TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘… 2005’ Category

dishwasher & other stuff

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

In the summer of 2005, we had made the acquaintance of Henri, the proprietor of the only appliance store in Collioure. Henri speaks no English, but he spent a delightful half hour with us, communicating by pointing at catalogues and writing down prices.

We made the decision to use the Collioure store, rather than larger stores in nearby towns, even if the price was a little higher, which it was, so we could make local contacts for installation and subsequent service, if needed.

This has turned out to be a good decision.

January is a very good time, in a summer resort town, to buy and install appliances. Nobody has anything else to do. Henri’s colleague Yannick, who does speak English, arrives to take measurements and consider installation options.

Two days later, we have a functioning dishwasher, built into the existing kitchen cabinets, and a functioning clothes washer, free standing in the kitchen and doubling as additional counter space. Yannick provides operating instructions, and promises to return if we have any difficulties.

We opted against a clothes dryer, mainly on space considerations. Acting on Yannick’s advice, we purchased a clothes washer with high powered spin cycles to remove as much water as possible, and a drying rack for the terrace. If it’s sunny, the clothes dry pretty quickly. When it’s not sunny, that’s another story.

While the new appliances are being installed, Yannick notices that our hot water heater is leaking. A call to our friend Sam (the realtor) locates a plumber. Yes, he can come today, but he doesn’t speak English. Sam will come with him to translate.

That afternoon, we have a new hot water heater. The plumber also files down a sticky bathroom door.

Sam directs us to the only locksmith in Collioure, who also runs a shoe store, and we install additional locks and a bar for the sliding door to the terrace.

So far so good.

France Telecom and IKEA are entirely different stories (see problems).


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about euros and dollars

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

We wire transfered the purchase price for our apartment to the notaire in France from our bank in New York, converting dollars to euros and paying the small fees involved.

During the purchase period, I was a daily follower of the euro/dollar conversion rate. When the euro first arrived, in 2002, it was roughly 1/1 with the dollar, but by July 2005, when we signed our purchase agreement, the ratio was 1.22, which means it takes $1.22 to purchase one euro. Our 170,000 euro purchase price thus equated to $208,000.

Over the summer, the ratio rose to 1.25, but by the fall, it was back down to 1.23 for our final wire transfer. It could have been much worse, or better, and this fluctuation of the euro/dollar conversion rate is a major uncertainty in making a foreign real estate purchase, and also on the potential return when you eventually sell the property.

The rate peaked recently at 1.33. If we sold at that rate for the same euro price we purchased, we would gain about $12,000 when we converted the euros back to dollars. 

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Notaires and tontine

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

Some aspects of the mechanics of purchasing a property in France are important to our story.

our notaire 

France has strict procedures to protect both buyer and seller. Central to the transaction process is a public official called a notaire, not an attorney and not a notary public, but sharing attributes of both. We had read about notaires and their role in Hampshire’s book. Kristina, bless her, who by now is in Collioure, which is why we had to switch from her apartment after two weeks, recommends a notaire who speaks English. We make an appointment and drive to the next town of Argeles-sur-mer.


By this time, we have already signed a purchase agreement, although we still have the option to back out. The notaire’s office is modern and professional, and after meeting with him, we feel fully confident to go ahead. Our discussion includes something called a tontine agreement.

In the normal French real estate practice, if a husband and wife buy a property together, and one dies, the half interest goes, not to the surviving spouse, but is split equally among the children of the deceased spouse. We preferred that the property would revert to the surviving spouse, and to all six children equally when we are both deceased.

There is a provision which can be inserted into the purchase agreement, called a tontine, which allows the surviving spouse to receive the interest in the property. No one will tell you about it. No one will suggest it. Had we not read Hampshire’s book, we would not have known. But we do know, and our notaire agrees to incorporate a tontine provision in our agreement.

When we actually receive the papers, months later in New York, it does not include the tontine, and it takes a phone call to France and a revised agreement to finally get the agreement we want.

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start with a dream

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

“It’s always been our dream to see the south of France.”

“How did you find a place?”

“Do you speak French?”

That’s the reaction, just about word for word, every time we explain that we actually live in the south of France for half of each year. To many it sounds like an impossible dream, and in truth, there are challenges to overcome, including the fact that we do not speak French, but we are proof that it can be done. Sure it takes money, but perhaps less than you might think.

Here’s the first set of stories of how we got to Collioure and made it work for us.

As my wife Pat and I approached retirement, we were planning to relocate from our rental apartment in Manhattan, our primary residence for 15 years. We had previously sold our condo in Ocean City, NJ, which we had rented out during the summer months, and purchased a home in Key West, FL. We love our Key West home and neighborhood during the winter months, but the summers are hot and humid, and then the hurricanes come.

For the past twenty years or so, we had vacationed for one week each summer in a large rented home with our seven children (4 mine, 3 Pat’s), first on Cape Cod and then on Martha’s Vineyard. Our first retirement alternative for the summer months was to purchase a small home on the Vineyard. But committing to a small summer home in the U.S., in addition to being unable to accommodate all of our family at one time, would also mean giving up our other retirement goal, traveling in Europe.

This oft-imagined dream started with a vague vision of Pat riding her bicycle to a village somewhere in the south of France to retrieve a fresh baguette, while I was ensconced in our rented villa writing novels. The more we talked about it, it became clear that European travel was a higher priority for us than Martha’s Vineyard.

“So,” Pat said with her attorney’s penetrating logic, “why don’t we buy a house in Europe and travel from there?”

That thought percolated for a few weeks in early 2005, and then Pat announced she had found the place for us to live.

“There was a lady, an artist, on the Travel Channel, talking about Matisse painting in a seaside town a hundred years ago. It looked beautiful.”

“What’s it called?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Where is it?”

“I don’t know. But I’ll keep watching the Travel Channel. They repeat the shows.”

Several days later, she learned that Matisse’s magic town, now our magic town, was the ancient fishing village of Collioure, located on the Mediterranean Sea about 25 miles north of the French-Spanish border.

“It looks beautiful, but can an American even buy property in France?” I asked.

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doing our homework

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

As in much of our marriage, we share the tasks. Pat went to the internet and started searching for property, and I went to Barnes & Noble where I bought a book by David Hampshire called Buying a Home in France 2005.

Hampshire’s book, which has well organized chapters on every aspect of the buying process (including the legal process, mortgages, taxes, insurance, renting, and selling), made it clear that it would be possible for us to buy a home in France, and also pointed out many pitfalls to avoid. We were encouraged, but also a little nervous with our long “issues to consider” and “to do” lists.

Meanwhile, Pat had made progress learning about Collioure and the neighboring towns. We decided to take a three week trip to Collioure, with the express objective of looking for a property to purchase. Pat began to explore home exchange possibilities in Collioure.

“Can we really do this?” was a question we repeatedly asked ourselves during the early stage of our adventure. We overcame our anxieties and kept moving forward.

Unable to make a home exchange, we arranged two rentals, via the internet, to cover the three weeks in Collioure. One of these was with an American woman named Kristina, living in Belgium, who had just purchased her apartment.

When Pat corresponded with Kristina by email, she mentioned that we were interested in looking at property to buy. Kristina recommended her Collioure realtor, a man named Sam who spoke English. Pat began an email correspondence with Sam and soon accumulated a list of properties in Collioure and the neighboring towns of Port Vendres and Banyuls.

The next step was to prepare financially for a prospective purchase. We had done well on the appreciation of our Ocean City condo, and so had purchased our Key West home with a relatively small mortgage. The appreciation of the Key West home in the first year we owned it was astounding, and we took advantage of that to arrange a home equity line of credit.

If we found a property in our price range, we could now buy it for cash, thus avoiding a French mortgage and some of the accompanying complications that David Hampshire had warned of.                             

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* 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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