The Way Forward into life!
Meet Polly and Steve Cannie, the recent proud owners of a home in Céret. Follow their joys, trials and tribulations as they take you through their own story of making the decision to move to the P-O, buying, following it through, good and bad experiences, absolute musts and must nots to do ……..
Well, over to you Polly!
It looks strange to see just one suitcase instead of several ready for the ‘off’ to Stansted at the crack of dawn tomorrow, heralding my first solo visit to our French home to mark my recent retirement – well, last week actually! – and the Way Forward into life as we hope to enjoy it.
‘We’, the key players here, are me and my husband Steve (about two years away from retirement if we’re lucky, but working on it); our sporty son David in his early twenties, now living and working all hours in London for a firm of estate agents, and my octogenarian parents, Bert and Joy, who live quite near us in the UK and who are slowly coming to terms with our Retirement Plan.
What I shall try to do over the next few weeks and months is to go back over the roller-coaster of the last eighteen months and simply tell it how it’s been (for us) to establish a modest foothold on the French housing ladder, and all that that entails and then to share with you in ‘real time’ the ongoing process of settling into our new life in the P-O, as we’ve a way to go yet. What this is most definitely not is a This Is What You Do guide to moving to France – there are any number of books and articles and websites in existence to do just that – and anyway, as I said, we’re not completely there yet! I’ll just be passing on our experiences and the advice we received and acted on, the majority of which was generously given to us through this very website and its excellent Forum, some members of which we are now delighted to count as friends.
Our whole project began around five years ago when retirement, at least for me, happily appeared on the horizon and conversations with Steve during holiday times and on long car journeys often came round to what we thought we’d like to do. Travel was a natural choice as we’ve always done this as and when our budget and 25 days a year holiday allowances have allowed, but we felt we needed a bit more to life and so decided on an actual move ‘abroad’ for part of the year. But where? Some of the usual retirement hotspots such as Florida (where my parents had spent many happy winters during their early retired years) and Australia were researched but discounted, mainly on the distances involved – we’d enjoyed holidays there but being so far away from family could prove difficult as we all got older not to mention very tough on the pocket, as pensioners eventually, getting to and fro; frozen State pensions and healthcare costs were also a concern. We wanted some guaranteed good weather too and for this reason alone Scotland was ruled out early on – poor Steve, a lifelong Scot, caved in with (fairly) good grace. Hmmm!
We finally chose the P-O after beginning our ‘recces’ in Spain where, again, Mum and Dad had spent a dozen or more winters after their Florida days had come to an end, but whereas they had favoured the far south, we preferred the scenic part of the northern Costa Brava and so began a series of missions centred around the resorts of Tamariu and Llafranc, and further north, Begur and Roses. The Spanish evening classes were going well back at home in Cambridgeshire and at this stage, I must tell you, the intention was to have very much a second home but gradually our thoughts and ideas moved on to how about making this a permanent move? and so, suddenly, the kind of property we were looking for changed significantly and carefully worked out budgets were blown out of the water!
We flirted with the idea of buying a top-of-the-range mobile home on a year-round site (as we’d done in conjunction with Mum and Dad in North Norfolk when we’d been priced out of the two up, two down holiday cottage market there several years previously) but we couldn’t find anything suitable. More regular trips followed but by this time we had honed our ‘wish list’ and had moved even further north now into France, to Banyuls, Port Vendres, and yes, dear reader, to Collioure – oh no!, the naivety of it all! Spanish conversation classes gave way to those in French (the relief of it, as we all three had at least a nodding acquaintance with the language having done A-levels and having spent more holidays in France than anywhere else).
On one of our forays inland during a stay in Port Vendres , and on the last full day of our holiday when we were, unusually for us, beginning to feel a bit dejected about our search, we came upon Céret on market day! And the rest, as they say, is history! Apart from having been completely blown away by the scenery as we turned off the roundabout at Le Boulou, we immediately fell in love with the place. We ‘did’ the market, sampled the bars, grabbed a fistful of brochures and so on from the Tourist Information Office, made a lightning tour of the town and then drove down the valley as far as Prats de Mollo, calling in at the various towns en route – “just like Scotland, but in the sunshine”, said Steve (and this was November!), so I knew then that we were home and dry!! Whew! The whole area was just what we were looking for.
So, frustratingly, we’d found our ‘spot’ but had no time to do anything about it as we were Girona/Stansted bound the following day. Very fortunately I’d picked up a copy of, as it turned out, one of the early issues of PO Life and through this saw mention of the Anglophone-Direct website. Back at home in Ely, and back at work too, this was barely off my computer screen as I worked my way through everything and anything on the site. I e-mailed Kate as I’d been so motivated by her Life in the P-O diary and she kindly said we should meet up on our next visit. With working in a school (admin., not teaching!) I knew precisely when that visit would be – in fact the flights and car hire had been booked the first day back from the November trip – but it was all an agonising three months away in the February half-term. Nevertheless, we spent many hours on the internet, especially over the Christmas break, finding out as much as we possibly could about the area and trawling through estate agents’ websites. We went to a French Property News magazine property show in London in the January and made contact with a Perpignan based company and made an appointment to meet up on our forthcoming trip. On the train home we poured over all the information from solicitors, removal companies, relocation agents, foreign exchange companies, you name it, and so together with useful articles we’d been hoarding from the FPN and Living France magazines, we were starting to accumulate a useful dossier of information.
We had broken the news to David that we were now thinking of buying a permanent home 25 miles from the Med and an hour and a half from the ski-slopes and how did he feel about that ??!! Well, actually, he would’ve been happier with the Atlantic coast for the surfing, but OK, the skiing would be just fine and it was good rugby country so yes, go for it Mum and Dad – gee thanks David!! He was almost through his degree at university in Sheffield so had taken the first leap into independent life and was fairly sure he’d be London-bound at the end of it. More difficult had been explaining to my parents our shift in thinking away from a holiday home to a permanent home and they were, understandably, quite upset at the prospect of ‘losing’ us in the not too distant future.
We had our Ely home ready to be put on the market as soon as we returned from our forthcoming trip, so all in all we were quite nervous and apprehensive, but excited too, when we set off again in February, from Stansted to Perpignan this time, and for a week’s stay (the first of several as it turned out!) at the Hotel Arcades in Céret, and for our arranged appointments with estate agents in the area.
Next time – the highs and the lows, but mostly highs, of our viewings and time to take
a make or break decision!