15 April 2016

« Les Bouleaux »

Les Bouleaux — The Birches — is the name of our house and land on official maps. It's a house we found in December 2002, with the help of a real estate agent who had offices in Amboise and Montrichard. We had come to France to look at houses for sale in the area around Vouvray and Amboise, but we had no idea we'd put a down payment on one right then. I had quit my job in October, and I'd been spending time on the web looking at houses that were for sale in the Loire Valley.


In four days, the realtor showed us about 15 houses around Montrichard, Amboise, and, at his suggestion, Saint-Aignan — a town we had never heard of, much less set foot in, before. All were in our stated price range. At the time,we were living in San Francisco, where we had bought a house seven years earlier. I was tired of the rat race of a life that I was living there — driving 100 miles a day to Silicon Valley and back, spending 3 to 5 hours daily in the car, in freeway traffic, five days a week.


When we saw Les Bouleaux, we looked at each other and said, "We could live here one day." It was the only one of the houses we saw in those four hectic days where we could clearly starting picture a new life. Part of it was the setting — the house is at the end of a dead-end road, at least as far as pavement is concerned. There are vineyards on two sides, and a dirt road running through the vines. But it's only two miles from the center of Saint-Aignan and all the conveniences we need.


There's a tall hedge around the sides of the property (half an acre) where you'd be glad to have some privacy. And all the rooms have big windows that let in a maximum of daylight and provide views. The yard was already landscaped, and there was room for a vegetable garden. There was attic space that could be converted into one, two, or three rooms at some point. The place was modern (built in the late 1960s) and didn't need major renovations. We could move right in if we decided to.


A few days later, back in San Francisco, we sent the real estate agent some money to put a hold on Les Bouleaux. The closing date was set for April 15 — 13 years ago today — which gave us time to arrange financing for the actual purchase. We thought we might refinance our house in San Francisco to raise some more cash, and I would look for a new job. We'd have a place in France where we could come spend as much time as possible each year, and we'd slowly fix the place up, with retirement as our timeframe (I was 53 years old). We had met in Paris in the early '80s, and we'd spent most of our vacations in France for nearly 15 years.


Well, it didn't happen that way. We decided pretty quickly to see what kind of price we could get for our house in San Francisco if we were to sell it. We got the agent who had earlier helped us buy it to put it on the market. We did some improvements — painting, mostly, and some cleaning out to make the place feel more spacious. Whether you are planning to sell and move or not, those are always efforts that pay off.


We ended up selling the SF house in February 2003 for nearly three times what we had paid for it in 1995, and for quite a bit over the asking price. We could pay off the mortgage and still have a tidy sum left over. We could afford Les Bouleaux and still have money to cover living costs for a few years. By June 2003, we had moved into our house near Saint-Aignan.

35 comments:

  1. ...and the rest is history!
    Some things are just meant to be. :0)

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    1. In French, somebody might say "et tout le reste est littérature..." — not important, without substance, etc.

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  2. The house grabbed you by the ankles and shook you until the money fell out!!

    "I was tired of the rat race of a life that I was living there — driving 100 miles a day to Silicon Valley and back, spending 3 to 5 hours daily in the car, in freeway traffic, five days a week."....
    and killing yourself slowly whilst doing it!!
    You made the right decision...
    and your life is the better for it!!

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    1. I'll drink to that....
      but in moderation as every page of the "pub" stresses!!

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  3. We have been lucky that a house sale helped finance a forced early retirement and move to France. I wonder if we shall still be here, after a Brexit vote, in another 10 years time.

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    1. If you own property in France and have income that allows you to live without seeking gainful employment, there's no reason why you won't be able to stay in France even if there is a Brexit, I'd say. We were granted visas because we had become property owners and we didn't need to earn a living when we arrived. We've actually had work permits for 7 or 8 years now, but we don't want to work.

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  4. Good for you! I bet you're the envy of your SF friends. Isn't it amazing how "vacation houses" unexpectedly turn into "home"?

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    1. I don't know about envy. People who have moved to California from other parts of the U.S. tend to think they've found paradise.

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    2. I did find paradise in Salton City, CA. Sunny, day in day out. no humidity, nice warm temperatures in winter, not so pleasant in summer, but you can' have everything. A gorgeous spring display of wild flowers. Everything I was looking for. I sure did enjoy it as long as it lasted.

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    3. That wasn't the California I lived in. Besides, being miles and miles from the nearest supermarket, etc., and spending all that time driving (and polluting) wasn't my cup of tea. I know, because a did it enough in a place where it was much less sunny and warm. And then the earthquakes came...

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    4. The notion of paradise is relative and very subjective!

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  5. What a lovely story you two have. Thanks for sharing it. 13 years in France so far and still at an age now when you would still not be eligible to retire on state pension in UK. Wishing you both so many more happy days.

    We are in the last throes of holiday packing as we travel to France overnight on Sunday and go to collect our caravan which is near Poitiers and bring it to Saint-Aignan and a new home in a barn in Couffy when we are not using it. We shall be using the Camping "Les Cochards" at Seigy, Saint Aignan as our base for this holiday and have been dreaming of this move since last July.
    It was whilst searching the web for more information about the area last summer that I found your blog, Ken, and yours and Walt's writings have kept me going through a long winter. I have never followed a blog before and am enjoying the variety of information, the sharing of interests and the lovely photos which you put up.
    I'm an early riser reader and sometimes think I have been reading yours just after you write it so the ink is hardly dry! LOL
    Thanks, Sue

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    1. Well, I turned 65 in 2014, so I'm no spring chicken. Thanks for your nice comments.

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  6. And I'm a couple of years older than that - so you are!!

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  7. Ken, I assume these photos are the product of the TZ18 — new old, old new — camera? They're extremely good and the third one is stunning. Good portrait of Walt, with a leisurely pose, btw.

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    1. Yes, all the photos are ones I took with the new old TZ18. I'm happy with it. When I shot that first picture, Walt was out on the terrace waiting for me and Callie to come back from our afternoon walk.

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  8. i always love this story. yay!

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  9. Kind of heard it all before, but this time in concise potted history. Pretty amazing thing to do and I never get past how you both are are French and American.

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    1. Sorry, but I hate that term "potted" -- so patronizing. I'm nothing if not spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment. LOL. The nature of a durable blog is the regular arrival of new readers, but I'm also glad to hear from you old-timers! I started learning French at age 14, and Walt at age 12. We met in Paris. We were ready for the Amerexit.

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  10. I love the first photo! From what I hear San Francisco is over the top expensive now. You made the right decision for sure.

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    1. That house now has an estimated value of US$1.66 million. That's hard to believe. SF seems to be a very different place now -- until the next big earthquake.

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    2. Or the next big recession.

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  11. It is a beautiful home and I love the privacy you have. I would say it was Paradise found, but I think the home found you and Walt!

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    1. Maybe... it was a homecoming, I guess.

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  12. Everyone said what there was to say already. Happy Decision Anniversary.

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  13. As a long-time, regular reader (and friend!), I never tire of reading this story again -- whenever you talk about the move, it's described from some slightly different perspective, with different photos, and it never ceases to transport me to your world, a bit. I feel like the little kid who says, "Daddy! Daddy! Tell me the story again of how you and Les Bouleaux met!" :)
    So, happy anniversary of the closing!

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  14. Your timing was magically good. And I love the whole story. Congratulations.

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  15. How did I miss this post? Wonderful pictures of your home. Green tranquility. If you had gotten a mortgage for Les Bouleaux would it have been from a French Bank, or would a US bank make such a loan?

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  16. I recall when Walt told me the two of you would be moving to France. I was the color of his shirt in the first photo....

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