I've written about this before, but not in a long time. Now is a good moment, because tomorrow will be the 8th anniversary of our purchase of this house near Saint-Aignan. The closing — les signatures, it's called — happened on April 24, 2003.
We weren't even here for the meeting between the seller and the buyers. We had it all done by giving our French notaire, the contracts lawyer, a power of attorney. The French consulate in San Francisco arranged all that for us. At the time, we were waiting for our long-stay visas so that we could come and live in France. That's another whole story, but it all worked out.
How did we get here? In October 2002, I quit my job. At age 54, I had enough of commuting on crowded California freeways — not to mention office politics. I told Walt I was at the end of my rope and I needed a big change. What would I do? I didn't know. But I quit work, and I felt free again. Walt said he too was feeling restless, and also ready for a change. Later, he would call it "a new adventure."
My natural inclinations pulled me back toward France, where I had worked for 7 or 8 years in the 1970s and early 1980s, and where Walt and I had first met each other. We had been spending all our vacations in France for nearly 15 years, while living and working in California. We both spoke French.
So in 2002, there I was at home in San Francisco, with no work responsibilities and a high-speed internet connection. I started spending many hours a day looking at French real estate sites. What were the possibilities? I knew enough about Paris — the high cost of real estate, the high cost of living, the crowds, the noise, the temptation to spend, spend, spend — that I realized the idea of living there was a pipe dream. But we had been on vacation in 2000 and 2001 in the Loire Valley, at Vouvray, and had loved it.
That's where I started looking. Amboise seemed like the ideal location at that point. I sent e-mails to a couple of real estate agents there when I saw many interesting and affordable properties for sale on their web sites. One of them wrote back to me. He said he'd be glad to help us find the right house in the region.
Then I told Walt that we needed to go to France, to see if all the attractive houses I was seeing for sale on the internet really would turn out to be places we could envision buying. We decided to take a week-long trip in early December 2002 then. Walt was still working at the time. I got everything set up with the agent in Amboise, who also had an office in Montrichard (10 miles downriver from Saint-Aignan).
We reserved a gîte rural, a furnished vacation property, near Amboise for the week's stay. We bought our plane tickets. The agent set up an appointment for us at his Montrichard office on a Monday. We landed in Paris on a Saturday, picked up a rental car, and drove the three hours to the Loire Valley. On Sunday we went to the big open-air market in Amboise, bought some good food and wine, and settled in. The people who owned and operated the vacation rental were welcoming and accommodating, and it was a comfortable place.
On Monday, we drove down to Montrichard (12 or 15 miles) for a late-morning meeting with the real estate agent. He talked to us for half an hour or so to figure out what we were looking for and what our budget was. Then he pulled out a binder in which he had descriptions and photos of some 400 houses for sale withing 20 miles of Montrichard. He started drawing up a list, and he showed us a couple of houses in Montrichard that very afternoon. Then he said that, considering our budget, we ought to look at some properties in the Saint-Aignan area. We'd get more for our money in Saint-Aignan than in Amboise.
We'd never even heard of Saint-Aignan. So on the Tuesday morning, we drove over here from Amboise to have a look around. It looked pretty good. It was the kind of town we had in mind — kind of like Amboise, but smaller and less touristy. We had lunch in a little hotel-restaurant near the bridge. It felt homey and it certainly wasn't expensive. Things were looking up.
Our next appointment with the real estate agent in Montrichard was set for 2:00 p.m. that day. We drove over there and then drove right back toward Saint-Aignan with the agent, in his car. The first house he showed us, in Thésée, seemed like a good possibility. The second one, in Seigy, did as well. But neither of those inspired love at first sight. The third house we saw that day, however, was the one we ended up buying. We saw one more house that day but, looking back, I realize that we had already made our decision.
The next day we saw two or three more houses — two in Montrichard, and three in Amboise itself. Our heart wasn't in it any more. In all, we inspected and considered 15 houses in just those three or four days. We asked the agent if we could come back to Saint-Aignan and spend a couple of hours looking at this house, the one we've lived in for nearly eight years now, in the afternoon. Could we take pictures? Of course, he said.
While we were here getting a better feel for the place and convincing ourselves that buying it was a good idea, the agent told us he had asked his staff to draw up all the papers so that we could sign a contract that very day. My first reaction was shock. No, I protested, we didn't come here with the intention to buy a house so fast. We were just looking around.
If you don't sign the contract today, the realtor said, when will you sign it? You'll be back in California in a day or two. Sign them today. Then, when you get back to California, you can either send me a letter saying you've changed your mind, or you'll send some money as a down payment. You have nothing to lose, he said. It made sense.
So we ended up buying a house on the fourth day. It was not expensive by California standards, though it was smaller than our house in San Francisco. We didn't know when the closing would take place, or whether we would actually come live in France any time soon.
On Saturday morning we drove to Paris to spend 24 hours in the city before flying back to San Francisco. We talked about the house, the plan, and the possibilities that day during the 11-hour plane ride. At home in California, we decided to go ahead and send the money. As for what came next, we'd have to figure that out.
Would I look for another job? Would we actually move to France? Walt was still employed, and he hadn't yet made the decision to move on. But then we decided to put our house in San Francisco on the market. It sold very quickly, and there we were. Or here we are.