. Because yes, you guessed it, we bought another serious fixer-upper.
At Least a Five Year Project
For those of you that are curious, you’ll have to be patient. This time we’ll be working at the same time as renovating, so the process will be painfully slow. We also need to wait for permissions from the town hall. Absolutely everything will have to be redone including the roof, windows, doors, floors, plumbing, electricity…everything!
The last time the house was touched was in 1967. We interestingly have all the renovation documents from then- I wish it were still the same prices! We’ve taken on something a lot more than our bank accounts can handle. You don’t even want to know the cost of doing the roof. Perhaps we’ll set up a gofundme in exchange for stays in Provence? Any takers? It’s going to be difficult, and long, and tedious. But I’m quite certain that one day, it’s going to be beautiful.