Ronny Flynn has always loved France and hoped that one day she could buy a special place as a second home. As she and her husband Brian, her daughter Kiran holidayed over the years they became familiar with many out of the way spots and dreamed of the day they would become residents.
Casas Port Vendres
The long journey to France
Since we first got together 36 years ago, my husband and I wanted a home in France. We love the landscapes, the space, the easy driving, the wildlife, the sun, the fresh local produce and much more. We spent our holidays in France, driving and camping when we had little money to spare, progressing to staying in rented ‘gites’, and then being able to afford to fly and rent a car and a house as we had more money, and to stay in hotels along the way.
Neither sets of parents were home owners until their retirement, when their children were able to buy them homes. We never assumed we would be first home owners, let alone having a second home. However we were both fortunate to start our careers in times of full employment and to survive redundancies and short-term contracts. We were able to save a deposit and buy a house at a time when it was possible for young people to do this. Our jobs would have adequate retirement pension provision, which was an added bonus, though it would be decades before we thought about this.
Over the years of travelling around France, we identified places we would like to live. Properties in need of renovation in rural inland settings were cheap but needed to be cash purchased, and enough time and money found for the renovation. We loved the lake areas of the Brenne, Domme and Solonge in the middle of France with its abundance of bird life, but it rains there quite a lot and we wanted somewhere drier. Drier coastal areas we visited were too expensive and crowded for us.
We were drawn to a particular region of South-East France by accident one year, when we drove to escape cold, wet weather during a precious holiday and came upon sunny campsites, a cherry-growing town, relatively few tourists compared with, say, Provence, and decided to look no further.
After our daughter was born in 1991, we travelled in the region by car and by bicycle. When she started school we were limited to school holiday travels and rented caravans and later flats and houses in the coastal towns of Argeles-sur-Mer, Collioure, Port Vendres and Banyuls-sur-Mer. We got to know and love the area with its 300 and more days of sun per year, its fantastic sunsets and the blend of sea and mountain.
We tried to buy an apartment in one town but there was little on the market and when we next searched, the prices had shot up. We almost gave up and decided to continue renting when our daughter spotted a picture of a beach she recognised from a view of a flat advertised for sale. We went to look straight away – we were returning to England the next day! The flat was in a total mess. It was owned by a retired academic who had used the place for 20 years’ storage and slept on a mattress during his windsurfing holidays, so needless to say it required renovating. But it had a full frontal sea view, a near-private beach, a balcony, and was only a compact 32 square metres to renovate. Our offer was accepted as we were driving back through France to the ferry. We were second home owners!
Buying property in France is more secure than in the UK. If the offer is accepted, the owner is obliged to sell to you unless you withdraw. Penalties apply if completion is delayed and we had some stressful days with delays on our bank loan, plus a suntanned and designer-suited male ‘notaire public’ who handled the legal aspects of the sale and took pleasure in watching me struggle with my inadequate French. But finally, the apartment was ours! Above the view from the apartment in Port Vendres & below the view from the house.
We spent eighteen months lovingly restoring it. We offered it to friends and family, and later when work commitments prevented us from using it much, we rented it for holiday use, and used it for home exchanges. We have had almost ten years pleasure from the thrilling views, and our lovely flat is now up for sale.
But there’s more. The apartment is very small and after we retired we wanted to spend more time there, so we again considered locations, properties and prices for moving. Economic recessions in the UK and France had released many beautiful inland properties onto the market, but Port Vendres where we live has a railway station and a good bus service, and an airport within 35 kilometres. We had also grown to love the sea views. While deciding where we would look actively early this year, we saw a house in the town on a website that seemed ideal. Magnificent sea and mountain views, not too large, not too much work to do, and just about affordable. When we saw it, we couldn’t think of a reason not to buy it, so we made an offer that was accepted.
The process has not been stress-free. We turned up on completion day having driven from England with a van load of furniture to find the estate agent, notaires and vendor had managed to create a crisis. There were still mortgage charges on the property that had not been removed, and we had no water and electricity services to the house. Two days of frantically running around fixing things at the last minute meant we did get to complete the purchase and move our furniture in. My husband left to take the hire van back to England, and I stayed on to clear, clean and tidy. Water was connected within two days but the electricity took several weeks longer. We drove down again for 4 July and all the services were up and running. Hooray!
We are staying in the house at the moment, finishing off the place. We have to install sinks and shower doors, wardrobes and kitchen units in between enjoying the views. We can envisage spending a good part of every year here. Our daughter arrived from England for a ten day break and saw the place for the first time. ‘It’s fabulous, well done!’ she said. ‘I know you kept saying it was lovely, but I didn’t really believe it.’
That comment is worth a lot. After 36 years, we have arrived!