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.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

It's Not Necessarily Because You're Stupid....

Old french house                        Image via Wikipedia
Over the years in France I've seen any number of people come to live there...some stay, some go back and some go on.

There are any number of reasons for there are any number of reasons for not.... but it disturbs me that the those who depart are so often regarded as stupid and feckless by those who stay.
'Didn't do their homework...'

I've muttered about this niggardly attituide before, here, but a suggestion from Susie Kelly, whose books I will even pay for, led me to to a sad tale which shows what can happen even when you think you have covered all the angles.

Take a look at this blog

Hobos in France

And wonder how you would have coped with the concatenation of disasters which befell this family.

They bought a house in France. An empty house. They inspected it several times together with the estate agent and the architect they engaged to do the renovations.

After signing the compromis....the agreement to buy...and paying their deposit they discovered a sitting tenant who had suddenly manifested himself.

Here is where the horrors of France take over...they were advised that if they backed out they would not only lose their deposit, but would have to pay the estate agent's commission and would probably be sued by the seller.

Who advised them of this? The estate agent....but also the notaire.

Now, when buying property in France much is made of the protection offered by the notaire...crumbs, you can even seek compensation from their own insurance scheme if they cock it up!
Well, you can claim. Whether you get is another matter.
Their 'protection' is a total sham.

But to whom else should they have turned  for advice and information on the legal aspects of the problem?
The know all hindsight merchants of the Britpack community...the ones who tell people that they have brought their  misfortune on themselves?

As you read the blog you will see how the incompetence and, it has to be said, malevolence of French institutions - everything from the electricity board to the local Maire - reduced the house to an uninhabitable state...except for the rooms occupied by the sitting tenant....and forced them to take to the road.

Meanwhile, they sought further legal advice. From an avocat...equivalent of a barrister.
To whom else should they have turned?
The 'helping hand' ladies of the Britpack, who 'do you a favour' which ends up costing you an arm and a leg only to be pushed further in the mire?

This avocat, incompetent to a degree, led them up the garden path as to fees and failed signally in his duty to provide adequate representation.
They lost their case, their money and their health.

These are not feckless people...they followed advice given by appropriately qualified persons and have ended up - effectively - on the road, but they have not given up in the face of injustice...they are carrying on.

Ill but indomitable.

I have had experience of the French legal system.
From that experience I would trust no notaire as far as I could kick him and avocats a damn sight less.

But I wouldn't have known that when starting out in France...I wouldn't have known about crooked lawyers and courts without French friends to tell me.
Show me the book on 'moving to France, all you need to know' which puts you wise to this.
I don't know of one.

It is a pity that the knee jerk reaction of some in the expat forum world deters people from telling their stories as we all lose a chance to learn something which might help us in the future...put us on our guard....not to necessarily put our trust in a 'professional'.

I've known of unbelievable things happening....people who are victims not only of French people and systems, but of exploitative vultures among their compatriots.
Most do nothing about it....some even keep on visiting terms with the exploiters....few talk about it whether for fear of being thought an idiot - mostly they weren't - or from social pressure - the expat colony can be a small world.
I understand the reluctance to name names....the legal consequences can be financially discouraging...but a compilation of horror stories would be a useful tool for the person thinking of moving to France.

Any ideas, anyone?

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  1. I think many of these things can happen in any country, I have lived in a few. I have heard some horrible stories of people who have moved to Spain. I realise disasters can hit hard, and certain problems are more than difficult to deal with, but I still think that life on the whole is what you make it. Diane

  2. Kindle is crying out for books of this nature. Well, mine is anyway...

  3. Fly, it's an almost unbelievably dreadful story, which I first read something about on the Total France forum last year. It truly should not be possible for things like this to happen, but they can and do. But try telling the rose-coloured spectacles brigade this.

  4. Diane, of course you are can happen anywhere, not just in France...but France is where this story took place.
    Life is indeed what you make it...but it is not helped by the sort of events that happened to this family.

    Steve,we'll have to listen to the calls of your Kindle, then...

    Perpetua, I missed it, not being much of a forum follower so this blog was the first I'd heard of it.
    I am just astonished that they are managing to keep going.
    And as to the rose tinted spectacles and the holier than thou and the unco guid brigade with their refrain of 'didn't do their homework'....I find them callous in the extreme.

  5. Indeed, Fly, and the blog author is such a nice and amazingly uncomplaining woman, given the nightmare they have been living through for so long.

  6. I knew a (French) woman who had spent the best part of 20 years, and her money, trying to prove that the local council in her part of Normandy had fiddled the books when they drove a road right through the middle of her parents' farm. Somehow I don't think it will surprise you to hear that she lost everything. A quick glance at the blog you linked to just sounded like listening to Paulette all over again.

    I actually disagree with your first commenter. Within Europe, France seems to be particularly entrenched in this regard. Curiously, the sharks in Spain are "down south" and often British.

  7. Perpetua, I appreciate her view that French people generally are not responsible for the situation in which she finds easy to start on generalities and she does not do that.

    Pueblo girl, no surprise whatsoever. I don't know enough about Spain to comment, but France, in my view, is a disgrace.

  8. What gets me is that even in the face of hard evidence you can't get justice.

    How can you fight crooked estate agents, lawyers and notaires? You can't if you have no grassroots knowledge of the area, and you can hardly go knocking on doors and ask for recommendations.

    I hope Chrissie turns her tale into a book because it is definitely worth telling and an antidote to all the cute stories.

  9. Sarah, yes, i hope so too...and so does Steve's Kindle...

  10. Vicky, your comment has been swallowed by Blogger, so I hope it will reappear soon.
    I take your point about the translation, it seemed to me, in the context of what people were saying, that 'we count for nothing' was the underlyer of the phrases you suggest.

  11. We need a better, simpler and more equitable system for purchasing houses in the UK too. Most builders' guarantees are not worth much, Estate Agents and Surveyors write in so many caveats you can't hope for recompense if they give bad advice.

    Chap I knew bought cheap houses in the Welsh Valleys - paid cash, no mortgages - did them up and rented them to tenants. He'd given up on surveys and the like - any problems with the tenants and the 'boys' would sort it. I had sympathy for some (if not all) of his methods.

  12. Mark, I too would like to see a system for property purchase which protects the back...not of the professionals...but of the buyer and seller.

    I never purchased through a solicitor in the U.K. and had no problems at all because, I think, I was following up everything myself.

  13. Sadly it happens everywhere. Some countries are worse than others. Turkey has now become a minefied for people buying houses unless they are sure they can find a truly reputable solicitor and totally honest estate agent.

    A friend of mine in Cappadocia, who wrote for the Lonely Planet Guide for years, wrote a book called Living in Turkey which at the time it was published was a godsend for all of the do's and dont's and the where to go. I still have it but with the constant changes here it's already out of date. I think she may need to spend the rest of her life regularly updating it.

  14. Sorry Fly...I clicked send too soon because what I meant to add was that I think you would be just the person to write a similar book for living in France.

  15. Ayak, thank you! I had hoped to be able to put out my book on my time in France...but until the house is sold I am distinctly vulnerable to legal attack on my assets.

    So I've decided to revamp the way you suggest.

    Years ago we wondered about buying in Turkey and Turkish friends warned us then to be very careful and only to deal with people the friends' families knew to be straight.

    Costa Rica has some horror stories too.....but mostly if you're buying tracts of coastal land for development - which I'm not!

  16. I read some of the blog. That sounds like a really nasty story.

    I think that a book exposing the unpleasant side of France would get a lot of readers but would probably be banned here... but at least they wouldn't be able to complain of "outrage" if iwas true.

    Whereas I have little sympathy with people who try to do things on the "black", people who keep to the straight and narrow and still get stitched up have a genuine story to tell. I think that a whole book could be written about the Hoboes' experience. If not, two such stories would surely suffice.

    I did hear about a Brit who renovated a house, only to discover that his architect and the artisans have connived to cover up extensive dry rot. They didn't know he was a lawyer......he won what ended up as a fight with the architect's insurance company.

  17. Where ever it happens such tales are dreadful. Read some of the blog and it nearly gave me a sleepless night.

    Found selling our house in the UK ultra stressful as there was always a chance that our buyer could--and was legally allowed to --pull out right up until the exchange of contracts. Much preferred the system in NL which is Gremanically organised version of the French system.

  18. Mark in Mayenne, I agree, little sympathy with the corner cutters and winkers at the law...but when, with every scrap of evidence to support their side this family are let down so badly by those operating the system it gives out a very bad feeling.

    Niall and Antoinette, it's always stressful in the U.K. but people are so bamboozled by the notaires trumpeting how they give you protection in France that they take their word for it!
    Mark you, what else do you expect, even if you've done your homework beforehand. but that a notaire will give correct can't be that sitting tenant and vice cache problewms are rare after all.

  19. That should have read 'Germanically' of course. ie Teutonic by the book throughness grafted onto French system of provisonal contract with 10% deposit of purchase price.

    Sadly you are probably right in assuming vice caché happens more than one thinks.

  20. Niall and Antoinette, thoroughness was never the mark of a country notaire...but I was in la France Profonde!

  21. I've just read the blog: what a horror story! The poor people. It's not just the injustice and the money but also the dreadful stress it must put on them.

  22. Dumdad, I cannot begin to understand how they have remained so resilient!

  23. I have read some of the blog and it makes truly dreadful reading. It's enough to put anybody off from wanting to move to France. I am wondering where the EU stands on issues such as this.

  24. cheshire wife, it passes belief that things like this can happen.

    EU stands nowhere...European Court of Human Rights might though....but that court cannot touch it until their case has been heard at all levels of justice in France and I think they're still waiting for a date for the Cour de Cassation.

    My hat goes off to them and my heart out to them.

  25. Life is too short for all that fuss. I think I'll just visit on holiday and not plan to take up residence.

  26. Ian Lidster, yes, great for holidays...after that, well...

  27. Great an ex barrister and solicitor it took me a while to understand the French legal system..even less the role of a Notaire.
    As it happens most of us Anglo Saxons believe that a Notaire is much like a solicitor. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. They are "agents of this state" whose role is NOT to protect the clients' interest but rather validate the authenticity and correctness of the many transaction documents ("les actes") they deal with.
    They make pots and pots of money from the state and have pretty much a monopoly over property transactions.
    No it is not right!

  28. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  29. Susie, I deleted the copy of your post...Blogger seems to have gone demented as it put it up several times! collectors!
    What gets me is that people who have been stuffed by them still think they're wonderful.
    Ex neighbours sold their house - principal residence - and were grateful to the notaire for reducing their (non existent) capital gains tax liability!

  30. I could add a few to the compilation of horror stories!!!

  31. Kaz, should people who blog about France have a Horrors Week?

  32. hehehe, I dare you to suggest it fly. It would be funny if not true. The lack of compassion, empathy and the fact that no-one appears responsible for their actions in France is beyond belief ..

  33. Kaz, let me ponder....whom among the crowd of macaroon eating, fashion following, je m'en foutistes would take up the idea do you think?

    Do i see you counting on the fingers of one hand?

  34. Chrissie's blog is long overdue. I hope it's cathartic for them and that 2012 proves to be the year they finally get justice. I've told French friends their story and they're horrified. NOT that it could happen, because nothing would surprise most people brought up in the "system", but that their country can (and does) get away with treating people this way, when they have done nothing to deserve it.

  35. Croixblanches, likewise, French friends know it can and does happen.
    The reaction is always...'Well what can we do about it, that's how it is.'

    The problem is that it is like muzzled or just not interested and the risk of retaliation, which is real.

    I think it takes foreigners to start speaking up....and my hat off to Chrissie and her family for their determination.

    I do hope they get the date for Cassation soon and that things are sorted out for them.