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and so ends two weeks of total stress

June 23, 2011

May 21st 2011

Selling the house was made very difficult at the last minute – what a performance. For those not familiar with the US escrow system, all the formalities of paperwork are handled by an escrow company which (among other things) takes all the money in from buyers and sellers and when all is done and dusted, distributes the funds accordingly. They also handle all the title deeds, recording etc. There is no safeguard for the seller, the buyers can cancel escrow at any time without reason and without penalty so you can understand our situation of everything arranged for France and the house not yet finalized.

All was proceeding to plan until the Friday (6th) before the close on Monday (9th) when I get a phone call from the escrow lady asking if there was any form of written agreement to maintain the road outside the house – there isn’t and never has been. She relays this back to the buyers loan company (Wells Fargo) and then we hit the wall. Their loan is backed by the Veterans Association (VA) and the VA says no loan without a road maintenance agreement. Much arguing and consulting and it turns out that there is a rule available to the VA which says if no agreement exists, the Civil Code applies – each homeowner on a given street is legally responsible for an equal share in any repairs. VA is OK with this, Wells Fargo says no. To get such an agreement in place would take all 12 homeowner signatures to a legally binding document which then has to be legally recorded on their house title deeds. Clearly this is not happening (I wouldn’t have signed it nor would any of my neighbors) but Wells Fargo is really being difficult – there is no way we are closing escrow on the Monday. Eventually the buyers went personally to Wells Fargo, got the VA on a conference call and then they finally accepted the Civil Code – this is now Tuesday and we are in San Diego. On Wednesday we leave for the airport and get on a plane not knowing if we own an empty house or what is happening. Stress?

We arrive in Chicago, no news except our flight to Paris is delayed – and delayed and delayed finally leaving 90 minutes late due to thunderstorms. We still don’t know what is going on. We get to Paris 90 minutes late, we originally had three hours to get the bags, get in a cab and go to Montparnasse station for the 12:05 train. We landed at 10:30!!! Grabbed some Euros and got into a cab “Montparnasse svp et tres vite” He went tres vite and we got to Montparnasse at 11:55, we have two suitcases, garment bag, holdall, carrying bag, laptop and camera – merde! A man appears with a baggage cart – we explain where we are going and he rushes us through several (illegal) shortcuts and we board the train at 12:04 – it leaves at 12:05 with us on it totally whacked and unable to tip the guy other than our remaining few dollars – must go back and pay him one day. The train journey is 3hrs and 15 mins and we had barely recovered from the exertions when we arrive in Vannes. We still don’t know what is happening with the escrow.

We get the rental car and drive to our appointment with the estate agent who has arranged our rented maisonette and arrive exactly at the time of 4:00 pm – office is closed! There is a phone number on the door which, at vast expense (US cell), I call and get no response. Fifteen minutes later I call our friends who also cannot find this woman. By 4:30 we have had it so we drive to our B&B (what foresight!) and check in, unpack and have a shower. Call the real estate agent in the US – escrow is proceeding but delayed until Friday – can this get any more stressful?

Not having heard from our friends we decide to go to our favorite restaurant from last year – at first glance it appears to have been closed and a new building put up but thankfully it is still there, new name and new owners but enough of the staff left who recognize us. Then a call from our friends – they have made reservations at a creperie for dinner so they join us, we leave our car at the B&B and head off for dinner. There is also a message from our estate agent lady who had forgotten the appointment and had been on a training course all day – we agree to meet at 11:00 on Friday. By now we are truly knackered having been on the go for 30 hours +. Dinner was great and eventually we go home to bed. Still no escrow news.

Friday dawns – it’s the 13th btw – and we meet the estate agent, go to the maisonette and we are given the keys. It’s really compact – just 45 sq meters – but adequate. However, it is filthy dirty – great layers of dust and dirt, spider webs, nicotine and food stains. We set to washing all the cupboards out, all the crockery and cutlery, pots & pans so we can actually use the kitchen. The oven is black, the fridge not much better. Trips to the supermarket for cleaning materials and comestibles and off we go again. Our friends delivered our two big suit cases (the $500 shipping took 48 hours to arrive door-to-door) and now the maisonette is full of our junk and all the stuff being cleaned. Before we can really unpack we have to clean the wardrobe out, the sideboard is filthy and the drawers are broken – back to market for screws to fix it.

In the middle of all this we go to Vannes to open a bank account – we have chosen Societe Generale on recommendations – turns out really well. We met the representative who speaks quite good English and we arrange for checking account, savings accounts and debit cards. However these will not be available for several days so funding is going to be an issue. This is not helped by the fact we have NO internet connection at home – we don’t even have a phone line. My temporary UK-based cellphone is totally and completely useless – can’t make or receive calls or text messages but it does tell the time – in the UK L We make use of an internet café for immediate communications but transferring money is impossible. There is nothing but nothing more frustrating that having loads of money in bank accounts but no access to it.

Barclays Bank – may they rot in hell for ever – cut off my Connect card after two French transactions. An expensive call later they re-instate it – until I use it when it cuts off again. Their security department is staffed by morons based in Bangalore who asked me if I could verify a transaction for an amount in pounds – of course I can’t, I did it in Euros. I won’t bore you with all the gory details but just as soon as I can get rid of Barclays I will, they repeated this exercise three times IN ONE DAY!

Back home, we discovered a bottle of Junes glucosamine had leaked in her suitcase so now we need to wash clothes – but no washer. Friends to the rescue, they tell us of a place to buy washers etc at huge discounts and arrange to take us there on Saturday. We choose a 9kg washing machine and matching dryer – but guess what? Barclays strikes again – we can’t pay for them. It’s Saturday, no bank is open in the US (at 3:00am) and the stores in France will not accept a card without the CHIP & PIN nor will they take Amex which is the only other Euro card I have. Sylvie offers to deposit a check with the store, we have to come back next week to settle up when our Societe Generale account is working but the store allows us to take the washer & dryer. Marc had brought his work van and the washer & dryer are loaded, taken to the maisonette and installed. June immediately loads it up and starts washing before the van is closed up.

Now we start cleaning the bedroom – UGH! The bed is covered in dust, the mattress needs vacuuming as does the bed frame. The bed frame is broken and had been badly repaired, there is still one broken slat. We clean as best we can, wash the mattress cover etc and then start on the bathroom. More dust, spiders and stains, man this is hard work. I take pictures of dirt & damage for the estate agent who agrees to visit and discuss.

On the Monday we went into Vannes to find a real Internet access – necessary as I need to print & sign a bank transfer form and then scan and email it to get our Euros transferred to Societe Generale. We found a hairdresser for June and she had a long-awaited shampoo, cut & blow dry – very welcome. We also do a ton more shopping and back home for more cleaning. The agent meets us, agrees the place is not acceptable and takes some issues to the owners (who actually live in the adjoining house next door).

Tuesday arrives – we need telephone and cell-phones as we are spending a fortune with T-Mobile (USA) and the service ends on the 19th. We go to the office of Orange (previously France Telecom) and explain what we need, especially as we are renting and there is no phone connection (yet). They do not speak any English but we persevere and arrive at an arrangement where we get a phone connection, a cable TV box (by phone) another box for telephone and two cell phone accounts with SIM cards – this takes almost three hours not helped by Barclays cutting off my debit card again! Man, am I PO’d at them? The cell phones work immediately – the little USB Internet card does not and still doesn’t as of now. Home and a G&T – we have bought essential supplies of wine, bread, cheese, pate etc and are actually living quite well with lunches out J

Wednesday is more cleaning and washing but also starts to get easier. We had to register with the Social Security for our health care benefits – found the Social Service center easy enough (we’d been past it many times on previous trips) and they referred us to another office (CPAM) – that was easy too. They took our forms, photocopied our birth certificates and marriage license and it was all done in 10 minutes – this is getting better!

On Thursday the owners show up with a new bed frame, along with a new letter box, a mop & bucket, a drying frame for laundry and a couple of smiling kids helping in all directions. These are nice people.

We started car shopping but with not much luck, not having an internet is really crippling when trying to do research. We drove a Renault Scenic which June did not like at all and also someone showed us a Peugeot 308 wagon – not bad but not really big enough. So we decide that on Friday, we will go to the Internet café, look up some dealers and find a car. This works and we find four or five cars we want to look at – Peugeot 407 SW. A couple of test drives help to determine what we are looking for and then a visit to a big Renault dealership results in a 2005 407 SW in great shape in silver gray. It’s diesel, manual and has 120,000km on the clock but the dealer gives us a 6-month warranty, offers to really clean it and take care of a couple of minor problems all for a very reasonable price – we collect it on Tuesday, my birthday.

So, life is getting easier and we getting through all the administrative junk that we need to do – this all has time limits on it so the stress level has been high. It isn’t made easier as we do not speak fluent French but people are helpful and go out of their way to accommodate us. Many do speak some English and we can communicate – it all gets done in a mix of languages, gestures and smiles. We have also eaten well and drunk a bit too. The weather has been fantastic – mid 20’s, warm and sunny; just beautiful, this is a great place to be. We have a couple of minor things left to check off the list, tidy up all the accounting, finish the cleaning and then we are off house hunting.

We haven’t missed California one bit yet

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