They say that moving house is up there with death and divorce in the stress rankings and while no one I know has yet popped their clogs there has been plenty of house-move stress and marital disharmony. Not between me and Colin I hasten to add.
On Tuesday afternoon we turned up as planned at Gérard’s office, ready to sign the compromis for the mill, together with the vendors-except that the vendors weren’t there. Apparently they weren’t able to make the appointment on Tuesday but Gérard was under the impression that we were returning to England earlier than we actually were, so was intending to get us to sign first then bring the vendors in the following day. We agreed that, as we would be around the following day, we would postpone the signing until the vendor was able to attend too. It did give us an opportunity to go through the contract on our own with Gérard, which was just as well as it turned out, as we found several discrepancies, including an additional 800 euros in fees , which we had negotiated would be included in the total asking price. We also discovered that the fosse (septic tank), despite the vendor’s assurances, was not actually aux normes (conforming to the legal standards introduced by the French government in 2012.) This didn’t come as a big shock, as I really didn’t trust the owner based on the short acquaintance we had had with him on our second viewing. He had however agreed to pay to have the necessary work carried out before the final contract was signed. Gérard didn’t actually have an appointment booked with the vendor for the next day and, when he still hadn’t called the following morning to confirm a time, I decided to bring a little pressure to bear via our mutual friend Chris. Chris phoned back with a time and a promise that the 800 euros would be included in the price.
Once again on Wednesday afternoon, we found ourselves sitting in Gérard’s office waiting for the vendor. They were late and Gérard explained that as Madame started work very early in the morning, she tended to like a siesta after lunch. Finally they arrived; Monsieur a short, rather self-important little man in his early sixties, with thick glasses, several days’ worth of stubble and who smelled strongly of alcohol as he sat down beside us. His wife was a thin bird-like woman who seemed quite nervous. The meeting got underway and Gérard explained to Colin and me that although the property was in the name of Monsieur, and he was the legal owner who would receive the money from the sale, because it was a family home, Madame also needed to sign the compromis on behalf of the family. This was obviously news to Madame who suddenly realised she had power of veto and declared that she had never really wanted to sell the mill anyway! Colin and I looked at each other in horror as the mood in the small office changed dramatically. Monsieur sat bolt upright, feet planted apart, his hands on his knees and loudly stated that it was his house and he would do what he liked with it. It took Gérard quite a while to calm them both and convince Madame to continue with the meeting. The next blow came when she realised that they would need to vacate the mill by mid-October. She exploded that they had nowhere to go, her job was in the town, the children were at school there and that they would only be able to afford a flat to rent. And there was no way she was moving into a flat!! Despite the mill having been on the market for over eighteen months, the extent of their preparation for this move seemed to have been a quick look on Le Bon Coin, an online small private ads site. Once again, Gérard came to the rescue, assuring her that their money would get a nice three-bedroomed rented house with a garden until they found somewhere more permanent and it could all be sorted in plenty of time for October.
Somehow we managed to get to the point of signing. In France, all parties are required to sign or initial every page of the contract itself, electric, gas, water, sewage, asbestos, lead, flood and mining reports. As this amounted to well over forty pages, in true French bureaucratic style, there was a bizarre carousel of papers passing from one to another, round the table until everything had been signed. And then we started again, because the vendors were using their own notaire, and he needed his own original signed copies of everything! Finally we all shook hands and Gérard showed Monsieur and Madame out.
As we walked back to the car we felt relief rather than elation. Apparently, Monsieur had decided that they were going to start a new life ‘on the other side of the Atlantic’ and nothing was going to stop him – not even his wife and children. One thing we were sure of – that marriage was not likely to last much longer.