Sunday, 30 August 2015

Have you seen your shadow, lately?

This butterfly cast a shadow as he sat upon a wild flower. Some butterflies wait patiently for me to finish my photos, others flit off before the camera even comes out. The incessant rain has trashed the meadows this year but this butterfly was lucky enough to find a welcoming and sunlit perch (our British weather is not famous for its sun!). Around the butterfly are the remnants of wild marjoram flowers which have almost gone to seed.

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Things I saw along the lake today, Part 11

Readers will be familiar with the wonderment I experience observing nature. The farmers have been blessed this year with a fantastic growing season where it has rained just enough for crops to mature and the dazzling sun has ripened everything to perfection. We all eat bread or a variation thereof and wheat is universal whatever your prejudices, beliefs, customs etc. I've been fortunate to watch the wheat being planted right up to the harvest season which is now. At times I wondered why the farmers were taking so long to harvest their crops but they have at last come along and the fields are littered with bales of golden ears of wheat. This scene reminds me of van Gogh- he was captivated by an almost identical image more than one hundred years ago.

Photos copyright S. van Dalen

Monday, 3 August 2015

Buyer Beware! How not to get scammed when buying property in France

See that wreck nestled in the most beautiful countryside a million miles away from anywhere? What, I hear you say, and it's only 50,000 euros? Before you drift off into your imaginary paradise of how wonderful it would be to get away from it all while you live out your private utopia, growing your own vegetables, with lambs gambolling at your feet once you have restored that pile of stones to their former glory, STOP! You're about to fall into the trap of buying the WRONG property and worse yet, a French estate agent will probably not advise you to come to your senses.

French estate agents don't follow the same procedure as their British counterparts, the principal difference being that purchasers and not sellers pay them. Commission fees usually range from five percent to twelve percent or more per transaction. So if you buy a property for 50,000 euros, you will pay the commission of ten percent on top of that plus the notary fees (notaries manage the transfer of ownership and are essentially tax collectors for the state). It should be pretty obvious that since the buyer pays the agency fees and which are so steep, that agents can be unscrupulous… but more on that later.

Now let's return to that beautiful wreck. Here are some vital criteria to consider before you part with your cash:

Firstly, agents acting on behalf of vendors are required by law to provide you with an-up-to-date diagnostic report (although many will only provide the full report at the signing of contracts). The report is paid for by the seller and is a vital tool in assessing the value of a property. For example, if there is asbestos in the walls or in the roof and if there is lead or parasites in the property, the value should reflect this. Not so! Some French agents have been known to utilise a haphazard and unsubstantiated approach when valuing property. Buyers are advised to ask as many questions as possible before making an offer to purchase.

For example, demand to see the latest diagnostic report and go through it page by page with the agent. The report is divided into the following sections: the presence of asbestos, lead, parasites, whether the property is at risk of natural disasters (earthquake, flooding) and finally the Performance Energy Report.  Where agents act on behalf of the seller, they are also obliged to inform prospective buyers on the state of and type of sanitation - either septic tank or mains drainage and the obligations new owners face in complying with the law regarding antiquated systems.


The use of asbestos in the construction of property has been illegal in France since 1997. Prior to that date, it was the norm to incorporate asbestos into the walls and ceilings for insulation and in the roofing.  If there is asbestos in the roofing tiles, for example, the general view is that the tiles, being on the exterior of the property, do not pose a hazard to health. However if a storm were to damage the roof, the owner would have the responsibility of removing all of the tiles and replacing the roof, which due to the specialist nature of handling asbestos can be a very costly affair.


Buyers must be informed of the presence of lead, which can be found in the paintwork inside old buildings, pipes, windows and shutters. Lead poisoning can lead to death.


Buyers must be made aware of the presence of termites or other parasites such as woodworm, which if left untreated can cause serious damage. I recently came across a property where the last diagnostic report had been conducted in 2011 and in which there was only a passing mention of woodworm in the cellar floor. An updated report was not made available and when a prospective buyer with my guiding, insisted on seeing the latest report (2015), the cellar floor had been completely destroyed by the woodworm which had gone on to infest the woodwork in the first floor as well.
The cost of treating the woodworm was estimated at 3,750 euros which the vendor,  very reluctantly, was forced to knock off the asking price.  This is a good example of a property having been offered for sale at an inflated price without assessing the true condition based on the presence of parasites.


As of 2012, all property disposing of private sanitation must comply with the new ruling to ensure that the system is updated to become more eco friendly and to stem any possible spread of disease. New owners of property have twelve months to comply with the requirement to upgrade a traditional septic tank and which can cost up to 8,000 euros.

Location, location, location:

France is huge country that benefits from a perfectly maintained road network. A good agent will point out that while living in the sticks has its advantages (ideal for those seeking a solitary, peaceful existence), there are major drawbacks as well. Over time living in isolation can be a real drag- having to rely on a car to buy groceries because there is no public transport, being far away from schools, dentists, vets, doctors or a medical centre in case of an emergency but most importantly of all, and I've seen this countless times, when you want to sell your property, no one will want to buy it. In the end, the only way to offload it will be to slash the price or literally give it away. When looking to buy property in France, arm yourself with a map. Keep looking at the map and ask the agent how far the property is from a main road and the nearest town with major supermarkets, shops, train station etc.. Villages might be quaint and sweet but remember you will need basic groceries and some villages don't even have a single shop. I've come across picturesque villages where the only trading outlet is a bar selling alcohol and cigarettes (which happens to close early). If you're the type who needs to have a bit of a social life too, like learning to draw or joining the local swimming or keep fit club, ask the agent how far away those are. If you're a Catholic and mass on Sunday is important to you, there are churches in every town and village in France but no priests; you may have to drive thirty minutes or more to the nearest mass. A bad location will affect the future value of your property and could seriously leave you out of pocket if you decide to sell. Finally, if you must buy that wreck the rule of thumb is to restore a house to a liveable standard costs around 1,500 euros per square meter. Go do the math!

This is the busiest buying season in France when many British families choose to combine their holidays with scouting for that second home. Remember, don't be afraid to ask questions and good luck!
Samantha van Dalen is a British independent property consultant with experience of selling residential property in the UK and France. She is fluent in both French and English and advises purchasers on how to get the best deal when buying in France. She can be contacted on 00 44 (0)7910 199 072

 Photo copyright SvD.

My latest article on The Huffngton Post

31 July 2015

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

On the week that was

Please do lead me astray

The House of Lords is reeling after a certain peer was found to be ageing rather disgracefully. I have to say that the photo of the said gentleman reclining after an episode of excess, no doubt, replete with orange bra, leather jacket and cigarette had me in hysterics. Of course none of this behaviour should be considered shocking in a world that is becoming more and more depraved and perverse. One need only read the headlines or see what passes for justice in some parts of the world. The British establishment may be bonkers producing a debauched lord but is it truly so hair-raising to discover what people get up to in their private lives?  Naturally the self-righteous brigade is quick to condemn and pity the poor wife who hardly deserves to be humiliated etc. but there are usually two culprits responsible for a marriage imploding (or becoming stronger, for that matter). The whole episode is unfortunate for all concerned but what truly beggars belief is why expose oneself to potential ridicule and the destruction of a long career by taking such a big risk? I'm not condemning or condoning the peer's behaviour. The human condition is a perilous balancing act between juggling and deceiving, usually oneself. If one wishes to be somewhere else, be it in a different job or by leaving a partner, surely it is better to be true to oneself rather than to live a complete lie?

Cecil meets a terrible end

Worldwide contempt has been aimed at the American dentist who paid handsomely to kill a much-loved African lion named Cecil. Twitter was all awash with helpful suggestions for doing away with the dentist and making him pay for his crime. I interjected my two cents' worth by tweeting that maybe selling licences to kill magnificent wildlife is the real issue here. The dentist is surely living his own personal hell now but some of that worldwide vitriol should perhaps be targeted at the powers-that-be who profit grotesquely from game hunting and the killing of the likes of Cecil. From a philosophical perspective, anyone who takes pleasure in death is just not all there- nothing is more pitiful, tragic and the antithesis of what it is to be human than to purposefully take the life of another for self-gratification.

The Duck Armada

A migrant goose has come to our local lake and is creating havoc for the resident wild ducks. Much squawking and hissing is to be heard on occasion – mostly from the goose who seems to want to take over the entire lake – all 40 kms in diameter of it – and he's only one goose, as if he needs all that space. The local ducks, which were at it like rabbits in the spring and now number several dozen, have reached exasperation point. Not only has the goose made enemies by drowning baby ducks in a bid to enforce his superiority (and squawking loudly in defiance) but he has generally aggravated the entire lakeside community of otters, copyus, seagulls, herons and no doubt even the fish whose hitherto tranquil lake now ripples with discontent. The ducks however have refused to take abuse of any kind lying down. Most extraordinarily of all, the ducks have adopted a Ghandi-like stance that horror of horrors is actually working. Rather than fight aggression with aggression, the ducks have been seen encircling the goose silently and paddling calmly in unison towards the Caesar-like fowl. The poor goose feeling overwhelmed by the determined and suddenly threatening ducks, has taken to paddling away from them as fast as possible to the other side of the lake. After several days of the silent paddling treatment, the goose has given up his squawking and ambition of world dominance. The poor goose has now been totally brainwashed into believing he is actually a duck. Or has he?

My very personal battle with sadness

I used to treat others with contempt if they showed the slightest sign of mental weakness. You see, I've never had the luxury of feeling sorry for myself but in recent years the dilemma of being sad on occasion and looking towards the future, has gotten harder for me. I don't believe I am alone in feeling this way and have met many people who echo the following: it's no fun being alone and childless in your fifties. Some may argue that not all children make their parents happy and I certainly know that from bitter experience. And not all lovers/companions offer love without a price to pay in exchange. People contact me to say they read what I write and maybe I've managed to impart some of the lessons I learned the hard way. So here's my advice to women. Don't be like me. Forget feminism and wanting to achieve. Marry young, have lots of children and grab the sheer bliss of a man paying the bills. I can assure you that when you enter the last half of your life, you'll see it as a type of paradise. Put another way, despite having countless opportunities and doing all the things we want, as we get older, we realise that all that really makes sense in life is not things, possessions or even accolades. The circle of life draws inevitably to a close and it is family, a shared history and the ties that were predestined which reinforce us.

 Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Reassurance, maybe?

If you needed the answer maybe this is it (from a street sign I saw today).

Photo copyright SvD.