November 11, 2008

A Moving Story

That’s it. The decision to move to France has been made. Dream life, here we come! Cliff climbing, trail running, mountain biking, our new life in “ing” is full of promise. Only a couple of months to go, but in the meantime, there are quite a few things to organise, such as quit my job, give notice for the flat, organise the move, pack, organise a farewell party, be the dutiful wife by helping Schatz proof-read his thesis (“I think you may have left two spaces between “sedimentary” and “basin” and other value-added comments). Oh, and, incidentally, find a place to live when we get to Annecy. A quick check of the diary shows there is some kind of urgency: We are a couple of weeks away from the Christmas break, during which estate agents will be as hard to catch as a ray of sun in London. Then we plan to go on a climbing holiday, before Martin starts working. That probably leaves us with the best part of… well, two days, to find a place to crash. The fact we have decided to, at last, climb on the property ladder as well as on our beloved mountains, does not make the job easier.

That’s where the investment banking training comes in handy: chose a task big enough to fill the time of a normal human being for the best part of a month, give it to an soon to be ex-banker, and she will manage to draw a timetable achieving the desired result in less than 48 hours. Of course, sleep and down time don’t feature high, if at all, on the agenda, but here you go…

That’s how I end up in Annecy on that morning of December. The previous week has been rather busy, trying to make Annecy estate agents’ life a misery, with calls going like:

Me: - Hi, we are moving to Annecy in just over 2 months and are looking for a place

The estate agent: - that should not be a problem. If anything, looking for a place to rent 2 months ahead is probably a bit early.

Me: - well, actually, we are looking at buying

The estate agent: - … Right… well… sure, although you do realise that, even if everything runs smoothly, there is at least a 6 week time lag between paying the deposit and exchanging contracts.

Me: - Perfect, we will have a few days to spare then.

The Estate agent: - …

Me: Ok, so I am coming for 2 days in 2 days and want to see as many flats as possible, meeting the following criteria: (list of 14 must-haves and 22 strongly-desirables to be included here).

Of course, I may be a hard-nosed, pain-in-the-neck banker when I chose to (Martin is adamant I can be pretty scary, but really, I don’t think I am that bad), but I am not a completely stupid one at that. For one, I can do the math: with 234 estate agents in Annecy for only 100,000 inhabitants, it is a given that most of them will have the same properties in stock and the choice, like our budget, limited. Still, we have some clearly defined pre-requisite. Namely: a garage. I mean, there is things we definitely want to see ending with our London life. Such as having two bikes sitting in the middle of our living room and two more hanging above the front door. Or pretending it is cool to use the crash pad as spare sitting to forget the fact they is nowhere else to put it than the floor of the living room. Or risking death every time we open our only wardrobe because the ice axes are precariously hanging next to our jackets. Or having our friend convinced we are having daily über-kinky sex because they noticed the climbing ropes hanging next to the bed (I mean, there is nothing wrong with our sex life, but 1. it does not necessarily involve rope work, 2. we don’t mind keeping our routine to ourselves). In a nutshell, if we really had to chose, we’d rather do for a garage without a flat than a flat without a garage.

So that’s how I end up in Annecy on a Friday morning, with 17 flats to visit in less than two days. I am armed with my excel spreadsheet (17 flats, 12 categories, I am the queen of matrix), my parents (well, they moved, children in tow, so many times I stopped counting, so surely they should know one thing or three about flat hunting), and my camera (Martin being Imperial College-bound, checking word spacing in his thesis, I have to report on the hunt).

It rapidly looks like it won’t be hard to get to a shortlist of properties, given how appalling some of them are, or how misleading the online description turns out to be. In fact, by end of Day 1, I am seriously starting to wonder if a shortlist can still qualify as a list if there is nothing on it. Any references to greenery seem to be synonymous to big trees ensuring a total absence of light at any time of the day. Description and photos of a wonderful loft-style flat with skylight windows and stripped wooden floors strangely did not mention that the said windows, even closed, can do little against the noise of the trucks zooming past, while I am not super thrilled by the idea of a common entrance with what seems to be like a hotel where rooms can be hired by the hour… The next one may have indeed view on the lake (our dream!) but I have a bad feeling about the smell which seems to have penetrated the walls, not to mention the Adams family leaving below. Another flat tick most of the boxes, until we see the bedroom door smashed and are being told by the agent that the owners are getting divorced and “Monsieur” got a little angry against his once-beloved wife. Somehow, I am suddenly not feeling super good about moving in here with my newly-wed husband.

Then it looks that the last flat on our list could be the right one. For a start, not only has it a garage, but a big one at that, so it seems we should be able to store our mess sports equipment AND build a bouldering wall. No big trees hiding the light making you feel like you are living underground, but instead the view on the mountains and a cool sunset as the icing (or the cherry, since we are in France) on the cake. OK, no-so-cool white tiles which seem to be standard fare in France and manage to make the most stunning flat look like a hospital theatre, but that is nothing than cannot be overcome. In a nutshell, by the time I head back to London and report to Martin, I am pretty enthusiastic. An hour of questioning and 200MB of photos reviewed later, and our decision is taken: let’s make an offer on the flat. The owner seem to be a wee bit surprised we are ready to buy without Martin having seen the property, but is clearly happy to put it on account of modern relationships. Another 5 days and we have agreed on a price and paid the deposit. Another 6 weeks to the day, and we are the proud owners of our first flat and moving in. The fact that the said flat will stay totally empty for the next 2 months is another story…

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