A milestone birthday prompted Ian and Jenny Wasson to bid a fond farewell to their happy place in Brittany…
Well, just one week short of 19 years of ownership, we completed the sale of our pretty holiday home near the lovely town of Josselin in Morbihan. We’re full of mixed emotions as it finally dawns on us that we won’t be going there anymore.
We’d talked about selling up a couple of times over the past few years, but when the time came to actually put our words into practice, it almost felt like a spur-of-the-moment thing. In 2022, we had by September already enjoyed two three-week breaks at the house in April and June. We’d had great times, even travelling down to Provence for my 70th birthday in April. In fact, we arrived at our house in September looking forward, as usual, to a leisurely stay, with a planned short trip to the Île de Ré. But after we arrived. for some reason, the enormity of having the responsibility of a property the other side of the Channel hit me. I was sure the feeling would pass as we settled in, but the next day I went on my daily walk up to the local boulangerie for our usual baguette and croissants to discover that it was closing down a couple of weeks later. I felt devastated!
I walked home and just said to my wife “You know, I think it might be time to sell up.” We talked about it over breakfast, and during the rest of the day, and agreed to call in at our local immobilier, BFS, in Josselin – the same agency we had bought the house from in 2004. Franck still worked there, and so we started the whole process.
TIME TO LEAVE?
The responsibility of having a rural house in France was, without doubt, affecting me more. A brilliant couple looked after the place when we were not there, Fiona and Tristen Hartery from Helléan, and they did a superb job, even in the final year, cleaning the place before we arrived. But I always worried when I read the area was going to be hit by a storm or heavy rain.
We had spent a lovely summer at our UK house on the East Devon coast in 2022, enjoying the garden and the beach, and this contributed to our decision to sell. Plus, we had spent an idyllic weekend at a beautiful Landmark Trust lock-keeper’s cottage, without any responsibility for maintaining the building.
The speed at which it all moved forward was quite a shock. We were there during our September holiday for all the statutory diagnostic checks we knew, once sold, it would need a new septic tank and rewiring, so it was priced accordingly. It went live online and in the agency window on the Saturday; we had two viewings on the Monday, and received a full asking price offer to include all the furniture and fittings-our dream scenario -on the Wednesday. It was from a lovely French couple from near Bordeaux looking for a holiday home in the north, away from the searing summer heat. We accepted it!
Bertrand Guillemot of BPS was superb all the way through the process, keeping us fully informed about everything by email in English. We decided not to go to France for the signing as we’d popped over for a short break at the end of November to bring back some personal effects and we’d said our goodbyes then. This meant having to find a local notary in the UK to witness our signature and initials on the contract, which we sent back by courier due to the industrial action with postal services in the UK. We asked Fiona to do a final clean and tidy up in the garden, sent a ‘welcome to your new home’ card to the agent to give to the new owner at the signing, and that was that! The process was smooth with one exception-it was necessary to have the septic tank emptied before completion.
Understandable. There are certain things a buyer doesn’t want included in the sale! This was duly arranged by Fiona, and the company came while we were closing the place down in November. However, they said they couldn’t empty it because the access point- which had been uncovered for 18 years, had been inspected by SPANC three times, and through which the tank was emptied in 2018-could not be used as it covered the filter.
They suggested we dig down a little way from the existing entry to find a second point -and off they went having only emptied the grease trap. We had to pay €200 to get the certificate for that, required by the notaire. But we had no certificate for the tank, We were due to leave that night for the UK, so in a panic we called Bertrand who contacted the original firm we used in 2018; he met them there a couple of days later and they duly lifted out the filter and emptied the tank, which cost another €200.
So, with sadness and some relief, we no longer have our lovely little cottage in Brittany. However, we plan to return to France to see friends, and we’ll spend a couple of nights at a beautiful B&B we found in Josselin (Le 14 St-Michel) before heading south to explore other parts of this wonderful country.
If we could turn the clock back 18 years, would we still have bought our place? Yes? Back then there was a local shop, restaurant, two bars and a boulangerie (all now closed because the owners retired), plus some lovely French neighbours where we’d spend many a summer evening enjoying aperos in the garden, but sadly they have all died and their houses sold to younger people who aren’t so interested in socialising with a couple of older Brits! I think a townhouse with a pretty courtyard somewhere like Josselin may have been more of a long-term venture as we get older. I love watching A Place in the Sun, but always shout at the TV “no, no!” when someone wants a huge high-maintenance garden for a holiday home. Our 400m plot of grass was quite enough, thank you.
But what a fantastic experience we have had for 19 years staying in our little cottage, giving us many happy memories. We are so glad and so lucky we did it when we were much younger. Here’s to our next adventure!
IAN AND JENNY’S TOP TIPS
Thinking of buying that dream holiday place in France?
- Choose where your place is with great care and think hard about how important that local boulangerie or restaurant is for the enjoyment of your holiday- how will you feel if they close? Facilities and neighbours change over time.
- Think, think again and keep on thinking about the size of garden you want if it’s going to be a holiday home. How practical is it to grow vegetables when you aren’t there all the time? Do you want to cut grass during your holidays? In Brittany, you can almost see it growing, and that includes in a mild winter. We found large pots of geraniums kept going all through the summer when we were away in the UK. In the first year we abandoned any thought of flower beds. Just how much space do you need for a table and chairs so you can enjoy an evening glass of wine?
- Don’t skimp on professional help to keep an eye on the place when you are not there- particularly in the winter, if you have trees, when gutters and down pipes can get blocked.
- We had a two-bedroom place-we think a must. Some friends found that the desire to come and visit fell away very quickly if it involved sleeping on a pull-out settee in the lounge. OK, this might be a plus point! Just think about do you and your visitors all want to go to bed or get up at the same time?
- Think about how long you plan to keep the place for as your needs and wants will change as time moves on. Plus a great holiday home may not be that perfect place for you if you then plan to move to France permanently.
- Don’t underestimate the cost of having your place checked and maintained-and this includes the garden-when you are not there. In our case, this was the highest incurred annual cost of keeping the house, but it was also the most important.
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Lead photo credit : ©Ian and Jenny Wasson