Tom and I arrived at the house just before 6.30pm on Saturday 29th September. We had both enjoyed returning to the sheer beauty of the Puy de Dome on our left and the long ridge of Puy Mary to our right. We really do miss the mountains of the Auvergne when we’re traipsing around France!
Mademoiselle S, the hairdresser, was still in the shop section of our house that’s not a home. The small square window-panes were steamed up and we couldn’t see the shop interior. It was all a bit Dickensian! Tom and I looked at each other and we could almost read each other’s thoughts. Ah well, it was always going to be too good to be true!
Tom pushed open the front door to the house. That was easy – the entire locking device had been broken, no key-turning necessary, just a gentle push and the door swings inward every time. That was a brand new, double-glazed, front door, to match the brand new double-glazed windows, fitted in November 2007 and funded by us. The hand-crafted door and windows had been ordered by us the week before we completed the property purchase. What could go wrong at that stage? Plenty, as it happens! Eventually, we had discovered that we couldn’t cancel the order because we had signed the devis. Oh la la, one must not renege on a signed devis!
We plonked our rucksacks in the first floor apartment lounge and headed for a welcome cuppa made by our friend and neighbour, Madame Z, she lives three doors away. Sipping steaming mugs of English tea, we listened as Madame Z told us the male half of our sellers, Monsieur T, had passed away. Tom and I were genuinely saddened by the news, but we were not at all surprised. We have never considered Monsieur T to have been responsible for the fraud. He was clearly suffering with dementia when we all met in the notaire’s office for the final signing. At one point, I stopped the notaire reading the documents to us and asked Monsieur F, the Immobilier, if the proceedings were legal. He translated my concerns to the notaire and she responded so quickly that I couldn’t understand what she had said. Monsieur F turned to Tom and me and told us it was perfectly legal, he added, “In France, this is normal.”
Well, the news saddened us, but the possible implications worried us! We wondered if that might be the end of our quest for justice. We also wondered why neither Courts nor avocats had informed us. After three days in the village, no fewer than seven people from seven different families had told us Monsieur T had passed away just under one month ago. Surely, the avocats will have been informed?
An hour later we headed back to the house. The shop windows had cleared of condensation and we could see the shop was empty – apart from a large heap of hair cuttings and dust in a single pile in one corner. We tried to open the door, it was locked. So, we went inside the main door to the house and we were able to open the internal door to the shop.
I’ll try to explain the layout of the house, it’s a little like a maze! The ground floor comprises two large town-house style garages, side by side but divided by a wall. To the left of the garages is the main house entrance into a long hall that stretches through the building, right to the back door. On the left side of the hall are two good-sized rooms, ie the hairdresser’s shop, accessed by an internal door to the front room of the shop. At the far end of the hall, on the right, is the door to the steps that lead down to three cellars. Outside the back door there’s a large yard that houses several outbuildings. Originally, we planned for those outbuildings – most of them are derelict – to be demolished to make way for our ‘green space’, a garden. One of the outbuildings contains a wc, a hand-basin, a shower unit, and space for a washing-machine and tumble-drier. Electricity and running water are supplied to that outbuilding. We had planned to keep that section and use it as a utility room.
On the first floor of the house, there’s a large apartment with two double bedrooms, kitchen, lounge and bathroom. The second floor contains a second large apartment with one double bedroom, kitchen, lounge and bathroom; Monsieur C’s apartment is also on the second floor, a bed-sitting room, kitchen and bathroom.
A loft extension would have given us another apartment with three double bedrooms, lounge, kitchen and bathroom. Although, the open plan aspect would have brought all the apartments together to create one family home.
Lots of space for our big family! Also a major point for the Courts to consider, ie the architect’s main renovation Plans are dated April 2007, before any purchase documents were signed. Copies were given to the Immobilier, to our sellers, and to the notaire. Everybody was made aware of our plans – those plans did not include two locataires, those plans were created with the letter of the law firmly understood, the house was for sole use and enjoyment by Tom and me, and our family, and that was written in the pre-purchase/sale Contract.
Back to the hairdresser! She had gone! However, she returned on Sunday morning, accompanied by her cleaner, and we retrieved one set of the keys to the building. But, her cleaner did not return the spare set of keys that we know she has in her possession, the keys that she doesn’t know that we know she has in her possession!
Tom changed the locks during Sunday afternoon! Yes, we’re paranoid!