Friday, January 16, 2015

Market day, treats and progress

Thursday 15 January 2015 or 15 01 20 15  pleasing balance to the numbers

6 degrees rising to 14 degrees
Very windy later on in the day

OH (other half in case you were wondering) is 56 today.  He is in remarkably good condition - fine teeth, still quite a lot of hair and youthful skin.  Has does have bad feet and legs but I won't be shooting him just yet.  The Armagnac and chocolates are very well received and we have lazy breakfast before going down town to the market.   The sunny weather has brought out a lot of people and the stalls are bursting with good things.  As we walk around, gorgeous smells waft on the air - from the Indian stall, the dense aroma of onion bahjis and chickpea curry, the sharp spice of olives from the Provence stall, the sickly sweetness of fried batter balls from the Algerian stall.   

I am drawn to the coffee shop and we have café gourmand with a selection of tiny treats, surrounding a foaming mug of coffee - chocolate mousse, beaten to a sharp peak, a piquant apple crumble, a pale pink macarron, a white chocolate square.  Totally delicious.  We are joined by one of my sellers called TT and a lady whose house we rented when we first came over here.  She is a tiny lady and in her late 60's and her favourite word is fuck.   Her house has been for sale for five years now.  For five years I have been telling them that they need to put in a fabby kitchen instead of the small cupboard that they have at the moment. Again, it falls on deaf ears.  'I should never have let T (her husband) buy that effing house. We have spent an effing fortune on it.  We had some effing people over to view last week and they bought a small modern house near effing Orthez'.  (TT's house is over 200 years old with a massive plot of land)  Alas, I know who these people are and it transpires that the offer they made was 100k under the asking price.  Did that not give them a clue that the area is unsellable?

TT is with another lady who says that she is looking to rent over the summer so I take the pair of them and show them the rental units - all of them - just in case they express a sudden and irresistible urge to buy one of them.  TT's friend says she will have a word with her husband.  About renting.

Get phone call from partner agent who tells me that the visit today went really well and that his clients want lot more information.  My seller has gone off to sodding exotic island for three months.  Email him and spent three hours pulling weeds out of the stone flags of the patio.  Weather warm with a spirited wind.

The money transferred supposedly to my bank account from this week's sale has not been credited.  The notification that my bank had received it arrived at 12.30.  At 4.30 I ring the bank and the lady tells me that it should be there within 48 hours.  48 hours!!! I squeak (temporarily forgetting to be zen) How on earth can it be 48 hours - it is electronic!  It should be immediate! Where is the money now?  The woman gets rather het up and says I cant expect it immediately because it has to go via three computer systems.  I tell her that is ludicrous.   OH is outside, suppressing molehills, with a venom normally reserved for Billy Connolly or non peripatetic gypsies (he is not keen on peripatetic ones either).  He channels his inner TT and says fuck too.

The bank obviously hangs onto the money and, somewhere, someone will be earning interest on it.   I was once told by a notary that the funds from sales used to be kept by the receiving notaries for up to six months before they were released to the sellers.  The notary would then lend the money out, at huge rates of interest, which they would then keep for themselves.   I was stupefied.  The notary then had to reassure my sellers - whose eyes were at that point bulging out on stalks - that this no longer happened.  How on earth did people accept this practice?  I ask of the notary.  Ah, we were Gods back then, he said ruefully.

Listen to Alan Bennett's play about the lady who came to stay in a caravan in his garden for three months and ended up being there for 15 years.  Lady played, gloriously, by Maggie Smith.  What a treasure she is.  A real treat to listen to.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Being zen gets me let off the hook!

14 January 2015

Pale and clear skies 6 degrees rising to 16 degrees
Sahara air scooped up by weather systems and we are bathed in it

Wake up early and the oh crap monster is banging on my forehead.  I have to clean the house plus the rental unit and all by the end of tomorrow.   Start on the kitchen and get rapidly depressed.  Email client with rental details and feel grateful that some cash is coming into the bank account.

Decide to start on upstairs instead.  Steam the floors and then notice there are cobwebs everywhere so knock them off and then have to hoover them up.  Just starting to feel like I am making progress when I get a call from the notary telling me that she has seen the owner of property whose sale is due for June.  The seller has informed her that part of the retaining wall has collapsed.   I ring the seller and ask him if he can sort it out with his insurer.  He says, no, he has had problems with it for years.  I tell him he will have to get it fixed or it is very likely that the purchaser will back out.  He says he isn't bothered.  I ask him to send me a photo.  He then says kisses and hangs up.

This was a real 'oh crap buggery bastard' moment which if it had happened in 2014 would have led to me committing myself to a small white room.  Last year I would have ground my teeth and hated him intensely.  This year I am zen.  These problems will be overcome.  

This sale was one of two which drove me to tears and complete desperation last year.  The seller achieved what I would not have thought was possible, and found a buyer who is as obdurate as he.  Negotiation went on for four long months before we even got to the signing of the reservation contract.  The seller had 'omitted' to tell me that the local commune wanted significant repayment for the works carried out on the property and initially blocked the sale.  They argued over the price and the agency fees.  They argued over the delay before purchase.  They argued over furniture which was included in the price.  They argued over furniture which wasn't included in the price.  At the end, I was the intermediary down to arguing over the price of the piano.  My hair started dropping out with the stress and anxiety.  I am on commission only and once I get an offer, it is going to go through no matter how much pain and torment I am made to endure.  I was talking to a fellow agent and he said that estate agency was like offering one side of your body and saying 'kick it' and then presenting the other side and asking 'would you like to kick this side too'.

OH rings up to ask me something and I update him on the situation.  He is seriously not zen but at least he has got around the lake with the dog's ears in the same condition as at the start.  He arrives back an hour later and asks me what I have done about the situation. Apparently hoovering was not the correct response.   We decide we will wait for the photo and the quote to come in and deal with one day at a time.

More cleaning after lunch.  Ring client to ask what time she is arriving tomorrow.  She appears surprised to learn that I am expecting her tomorrow as she is not arriving until the 22nd.  This is news to me as I have been heading up all of my emails to her with this weekend's dates.   Breathe huge sigh of relief, change all the appointments for next weekend and then remember I have clients next Saturday to revisit our house.  A week's grace to clean up outside.

Down town to the gynaecologist to have my bits checked out.  The lady is about my age and, as in most medical professionals in France, doesn't wear a white coat.  She is nattily dressed in camouflage trousers.   Apparently I am all in working order.  She also squeezes my boobs.  Hers is not a job I would like to do.  OH says he would happily be paid 28 euros for 15 minutes looking at ladies' bits and squeezing their boobs.   Apparently I should have had a mammogram in 2014 - I dread these and worry that the machine will not stop and squash my boobs flat to my chest.  At least they are done locally and you get the results to take away with you within 10 minutes.

Ring one of my former sellers who has just signed on the sale of her house and find that she has already found a house and is about to sign on it.  It is in an area that you normally can't sell property for love nor money.  Oh well, I hope they are happy there and don't want to resell for a long time.   Lovely swimming pool.

Feel very tired and nose is bunged up.  Football on telly so go to bed early and read Queen Camilla by Sue Townsend.  Hilarious and highly recommended to y'all.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ghosts, love and tristesse

Tuesday 13 January 2015

5 degrees  crisp and clear skies

Mail out two new properties which have just come to market - the old church house with the scary cracks and one that has been bubbling under since before Christmas, and the owner has finally got around to signing the permission to sell document.  

The latter house is in a gorgeous village with an excellent restaurant, a chateau which opens its gardens for visitors and a beautiful river.  The owners are a couple who came together after having had children with other partners.  They then had some more children. The living room and kitchen are massive and the bedrooms are like cubicles as they all have been divided up.  The garden has been intensively trampled, mined with small plastic objects, and has seen many parties. Each house has its own resonance. This house resonates love from every stone and beam. 

It is interesting that some houses sell immediately and yet others stick.  They can be similar in size and location and condition.  They can be similar in price.  And yet the properties which stick sell for significantly lower prices and take much longer before someone is ready to take the plunge and go for it.   I used to have for sale the house of a notary.  He had left his wife and moved in with his secretary.  The ex wife and the surly children were left in the house.  It was in great condition and a great location and a reasonable market price.  Did it sell? - not for nearly three years.   The basement had the worst feeling about it - the notary kept his guitars there and I felt that he had spent many hours, strumming sad tunes down there.  People would see the house from the outside and see the garden and get really excited.  This feeling would dissipate within 2 metres of entering the front door. They would come out and look confused.   The French summed it up in one word  'triste'.  This was a sad house.

Other houses are eery in the sense that it looks as if the owners just upped and left.  Their knitting is still in the basket at the side of the fireplace, their clothes are still in the wardrobe and, in the cases of the larger old houses, the beds are still made.  There is a certain kind of lumpy old bedding which creates the look I call 'dead people beds'.  Yellow, stained pillows and staring china dolls complete the look.  These houses are as cold as the grave, doors open with a small scream as they scrape on the mouse droppings, floors creak when no one is standing on them.

My one experience of a spirit is when I was showing a house to an English couple.  The lady and I were upstairs looking at the bedrooms.  The man was downstairs, looking at the boiler. We both heard footsteps on the stairs.  The lady shouted out that we were in the end bedroom.  Silence.  I was looking out of the window and saw her husband in the garden. There was no one in the hallway or the stairs or the landing.  We closed the shutters very quickly and went back downstairs.

I attempted to fill in an application form for WF for an insurance apprenticeship.  Was defeated by the 'describe a memorable customer experience' and 'what is your motivation' parts so emailed them back to WF.  Dog attempted to run off with group of walkers so OH took him out.  I went into town and had coffee in McDonald's and met couple of partner agents and showed them a country house with three acres of land.  It is a lot better on the outside than the inside.   The animals had better housing than the owner but you can always change the inside is what I tell clients.  Glorious day with wind up from Sahara and 19 degrees.  Snowing in UK where I used to live.  It is grim up East.

Met with owner of property I had spied on the Internet the other day.  The much vaunted 360 degrees in the ad were, sadly, marred by a number of close neighbours and an ugly half built garage.  The owner spent an entire hour talking and showing the house before telling me that (a) he had just received an offer of 6 percent below the asking price and he had refused it and (b) he didn't intend putting it back on sale until April.

I told him that first offers were often the best and he dismissed this.  Oh dear.  He may well live to regret that decision.

It was phenomenally hot in the house and I had to keep on taking off layers of clothing.  I could feel my eyes drying out.  Escaped after an hour and a half and went to big shop and had coffee and biscuit stuffed with white chocolate.  OH birthday Thursday - got chocolates and Armagnac for him.  OH not in good mood when I got back as I had been out nearly three hours.  He had made me a very long list of people to ring but had, in effect, shot himself in the foot as he had to make supper.

He made Cajun black stir fry chicken with stir fry potatoes and tomato sauce.  Yum!!  Dog then ran off into the night.  OH set off in the car and came back 20 minutes later to find the dog sitting by the back door.   He is in the dog house (metaphorically speaking).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ice sparkle and advances!

Monday 12 January 2015

-2 breathy curly weather

Up and dressed early and find that the sun has melted just enough ice off the windscreen to be able to leave immediately.   It is a great morning to be alive.  The fields sparkle ice and green and the Pyrénées are a jagged, deep mauve on the horizon.   

Arrive at the house for the revisit before signature of the purchase contract.  The buyers are there already.  Both the owner and I are on pins because the buyers only had one visit before making an offer and they haven't seen the property since last April.   The man looks really ill and the lady tells me that they have had dengue fever (but not before I have kissed them hello).  This apparently involves a very high fever with rash and in the recovery period, joint pains.  The poor man can hardly climb the stairs - he is in his 70's to start with.   Am relieved to feel that the owner has put the heating on.  The last time I was here, the chill went straight to my bones.  I am less pleased to see that when she has taken the light fittings off the wall in the living room, hallway and two bedrooms, she has not even left a light bulb.  The purchasers don't say anything.   She has also repaired the superficial cracking that would have freaked them out. 

Two hours pass, we have a coffee in the local bar and a trio of people from a rival agency come in.  One of them sees me and looks as if she has swallowed a prune.  We had a bit of a set to over three years ago and it looks like she is still bearing a grudge.

Back home for quick lunch then pick up the purchasers and take them into town for the signature of the purchase document.  Technology has arrived in our little town!  The notary had the document up on a television screen, controlled from a tablet, and all the annexes were easily accessed and reviewed.  Big improvement on her technique for the last eleven years, which was to spend most of the time shuffling around the vast amounts of paper involved.  Hurrah for trees!!  Signature was electronic so we must have saved about half an hour and at least 200 pieces of paper.

On arriving back home, look at WF's emails and discover he has secured some work. What a great day this is turning out to be.  Three months work for a national youth helpline and starting on Monday.  This is news to WF as he has not yet got into the habit of opening his emails at the start of the day (and often not by the end either, sigh).   He will be able to buy a new laptop as his current one whirrs like a supersonic heading down the runway.

Find some good new houses to contact whilst prospecting on the private web ads.   Must clean the house for Friday visit.  OH has been out clearing up rubbish and putting gravel in the dips in the courtyard.

The bliss of hotel bedrooms

Sunday 11 January 2015

6 degrees cold and clear

Wake up in a fog and don't know what time it is.  The sky is clearing over the church tower and the streets are deserted.  Turn up the air con as it now feels chilly in the room. Back to sleep for another two hours.

There is something blissful about a hotel bedroom.  The crisp,white linen, the long bolster pillows so typical of Spanish hotels, the fact that nothing sticks to or in your feet when you walk around the room.  Central heating.  Long, deep baths full of piping hot water and a selection of scented bubbles.  The luxury of lazing in bed, reading a magazine whilst catching up on the news of the day and listening to people down in the street.  The news is that over two million people turned out onto the streets of Paris to voice their support for the right to free speech and to say they are not afraid.  The newspapers are afraid.  Not a one of them has published any Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

Spanish people start to emerge and move around at about 10 am.  I usually go out and wander the streets for a couple of hours, taking picture and drinking coffee when I find the occasional bar open at 8 am onwards.   Spanish is coffee is wonderful - fresh ground beans and heated milk shot with steam into the silky black café solo.   We find a bar with some life and sit by the window and order cafés con leche, croissants à la plancha con mermelada and zumo de naranja.  

The museum and art gallery is open and OH is delighted to find, free entry on Sundays. Stupendous Roman floor mosaics taken from Roman villas.  Retablos (back altar pieces) dating from early to late medieval and the colours as fresh and bright as if painted today. On peering closely at a little triptych, I note the choristers have very bored expressions on their faces and sense the ennui of the person who painted it 450 years ago.

Leave at 1.30 and drive home leisurely.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Into the heart of Spain

Saturday 10 January 2015

Misty with sun later

4 degrees

Told the dog he was going on holiday and took him to a nearby pension.  The lady takes in unwanted dogs of which there are so many around here.  She is a tiny lady and you can always hear her coming because she is surrounded by a flotilla of assorted dogs of all sizes, shapes, pedigrees and ages.  She has a boom like a bittern.   STOP she bellows and they run aside and start biting one another and peeing on things.   The dog is unfazed and promptly joins in the wee-fest.   She has a fabulous garden and has obviously found a happy medium of plants that can stand being peed on regularly with a sufficiently bendy structure to be able to withstand being stood on by dogs who have not yet grasped the rules.

When we were further north and in France, I used to take the dog to a pension run by a lady who also took in cats.  She had an entire barn full of cats and they were variously arranged over pieces of furniture sourced from Emmaus.  She was an even tinier lady with an even bigger flotilla of dogs. When her husband gave her the ultimatum of choosing between him and the animals, she had to sell up and find a property in a cheaper part of France - I later discovered that she had bought a massive plot of land in the middle of no where and she and the animals and her mother were living in a small house and the animals were in a mad selection of old rusting mobile homes.

Zoomed off into the morning mist and headed south.  As we climbed, the mountain tops appeared and thick layers of mist blanketed the valleys.  The sky was the palest of blues and the roads virtually clear.  We stopped for coffee at a bar overlooking a ridge.  These bars always have a selection of workmen, old men in for a chat and to read the paper and a huge TV in a dominating position on a side wall.

One hour later and we drop down into the city.  It is not the promised 14 degrees.  It is 4 degrees.  Drop off the car and head into the market to buy vegetables.  The stalls are so busy that you have to take a ticket.  I buy tiny cherry tomatoes, peppers bigger than my hand, plump pears, a massive bag of potatoes, a pineapple, runner beans, grapes, mushrooms and broad beans.  Nothing has been subject to any controls of conformity or regularity.  The produce is local and as fresh as something that has only had to travel a short distance, can be.

The air is ripe with garlic and chorizo and OH has an address of a well reviewed restaurant.  We grab the last table and order the menu.   There are two choices for starter.  I have the mushroom risotto which has a  fine bite and a rich creamy sauce.  OH has bean casserole.  We then both have entrecote and chips and finish with almond creme tart for OH and pineapple and ice cream for me.   It is all absolutely delicious and also absolutely stomach busting.  Feel like I have eaten a barrage balloon.  A man on a nearby table wipes his forehead and exclaims 'Mamma Mia!'.  The room is packed to the gunnels with families.  All of the children eat all of the items on the menu.  All of the children sit at table and use a napkin and hold their knives and forks correctly.  Everyone talks non stop.  We stagger out into the sunshine and decide that a siesta is in order.

The hotel has a great central location and we are on the top floor and have an expanded view of the rooftops, churches and mountains beyond.  Set the air con to sleep temperature and pass out.

The next installment will be about Flamenco....