I was all set to start posting entries from our South Africa trip when I become consumed by the need to begin planning our year plus in the South of France. I don’t know how it happens. I have an idea for a project or future trip on low simmer and then all of sudden I feel this great urgency to make it real. I become anxious – my first choices are already gone and I’m kicking myself for not starting earlier. That just drives me into full research mode and I do practically nothing else until I have a set plan. Obsessive? Well, yeah. I’m not claiming this is rational behavior. So what started as casually looking at what kind of houses might be available for 18 months became an intense search of every site I could find and an impromptu trip to France over Thanksgiving to check out the resulting possibilities. Below are some of my findings.
The evolution of a plan. My first idea was to live in France for 18 months, April to October of the subsequent year. This would include two spring/summers, one to get used the place and the second with a year of experience behind us to really enjoy it. My research confirmed that July and August, the peak of the high season, are considerably more expensive than the rest of the year, with vacation rental rates four to six times higher than the winter months. People flock to the south during these months to soak up the sun and swim. If this is not your thing, you can avoid the crowds, heat and high prices by skipping these months. Many more landlords are willing to rent September through June than for the full year.
Moving around versus staying in one place. It’s tempting to explore several regions through a series of shorter term rentals, say three months each, rather than one long term contract. This would be an excellent way to test out various areas before making a permanent move. But since we only have a year or two we wanted to spend enough time in one area that we would develop a routine and sense of a place. In the end we settled on a compromise, a three month contract, April through June, near the Pyrenees, and a second ten month contract, September through June of the following year more centrally located outside of Nimes.
Rental markets. There is the domestic French rental market where listings of available properties can be found through sites just as SeLoger. Or there is the vacation rental market where equipped, furnished properties are rented on a weekly basis. Wanting to avoid the cost and hassle of moving our belongings overseas or buying a household of furnishings for just a year and then having to dispose of it all we were searching for a furnished house. Unfortunately I could find very few listings for furnished rental properties on the domestic French sites. I did, however, find a sub-section of the vacation rental market where owners were willing to rent through the winter months for a greatly reduced price. Rent a Place in France and Sabbaticalhomes.com are the two best for such an arrangement. One of the difficulties in competing with vacation renters in this market is that you need to start your search much earlier. Even for the shoulder season months – May, June, September and October properties are often booked six to nine months in advance. Second, be aware that these shoulder months can still be considerably more expensive, with some owners not willing to give you much of a break in price even for a long term rental.
Also consider other contacts you may have. For example, a French friend offered to put an announcement on a French listserve she belonged to and I contacted a rental agency that I had previously used for a vacation rental and explained what we were looking for in a long term let. To my surprise this contact produced the property we chose for the ten month rental.
Deciding where to live. This is a hard one because there are so many factors and it is such a personal choice. Some points to consider:
Do you want more of a city or country experience?
How close are local services – boulangerie, super market, pharmacy.
How easy is it to get to the autoroute. Some towns are further than they look from major commercial centers because the road to get there are slow and windy.
Do you want to be in the middle of the tourist action or in a more working French area?
How far are you from your favorite activities, beach, golf, hiking trails, markets.
Weather. The South of France is not warm in the winter. Check out potential towns and cities on Holidaycheck.fr. Enter the name of the town at the top, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on Climat et Tempèratures for graphs with average temperatures and number of days of sun and rain by month.
Info on Languedoc Roussillon
Crème de Languedoc – Geared more for Brits wanting to buy property in Languedoc Roussillon, it has a wide variety of useful information about living in the region.
Plan to visit potential properties. If you are looking to rent for more than a few months I do recommend that you take the time to visit places before you sign a contract. Pictures can often be deceiving. While it seems logical that owners try to photograph their property in the best light, the truth is that many are not skilled photographers and the property often looks better in real life than in the photo. So it can go either way. Also pictures don’t give you the full story. You are not just living in a house, but in an environment. What’s around the house? What is the town like? Is it easy to get to? Think about how you would live in the place, where you would go, what your routine would be like. Will you be happy there? Many things that you would put up with for a week or two such as traffic and a long drive to the grocery store can become a headache for the long term.
Making appointments and visiting properties. Most owners are very willing to have you look at the property before making a commitment, especially in the off season when the property is less likely to be currently rented. We were looking at a fairly large area from the Vaucluse to Gard and then further west in Aude and Pyrenee Orientale, so I tried to schedule appointments from the same area all on one day. This worked reasonably well, but with traffic and driving time between places we needed about hour and a half between most appointments, sometimes longer for those even further out. We saw 12 houses over three days with a fourth day free to revisit areas and make a decision.
The process of visiting properties and meeting the locals was actually fun. A glimpse of the lives of the people that own these houses and why they are renting. A British couple, who at the time were traveling in Asia, owned several rental properties and had been the former owners of other properties we were interested in. The current owners all knew each other and were still friends. A French woman served us cake and tea by the fire in their former family home. Her mother had since moved back to Paris, her sister was living in DC and she was currently living in the smaller house next door. Generally owners fall into a couple of categories – business owners who rent vacation properties by the week and are willing to rent by the month in the off season, Brits looking to rent their second home through the off season and French owners trying to earn extra money off of a former family home that is no longer needed.
For information on the next step The Rental Contract visit the following sites.
Best of luck to all of you looking for place. I welcome any questions, comments or suggestions.