‘You don’t want to die alone in France? Wouldn’t matter once I was dead’
French Leave: Rose Doyle pursues a long-held dream to start a new retirement life in France
Rose Doyle: ‘I discovered what friends really thought of my decor’
The move was a long time coming. I’d thought about it for years, a niggle that became a dream that came closer to reality last September when I finally put my much loved, often happily-lived in home on the market. The aim was to fold up my Dublin life, the dream to start another in France. In the south of France, to be precise, in Montpellier or a nearby village to be even more precise.
There were doubts, of course there were doubts.
My suddenly decluttered, repaired, cleaned and polished house took on an impossible desirability. In a cul-de-sac off Sandymount’s Bath Avenue, the heart of Googletown, it had location, location, location and, in those glorious, end-of-August days, a light that was wonderful.
What I didn’t want was to live life’s third act as a preparation for death
Lavender hedging scented my way to the front door, sun on the back patio was privately mine. What was I thinking of, leaving all this? Leaving great neighbours, the neighbourhood? Leaving my beloved Dublin? For I do love Dublin. Warts and all.
Friends did not rally.
“Selling your house, your security?” they protested. It’s only a house, I said, blasphemy on the property pages but true.
“You’ll be alone. You don’t want to die alone in France, do you?”
Wouldn’t matter once I was dead. What I didn’t want was to live life’s third act as a preparation for death.
I discovered what friends really thought of my decor. My kitchen was cluttered, one said, I should take out the table. Another didn’t like the paintwork. Nothing to be done about the latter. I left the table where it was too. All this well-meant concern brought moments of doubt. But life’s a dodgy proposition so I carried on anyway.
From writing about property I had known and worked with so many estate agents over the years that finally choosing one to sell my house wasn’t easy. In the end I put names into a hat, emerged with DNG’s Deirdre O’Gara, and made contact. Infectiously reassuring, she immediately began pulling ideas out of her head and plotting a campaign. Being on the other side of things gave me a whole new perspective on the agent’s role. I had no idea how astonishingly intimate the relationship between vendor and agent could become. I learned.
The day the For Sale sign went up was a turning point. It told the world my house was no longer a secure link in the community, it had become untethered. Or at least its owner had.
Then it went online. Could that “quaint” little house, with its healthy gardens, lived-in rooms and burgundy front door really be mine? Built in 1928, it even had history. Why would anyone want to sell a house like that?
To go live in France for one thing.
The day of the initial viewings dawned wet and cold and for the first time in months I turned on the heating. Worried about it being stuffy I sprayed freshener and then worried viewers wouldn’t be able to breath the muggy air. I was hardly able to breathe myself. But the day went well, as did viewings in the weeks that followed. Offers came and went and my house, stalked by an omniscient Brexit and a market charged with doubt and fear of spending, didn’t sell.
A Bank of England report warned of “appalling consequences of a no-deal for Ireland”. A Central Bank survey suggested tighter credit was hitting Irish house prices. Economists said Central Bank lending limits were taking the steam out of the market; and figures from the Central Statistics Office showed a drop in the number of property transactions. As Christmas approached buyers disappeared and my heart lost some of its hope.
“The French are so cold,” a friend wrote in an early morning email. Not true, I knew, severely reminding myself of my own warm experiences. You can’t be too adamant with yourself at times like this.
Deirdre, uncannily instinctive, said it would be “okay” to change my mind. She herself had no doubts the house would sell, none at all. Who ever said estate agents were heartless? The same people who said the same about journalists?
The days shortened. Neighbours wondered if I was being greedy. I hoped not. What I was asking for was what I needed and it was the market price. Friends now advised me to take whatever I could get. Crash coming, they said.
Deirdre wasn’t worried at all: the new year would bring a different market, she would relist the house, start a new push. We dropped €10,000 off the asking price and I stopped worrying. My neighbours stopped asking if I’d had offers. I almost stopped seeing the DNG sign by my gate.
Christmas arrived with a glittering howl. Carol singers called to the door. Christmas cards wondered if I was still in situ. Concerned-about-the-move friends began muttering again. No sale was a sign, they said. Neighbours, kind as ever, said they were glad to have me still around. A Christmas lunch with The Irish Times property team brought oodles of advice and good cheer.
In Christmas week a house I had had my eye on in France sold. A week later, with Deirdre working on her multi-pronged marketing attack, I left for France and a reconnoitre. The omens were not good. My house was unsold, market talk dire and prices in Montpellier rising. Nothing for it but to keep going.
Rose Doyle is a writer and journalist