When my husband Phil and I moved to Montpellier on January 22, 2022, the day after I retired from my U.S. healthcare career, we had a rough plan: wait a month or two before buying a car, make learning French our top priority, and rent a furnished apartment for the first year–both to give ourselves time to confirm Montpellier was where we wanted to be and decide whether to rent long-term or buy. As plans tend to do, ours morphed over time; we finally got a car a year later, our French is coming along VERY slowly, and we’ve had our lovely furnished apartment over a year now.
By August 2022 we had confirmed that we would stay in Montpellier, which we love, and that we’d like to buy an apartment. We had a decent but not luxurious budget, for which we expected to get most of our wish list: at least two bedrooms, an open kitchen, balcony, high floor with a view, parking (with the ability to install an EV charger), and a walkable neighborhood. We also needed space for my artist husband to paint, and because we are spoiled Americans, air conditioning. We reached out to Dennelle at Renestance, and our search began.
We have dear friends who live in a beautiful new high-rise, and that building was our first choice. But when we saw the only apartment available, we were disappointed: the apartment was cramped with no storage and the view was of an ugly parking lot. We moved on.
In the end we looked at hundreds of apartments online and nine in person. Viewings were fun and informative; we quickly learned what would and would not work for us. The four-bedroom apartment in our ideal neighborhood had no balcony, and the stairway down to the parking garage was scary. One building had an unpleasant odor and we didn’t like the neighborhood. We fell in love with a three-bedroom apartment on the tenth floor in our favorite neighborhood, but it was over budget and required some work. We made a low bid, but someone else snapped it up for more money.
We visited two lovely apartments in a nice building, and the second one was beautiful. It had three bedrooms, two baths, and two terraces. Sounds perfect, right? It almost was—but it was over budget, and the living/dining area was tiny. We love having dinner parties, and in this apartment, we wouldn’t be able to have more than four people seated inside. That same day we visited a less expensive one in the same neighborhood. It was cheaper for a reason! The building was old, the layout was strange, and it needed a lot of work.
Finally, we visited an apartment in our ideal location, a neoclassical-style development from the 80’s called Antigone that is an easy walk to most of our favorite spots. The building was nice and the apartment was on the third floor (fourth in the U.S.). As we wandered through, we began getting excited. This might be the one! It was below our max budget and needed minimal work. At 80 square meters (about 900 square feet), it was small but sufficient, with two bedrooms and a large storage area off the kitchen. It had a nice-sized balcony overlooking a park, and the underground garage would allow for an EV charger. It had air conditioning and a nice layout. This apartment, we learned, had been sold, but the buyers’ financing fell through, so we would need to act quickly. After discussing it with Dennelle, we decided to make a full-price cash offer (being over 65, cash was our only option).
Our offer was accepted on December 5, and we’d been told that it takes about three months to close. “Great,” we thought, “we should be able to close in early March!” But we forgot about THE HOLIDAYS, when everyone is off work! The first step in a home purchase is signing the promesse unilaterale de vente. Because of THE HOLIDAYS, we couldn’t even sign that document until January 19! Then there is a ten-day cooling off period, during which we could back out. Next up is the wait for the mairie, or the city hall, to confirm that they don’t want the property. They have up to two months for this. So we expect to close sometime in April.
Once we secured the apartment, we began planning to renovate and furnish it. We didn’t bring any furniture to France, so we’re starting from scratch. We decided to completely redo the kitchen, and we’re renovating the bathroom to add a toilet (the apartment has a toilet room, so we’ll have one and a half baths).
So far we have ordered our kitchen (cabinetry, countertops, installation, etc., a washer and dryer, fridge, dishwasher, microwave, bed, sofa bed for the guest room/studio, living room sofa, and tv. We’re keeping the cooktop, oven, and vent hood that were in place. We plan to wait on everything else, so we can live in the space and figure out what we want—and what we can afford! Did I mention that all the fees added 10-11% to the purchase price?
How has this experience been? Quite nice, educational, much less stressful than we anticipated, and great fun, largely because of Dennelle’s help. In Part Two of this series, I’ll share what happens next!
Like many things in France, finding a rental can take longer than you anticipate, and patience is key! However, there are always exceptions and ‘word of mouth’ is a great way of finding your French dream home, especially in a buzzing international community like Montpellier!
In early 2022, Sandy Shroyer retired from her professional career. Her jobs have included cooking for hired ranch hands, serving as a community mental health center staff psychologist, performing various leadership roles in healthcare firms, managing a lot of highly successful sales executives, and selling technology and services to health systems and health plans. The best part of her career was people—those who became lifelong friends, those who irritated her into learning important lessons, and those who taught her things through their kindness and genius. Her superpower is connecting people, whether it’s professional networking, introducing friends who become friends with each other, or just figuring out who might like to know someone she knows. She tried never to miss an opportunity to have fun at work. Sandy and her husband traveled full-time in the United States during the pandemic, and they are spending their retirement in Montpellier, France.
All articles by: Sandra Shroyer