A House in France
Living the dream/nightmare of foreign homeownership—everything I wish I'd known first
My husband Matt and I were both the kind of kids whose parents often said, “We just don’t know where they came from.” We shared a love for classic ‘80s music (mine leaned more Euro-disco and his more UK cool); he obsessively watched the Tour de France, saved up for Fila, ordered Heineken instead of Bud in college, and his first car was a BMW Bavaria. Meanwhile, I was the kid buying French Elle in the international bookstore, and my first mode of transport was a P200 Vespa painted in the Italian flag colors, soon followed by a 1971 Citroen DS21, which always broke down. To be clear, we were not rich kids—far from it. We just worked hard and saved our own money. Our parents were kids of the ‘60s—dreamers. Our dads were both self-employed: Matt’s a sign painter and mine a piano teacher. Their dreamer ways meant we weren’t squashed or pressured into jobs that made money—they wanted us also to chase our dreams. Which brings us to the house in France.
Matt and I have separately and together always wanted to live in Europe, and to someday have our own place here. It happened quite accidentally that we ended up buying our house in France, in the Médoc region, best known for its Bordeaux wines—a peninsula with the Gironde River on one side and the Atlantic on the other. We were on an assignment for Condé Nast Traveler, doing a story on the region with cookbook author Mimi Thorisson, who used to live there, and while driving around the area we did what we often do in a place we’ve never been to—we fell in love. There was a lot of excitement building up around the region: the TGV was going to start a route between Paris and Bordeaux, shortening the journey significantly (2 hours from 4), which meant that more families would relocate to the area. We couldn’t believe how beautiful and empty the beaches were, and how magical the whole area felt. We started looking online, and had a local agency looking for us, too. This was back in 2015, when Matt was in Europe a lot for work, so he went to look at different properties, and we ultimately settled on buying two adjacent village houses in St Yzans de Médoc.
The reason I’m putting all this down is because so many of you have asked how we did it. I can’t say it was easy. I often compare the process to childbirth—not fun, sometimes awful, but so great in the end that you forget how hard it was. However, there are things I wish I had known before we pulled the trigger, and I’m going to tell you those here. I’m no expert—and the rules and legalities change frequently—so I’m just speaking from my own experience here; you can (and should) factcheck this if you’re seriously looking. Google will be your best friend when you’re trying to figure all this out.