A House on a Hill: Renovating a Cottage in France

• 15 May 2009
























Things have been crazy around here, mostly due to a huge project we undertook a few months ago--renovating a 400-year-old stone cottage in southern France (pictured right). It's become such a big part of our life that I can't keep it to myself any longer! Plus, I know if I don't document it here, it won't be documented at all; and I want to remember all the little details and nuances associated with renovating this old home.

I thought it would be fun to start regularly featuring posts detailing the renovation process from step 1. I may throw in one post per week, or perhaps more. We'll see how this flows...If any of you have done this before, please share any tips! Also welcomed are style ideas for the interior...I have less than a month to make some crucial decisions regarding such. Thanks in advance!

So here we go with Step #1: finding this cottage.

The Husband and I are big fans of Rick Steves Guidebooks. He's been there for us on previous trips and during our last family vacation we consulted his expert wisdom yet again. On the pages of Rick Steves: France, he mentions a lovely town in the Dordogne region called Beynac-et-Cazenac. The region itself sounded spectacular--if you love a good Medieval castle or two, great food, amazing scenery and an interesting history.

We explored our options for lodging via VRBO and to our surprise, found a lovely home owned by a couple in Utah (where we lived at the time). We couldn't believe it! What are the odds?   We ended up booking a week and at that point the wheels started turning. We thought, "if they live in Utah and manage a home in Beynac, perhaps we can do it too?" We always wanted to have a rental property as an investment, but overseas? Pourquoi pas?

During our vacation we fell in love with the place. It seemed perfect! Initially out of pure curiosity the Husband contacted the local agent (this is where a French-speaking spouse comes in handy) and arranged to see all 3 of the homes up for sale in this town. It's a tiny town :) All were lovely, but only one was in our price range. What we did next, we found out later, is not nearly as common in France as it is in here in America and even a little taboo. We submitted an offer that was below asking price.  Also included in our offer was the reasoning behind the price submitted.  We wanted to explain in detail to the homeowner all of the renovations we hoped to make to the home and how we wanted to make it even more magical.  I gave the offer a 5% chance of being accepted.  

After submitting our offer, we left on a little rendezvous with our friends to Italy. We were having so much fun on our first getaway sans kids in years (!!), that we failed to check in with our agent as to the status of our offer. Although we didn't mean to act uninterested, this actually played out in our favor as we appeared to not care whether they accepted our offer or not. The owner came back with a "yes, if you add in ___ " and we accepted. Then, we looked at each other with a nervous laugh and said, "what have we gotten ourselves into?". We had no idea...

Next up: the history behind this ~500-year-old stone cottage.

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