Gently into Retirement No 4 – The Deal is (Finally) Done

Mid-way through the half-term break May 2006 and we’d made an offer on a lovely apartment which had been accepted. After aperos (several) and a push-the-boat-out supper (hells teeth, can you still call it that in France?) at our favourite little bistro in the town, Le P’tit Grill, we poled into the Arcades feeling fairly pleased with ourselves and the lovely family who run the hotel were so excited for us when we told them. As in all things locally, we’ve since discovered, news travels fast (and not always accurately!! ho-hum) but in this case it was all true and our vendors had already been on the bush telegraph (Monsieur le Vendeur is the chef/patron of a nice restaurant in the Place des Neuf Jets and knows our hosts well).

But then, out of nowhere, Stephen and I had the most awful night with the eebyjeebies setting in big time. Had we been too hasty?, had we strayed away from our original concept too much?,what about the stairs?, should we have gone in with a much cheekier offer?, should we keep looking, after all it was only mid week? What a night! The following morning we felt a lot calmer and didn’t say anything to David, who by now, of course, had texted the world with our news! That’s it then, it had to be a done deal!

By now we knew the contents of the various immobiliers’ windows by heart but a final check round the town revealed nothing new in our price range in Ceret itself so we were more than happy to stick with our decision and we went off to the apartment once again at the invitation of Monsieur et Madame who wanted to introduce us to a couple of our soon-to-be neighbours – how kind was that? – and to show us their water and electricity bills, insurance costs, Syndic costs (as we were in a co-propriété), and local tax bills; no nasty shocks fortunately. We decided not to continue with the Sky packages or the telephone line for the time being as we were going to be absent for long periods – time to think about that a year or so down the line when I at least stood a chance of spending longer periods in France. We called Mum and Dad that evening and told them our news – they did their best to sound pleased for us, but I knew they were still a bit wobbly about our plans and what the future might bring.

A call from Kim meant business and served to keep us focused – we were to be at the notaire’s office that coming Friday morning at 9 am (heck!) to sign the compromis. A call from Kate followed soon afterwards to let us know that she’d made an appointment for us that very afternoon with Isabelle at Banque Populaire so that we could organise a French account. This duly went ahead and we’ve been very pleased with the service from that day onwards. We needed on-line banking and we knew we’d need to set up direct debits for our utility bills but in the short term we needed to have confidence that a huge chunk of all our worldly goods would pass through their portals uneventfully! Meanwhile Kim was arranging with the vendors for the various reports to be carried out – asbestos, termites etc – and we went with her to the mairie to check on any possible local developments in the immediate vicinity that might impact on our property – and our magnificent view. Happily, all was well.

We tried to be tourists for the rest of the week and to get out and about enjoying the area, local events and soaking up some culture. The Easter celebrations on our previous trip and exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art had been a good opener and this time we’d enjoyed the Cherry Festival; it’s sad that they don’t agree with me but in jam form they’re fine! Another visit to the Bigaro Bar was enjoyed to the full – I don’t think I’ve mentioned before now that Steve is a drummer extraordinaire in his spare time, playing with several lots of musicians in the UK, so he’d been interested in the musical life of the town from our very first visit. We’d ‘discovered’ the Bigaro on a particularly brilliant ‘blues’ open-mike night back then and had been regular visitors ever since. It doesn’t really get going there until at least 11 pm so we needed a nap before we went, but it’s worth the late night! Because of my job of necessity at the moment our trips were only possible during school holidays and this didn’t necessarily coincide with events that we’d like to watch or take part in, but one day, one day!…..

Friday arrived and this time it was Richard, not Kim, who took us to the notaire’s office and made sure we understood all the documents and the process. The notaire was really cool, not at all as we’d thought a French notaire would be from all the articles we’d read about the French conveyancing system. But he, too, was at pains to make sure that we understood everything and were happy before we signed on the dotted line – well, several dotted lines actually, like at the foot of each page!! The date was discussed for the signing of the final sale documents – the acte de vente – and it was agreed that this would take place at the beginning of September; oh goody I thought, right at the beginning of term, won’t I be the popular one!!

Now all we had to do was go back to Ely and arrange to transfer the deposit (everyone was happy with 5% of the purchase price) before the end of the ‘cooling off’ period in a week’s time. What an enjoyable, excellent and productive week it’d been; we really were on our way now.

By far the most stressful process in this whole enterprise was the money exchange! Not because of anything HIFX did or didn’t do, it was just the terrifying thought that somewhere a digit in the endlessly long and complicated account numbers would be transposed and some other lucky person would be the recipient of all our money instead of the notaire! Of course it was small fry to them but anyway they took us through it step by step and sure enough a few days later we had confirmation from the notaire’s clerk that the deposit money had arrived. We’d read a lot about fluctuating exchange rates and had heard from friends first hand how they’d been caught out by not securing a ‘forward trade’ rate for paying the balance of the purchase, ending up paying nearly £3000 more for their property as a result, so at the same time as transferring our deposit money (which had to be a ‘spot’ trade – ie taking the current rate of exchange – because of the immediate nature of the transaction) we locked in to a rate (determined by the brokers) for transferring the final funds that we hoped would prove beneficial.

So here we were at the beginning of June poised to take ownership of our French home, with a full summer ahead of us – David’s graduation, his move from Sheffield to Birmingham and the start of his new job there; packing up our Ely town house and moving to new accommodation. The end of an unusually busy school year was upon me (the new Head’s second year in post was, not surprisingly, the year her plans and aspirations for the school had begun to be implemented) and after making sure again that Stephen was entirely in agreement, I gave a year’s notice that I would be retiring from my post in the summer of 2007. The end of a forty-two year working life was now very much on the horizon, and oh boy was I ready for it!

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