The”Turret House” was a house that really eluded us. This was one of the few listings that provided a lot of photos, but it was hard to really get a sense of the home’s layout despite the many angled, detailed shots. The main attraction for Andy was the original stone spiral staircase that looked as though it came straight from a medieval castle and probably dated back to around that time. The staircase wound through the entirety of the home, finally opening at the top of a grand, intricately carved, stone turret that gained you access to the rooftop terrace overlooking the whole town. Some rooms in the photos looked modern and tastefully updated, while others looked like you were sitting at King Authur’s court. The living room, in particular, had a large, deep set stone fireplace, big enough for a family of four to stand comfortably in and ancient woven tapestries, each on opposing walls. The house definitely piqued our interest, as we couldn’t make sense of the style or even who its agent was. This was the first home we had found on six different websites, with six different agents. At that time in the searching process we didn’t realize that this was common in France, but, after making our way across half of the south and doing numerous home tours with varying agents, it was explained that an owner could have as many agents as they wanted. “It’s also why you don't often see photos of the home’s exterior,” Kerry, agent of the Mediterranean house explained. “By not showing the front of the house, other agents couldn’t see the home, find it and then approach the homeowner, attempting to become another agent on the listing.” I took a reflective pause. I guess I hadn’t really even considered that there weren't many photos of most of the home’s facades. My focus had strictly been on the lack of photos in general. The whole concept of poaching listings seemed quite cut throat and a little sneaky to me and I wondered how that type of setup would play out in the U.S., where people in general seemed to have less respect or general kindness towards one another like they did in France. “And have some agents asked you to meet at the town fountain or the church,” she questioned on our way back to our car. “They don’t want you to know the exact address or town of the home or else you could find it and approach the owner, cutting them out of the process and losing their commission. Some will also make you sign contracts saying that you wouldn’t go behind their backs to talk to the owners after the visit and cut them out of the home sale,” she added. Andy raised his eyebrows in a surprised look. It was so different from the U.S. process and it was starting to make sense why so many Americans sought out English speaking agencies to help them understand all of the cultural idiosyncrasies, a process we couldn’t exactly do since we weren’t staying in one town with the same agent.
When it came to the turret house, first, I emailed two of the agents, thinking that if one didn’t respond or wasn’t free the days we could visit, we had a back up. When they didn’t respond after five days, we emailed two more and waited. “How weird,” I said, relaying the situation to Andy. “I can’t get anyone to respond to my inquiry about the Montfrin house. I’ve now tried four different people without a peep back.”
“Wonder why people aren’t interested in showing the home, it’s covid, they can’t be that swamped with viewings,” he shrugged.
Leading up to us leaving for France, Andy himself had been swamped with work, leaving little time to help plan the cross country trek. All home viewings, hotel bookings and scheduling arrangements were left to me, someone who usually likes to plan once I’ve arrived at said location. This personality trait made Andy crazy. As someone who likes to research every aspect of a trip before taking it, the whole “let the city wash over and you take you where you should go” school of thought was insanity. In order to build some kind of itinerary, though, I found myself scheduling home visits within a cluster of 3-4 days and then planning the next stop’s visits in the same manner until each stop had a handful of days in between the next, slowly sliding us to our final destination of Cinque Terre, Italy. Andy would be proud, I thought, each time I confirmed a house tour and made more of a set schedule for us.
Back to the computer and two more emails were sent in an attempt to connect with anyone listed on the “Turret House.” When two weeks went by we started to feel a bit frustrated. “I really want to see this house!” Andy said. “I know, but no one is responding, I’m not really sure what to do. When all of the agents didn’t respond after a week, I reached directly out to their agencies, again no response,” I slumped down onto the couch next to him. He pulled up the listing, scanning the photos. “How cool would it be to have a stone turret in your house!” “Yes, yes, I’m with you! As soon as I can get in touch with someone, we can make it happen,” I said, trying to quell his frustration.
We had a few weeks before we left for France and so I decided to reach out again to all six agents, hoping someone may have missed the first email and would see the second and reply. Most of our itinerary had been scheduled, but there were a few loose ends left hanging free. May and June are complete and utter chaos at school, as the kids have large rounds of state testing and teachers scramble to finish up any last important lessons before the year clicks to an end. At this point, I found myself drowning in work and in the trip planning process. Every few weeks, Andy and I would visit our favorite local coffee shop on a Saturday when he was able to sneak away from work for an hour or so and we’d sit over steamy dirty chais while I’d catch him up to on my progress and introduce him to a few of the new listings that piqued my interest. Two new listings had appeared and would be perfect additions to our Avignon stop. “Fontaine du Vaucluse,” Andy read, studying the listing. He turned to his computer to google the location. Pictures of craggy coves and pristine blue water shot across the screen. “Oh wow,” I said looking over at his screen. “It’s beautiful!” He nodded, flicking back to the listing and its three, blurry photos. “There isn’t much to go off of, but I’m definitely interested,” he said, taking a sip of his coffee, “what else did you find?” “Well, I know this home seems a bit more modern than we wanted, but it seems really, really cute,” I said, pulling up the listing. “Where is it located?” He asked, scooching his chair closer. “A place called Vaison-la-Romaine,” I read, pointing to the town name on the listing. Andy quickly pulled up a map and just as quickly shook his head. “Eh, it’s a bit too far north I think,” he said. “Why not look at the home first and then decide,” I said, sliding the computer closer to him. He clicked through the photos, giving a pretty cold reception with each swipe. “Yeah,” he said, coming to the end of the photo gallery, “it looks small and isn’t quirky enough, I’d rather see the other town’s house. Do you want me to reach out for this one? Take something off your plate?” “Sure!” I exclaimed, feeling ten pounds lighter with the offer. “Ok, great. I’ll send an email to the agent, just give me the days we are there.” “The second through the fourth of July,” I confirmed, moving the Vaison home out of the list of favorites and into our “rejected” list.
The days ticked by and it wasn’t until the week before our departure that I received a reply from a man named Jean-Christophe, who explained he had just been put on this listing and their agency forwarded him my correspondence. I explained our situation and that I spoke some French and it was decided that he would bring an English speaking colleague to help with the words and phrases less known. An afternoon slot was set and we agreed to meet up during our last leg of the journey to Avignon.
I clicked off a “HeavyWeight” as we pulled into the town’s parking lot that bordered an unmanicured apartment complex. “Ok, he said to meet him on the main road next to the lawnmower shop,” I relayed to Andy, shutting my car door and checking my maps app. He walked around the car, looking at the location over my shoulder.
Walking through the small brick tunnel that connected the parking lot to the center of town, we emerged directly in front of the main artery of the town lined with shady plane trees and park benches. “This is kind of cute,” Andy said, looking around. We started walking along the main road, getting closer with each step to our final meeting place. “Ok, it’s across the street,” I motioned, pointing to a small shop on the corner. Getting ready to step into the street, a loud buzzing noise started. We looked around, trying to spot the noise. Finally, two teenage boys recklessly riding dirt bikes came into our vision. It was the first sign of life we had seen within the town, no other cars or pedestrians had passed us yet, making us wonder where everyone was. We hung back from crossing the street, unsure of the path they were planning to take. Taking note of us, the two started showboating, popping wheelies and spinning doughnuts, but always keeping a distance of a few yards away. Finally, wanting to make their feelings incredibly clear, they took off,coming down the road towards us at double the speed limit. We remained still as statues, waiting for them to pass so we could continue on our journey, not really sure how the interaction would go. They inched closer and as they passed, the one closest to us flipped up his helmet so he could look directly at us, shooting up his middle finger, twirling it around so it wouldn’t be missed. Andy looked back at me. “This has definitely been the least warm welcome we’ve ever received!” “Yeah, I agreed, this town feels awfully desolate and if these two punks are the welcome wagon I think I will take a hard pass!” Looking around the main street as the two zipped off deeper into the town, I became more apparent of the town's age and all around dinginess. All of the shops, with the exception of the lawnmower shop across the street, were shutted with thick, rusted gates. Some of their windows were tagged or broken, showing not only a lack of respect from the residents or visitors, but also a lack of maintenance and caring from the owners. Andy looked at me, as if to say, what now?
“It literally took me months to track down someone to show us this house and we are here. Let’s go and see the home. It would be silly to not,” I said. He nodded and we crossed the street to our meeting place stopping in front of an outdoor display of manual push mowers. I had just pulled out my phone to send a “we’re here” text when a family-sized sedan pulled into a parking space across the street with our agent in tow. Each email correspondence was signed with not only his name, but a headshot photo of him smiling over his shoulder. This little addition made it easy to spot him when the time came.
Jean-Christophe was a bald man with skin colored in a rosy pink hue. He was dressed in a pair of jeans with a polo shirt and a worn,leather satchel slung over his shoulder, trailing behind him as he walked. I waited for another car to appear carrying his associate, thinking they had driven separately. Spotting us he waved furiously over his head, shooting us the same warm smile from his signature photo. We watched as he then walked around his car and to the rear passenger side door, opening it.There was a hesitation before a girl hopped out of the seat. Andy and I looked at eachother. Was it “bring your daughter to work day”? Did they even have that “holiday” in France? Could he not find a babysitter? The two trotted across the street to meet us at the designated spot. “Bonjour, Je m’appelle Jean-Christophe et sa, c’est ma fille Anne-Sophie, elle parle anglais très bien!” Andy looked at me, waiting to see what had transpired. I looked up at him and back at Anne-Sophie and then Jean-Christophe. “Umm… so…. Obviously, this is Jean-Christophe and this is Anne-Sophie, his daughter. She is here because she speaks English,” I looked at Andy. He shrugged, “ok,” he said, unable to complain too much as he spoke zero French.
As we walked up a small cobbled alley, Jean-Christophe explained the home’s circumstances while Anne-Sophie clarified the bits and pieces I didn’t understand.
She was young, but I couldn’t exactly tell how young. Recently I found myself in shock and awe as sometimes a kid who could pass for a university student sat down in my middle school classroom. Was it me, or did some kids seem to be developing at a supersonic rate? A broad guess would be that she was between 13 and 18. I only guessed a little higher than her appearance strictly based on her attire of choice; skin tight ripped jeans and a crop top which she spilled out of at both the top and bottom. It seemed like a mature teenage look, but, based on our first human interaction in the town, upbringing and age may not play a dual factor. He did say colleague, I reminded myself. Maybe she was older and working together with him at the agency?
“And so the wife is recently, very suddenly, widowed. The house is too big for her and she must downsize,” Anne-Sophie said as we stopped in front of an absolutely huge stone facade. My mind focused on the “recently, very suddenly” part and couldn’t help but wonder if it was Covid.
The road itself was tiny, only allowing one small car at a time to wiggle through, with homes and shops lining both sides of the street. It looked like it had the potential to be a bustling little town, we just hadn’t really seen too many people. Jean-Christophe unlocked the door and we all entered into a warmly lit entryway with a dirt floor and cavernous rock ceilings. Off to the left was another large door which he went over and unlocked, giving Anne-Sophie all of the main details and then staring at us to gauge our reaction as she explained them. “This part of the home is next door, it used to be a boulangerie many, many years ago. The old oven is still there,” she held the door open for us to see. It was dark, but a rounded stone oven’s shadowy figure could be made out amongst the other forgotten pieces left scattered around the room. “That’s really cool,” Andy said, taking a long look around the space. “The first floor is just up these stairs,” Anne-Sophie said, translating her father’s segway. Walking a little deeper into the entryway, a hand-carved, stone spiral staircase emerged. The one from the photos. The walls leading up were also lined in heavy, light gray brick, giving it the allure of a castle. We wound our way up the stairs and were spilled out into the medieval style living room with the massive fireplace and tapestries. The room continued on into a dining room that had the esthetics of a Paris loft. Large floor to ceiling windows took up the entire back wall, illuminating the space and lighting part of the dark and drab living room behind. There were a few, minimalist paintings hung around the one wall and a large dining table sitting square in the center of the room. The space felt like the complete opposite of the living room, which felt like it hadn’t changed for centuries. I was almost surprised there were any modern amenities in there, such as electricity. A half wall divided the dining room and the kitchen area, making the two spaces feel open and connected. While the living room felt like something from the stone age and the dining room felt like something modern and hip, the kitchen felt like something straight out of the 70’s with a color scheme of bright yellow and lime green flowers. “This room actually hurts my eyes!” Andy said, stepping into the large open space. The room was long, with counter seating that ran the length of the kitchen and the dining room on both sides. “This is actually pretty neat,” I said, running my hand over the bar. “I could be cooking and entertaining people in the dining room and people could sit in either room at the bar, eating and chatting.”
It did make sense why we couldn’t exactly place the rooms or the layout. Based off of this floor alone, one could feel like they were stepping through three vastly different decades. Jean-Christophe guided us out of the kitchen and back to the stone stairs. “The next level has the bedrooms and a bathroom,” Anne-Sophie explained over her shoulder as we followed closely behind, winding further up the stairs. The next level revealed a small landing with three doors lining the corridor. The first door led to a spacious master bedroom that mirrored the esthetics of the living room below. The room was made out of large, gray stones that covered the walls and the floor, giving the room a cavernous castle feel. A dressform sat in the corner, dressed in a creamy white cupcakesque wedding dress, its tulle and beading spilling down the bodice and cascading around the skirt. I remembered why the woman was selling and averted my eyes from the dress, feeling a pang of sadness. “This bathroom is a pretty nice size,” Andy said, echoing through the corridor and into the master bedroom. I followed the voices and found everyone comfortably walking around the space, with plenty of room for me to enter. The room felt electric, with its bright white tiles and fluorescent lighting. I rubbed my eyes, hoping they’d adjust. In between the white tiles sat a beautiful pattern of navy blue tiles that created a chair rail around the room, breaking up the shocking white. “This room is great! A shower, tub, toilet and sink all in the same room and there is still so much extra space,” I said, spreading my arms out around me. Anne-Sophie chuckled and I looked at Andy, feeling a little self conscious. I wonder if she was thinking, of course the American likes the most American room in the house, as toilets are sometimes separate from the bath or shower there. I lowered my arms and made my way over to the door. “So there is one other bedroom here?” I asked, directing the question in the direction of both Jean-Christophe and his daughter. “Oui, yes. It’s right next to the bathroom,” she said, exiting the space and leading me through the next door. This room felt more like a traditional bedroom, with wooden floors and plaster walls, it had a simple bed and large armoire that filled the space nicely. A few decorative paintings sat square on each wall, giving it the feel of an unused guestroom more than a room regularly occupied and personalized. We all silently took in the room and then backed out, meeting all at the top of the stair’s landing. “The stairs become quite narrow for this last part,” Anne-Sophie started, “but I assure you it is worth the… how you say… squeeze,” she said, holding her hands in front of her and slowly moving her palms closer together. Andy looked at me, his eyes getting wider. “The roof!” he said, smiling. One by one, we made our way up the winding small staircase until we were stopped in the belly of the turret. Jean-Christope fiddled with the lock, releasing it to reveal a bright strip of sunshine that peaked through the crack between the door and the wall. The wind picked up, nudging the door fully open. Jean-Christophe stepped outside, holding the door steady for everyone to pass though.
The stone wall came up to my chest and I walked to the furthest wall and crossed my arms, resting them on the wall’s ledge. Looking out amongst the rooftops, Monfrin seemed to go on for miles, compared to the little speck of land I highlighted on my map search. The wind whipped around my hair, giving me the feeling of being on a mountain summit. “This is so cool!” Andy said, pleased that after so many attempts, he was finally here on top of his turreted rooftop. I let out a sigh. Three vastly different homes in two vastly different towns in under three hours. It was an exhausting day and we hadn’t even found or checked into our hotel, which was another half of an hour away. I looked over at Andy across the way, pointing things out to Anne-Sophie and Jean-Christophe. While I was glad that we finally tracked someone down to show us the listing, I didn’t like the feeling the house exudes. Maybe it was all of the old stone or the story behind the sale, but the house had a very sad aura. I didn’t get the sense that we could live there and be happy. I made my way over to Andy, now a pro at the final steps of moving on from a home tour.
“We had such a long day and we still have to get to the hotel. Let’s start heading out and we can discuss the home on the way. If we have any questions or want anything clarified, we can reach out to Jean-Christophe in the next few days,” I said, rubbing his arm. Jean-Christophe looked at his daughter with large eyes, wanting to know what was said. She diligently relayed the message and he nodded in agreement.
Walking back to our cars, Jean-Christophe wishes us a bonne journée and a bon voyage (a good day and safe travels). There wasn’t much talk about the home. I think everyone understood this wasn’t the home for us. Not only did the town feel off, the home was a bit too esthetically erratic. We got into our car and I ritualistically pulled out my phone to make sure we had confirmation for our next listing and everything was set.
“So, what time are we visiting the Fontaine du Vaucluse tomorrow?” I asked Andy, waiting to add the details to my list.
“I don’t know. I thought you emailed for that one,” he said with a shrug. “No, you told me you’d take care of it, did you reach out?” “I don’t remember saying that,” he said, starting to get frustrated. “Let me look at my emails, maybe I did?” I said, pulling up the search bar for my emails and typing in Fontaine du Vaucluse. Nothing appeared. “Hmm…” I said, going to my spreadsheet to find the house’s listing link. I clicked it and was redirected to the main page of the agency. “Ummm…. The listing isn’t even here anymore. Maybe they sold it?” I said, turning my phone to face Andy so he could see. “So we have a free day tomorrow?” he said. I recognized the look on his face, it was the look that said, “this is why I usually do all the scheduling, I would have noticed this sooner.” I looked down at my list of potential homes for this leg of the trip and smiled. “Not necessarily!”
**Above is our journey from the Spanish boarder through the whole south and all the stops in between. You may notice Vaison is not marked, it was a totally by chance we ended up there!
Bonjour, Ciao, Salut! I'm Rachel and this is my story documenting our experience buying a home in France. If you are looking for advice on home buying, feel free to e-mail me or check the bottom of the home page for a link to a basic guide.