All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Gas attack at the bottom of the market

The small house has finally been sold. The bottom of the housing market in France has been called - unless the market detects that I will be putting the big house up for sale soon and decides to wait until the day after that sale for prices to start soaring.

The whole affair has been a nightmare, from agents pushing for low estimates, through endless internet clients who seem to be more interested in house tourism than in house buying, to the final straw, the refilling of the gas tank to test the heating system.

On the way there has been the neighbour who decided to put off potential clients as he liked the house being empty....
The sight of M. Crasseux hirpling over the sward in his cap and dressing gown to warn visitors that all was not as it seemed with the house was enough to deter all but the stout hearted until, hearing about this from one agent, I asked the local maire to intervene.

He reported back, exasperated.

I went to see him and I asked him what he thought he was doing.
He said he was just trying to prevent people from being ripped off by foreigners.
What's wrong with the house, then?
It's owned by a foreigner. Stands to reason there'll be something dodgy.
Because they're foreigners.

His visit must have achieved something, though, as in future M. Crasseux kept himself to himself on visiting days.
His home help told me why, some time later.
Well, the maire threatened to 'take notice' that his septic tank wasn't in order....

Considering that he doesn't have one at all, that was quite mild in the cirumstances, but it seemed to have done the trick.
Personally, seeing that the foreign clients probably didn't understand M. Crasseux' patois, I thought that it was not his dire warnings of
'Blow wind! Come wrack!'
that had done the damage, but just the mere horror of having him as a neighbour.

Living the dream consists of contemplating life from over the rim of  a glass of wine while sitting in the garden listening to the birdsong.
It definitely does not include the irruption of a testy pensioner tastefully clad in ill assorted patterns of plaid, gesticulating wildly while incomprehensible sounds emerge from between the false teeth.
Visions like this only form part of living the dream once the dreamers have fallen into the hands of the local Britpack and have taken to imbibing the rough five litre cubis from the supermarket.

There has been the person minding the house and garden who was never available to show people over it, reasoning that thus his employment would last longer....
Slight error of judgement there, sir. Good luck with the rest of your clients.

There was the man who drove from Holland in a snowstorm, only to say he thought it was a bit far away for a weekend retreat....

There was the woman from Holland who didn't like the kitchen....
Hoping for helpful feedback, I asked what was wrong.
It's much too big. People will expect me to cook.

There was the English man who said he had encountered two English people in the town on the way through and he wasn't going to live in an English colony.
I thought about an introduction to M. Crasseux but rejected the idea as counterproductive.

And so it went on....

Eventually, an energetic French agent appeared with a young couple who wanted a house with a garden, big enough for them, their two small children and all the rest they proposed to produce as long as the process was tax efficient.
Small problem, they needed a bank loan.

Before my eyes, they embarked on a procedure which was about to add another third to the price of the house, in order to satisfy the bank that the house was fit to loan money upon.

Now, this is a house dating from the late eighteenth century.
The stone walls are at least one metre thick, and when it was renovated, the roofs were insulated and new double glazed windows installed. It faces south, is always warm and cheap to heat.
In order to meet new 'green' guidelines, the whole house has to be dry lined!
In order to get the loan, the new guidelines have to be followed.

The young couple thus find themselves saddled with a loan much larger than they had envisaged, for something that does not need to be done, in order to put a roof over their heads.

Undeterred they went ahead, so I was obliged to undertake - pay for - the plethora of obligatory inspections, looking for wet and dry rot, death watch beetle, woodworm, asbestos, lead and, of course, the state of the electricity gas and water installations.

I have had some rum inspections in my time....
The house I was buying where a full inspection was done, which surprised me as the place was barred by a chain without a lock and to gain access it was necessary to break down the door - something the inspectors had clearly not done in order to carry out their work.
The house I was selling where I had stripped all the old  paint down to bare wood and repainted it. The inspector duly found lead.
These machines are really sensitive...they'll find a spot of paint imbedded in the wood under five coats of new stuff!
Pity I'd stopped at four, then, wasn't  it.

We overcame the question of why there wasn't a T.V. point in every room - it hadn't been in the norms when the electricity had been installed.
It had been a miracle in my view that there had ever been an electrical installation at all.
I had asked the electricity board to put power on to the house and had requested an underground connection from the pole on the other side of the road.
Refused. It had to be an overhead connection.
Overhead connection installed.
Request made for an initial working point, to do the renovations.
There was only an overhead connection. A working point could not be installed with an overhead connection.
I managed to find a way round this - oddly enough by using M. Crasseux's electricity supply, at his suggestion.
Electricity installed.
Applied for the inspection.
Installation refused a certificate.
Checked the inspector's points with an independent electrician who said there wasn't a problem at all.
Forced to pay for second inspection.
No certificate.
Many telephone calls and two registered letters later, it appeared that the certificate had been sent to an office of the electricity board miles away.
A month later, the certificate arrived.
So there was something to inspect when it came round to selling, even if there wasn't a T.V. point in the loo.

As the house had been empty, I had not refilled the gas tank, but, to test the system, gas was required.
The gallant agent stepped in here, as I was showing signs of imminent terminal temper failure.
She would see to it.

I am heartily glad that she did, in view of what was to follow.

I had given her a copy of my contract with the supplier, so she contacted their office at Tours, to order 200 kilograms of gas - enough for the test.
Two weeks later she received the invoice -  for 2000 kilograms of gas.
She rang.
No, that was what she had ordered.
No, she hadn't.
Yes she had or it would not have been delivered.
Who was their local rep?
She could not be told. That was confidential commercial information.

As the agent is French, this was not a case of being difficult with foreigners. This is merely an example of the lack of commercial culture in  France. How the place survives at all is a mystery to me.

By approaching the local rep of their commercial rival, she eventually unearthed the company's own rep, who seemed genuinely surprised to hear from anyone at all. As well he might.

She entered negotiations. She produced her written order. He hummed, harred and telephoned Tours.
The gas would come in handy.
Not to her client it wouldn't. She was selling the house.
Then the new owners would like it.
Very likely, but they didn't want to pay for it and her client certainly wasn't going to do so.
But someone would have to pay.
Very likely, but that was his problem.

Two weeks later again, a new invoice was issued for 1000 kilograms.
Good try, Tours, but not good enough.
It took her another week to get an invoice for the amount ordered and, finally, the system could be tested.
It worked.

The sale could proceed. It has proceeded.

I have the money. They have the house.

The agent has high blood pressure.

I know how she feels.

Photograph by Maurizio Blasetti.

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