2 Darling, we’re The Young Ones! (Part Two) 2
In this second of two articles John Frazer-Robinson catches up with some more of the younger expats in the PO and discovers what brought them here, how they have settled in and whether they would ever return to Blighty.
3 A blast from the past… 3
Paul and Jean first came to the region in 1981 – camping in Canet – with the children. They drove down in their 2CV which was not that far off a pioneer’s wagon! They were trying to escape the Charles and Diana wedding hype. They fell in love with the place right away but because of a ‘huge’ mortgage didn’t return until 1984 when they rented a tiny village house in St. Laurent de la Salanque, and thanks to them both being teachers, were able to stay for a whole month. Again, they were hooked.
Paul’s mother, who loved France, died in 1986 leaving a small legacy so they decided to investigate investing in a holiday home by precariously adding even further to their English mortgage. On their next visit they took the yellow pages section for estate agents and wrote to six locally asking for details of houses to buy. A couple of them replied sending photos, one seemed particularly friendly and offered them accommodation for the Easter holiday which would be free if they actually purchased.
“We made the great escape – loaded the car with drum kit, computer and summer clothes, rented out the house – et voila!! That was in 2002. We are perfectly happy but I suppose we had several advantages over other escapees. We knew the house, we knew the neighbours, we had all our furniture, and we had the French bank account.
“Go back? Well, I agree with Louise Sayer’s comment in the previous article ‘never say never’, but I can’t see it happening. Every time we go back we freeze and get drenched and, it must be said, we would find it very difficult to live without our daily bottle of wine!”
A couple after my own heart!
3 Despite the hardships, we wouldn’t change a thing 3
Kevin and Jill Roach originally decided to have a year away. The opportunity arose to buy ‘Schuimkop’ their 11 metre wooden motor sailor, and so they decided the time was probably right. Kevin had been running his own joinery business since he was 19 and Jill had been teaching for 20 years, Sam was 4½ so it was really a matter of then or never. They spent a year getting the boat ready and planned to take a year long break and then back to Blighty, but once they hit the Med and discovered Banyuls, as the saying goes ‘the rest was history’!
“Not something the French seemed to have come across before. However, fortified with a good technical dictionary and plenty of determination we managed to get ourselves registered as a bona fide enterprise. The house was finished just in time for our first summer letting, paint still wet and swimming pool only just full.”
Now they have a business which is doing well, a lovely villa and apartment which they rent out in the summer, whilst they disappear off into the mountains with caravan, 13 year old Sam and Jack Russell, and have a very, very pleasant lifestyle.
“There is a downside!”, continues Jill, “Living at the end of the line, Banyuls, one has to travel to get anywhere (the 06.30 start for the school bus, for example) or get building materials or go to the theatre or cinema”.
The Roaches feel the cost of running their business, paying social charges, health and mandatory retirement contributions, work out at about the same as the UK. The administration is made more complicated because of the language barrier, and the fact that everything closes between 12 and 2. “Everything takes twice as long as it does in the UK, but no-one complains if you over fill your dustbin! Apart from all that, it’s mid October and we’re still working in shorts!”
Kevin and Jill are building another house next door and hope to sell the existing house (viewings welcome!) and apartment and move into the new house as they have other projects in mind.
“We’ve no intention of moving back to the UK, however when Sam’s finished his education we’d like to buy another boat and travel the inland waterways of Europe for a while. It hasn’t always been easy. The cultural differences were quite surprising, and at times it has been mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting, but at the end of the day we wouldn’t change a thing”.
3 Sisters, sisters, we O’Reilly such devoted sisters… 3
It was Karen’s visit to the PO in January 2002 for a long ski weekend and to visit her sister that finally sealed her fate. Suzanne was working with an estate agency at the time. Of course, coming from rain-soaked Ireland, Karen fell immediately in love with the region. The climate, the food, the accessibility to the sea and the ski and, of course, the wine, all convinced her she should come and live near her sister.
By now, Suzanne was looking for a business partner to set up a property finding service and Karen jumped at the chance to leave her ‘boring’ accountancy days behind her. They launched Bidsinfrance in early 2002 and have helped hundreds of English speaking clients to purchase property in the PO. “Our clientele is mostly Irish, although we have also helped English, American and Russians to purchase here. All our clients have come through word of mouth – we hope a reflection on our service.”
Together in 2008 they launched Red Beret (and you thought my puns were bad!) specialising in wine tours. “Our tours are extremely popular as we escort our clients around our favourite hand-picked domains and chateaux in the region. We also offer art tours, shopping tours, discovery tours, spa tours and many more.”
Karen says “I have found no problems at all integrating into the community here and we are great friends with our neighbours and have made lots of French acquaintances.” Although, like other contributors to these articles, she adds, “The biggest down side to living here is sieving through all the bureaucracy when trying to do business – nobody seems to know exactly what to do – not even our accountant or the prefecture in many cases. It is definitely worth getting a few opinions, legal and otherwise when launching a business.”
Karen is known to many in the PO because she has set up an ex-pat business network FAB P.0. – French Anglo Business in the Pyrenees Orientales – which has over 90 members and goes from strength to strength. On the family side, Karen tells me “Suzanne and I have both had families since we moved to France and have been thrilled with the medical service – it definitely lived up to it’s top ranking status by the World Health Organisation”.
3 Five steps to the perfect purchase 3
I asked these two professionals house hunters to share their top tips with us amateurs:
“1) Get your finances in order before you look at property and know how much money you have to spend – don’t waste your own time or the agents and owners time by looking at properties that you can’t afford.
2) Visit the area in which you want to purchase and narrow it down to a couple of places that tick all your boxes.
3) Ask yourself what you want the property to do for you – why are you buying it? Is it an investment? A holiday home? Do you want to rent the property? Will it become your future retirement home? Keep the answer to the forefront of your mind when looking at property. For example, there is no point buying a lovely house in the middle of nowhere if it is for seasonal rental – you just won’t have the demand!
4) Be assured, right now is a fantastic time to buy property. Prices are wavering and owners are more willing to negotiate than they have previously been.
5) Finally, pluck up the courage and, as the Nike ads say, just do it!”
Our thanks to Suzanne and Karen O’Reilly for those pointers. Lastly, that $64,000 question. “Would we ever go back? It’s been said before, never say never. We really love our lives here and the wonderful lifestyle the weather affords us. And, these days, it is so easy and cheap to get back to Ireland, it doesn’t really feel that we are too far away.”
Whatever their language skills, it appears that everyone finds the bureaucracy cumbersome and quite daunting for fledgling businesses. And, since as oldies (or in my wife Elaine’s case, a not-quite-so-youngy!), we have shared the same frustrations. However, it is noticeable that for a range of reasons, a lot of the younger families have conquered the language with far less trouble their more mature peers. Maybe having kids at school encourages that somewhat.
For those readers considering coming out permanently or thinking of quitting in favour of that damp, grey place you once called home, I would say this. All of the major challenges which one faces in day-to-day family life have been, or are being, faced by the six families whose stories we have told. They have given birth, educated their children, made a living and even in some cases, survived URSAFF! What’s more they have done it in sunshine, with a great quality lifestyle and found plenty of new friends and neighbours. Qualities that we of all ages are now privileged to share – it’s just that most of us didn’t have the courage, foresight, determination or, perhaps wisdom, to do it earlier in life.
[(© John Frazer-Robinson ([email@example.com->firstname.lastname@example.org]) is an author, commentator and columnist now contributing to the editorial team at Anglophone-direct and PO Life.)]