Saturday, April 11, 2015

Smelling of roses, almost...

Friday 10 April 2015

Cloudy 19 degrees

Woke early and rang agency boss to ask her how to play it with the owner of the house where I had received the full price offer but who had transparently cocked up over the detail of what he wanted to be included in the sales contract.  She says to keep it light, not talk legal obligations, and see if we can emerge out of this with a deal and smelling of roses rather than crap.

The owner is sitting at his dining table when I arrive and the new girlfriend serves coffee in translucent china cups.  I take a lump of brown sugar and stir it slowly and put the offer on the table.  We look at one another warily.  It does not feel like the OK Corrall but even so, the owner has got out all of the other sales contracts signed with other agencies and none of them have the flats included in the price.  He says he did not read the document properly when I sent it to him and he also says he has a written offer dated Wednesday (ie preceding mine) which is 60000 euros higher and he cannot afford to lose that much money.  He is also having further revisits later on in the day.  He has not signed the Wednesday offer document, but neither does he have any intention of signing mine.  He says if my ladies match the Wednesday offer, bearing in mind that the amount they would have to loan is significantly less, he would accept.  I get back out to the car and discover someone has smashed the wing mirror to bits by driving too closely and then driving off.  Go home slowly, hanging onto the wildly waving mirror part which is now only attached by a thread.  OH tapes it back together.  I drop a line to the potential buyers and they are, understandably, really hacked off.  Feel depressed.  Eat pizza.

OH has been busy during my time out and it transpires that he has organised a visit on our house for Sunday.  The clients are known to me and have been running around with another agency all week, now are feeling desperate because they have found nothing, and if I had accepted the visit from the agency (refused because house is a hovel), it would have been them who would have come!  OH has talked them through various properties and when the lady rings back, I organise to see one other and ours on Sunday.  Feel rather horrified.  Ms Noddi says to shove things in cupboards.  I cant put dust and dog smells in cupboards.  OH goes into town to have front tyres changed on car and book car in for new wing mirror. Insurance says there is no excess so that is good news.

Spend afternoon completing and loading up various documents for the offer which was accepted, organise the diagnostic reports and set a date with the notary for next Friday. Ideally, we will get the buyers signed up before they head back to the UK and speed things up by at least a month. 

Speak to youngest, WF, and he is going for an interview with a call centre car company. We tend to be of the opinion that if you can do a hard crappy job at the start, it is good experience for the future.  He has driving test at the end of the month.  Speak to eldest, RJ, who is fed up and looking for another job.  OH offers to come over at the end of May and drive him around to interviews.  He is very isolated where he works and, at 25, is not having an exciting life.  Restauration is so poorly paid too.  I think WF is earning more and working significantly fewer hours.  RJ needs a woman with a good financial head and a thick skin and they could open up a little resto together.

Catch up with the ladies who made the full price offer.  They are in Paris and lounging on a bed under a picture of the phases of construction of the Eiffel Tower.  They are significantly less hacked off and philosophical.  They love our town and are happy to have found it.  They may offer on the other property that we showed them providing I can get an idea of how much the renovation would cost.  Otherwise, I am mandated to go out and find them something lovely.  They want a Belle Epoque house at a reasonable price.  Somewhat of a challenge.  The excellent thing is that our relationship is still good and we still have their trust.  The best outcome in the situation.

Phone rings towards 9.30 and I dont get to it in time.  It is client for Sundays visit and she says that she is going to see all the houses OH suggested with the other agent but would still really LOVE to come and see our house.  OH gets extremely wound up at this point and essentially tells her to fuck off.  Oh well, at least I dont have all that cleaning to do.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Call me the rhinestone cowgirl (with offers coming over the wire...)

Thursday 9 April 2015

24 degrees - wonderful and warm and sunny

The sudden burst of warmth has made the fields and trees explode into colour. Escaped rape seed is rampaging over the warming fields, its sharp acid yellow in contrast to the dull spikes of last year's maze.  Magnolias are heavy with blooms and the willows have their first delicate pale green fronds.  Birds are checking out nesting boxes and potential partners and the first cuckoo of the year sings in the bosquet.

We are down town for 9 am, waiting for a blow in couple.  Blow ins are people who are on whistle stop tours of the country, looking for that special something.  They are from the other end of the world by birth, and living in Asia at the moment, and looking for the space of their native country with a climate that has less than 60% humidity in Summer.  They get a bit lost so we go and find them and then have to kick off the visit of the first of the two houses immediately.  The owner is out and his new girlfriend is in attendance.  She is on similar lines to her predecessors.  We do the visit and the couple are very interested.  I go down to talk to the girlfriend and she tells me that they have already had an offer and there are revisits tomorrow.  I am very surprised when she tells me the amount of the offer because it is above the amount on the sales contract which I hold.  The girlfriend says that the sales contract I hold is just for the house and not for the two flats.  I say I am sure it is not and she rings the owner and he is rather short with me and says do I have an offer or not and I say we have only been here ten minutes and I will get back to him.  We leave the house and I ring the agency, who confirm that we hold the contract to sell the house plus flats.  Coffee time and quick chat and then I leave OH to show the couple another property in town and go and meet the clients from earlier on this week.

They are in the bar in the centre of town and it is market day and the air is alive with a mixture of languages and the smells and perfumes of the stall goods and it is a good day for asking for a revisit of just the one house.  They are looking coy and happy and this is a good buying clue.  We fix up an afternoon revisit and I leave them to chat to the locals and dash back to find OH and the couple in the turn of the 20th century villa on the big roundabout at the end of town.

Built by an architect for his daughter, the villa is named after her and was completed just after 1905.  It is an imposing property, dubbed 'Snow White's villa' locally and has been empty for some time.  The rooms are very large and flooded with light from the three metre high patio windows.  Brass light fittings glow dimly from the brown material lines walls.  The fireplaces are of marble construction.  There is no kitchen to speak of, and only one bathroom.  The turret roof sustained a lot of damage and even though the roof has been repaired, great swathes of water damaged plaster are hanging down like bedsheets from the top rafters.  Multi coloured light filters through onto the oak staircase from the stained glass windows.

We leave the couple for lunch and I ring the agency and clarify that if I receive an offer without condition for the first property, then the owner will be obliged to accept it.  That is going to be a fun interview (not).  I look at the internet and it appears that all of the other agencies have just the house for the price at which I have the house plus the flats.  It must have been an oversight on his part when he signed the sales contract with our agency. Back down town for the revisit and in 20 minutes I have an offer which I negotiate over the phone, sign up the very happy buyers and then dash back to find the other couple and a rather frazzled looking OH

He has had to amuse them for an hour and a half and had told them unsuitable jokes, done impressions of Harry Worth, and showed them every corner of our town before taking them back to the second house.  They were getting on like a house on fire.  When I got there, pink faced from the unexpectedly warm afternoon and the excitement of a sale and far too much coffee for just one day, he was closing up and the ladies were sitting on the lawn and looking tired.  We established that they would make a cash unconditional offer for the first house and so I signed them up and then we had a beer and they left to overnight near the airport before heading back East and home.

OH went back home to walk the dog and I went and signed up the sellers of the property revisited with the couple from earlier this week.  We sat at the kitchen table and the man looked tired and the lady looked rather hyper and one of their little girls sat on my knee and showed me her book.  It is so long since I have cuddled a small child.  She was very hot and heavy and smelled lovely, of biscuits and milk and shampoo.

Back home and there was nothing to eat so we went for another beer in town and then to a local hotel where we had an immense entrecote and chips and pudding.  Felt like I had eaten a brick and went to bed on getting back home, where I slept exceptionally badly.

Poodles on parade

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Sunny 22 degrees

10 am finds me lurking in a car park and waiting for a client from the coast.  He arrives on time and backs his virulently yellow soft top car into the parking space.  A small apricot poodle peers out of the sun roof.  I am very surprised because the house the client has asked to see does not fit at all with his appearance.  The client and the dog appear from the car and I suggest we all go in together and the man says he will drive.  The dog is put out because I have her seat so she sits on the man's knees and we head for the first property. It is a large farmhouse with extensive lands and is fully modernised.  The owners and their massive black hunting dogs are enjoying the sun, some cigarettes and in the case of the dogs, chasing some large pieces of shredded cardboard around the terrace.  It is interesting how people, dogs and houses go together.  In my experience, people with flashy handbags, small dogs or sparkly shoes would never do renovations, people with large dogs are up for a challenge and people with young kids just want to be found a quick solution.

The client sucks his teeth and the dog pants and he tells me that this is not at all the house he had chosen.  We have to go and see it in any event because the owners are there and waiting but the visit is over in a very short period of time.  It transpires that he had wanted to see a small manor house with pool and virtually no garden and had mixed up the reference numbers.   I am now, stuck in his car, so he says he will drive on and he drives very, very slowly and I am running out of conversation when we arrive at the second house.  The owners are away and there is just a workman, sanding down the gates.  Because it is mid morning, the passage of lorries is fairly heavy but this doesn't seem to put him off at all.  He says he will get Madame to come and look at it and we wend our way back, slowly except in the case of the road bumps, which he takes at some speed and the dog shoots into the air and goes to sulk on the back bucket seat.

He leaves me back at my car and I feel the need for coffee.  OH is out doing shopping. Workmen are starting to file in for lunch and the sun is cracking the flags.  Ah, bliss....

Back home and then out to do an estimation of value at a nearby farm.  The owner looks confused when I get there and says he thought it was tomorrow.  Go back home.  I am not having a good day here.   Internet is back on when I get home so I ring people up, including the notary to ask her about my would be buyers for the house in town.  One advocate has said the damages may be 4k and another said they might be 20k.  The notary says only the judge can establish the amount of the prejudice and she has no idea where the advocates are pulling these figures from.  She also says that my would be buyers cant have a condition put into the contract, limiting their exposure to damages payable to a third party, outside of the parties mentioned in the contract.

The combination of cortisone and anti biotics is making the inside of my mouth flake and puff and I have the most revolting taste in my mouth.  Somewhat alleviated by wine and chocolate.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Azure butterflies and bluebell woodwork

Tuesday 7 April 2015
Sunny, warm and very warm later
22 degrees

Paint my nails with Chanel Azure, an iridescent bright butterfly blue/green mix and put on some leopard print.  I am a great believer in dressing for the client as it helps to bond with them and enables them to feel confident in working with me.  OH puts on something oatmeal coloured and subsequently far too thick for the wonderful hot Spring day which is to follow.  We are as odd looking a couple as you could hope to see on a Spring morning in a small town in the Pyrenees.

We meet the clients at their flat and have a brief run through of their thoughts about yesterday’s properties.  After a very low start, things developed beautifully and they are very interested in the property on the hill top they saw yesterday.  They are still concerned, however, that it is isolated.  During the day, they did pop up the hill and go and look at it.  Fortunately the owners were out.  Keen owners have put paid to more sales than you would ever have imagined possible.  They feel constrained to point out every last detail.  They become either transparently over-honest and reveal things which only serve to worry but are actually unimportant, or they wildly over-elaborate and the buyers, like scared virgins, run a mile.  There is an art to showing property.

We kick off at just the outskirts of town, in the mix of rural/urban which, it is becoming apparent, is their thing.  The house we see is a tall early 20th century stone built town house, imposing with its stone framed windows painted a soft dove grey, fine mesh Juliette balconies and steep pitched slate roof.  The interior is modern and stylish with pebble floored shower rooms and huge bathtub.  Ikea paper lampshades explode from the ceilings like great dandelions.  The kitchen is sleek and shining with soft close cupboards and long work surfaces, ideal for preparing and delivering large and delicious dinners, dog legging down into the dining area with its Philip Starck effect ghost chairs.  The large terrace and lower garden are very well received.  OH breathes down my neck, cuts across me and keeps getting in the way, so I leave him to do the visit and hack and splutter behind them all.
We then go and see a renovation project and seem to be there a very long time, after which we are all very thirsty and go and sit in the shade outside of a bar and have coffee.  I talk through the buying process and they go back to their flat and we go for lunch.

OH stays at home to wait for the SFR repair man to come and reconnect us and I go back down town, meet the clients again and take them to a house in a nearby town, last visited when I was feeling ghastly just a couple of days ago.  They love this house even more.  I arrange to meet them again on Thursday and go back into town and see a house with a partner agent.  The house is not up to the specifications these clients are looking for but it is very interesting.  Belonging to Finnish and a holiday home, there is a large sunny sauna and shower room which takes up most of the lower ground floor, and leads onto two bedrooms.  The tall wood lined living room with its wrap around balcony is on the first floor.  Light floods in through the tall French windows.  The kitchen has white wooden units beautifully painted with bluebells and ivy and the wallpaper is a fine pink and white pinstripe design.  Two more bedrooms on the first floor.  Garden disappointingly small otherwise it is an absolutely lovely house and one I could see myself living in.

Back home and oh joy, we are reconnected so I catch up on all the updating of the emails and ring back the eleven people who have left messages on my landline.  I also catch up with the would be buyers of the house in town.  Over Easter, they had come to an agreement to pay a certain amount of damages which may be awarded to the other side if the sellers agree to sell to them.  The sellers advocate had then come back and said they would need to increase their exposure by at least three times so now they are very unhappy and much stressed.  We have supper and by the time we have finished eating, the internet and the phone have disappeared again.  Oh bugger, bugger.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter Monday

Monday 6 April 2015
Easter Monday
Warm and sunny 20 degrees

Up early and down town to wait in the big hotel car park.  I try and get some internet signal on my phone and still no joy.  The whole system must be on overload – I can always normally pick up as soon as I get to the top of the hill.  OH goes to look if he can see the clients and there is a knock on my window and it is a fair haired, nervous looking man peering through round rimmed glasses and clutching a wad of papers.  I get out of the car, signal to OH who is busy looking in the opposite direction and we go to meet Madame.

She is of a far more exotic appearance and erupts from their silver hire car, hand extended and a wide and generous smile offered to me.  Built on traditional lines, as Alexander McCall Smith would describe her form, she is sporting immaculate white clothing, very ritzy chrome and red handbag and her tiny feet are enclosed in impractical leopard skin effect pumps.  I know within an instant that she is not going to like any of the properties I have lined up.

We go for a coffee in the lobby of the hotel and have a general chat and the lady tells me about her grandchildren whilst OH tries to get more useful information from the man.  Then to the first visit – a bungalow belonging to a partner agent and priced at 199000 euros.  We are there about five minutes.  The lady says it is poor and dirty.  Thank heavens the owners don’t live there.  Off to the next house which is of the best quality of the ones on offer this morning.  This goes down better but the garden is too small.  The lady wants a large terrace where she can have entertainments with her family and friends.  She also wants a veg garden.  She looks as if her hands have never touched dirt.  She says both houses are and then makes a roof shape with her hands and taps her fingers together.  F knows what that means.

As we come out of the second house, I tell them that we need to have a rethink – none of the ones I have planned for tomorrow or Wednesday are going to fit the bill.  Good thing that OH ignored their budget and insisted that I made an appointment for quite an expensive house this afternoon otherwise we may have lost their confidence entirely.  Drop them off back at their gite and go back home for lunch and then to the flat to see what else I can come up with.  Book in two decent properties for tomorrow, email partner agent and ask what else she can come up with.
The afternoon visit goes much better and they love the property, don’t say anything about the fact that it is 50k over their ‘budget’ but the sticking point is that it is out in the countryside.  One problem is that I gave OH the wrong directions at the dustbins at the end of the road, so we did do the rounds of quite a few narrow lanes before finding it.  The last visit is to the English couple’s house which I took on a week ago.  The reaction of the clients is very positive until I get them through the front door.  They live in London and are used to many toilets, many bathrooms, beautiful kitchens and have never heard of a septic tank.  Looking at property here is coming over as quite a culture shock.  Reminds me of the time I took a university house mate, born and lived all his life in Southampton, to Blackpool Tower Ballrooms and then to the promenade and then the illuminations.  Still, it is a visit and useful to see the reaction of a potential buyer.

Drop them off back in town where they go to look at the art festival and hopefully not to bump into any other estate agents.  OH goes back home and I treat myself to an ice cream in the internet cafĂ© before going back to the rental units, catching up on emails and phone calls and then back home.

OH has managed to recharge the tractor lawnmower and is whizzing around the rapidly drying top lawn so I take the dog out around the block and then we warm up the steak aux poivre made yesterday.  Tomorrow will see if these people are real – I will show them the perfect house in the perfect location.  They are here for a total of two weeks.  The lady said to me today ‘do you think I am awkward?  Can you put up with me for two weeks’?  The answer of course is ‘yes’ and ‘I will be obliged to’.   It would be great to actually spend as a holiday one of the many public holidays where we live.  It just never happens.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter sunday and much baking is done

Sunday 5 April 2015

Sunny with much cumulus
17 degrees

Finished off the detective novel and drank tea in bed and watched the tiny cumulus clouds scudding across the sky.  My chest is still bad so we went for a gentle walk around a different lake, one which OH had discovered whilst looking for new places to fish.  Wherever he fishes, the fish seem very elusive but it keeps him happy.

Two carp fishermen were installed on the bank, interspersed with a table containing wine in plastic glasses, bread and a mixture of salads in plastic containers.  Tabbouleh, ham and cheese.  They had their feet up on some scavenged Selecte Collective crates and were smoking cigs.  The dog went over to say hello and was energetically repulsed by a large hairy creature called Falco and his small brown sidekick called Jerry.  The men’s reverie and lunch was severely disturbed by the ruckus and the bite alarms decided to sound at the same time.  ‘That’s fishing for you’, said OH as we towed away our dog, smiling and frothing slightly at the mouth.

It was such a beautiful day, the sun sparkled on the water and small coots scooted across the surface.  Frogs croaked and showers of small birds burst out of the woods as we approached.  We sat and had a break at the head of the lake and listened to the rhythmic lapping of the water on the bank and the thrup thrup of small birds as they passed from tree to tree overhead.  The banks were bright with tall stemmed violets and jewelled with cardamine pratensis, cowslips, pulmonaria and the strange violet flower which I have only ever seen in this region.  Completely without leaves, its flowers resemble individual cloves of garlic and emerge without stems from the ground, clustered in groups of seven to ten blooms.  The green hellebores are passing into seed stage, the juvenile pods forming at the centre of the fading inflorescences.

Back home for lunch and OH watches a football round up and I make steak aux poivre in red wine for dinner tomorrow and prepare vegetables for this evening.  I then examine my baking book and, rather than making Hot Cross Buns, decide on an Easter braid.  This is based on the dough normally used for HCBs but with extra butter.  I mix the batter and put outside on the well to warm and froth.  I then sift the flower and coat the fruit well so it will not sink in the mix.  Half an hour later, with the batter full of air bubbles, I mix the two together with an egg and commence kneading.

Small birds are queuing on the bird table and fighting for place on the single fat ball.  They are not good at waiting and have even eaten last week’s unsuccessful cake.  After ten minutes, I wrap the now stretchy and smooth dough in a damp towel and leave to rise for an hour and a half and go out to look at the weeds.  OH decides to go for a couple of hours fishing.  The dog wants another walk and I tell him to take a hike so he settles for crowding me and putting wet nose marks on my glasses.  He then starts whingeing and barking so has to go in the house.  I pull out a heck of a lot of weeds and it is only a dip in the ocean of weeds which I discover, are strangling the strawberries and need removing urgently.
Back in the house to release the dog again and knock back the dough and braid it and leave to rise for another 40 minutes.  Have a cup of tea and throw the Frisbee (actually a large plastic paint can lid) for the dog and wheeze.  Still sound like I am smoking 40 woodbines a day.  Finally the loaf is ready, and I drizzle over beaten egg and put in to cook.  Roast some parsnips and potatoes and put the duck on to sizzle on the griddle before placing in with the potatoes.  OH comes back, unsurprisingly fishless but very happy, puts lots of mud everywhere and is very admiring of the loaf which has turned out to be magnificent.

Watch Poldark.  I can’t say it is improving.  The characters are like chess pieces.

Easter Saturday

Saturday 4 April 2015


Easter Saturday
Art en Vrac weekend

Woke up early with thoughts of going down to the rental units and working on the newsletter but instead finished off reading John Grisham’s King of Torts.  Story of mass class actions and legal greed.  Not very edifying.  Started reading a murder mystery featuring DCI Banks and this was much more enjoyable and intricately woven.  Were policemen ever like this?  Tortured and beer drinking and enjoying the cigs whilst having small pangs of guilt?  Lusting after suspects and victims and having a good girl mate working at their side?

Went back to sleep and was woken up by OH at 10 am when we did go down to the rental units where the 3g key consented to work and I spent hours loading up new property, ringing suspects and prospects, emailing and trying to establish a running order for Monday’s visits.  As it is Easter Saturday, everyone was out.  OH went home for lunch and I finally finished about 4 pm and wandered around town and looked at the art exhibits.  They were mostly very large and featured men at work and play.  I don’t know who, out of the locals, would have a wall large enough to fit them or enough light to see them.  Our town has existed since the 12th century and the majority of the inner town properties date from between the 17th and 18th centuries.  Clustered close together with tiny cobbled venelles in-between, the interiors are sombre and claustrophobic.  Not aided I have to say for the Latin love of gas and gothic and the colour brown has more tender here than anywhere else I have ever seen.

Back home and started on the weeds, of which there are absolutely millions.  I used to love gardening, but now when I stand and look what needs to be done, my heart sinks and I think ‘Oh God, here we go again’.  In the UK, I had an even larger garden but I would do work in the morning and then garden in the afternoon before picking up the children.  If the weather held, I would also do a little after supper or when the children were in bed.  OH was often working away at the time.  RJ would be stressed because I was outside of the house and would watch me from his bedroom window until the light faded and I came back in.  Where we lived it was often too wild and wet to garden, often it snowed, and it was as windy as the shores of Hell, but it was never, ever, too hot to garden.  If the temperatures touched shoulders with 24 degrees, it was thought of as a heatwave.
Here, there is a narrow window of opportunity around Easter, to get on top of the weeds and to get planted out everything that needs to go into the veg garden.  I then lay on paper, newspaper and grass clippings and hay to insulate the garden from the dreaded weeds and the killer heat.  By May, the garden has exploded into colour and it all is worthwhile and then it is just a question of keeping on top of the rampant growth and hauling out the more audacious weeds.  June, July and August you have a limited period early on in the day to get some weeding done or otherwise it is far too hot and you have to close yourself in the house behind the shutters, or escape to the coast or the mountains.  The weeds never suffer.  They never burn.  Happily neither do the vine fruits which seem to be able to tolerate vast amounts of sun.

OH discovered that the sit and ride mower has a completely flat battery so put it on recharge and had to spend six hours mowing with the petrol mower.  He only bought the tractor mower when both the boys left home and I became busy at work, otherwise we all used to take a turn, mowing until a tank of fuel had been used up.   The main lawn is very soggy early in the year, and it is too wet for the tractor mower, so often the first cut has to be done manually.

Watched Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights.  Rather magnificent.