For Dick Schrader the only way to get his perfect French property was to build it from scratch. He explains how he went about buying a plot of land, designing and building his house in Lot
Why did you decide to build your own property in France?
Having been involved in the overseas property market for nearly 30 years [Dick founded French Property News magazine in 1989] and a Francophile for even longer, it wasn’t a difficult decision to buy a house in France. With five weeks holiday a year, I really didn’t want a project though; I wanted to actually enjoy my time in France. Nor did I want to let my house out. I didn’t want a maison secondaire, I wanted it to be my home from home, albeit for only a few weeks per year.
With that in mind, the choice was either a ready-to-move-into property with no work to do, with all the compromises that someone else’s designs mean, or a new-build. I was fairly particular about what I wanted and decided the best way to achieve it was to have a house built. Having travelled extensively in France, I knew that I wanted to be in Lot.
What was the process of getting a house built from scratch?
The first job was to find a suitable plot, I chose Maison Personnalisée based in Cahors as my builders and spent two days with Madame Belmon looking at a variety of plots. I eventually chose a 6,000m² plot with outstanding views in Bagat-en-Quercy, a small village about 20km from Cahors and 4km from the small town of Montcuq.
The next step was getting the house designed. None of the standard plans fitted the bill, and so, in a discussion with the architectural department, I outlined what I wanted. My instructions were mainly about the number of rooms and the minimum sizes required, plus I wanted all the bedrooms upstairs. I also wanted a traditional style of house that would fit into the locality. This is the advantage of a new-build project; you can really define what you want.
In a few hours, I had some rough drawings which were pretty near perfect, with the additional benefit of a vast basement due to the slope of the land. This provided a room for a laundry, garage, swimming pool equipment, and another room about the size of the lounge, currently used for storage and a workshop. Further meetings defined all the details, including choosing tiles, the form of heating and designing the kitchen.
The complete process including getting planning permission (all done by Maison Personnalisée), took about 18 months. The keys were handed over in December 2005, and we had an empty house ready for furnishing.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a new-build property?
New-build houses come with all the best in terms of insulation, and maintenance is minimal in the early years. Even cleaning is easy with tiled floors, and underfloor heating is, in my view, the best. My hobby is cooking, so having a kitchen designed especially for me was a real bonus.
Were there any drawbacks? In my view, these were mainly minor. For example, the garden has to be started from scratch and, after 11 years, it is still a work in progress. The passage of time is visible; the tiny laurels planted not long after purchase are now over two metres high and provide privacy form the road.
I also learnt that if you didn’t specify it, you didn’t get it. I asked for a shower in the en-suite bathroom but it didn’t have a door – I was reminded I hadn’t asked for a door, so this had to be added later. I had chosen to have three bedrooms but wish I had gone for four; although three is OK most of the time, we have more visitors than expected and the extra bedroom would have been useful.
The nearby town of Montcuq has just about everything I need with a supermarket, hardware shop, garden centre and several garages on the outskirts, and an array of shops and bars in the centre. Its Sunday market is listed as one of the top 100 markets in France and is well worth a visit.
I am semi-retired now and spend about three months a year in France. I’m so pleased I went for a new-build. Although I have more time now, I don’t have to waste much of it on repairs and I hope to be spending even more time in France in the future (maybe the garden will progress now). Will I move to France permanently? I am giving it serious consideration right now.
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