Our French Fairytale in Arfons | Case Study

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Our French Fairytale in Arfons | Case Study

Tim and Claire Steed were looking for some peace and quiet in rural France when they stumbled across an 18th century water mill for sale. Here Tim tells us how it all happened...

What inspired you to start looking overseas?

To be frank, if it had not been for A Place in the Sun, both the programme and the exhibitions, we would not be living here today.

Having watched for years, the TV show was the starting point for us deciding to buy somewhere abroad. And we thoroughly recommend the exhibitions not just for France but worldwide - though I would recommend doing some research beforehand as it may help you to get more out of the show.

Why did you want to buy in France?

It's funny, Claire actually owns a house in Spain which we spent a lot of time renovating in 2015 - there was a lot of DIY to do to make it habitable again. We had fun doing it but once it was finished we tried to imagine living there permanently and it was quite hard to picture. There didn't seem to be a lot to do and we didn't want to end up visiting bars all day and not achieve anything.

It was only then that we considered France, I have enough French to get by and we wanted to be somewhere that experienced all four seasons - Spain was too hot, or at least too warm, all year round.

We also wanted a challenge, a place where we could potentially run a B&B or set up a gite and enjoy the peace and beauty that rural France offers. The living costs aren't too dissimilar to the UK either so we are seriously considering living here full-time.

That's quite a lot of boxes to tick! What did you buy?

We bought an 18th century water mill in a lovely little village called Arfons in the midi-Pyrenees region of south west France. It is set in 14.5 acres of fields and woodland with a beautiful river running through the grounds. It is a beautiful isolated spot and all you can hear are birds, the sound of the river and the other wildlife such as badgers and wild boar.

In the village there is a great little shop, which doubles as the local meeting place for the villagers to enjoy a coffee and chat. There is also a bar but this only opens in the summer months so we are yet to experience that.

The area is known for its walks, and the famous 'Cathar walk' goes straight by our boundaries. There are also numerous lakes that will be fantastic places to enjoy a good picnic and swim during the summer months.

When we first saw the mill, we both fell in love with it. It really reminded me of my childhood home so there was definitely a bit of nostalgia there.

How did you find the buying process?

We were lucky to engage a brilliant solicitor who helped us with all aspects of the process and made it quite stress free. Which is the opposite of what we had initially expected, some of the research we had done before made the process look quite daunting.

The main hiccups were various quangos who required us to jump through various hoops but we got there in the end - the French do enjoy a bit of bureaucracy.

The mill was priced at around £290,000 which was within our budget of £350,000 but that was reliant on us selling our house in the UK. As anyone who has been in that kind of property chain knows, things can get a bit tense for a while but I am extremely fortunate to have a fantastic brother, who gave us the money on an interest free loan!

Do you plan to carry out a lot of renovations to the property?

Although the previous owner left the mill in a fantastic state of repair, we want to put our own stamp on it so we do have some projects lined up. There is new guttering to be installed, some of the rooms need repainting and eventually we will need to bring our own furniture/belongings across etc.

Fortunately, Claire is a fantastic DIY'er and no task is too big for her. And I have a lovely new chainsaw for coppicing and bringing new life to our woodland - which will double up as a free supply of wood for the wood burners. The area around the river also needs tidying up, as do the grounds but we are really looking forward to the challenge.

All DIY aside, how will you spend your time in France?

We want to spend as much time together as we can and enjoy the mill until the day when we are no longer able to do so.

No doubt there will be plenty of time to enjoy the local food and wine, not to mention the peace and quiet.

Any advice for other potential buyers?

  • Get a good solicitor. Understand that if you buy in the country, there is a chance your choice could be bought by a local as they get first dibs!
  • You also need your vendor to sort out the SPANC, a quango who checks your 'fosse septic' and tells you it's too old and needs replacing for a huge fee! You then have a year to remedy it.
  • Don't pay the Notaire too early as you won't get any interest on that money for however long they have it.

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