We’re back through the wormhole – a few hours driving and ferry and we are suddenly back living our parallel existence. It’s quite a weird feeling. A familiar home, with everything as we left it, the daily routines, a lovely circle of friends and neighbours – but all quite different from those we were involved with just the previous day.
The last weekend in July is always the Fête de la Plage – the annual village summer celebration. It’s a little misleading as there is no plage, or beach in the village – just a beautifully kept park with boat ramp into the river Sarthe. Nonetheless, every summer the whole village gathers for a sit-down meal followed by torchlight- procession and a wonderful fireworks display and disco on Saturday night. Sunday is a lazy day of wandering round the bric à brac (carboot sale) haggling for bits and bobs for the house, sitting in the warm sun over a kir or two, listening to the jazz band and people-watching. Being the first weekend of the mass exodus which is the French annual holiday, when everyone heads out of the cities into the countryside or to the coast, the village suddenly springs to life as all the French second-home owners arrive to dust off the house and gardens that have been neglected since Christmas or even last summer. Elderly village residents are joined by their children and grandchildren and even the municipal campsite starts to look busy. There’s a lovely atmosphere of community and holiday, which sadly will disappear again at the end of August. It’ll be sad to leave Avoise but we have every intention of returning each year to join in the Fête de la Plage, and catch up with the village gossip.
This week has been busy, starting with a visit to the notaire’s office to sign the pre-sale contract or compromis. The system in France is quite different from the UK, where either party is free to pull out, right up to the exchange of contracts about a week before the ‘move’ day. In France the vendor and purchaser sign a legally binding contract as soon as the price is agreed. The buyer also has to hand over their deposit to the notaire at that point. They then have 10 days ‘cooling-off’ period to withdraw, but after that if either party decides not to proceed, there is a financial penalty- usually 10% of the purchase price.
Our purchaser was not able to be present for this signing as he was due for an operation, so he was giving power of attorney to the notaire, to sign on his behalf. It’s quite normal in France for both parties to use the same notaire to handle the legal and fiscal side of the transaction. Their role is to act on behalf of the state to ensure that everything is done properly, rather than to represent either party. We could have chosen to use our own notaire, in which case the state-set fees would have been divided between the two notaires – but it seemed sensible to avoid the time that is always wasted, waiting for queries and communications between solicitors to be sent and replied to.
We immediately liked the notaire that our estate agent had recommended. Maître (the professional title given to a qualified notaire) G is a smart, chatty young woman with a wicked sense of humour and a somewhat wacky French/American accent when she speaks English, which she does well. Although La Tourelle is officially in my name, and only I needed to be involved in this signing, the house has also been Colin’s home from the outset and it was good to be able to swop backwards and forwards between English and French, so that he could follow the conversation more easily.
We were a bit concerned to find that although our American buyer had returned the form giving power of attorney to Maître G, he had failed to get his signature witnessed so it would have to be sent back to the States for him to do so. We were assured that this would not be a problem as I could still sign that morning and she or her colleague would sign as soon as the requisite paperwork, duly signed and witnessed, had been received.
I had originally wanted to delay the signing of the compromis for the mill until our buyer’s ten day cooling- off period was up, terrified of being in the situation where we were contractually committed to buying the mill, then finding the sale of La Tourelle had fallen through.
Maître G reassured us that she could add a clause suspensive, or condition, to our purchase contract that would mean that it would only be legally binding provided that our buyer completed the purchase of our house. Better still, whereas waiting until the end of the cooling-off period protected us from him suddenly pulling out in the early stages, the clause suspensive would give us peace of mind for the entire process.
We agreed that we would make an appointment to sign the compromis for the mill for next Monday, when the estate agent handling that property had returned from his summer holidays.
The first step of the legal process underway, we spent a couple of days starting to pack for the move. The signing of the Acte de Vente, or final contract, is due to happen in October, but as we only have these two weeks actually in France before then, we need to get as much done as possible while we are here.
It’s amazing how much stuff you accumulate over thirteen years in a house – even when you are only there a few weeks of the year. As we ummed and aahed over what to keep and what to put in the pile for the déchetterie, municipal recycling depot, I found myself still making a mental note of little decorating jobs that needed doing, plants I wanted to put in the garden or things it would be good to improve. It was almost like packing things for your grown up son or daughter as they prepare to fly the nest. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t my responsibility any more – I soon won’t have a say in what happens in this house’s future life. But there is another house out there , waiting for us to lavish love and attention on it – so it’s not all sad!