Wouter Haaijman, Sunday, 10 March 2019
Everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everything in the villages and small towns in France. At least, that's how it seems.
Anyway, you can sometimes find out a lot about the local housing market by talking to the locals. Hotels, chambres d'hôtes, cafés, restaurants,
campsites are the best places to do so because you can build short-term relationships here. By the way, local is entirely relative. The gossip area
often extends for miles around.
We stayed in a hotel in a small town in the south of France and the first evening we found a nice bistro where you could eat well for not too much
money. Roland, the owner, was friendly and we decided that he might become our source of information. The next day we went back to his bistro. He was
happy to see us again and greeted us with an outstretched hand. When he put the snails in front of us, he asked if we were on holiday. This was the
moment to introduce the purpose of our visit to France. "We are looking for a house because we want to live here permanently." Roland hardly reacted,
and we left it at that. At our departure, we announced that we would come back to eat the next day.
The following evening we got the feeling that Roland and his regulars had talked about us. When we walked to our table, we were greeted by everyone,
although some looked at us as if we were from another planet. Understandable, because this department (which is a quarter of the size of the
Netherlands) is home to only a few hundred foreigners - that was one of the reasons for us to live there - and we were seen as something special.
After an excellent meal, Roland came to us with the famous green liter bottle Perrier and three small glasses. He sat down, said nothing and poured
the glasses to the ridge full, carefully pushed them over the table to us and raised his glass. He told us that his father made the best eau de vie
in all of France. We were no experts, but we know what tastes good. This was good stuff.
To indicate that we were serious about emigrating to France, we asked the questions that any new resident would ask. For example, we wanted to know
if there were a doctor and a dentist in the town, where the hospital was, if there were many tourists in the summer, how the weather was during the
winter months. Every now and then Roland interrupted the conversation to talk to other customers, but every time he came to our table again.
Meanwhile, there was a small group of regulars around our table, and they started asking us questions. Why France? Why their department? What were we
going to do in France? What kind of house were we looking for?
That was the moment we had been waiting for. We described what we were looking for and immediately made it clear that we wanted to buy a house from a
private person and preferably not through a real estate agent.
Roland explained that most houses are sold privately. "Here everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everything, so as soon as a house is going to
be sold, it is common knowledge," he said. "Often houses are not advertised because there can be a local buyer."
According to Roland, a house is only sold through a real estate agent if nobody else wants to buy it. Buyers of these houses do not come from nearby.
That could be a foreigner, or worse, a Parisian. The group shook their heads violently to confirm what Roland had just announced.
We knew that this was a simplistic statement, but it made something clear. The inhabitants of a town or village know which houses are for sale and
when a home will be on the market. Show a picture of a house, and they can tell you who the owner is.
It was late that evening, and luckily our hotel was only a few minutes walk from the bistro. During lunch the next day Roland gave us the name and
phone number of the owner of a house that had just gone into the private, unadvertised sale. We visited that week and did not buy it. We kept Roland
regularly informed about our activities, kept visiting his bistro, and during the next two weeks, he gave us the names of four owners.
Two months later we bought, through a real estate agent, a house about ten kilometers from the town. The real estate agent knew what we were looking
for, had called us and gave us clear information.
We now live permanently in France and regularly eat snails at Roland.