TRAVEL with pat and lew

* finding the perfect apartment for us

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

In June 2005, we flew to Barcelona and rented a car for the two hour drive to Collioure. Kristina’s directions were detailed and flawless.

We follow the eastern edge of the Pyrenees Mountains and descend to the coast just north of Collioure. The ocean sparkles. We find Kristina’s apartment and are met by Madeleine, who works in Sam’s realty agency, and who has since become a good friend. We arrive on Saturday, and are set to begin looking at properties with Sam on Monday. That Sunday, we explore Collioure on foot, and also drive to the neighboring towns. We promptly decide to limit our home search to Collioure, whose cobblestone streets and colorful buildings had evoked love at first sight.

One of our major criteria is that we won’t have to own a car. We didn’t own a car in Manhattan, nor in Key West. In Collioure, we can walk everywhere, and take the train or rent a car for out-of-town trips.

Sam is a delight, and we spend a busy ten days looking at properties in our price range. Our prime criteria are location and view. We want to be in the middle of town or close enough to walk to the town center several times each day. And we want a view. We also want outside space. In Key West, we’ve gotten used to eating and reading outside, and we want to be able to do the same in Collioure. We’re willing to accept a small apartment, a necessity given our budget.

Pat and I agree on our clear first choice. At the top of a small hill overlooking the town, with a magnificent view of the mountains and even a sliver of the Mediterranean, with two bedrooms, a large living room, and an even larger terrace, it is a little above our projected purchase price, but we decide to stretch. We make an offer.

But there’s a problem.

In our chosen apartment is a tenant, an elderly artist. It turns out that, in France, it can be almost impossible to dislodge a tenant, and once he turns 70, you can forget the almost. Forewarned by Hampshire’s book, and also by Sam, we make our offer contingent on the current owner removing the tenant before closing, which we propose for January 2006, six months hence. The owner, a Paris doctor, says no. Take the apartment, take the tenant. We decline. (A footnote. The apartment is later sold, not by Sam, to people who did not understand that they also bought the tenant. Over a year later, the artist is still there.)

I had a second choice, but Pat didn’t like it. Now two weeks into our mission, we are nowhere, and very discouraged.

Maybe Una can help us

Help was on the way.

While Pat, earlier in the year, had been looking for a home exchange in Collioure, she corresponded with a woman named Valerie, from Ireland. Valerie’s apartment was not available for our time frame, but she provided the name and phone number of another Irish woman who had several apartments in Collioure.

“Did you bring my home exchange emails with you?” Pat asks.

“Yes, they’re on my laptop.”

“Good. Maybe Una can help us.”

“Una? Who’s Una?”

A few minutes later, Pat announces, “I found the email.”

Pat called Una’s number in Dublin, spoke with her daughter, and learned that Una was, at that very moment, in her apartment in Collioure, which turned out to be in the same building as the unmovable artist.

“Get dressed. We’re going to see Una.” 

“Which apartment?”

“The daughter didn’t know the number, but she told me how to get there.”

We knock on the door.

“We’re here to see Una. We got your name from Valerie …”

“Well, come on in. My friend Mary and I just got back from the beach and we’re having a beer on the terrace. Would you like a beer?”

I said “yes, thank you,” and those are the last words I utter for over 30 minutes, as the three Irish women (Pat was born in the U.S. of Irish ancestry) have the kind of discussion only possible for new acquaintances with shared backgrounds who are surely going to be friends.

Finally, Pat asks Una, “Would you like to know why we’re here?”

“Well, you’re friends of Valerie’s,” Una says.

“Actually, we’ve never met Valerie, although we did exchange emails. We want to purchase a property in Collioure, and we made on offer on an apartment in this building, but it’s got a tenant and it’s not going to work. We thought, since you live here, perhaps you know someone else who’s looking to sell.”

Una and Mary exchange incredulous looks.

“Well, I don’t believe it,” Una says. “I just listed this apartment today. The paperwork isn’t even done yet.” It turns out that Una is buying another (larger) apartment in Collioure, and wants to sell the one we’re sitting in.

A flurry of questions. What’s your price? When do you want to sell? Does it include any furniture?

It’s too small. It’s perfect.

And, of course, we now began to look with a more critical eye. One bedroom, very small. One living room, very small. The terrace, however, is huge, larger even than the artist’s. The view of the mountains, surprisingly since we are three floors lower, is just as spectacular, but the sliver of sea is hidden.

We walk back to town, five minutes down a slight hill, and sit on a bench by the beach.

“What do you think?” Pat asks.

“It’s too small.”Pat is shocked.

“I think it’s perfect,” she says.

We look at each other, unsure how to resolve the first disagreement of our foreign adventure. We decide to think about it for a few hours, a plan we change in a matter of minutes. Soon, however, we reach a working compromise. I will take a second look at Una’s apartment, with open eyes, and Pat will do the same at the apartment which was my second choice. The problem is that Una is leaving in two days, so we have to hurry. We call Sam and make the appointments for the next morning.

We visit my second choice first. Pat agrees it’s not as bad as she thought, but she’s still not enthusiastic. We head up the hill to Una’s apartment. The second visit gives me a better feeling than before. It’s still very small, of course, but I measure everything and draw a floor plan, as I had done on all the other apartments we saw, and I begin to see how we can make the space comfortable for us. We spend a lot of time on the terrace.

It’s clearly decision time. We take a table at one of the cafes along the beach and order wine. We discuss pros and cons. I’m drawing furniture layouts on my floor plans. Una and Mary pass by, on their way to the beach. They don’t see us.

“Well?” Pat asks, impatient with my floor plans.

Did I change my mind because I loved the apartment or because I love my wife? Does it matter? In the end, it was the view and 450 square feet of outdoor space. We will make do with the 300 square feet of interior space.

“Why don’t you go find Una on the beach and tell her we’re buying her apartment.” Pat is off in a flash.

The only problem with the purchase was that Sam, who had been so helpful, could not participate in the deal. There’s no such thing as multiple listing in France, and no sharing between the seller’s realtor and the buyer’s.

“No matter,” Sam says with a smile. “It’s the nature of the business. Someday we’ll do business.”

I suspect he’s right about that.

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One Response to “* finding the perfect apartment for us”

  1. Lew,
    my “home exchange” alert picked you up again. I really enjoy reading about your adventures in Europe. The world belongs to the brave!
    Ursula

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