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Friday, September 23, 2016

SO THAT'S HOW THEY DO IT......


Friday 23 September 2016

Sunny 26 degrees

I was out on prospection when my phone rang.  A french lady whose name translated as four poster bed.  Would I like to come and have a look at her house?  I asked her for more information and was it with other agencies so I could have a look at the condition and fittings.  Ah yes, said the lady, but I want to discuss it with you first....

The main reason, of course, I wanted to look at the other agency advert, was to see which agency it was and what was the price being asked.  The agencies chosen by a vendor give useful clues.  

A french person who goes initially for an english facing agency is saying that they want a price which the french will not pay.

A person who has myriad agencies is desperate

I am usually reluctant to go and see a house without finding out in price band the owner wishes to run around but it wasnt far to go so we made an appointment.

A French person normally goes into the local French agencies.  French people like walking into a physical agency, shaking hands and having a real person sitting opposite them at the desk.  They have not taken to the internet in the same way as the English speaking world because of their preference for human contact.  Perhaps, in the future, when all the English speakers have shut themselves away in a hermetic space with only their android phones for company, things will be run by verbose Spaniards and flashy Italians and oh là là French people.  And things will be very different.

But back to Madame 4 Poster Bed:  I found the house easily and it looked presentable.  M4PB had told me it was magnifique - a word which indicated a high price and second most overused word in the French language.  A 19th century property with large extension, brand new roof, garden with mature trees and freshly painted facade and shutters.  A black cat watched me from between the blades of a Yucca plant.

Madame opened the door in a rattling of jewellery and flash of very whitened teeth.  She was a talker.  We went around the house and she didnt draw breath. Was pleasantly surprised.  Apart from the violently custard yellow hall, stairs and landing, the rooms were spacious and the floors were original.  The walls had chalk rendering and matt colours which glowed in the afternoon sunlight. Ornate Indian shutters as bed heads.  Subtle lighting.  No space for storing clothes.  Massive loft.  Large yoga room with bathroom ideal for installing granny at ground floor level or as rented holiday unit.

I measured up and took photos and the lady produced some Earl Grey tea and biscuits and we got down to the business of price.  

I will tell you how the international agency estimated the price so you can see how it is calculated; said the lady.  

It is 1400-1600 euros/m2 in this village; I replied.  Was it xxx agency?

Yes!; said the lady; and that is what they used for their base of calculation.  

I felt much happier - perhaps for once they had not gone for an utterly bonkers price.  But no....

The lady continued... And then they added on an amount for my very large loft space.  And then they added on the price of the land....

I was almost stunned into silence.  But Madame, the average price is for the totality!  A house does not come without land - it does not float in space.  A house has a roof and under that roof is often a loft.  

The owner looked at me and I looked at the lady N'est pas? I added.  The lady was upset.  She had trusted this agency and as a consequence, her house was on at a price of 1950/m2.  She was a single widow who could not afford her mortgage.

And I was suddenly very angry.  What sort of service do this agency think they are providing?  True, they had found her a 'buyer' but with not enough cash and in his early 60's so unable to borrow enough money to make up the difference. And six months had passed and, with it, the Spring and Summer clients.

This lady believed in the myth that English speaking buyers are rich, that they are willing to pay 'top dollar', that they love old houses and are just desperate to spend their time doing them up.  In reality, this is no longer the case. 

In the early 2000's yes, people did snap up old houses and pay prices which astounded the locals but since then, prices have risen significantly.  People 'blame' the British for pushing up prices.  But who was asking the price - who was seeing how much they could achieve for Granny's old ruin in the back of beyond?  Brits dont come along and insist on paying as much as possible.  They are savvy. Americans and Australians drive a very hard bargain. No one is anyone's fool.

I had always wondered how this particular agency arrived at its prices.  Having suspected for years that they just asked the sellers how much they wanted, I now realised that it was all just calculated.  Calculated to thrill the vendors. Calculated to make the other agencies look mean and stingy.  Perpetuating the myth.....

I persuaded her to drop the price somewhere nearer the upper average market price and left with the mandat in my bag and a heavy heart.  Not for myself and the difficulty of getting people over the doorstep but for the lady, alone in her large house and with her unrealistic dreams of the 'big' buyer.










Wednesday, September 21, 2016

OFFERS ABOUND BUT WILL THEY STICK?


21 September 2016

Sunny 20 degrees

After the violent storms of last week, all of the sticky heat has gone and the air is delightfully cool with the temperatures hovering between 16 and 20 degrees during the day.

When we came back from the UK, our batch of swallows had departed.  I missed being dive bombed by them in the evenings and their chirruping conversations on the phone wire next to the bedroom window.  However, a few days later, a new crowd arrived and they are fat and healthy and fill the skies above our house; like tiny flecks of soot from a lively wood fire.

Work wise has been busy but most of the contacts have not even put their houses on the market.  And they dont want to raise bridging loans.  They want to get a 'feel' for the market.  They can go and feel someone elses properties. The thing is: I tell my vendors that I will only bring around clients who have cash in the bank or know that the bank is willing to extend credit.  Why do other agents show house after house to people with no money?  In the early days, we used to charge people 100 euros to show them houses and if they bought, we refunded them.  If people didnt want to pay, they went and got a feel elsewhere.  99% of people who paid the fee then went on to buy.  The market, alas, has now changed.  There is a lot of stock and far fewer buyers.  Properties can take years to sell.  OH is lagging about doing the necessary work in our house and I wont put it on the market without it being in top condition.  I do very, very sincerely hope that it doesnt take years to sell.  I am sad without the children and I cant face doing the garden.  I have a visceral hatred of housework.  Being in the UK gave me the longest break I have had in 13 years and it was bliss.

Back to the moutons....

1.  The Swiss couple who came to see a house in the north of my area.  Very tall.  I felt like I was standing in a hole.  Came back within the week and said they wanted to show it to their children.  I thought this was just a formality and so did the owners.  The children came and hated it.  Went away feeling very depressed.  Since then the parents have come back to me and are waiting for the Mairie to answer their queries about building loose boxes on the land.  

Yesterday the owners rang and said they had another person interested and he had been shown by an agent who hadnt got around to dropping the price of the house from its rather startling starting point.  I tell the Swiss couple this and they say they will not make a decision until they have heard from the Mairie and the owner is free to sell to whomsoever he wishes in the interim.

Why do people never believe agents?  I am not making up this other buyer and feel miffed they were shirty.  Then, when as often happens, the other interested party goes aheads and secures the property, my clients are then very upset.

2.  The French couple who offered on the scary Chateau.  Are we any further ahead on this?  One year after he contacted me originally, the potential purchaser has discovered that the French banks wont lend him any money at all and especially not the 700k he wanted to borrow.  So he is selling all of his property around the world in order to finance the purchase.  How long will all this take?  I hope they are in places where properties sell very, very quickly.  I have a few 'buyers' who live in these places.  God knows, I would prefer being an agent there rather than here.  Wherever it is....  

3.  The French couple who offer on every house they see.  These people are bad for my nerves.  I showed them a house near the coast.  They loved it.  They wouldnt find better than this; said the lady.  We will make an offer; said the man.  I negotiated and we came to an agreement.  We will come back; said the man.  We must see other houses to make sure; said the lady.  

One week later they came back and told me that they had offered on a couple of houses near the coast but had been knocked back.  Within minutes, they had gone off the first property I had shown them.  There was too much work to do. The decking was buckling.  Was the house also structurally unsound?

We stood outside and they smoked many cigarettes.  I got on the phone and found another house to show them.  They loved it.  They wanted to come back to see it.  And they did and they still loved it and actually signed a written offer.

I can just see myself here; said the lady.  She was wearing the colour of lipstick which makes a very young Goth look good and someone of a certain age look like an autopsy subject.  Her jewellery rattled and she waved her cigarette expansively in the direction of the flower borders.  So little work to do; she sighed.  Has this woman never gardened?  Gardens around this neck of the woods are beasts which are just waiting to spurt in every direction.

4.  The retired French couple from my town.  After having sold to Miss Tea, I showed them a flat belonging to another agent in town.  Compromis set for next Friday but bxxxxd notaire is insisting on seeing us in a town 60 kms away.

A suivre....

Thursday, September 15, 2016

CATCH UP


14 September 2016

You may be wondering what happened to Mr Wearing, did the couple buy the dive and are people still buying in France following the UK's ill advised and potentially catastrophic decision to leave Europe (you will note I am pinning my colours to the mast here)?

Well, Mr Wearing did manage to complete all of the paperwork, get all of the monies over to the notaire, and come and sign and purchase .... at the end of last month when we were still in the UK.  I stepped back from the dossier when they started arguing over the furniture and left them to sort it out.  So job done and cash in the bank.  Happy times.

The couple were horrified at the dive and are still looking - the Pound has fallen against the Euro - down from 1.44 when they first started looking and as at yesterday 1.19.  They are still fixed on having a lake and gites.  The lady is still terrified of all air and water based forms of transport.  But it is the man's dream...

Speaking of dreams; you may not be aware but when a buyer starts talking of dreams, an estate agent's heart sinks.   This estate agent wants a realist in front of her - someone who will know what they want when they see it and has cash in the bank to buy it.

This week has brought realists and dreamers.  Yesterday's couple were definitely of the second variety.  

We had arranged to meet at 11 am.  Time ticked on.  Commune workers were dismantling the marquee from the weekend's concert.  People came and went from the Mairie and the Tourist Office.  The sun started heating up the tarmac. After 30 minutes and no answer from the client's phone, I started to think of going.  An English car drew up outside of the Tourist Office and a man staggered out.  I went over and stood next to the car.  The lady in it smiled and carried on looking at her mobile.  I tapped on the window.  Are you Linda?  It was....  I said that I had been ringing her and she said she had had the volume turned right down on her phone.  She didnt like the ringtone.  
There was a massive Hound in the back of the car.  Her husband staggered back out of the Tourist Office.  I had a bad feeling

They had got horribly lost.  Despite having the full name of the commune, they had only put the first of the three words of the name into the Sat Nav.  It had given them a choice of six communes.  It was by sheer chance that they had arrived in the right one.  By the end of the day, I was wondering how they ever made it out of their front door.

We were now very behind schedule so I said we would walk to the first house. They got the dog out of the car.  The mercury was heading for 30 degrees and it was panting like a steam train.  The house was only 200m but it took about 20 minutes as the man seemed incapable of walking and talking at the same time. Finally we got there and I let them into the garden and opened up the house. After 20 minutes, when it was apparent that the lady hated the house and the man wouldnt stop talking, I went and got my car and we drove back to theirs and onto the second viewing.

We were there a very very long time because they couldnt take the dog in and I had to show first one and then the other and they said they loved it.  I had had another couple who had also loved it until they had discovered the existence of an American sect just up the road (thanks a bunch, Google) which was news to me.

We went for a drink in town.  There were a lot of wasps about and I suggested that water would be a good idea rather than coke.  They ordered coke and fanta and we spent the rest of the time together being attacked.  Was aghast to find that they have not actually sold their house, despite having been told that they had, and that they had had no visits since May.  I asked to look at it.  I have seen Phil Spencer Secret Agent and Selling Houses with Amanda Lamb.  Surely it cant be that difficult to give some helpful pointers....

The man found the agent's ad on his phone.  The facade was attractive if you like Mock Georgian but oh dear, the interior.  Downstairs was plain to the point of austerity.  Upstairs was madly floral with the most bizarre beds.  Were they four posters for midgets?  Had he ran out of wood?  They certainly drew the eye.  The windows were infested with Laura Ashley's finest.  The garden was just lawn and paving slabs.

They looked at me expectantly.  The man actually stopped talking for once.  The Boxer panted in my direction.  I was thinking 'oh shxt, why do I get myself into this situation?'  I had to draw on my very slight reserves of tact and diplomacy. Some quick thinking was required.  I started off by asking them who were their target market - a young couple with children...   OK what style of decoration would they find appealing - contemporary.  Yes.  I showed them the picture of the front room with its vast expanse of olive coloured carpet and the furniture shoved back against the walls and the tiny fireplace, like a pimple on the wall.

It is good for the dog to run around and I dont like clutter; said the lady.  Yes but we have to see it from the view of a potential buyer; said the man.

I told them they needed to inject some character into the front room - delineate areas of activity, cut up the expanses with furniture and rugs.  Put a seating area into the garden (they drew the line at any form of plants or trees because of the dog), tone down the bedrooms and put the midget four posters into storage.  What the MFP actually needed was a quick trip with a chainsaw...

They left and I got back home and OH had gone fishing.  Made a huge omelette with onions, green and red peppers, chorizo and mushrooms.  Green salad. White wine.  Sat outside together and noticed for the first time in an age that there were no swallows.  We had all been going South.  Dragonflies still overhead like small helicopters.  

The evenings are drawing in and there is a smell of storm on the air.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

DON'T FAINT WITH SHOCK but I am back to blogging....


14 September 2016

Terrific storms in the night and hopefully end of canicule: 20 degrees

Dear readers, first of all my hearty apologies for having abandoned you since the 18 of May.  It went like this:

1.  It was a Thursday and I had passed an enjoyable day at the market, drinking coffee, finding interesting buttons and reassuring people that I had not (yet) retired. My phone rang and it was SFR - did I want the same contract as I have at the moment but at 15 euros a month less?  I said I did, agreed to the new contract and went home.  The internet went off at 3 pm and with it, the telephone.

2.  It was then the normal parcours of events - SFR rent from France Telecom so the SFR technician had to come out and check nothing was wrong in the house - he found nothing so FT then called out engineers.  They are always called for a Saturday and come from Bordeaux which is absolutely hours away.  They fiddled up the phone post for ten minutes and then got back in the van.  I barred the route and they told me they would be back.  They weren't and neither was our internet and telephone.  Bastards

3.  Nine weeks went by and dozens of phone calls to complain - often to people who understood nothing.  No notes seemed to be on file.  No one could tell me what was happening.  Could I cancel the contract for non delivery.  Oh no, Madame, you have just contracted for two years.  It would cost you 550 euros to cancel.  They cannot grasp the fact that my mobile doesnt work when I am at home.  They would ring me back and could I stay next to my mobile in the interval.  Oh yes, I just love hanging around for someone not to ring me.  Which they didn't.  Utter bastards.

4.  I find out about Brexit and am horrified and have to go to the end of the lane to express my rage and frustration.  Go down town that evening and not a single sodding bloody stupid Brit in the bars is talking about it.  More about Brexit in another post

4.  After seven weeks I get a phone call finally saying that they can't fix it and SFR will cancel the contract.  I wait a further week and nothing comes in the post and I ring back again and find that my mobile has been blocked.  Go to the neighbours house and rage at them and am told that my 'new' supplier will take over the lines.  Insist on seeing evidence that my contract is at an end so they finally send me proof

5.  Join France Telecom and discover because my contract has officially been cancelled, my landline no longer functions and I need a new one.  I am still giving it out to all my former contacts. 

6.  The new modem doesnt work so France Telecom come out and find that I have a rusty wire and a dodgy filter and that is all that was the problem.....  I hate SFR with a passion.

So we were back online but, in the intervening period, we seemed to have acquired yet another property and this time in the UK.  A delightful early 20th century end of terrace in the north west of England.  So we went there for a month and avoided getting our head boiled and fitted it out with furniture and effects.  It was rather like starting out all again and wonderful not to have to bring all the accumulated effects of our 30 years together to clutter up the lovely polished floors.

And so here we are and it is September and the heat wave has finally broken and clients are back so game on.  Normal reloaded.....

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

FAINT HEART DOESN'T CHANGE COUNTRY (or you can change the well but you cant change the water




18 May 2016

18 sunny periods

How are things with Mr Wearing?  I hear you ask.  Well, after only just a very long time, we are signing the reservation contract on Friday.  Providing he can get his power of attorney over to me on time.  And pay the deposit.  Yet more things for my ever healthy and ever growing list.

And the scary chateau?  The buyer is over again next Thursday and, despite my having prodded the french resident brother many, many times we do not have the diagnostic reports and consequently the notary hasn't drawn up the reservation contract.  This is top on my list.  He will appreciate my tenacity, if nothing else.

I have been very busy bringing on new property - largely stimulated by the promise of lots of euros in a company sales incentive.  A couple of weeks ago, a lady rang me up.  A friend of a friend had recommended me.  It is a good thing I was sitting down when I heard the name of the friend because it was a former seller with whom I had endured a tortured ten month sale at the end of which, and in front of the notary, he had refused to pay more than fifty percent of the agency fees.  I have mentally stuck him full of pins over the intervening two years.  The lady said I must come and sell her house so I went to see it.

The gardens were stupendous, with rhododendrons and arum lilies and palms and tree ferns and huge fish ponds, a lake and wonderful arboretum.  The passion of the lady's husband, now shuffled off this mortal coil.  Inside the house was rather horrific.  Brown wood absolutely everywhere.  The three gites, let out for an average of 350 - 450 a week, were not somewhere I would even overnight.  The bathroom suite was avocado.  The wallpaper was tartan or Tarzan.  Some of the ceilings were drooping, showing the laths underneath.  We sat on the terrace under the bignone  (see pic) and she showed me photos of the garden in all months of the year.  Eight foot high daturas.  Azaleas. Bamboo. This was one of the rare properties where I have thought - yes, we would have bought this....


So, when an English couple rang and said they were looking for somewhere for themselves and their four children and the mother in law, I sent them the pictures and the lady rang me up.  I raved about the gardens and how they could walk to the river, and the lake, and the peace and quiet and no car noise or dog noise or break ins (they live in Essex) and we booked an appointment.  'I am 40 something' said the lady 'and I haven't lived'.  I thought of the owner of the house, 40 years and had never travelled other than vicariously through her visitors.  One trip to Italy on her honeymoon and decided she didn't like abroad. Would her house resonate with the English lady?

I spent the morning with a lady who showed me her house, told me about many things completely unrelated to her house, made me coffee, let me measure up and take photos, before telling me that she was suing the former owner for having not declared that the electric was dodgy, the heating didn't work, there were termites in the house etc.  I had been getting my sales contract form out of its case.  I put it back in.  Either she sells the house or she sues the former owner.  You cant do both.  Suing the former owner can take up to three years and even if she wins, there is no guarantee that the former seller, who is in his 70's, would pay her a penny.  She said she would have to think about it and would ring her advocate.  I said, in my experience, the only thing advocates were interested in were their fees.  Left, feeling hacked off.

Back home and had lunch and siesta and then it was time to run out to meet the English couple.  They were a very long time.  The man had never driven in France before.  The lady had never been on a plane (or a boat).  She was white and shaking and had cried all of the way over.  They had a quick drag on their roll up cigs and then we went to the house.  I decided to start off with the gardens and grounds.  No point in horrifying them too early with the inside. They were enchanted.  We then went in the first gite 'oh my God' exclaimed the lady 'it's a dive!!'.  I am not sure what the man thought because OH whipped him around the outside to show him that the roof was new and in good condition.  

Went to look for a bar and everything was shut so took them back to the motorway and they left to go to their hotel about an hour away.  Had beer and pizza in the garden and listened to the birds singing in their roosting places and the moon shone three quarters in the blue and paling skies.

Will the lady have the guts to go for France?  Is her OH up for the renovation? Will the fact that the price is 100k lower than anything else they are looking at have major impact on their deliberations?  The moon had no answers so we went in and left the evening fold gently over our house.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

BREAK THROUGH


Friday 29 April 2016

Sunny 18 degrees

Monday came around and I put in a letter to my agency giving my reasons for why I could no longer work with our so called 'partner'.  The main one was of course discovering that they would be opening a shop in our local town and in a prime position.  If our agency name appeared in the window, then my clients would happily trot in there and I would never see them again. It was a partnership in name and not in actuality.  I pressed send and felt ill.  I hate confrontation as I have said.  OH was very happy and went off fishing.  I went out and looked at the weeds and put some more weed killer on them. They are starting to look sick but nowhere near sick enough.  Imagnined myself being free from real estate and able to go out and make my garden a thing of beauty instead of a weed strewn hell.  Idea very very appealing.  Mentally handed in my notice and felt much better.

Tuesday and the agency boss rang and said that she would really like to continue the partnership in the meantime and why didn't I start recruiting in the local area and build a team and then we could overtake the other agency.  She said they were essentially good people.   OH came back from fishing and was not thrilled with the idea of continuing me with them and also said it takes years to recruit good people.  He said we needed to preempt things.  To get things going in the direction I wanted them.  So I rang the other agency and cancelled our joint viewing on their properties.  I said I wanted the relationship to change and it would not be correct for them to show me their properties under these circumstances.  I then emailed my agency and told them what I had done.

Wednesday and the electricity was off all morning.  OH went back down to the rental units to fix all the things I had found were still not working and I cleaned up the house and fretted.  When it came back on at 12 I found a message from the agency and rang them back.  To my surprise and gratification, they agreed with me and said they would start making the split but it wouldn't be immediately.

Later on that day, astoundingly I get a message from Mr Wearing.  Is the second house still for sale?  It is and he makes an offer which is accepted by the owner who is in Paris and chafing to get home and stuck by the transport strikes.  Feel that this has been a day where the barriers are starting to be broken down. And the stream of success will flow through.  Send off the offer document for him to sign and sleep soundly.

Thursday and I go and see the accountant and she has managed to find me loads of expenses so whilst there are still terrifying amounts of social charges to pay, it could have been worse.  To the market and I bump into another agent who gave my name to a seller asking for a contact in the international market. We had a coffee together and I said if she had any clients for any of my houses, then bring them along and we could go 50/50.  She is rather timid but has a lot of French clients whom I don't see.  Her timidity comes over in her housing stock too - a strange mix of land and low priced housing plus some very expensive exclusive contracts.  Interestingly, she rings later on in the day and asks to do a viewing with me and her buyer.

Friday - today.  Why on earth has xxxxxing Mr Wearing not sent me back the signed offer document?  Ring him and encourage him to get a move on and then find that he has just typed his name into the offer document, not signed it and not written the offer amount.  This has to be done physically.  Is he dim or what?  Which bit of my written instructions did he not understand.  In fifteen years, no one has had difficulty filling in this very simple bilingual form. Normally I get the written offer back within the hour.  It has now been two days. I don't think I can stand the strain.....  Send it back, with the typed in stuff taken out, and ask him to redo it.

If he says he cant sign it because he has his arm in a sling, I am going to scream.  A big shrieky scream.....

The scary chateau people still havent provided me with all the information needed for the compromis, I go out with arsy French guy who thinks he knows all about real estate and the young couple decided to rent.

Game on.....

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A PULVERISING TIME


24 April 2016

Sunshine and torrential showers 16 degrees

When is a partnership not a partnership?  At the start of 2015 it was suggested by my agency that we work in collaboration with a local woman who has just started her own set up.  Someone with whom I had been in competition for the last twelve years.  Someone who worked closely with a guy who I have had numerous run-ins with over the years and whilst I didn't regard him as competition, I knew he had spoken badly about me to buyers and sellers.  So I thought about it long and hard but 2014 had been the worst of my many years in real estate, so what the hell, I would give it a go and indicated I would not block such a partnership.

It started off well - after four years of being completely on my own, it was lovely to have access to properties which I hadn't had to go out and find, to have visits on my properties and just to have someone to have a talk to.  They did a few visits on my houses and I did a few on theirs and they sold one of mine where I gave them the very interested buyer because I was on holiday.

Then things started to unravel this year.  The other agency has made comparatively very few sales - three people have sold the same number of properties as I have managed on my own.  It used to be that if we went to a house and found it was with the other agency, we walked away.  I had carried on in this fashion, blissfully unaware that the rules of the game had changed, until, on the ferry back from the UK, I was enraged to see that they had taken on a number of my mandated properties.  One of which I had actually introduced them to.  I emailed the woman and she denied any knowledge of the house.  I complained vociferously by all supports available to the agency and was asked to go and see the other woman so emailed and fixed up an appointment to talk about it.

I may not like confrontation but one thing I did take away from eight years with a French national chain is that if you do not stand your ground, you will be tramped on.  You need to shout if necessary.  French do shouting.  I learned how to arm wave and be outraged.  I learned how to go on and on and on and keep repeating myself (the French do that too).  Fortunately, I worked for someone who was very fair and didn't let outrageous behaviour be rewarded.

OH loves confrontation and, when he had recovered from his sea sickness and had had a good night's sleep, bounced out of bed at 8 am and started role playing me.  So, fully role played and with a headache and feeling queasy because it was Wednesday and normally a day I have off and instead I was heading for an unpleasant appointment, I went down town.

She arrived late and I asked her why she had started taking my houses and she said the people had contacted her.  I said that I hadn't been taking her houses, whether or not they had contacted me and she said that was very nice of me but I didn't need to do that and she wanted as many houses as possible in our town.  She said she didn't do prospecting but later said she had a woman that did so essentially it will be a free for all.  I said she needed to have all of our properties on her site and she said my agency didn't want to pay for it.  If she has all of my properties and I introduce her to all of my sellers, then she cant take them.  So that is how we left it.  She also said she is opening a shop.  The bottom line is that she is not showing my properties and when I asked why she had not been doing this, she said none of her clients were interested in seeing any of my 80 plus houses.  This is total bollocks.  They have my agency name on their letter heads and are purporting to be in partnership but actually are just paying lipservice to the agreement.

I rang back the agency and told them the results of our conversation.  I dont trust them any more and I would rather be on my own and facing them rather than having them supposedly at my side and working with me.  OH feels it is unlikely that the agreement will be ended but we will see next week when agency gets back to me.

Back to my original question - a partnership is not a partnership when it is unequal and when one partner is being abusive.


Friday, April 22, 2016

MR WEARING STRIKES BACK


23 April 2016

Sun and clouds 18 degrees

You may have been wondering, dear reader, in the interval between when I last wrote on the 4 April and today - what has happened to Mr and Mrs Wearing and Not so Wearing?  Alternatively you may have been getting on with your lives. For the insatiably curious therefore, do read on...

The phone had been very quiet during our trippette to the homelands and the wonderful Mrs Noddi so after I had ploughed through all of the emails which had accumulated over the week, I signed into Skype and rang his number.  No reply so I left a message.  This happened four times over the next few days and finally I got an email saying 'Bit handicapped after operation'.  I rang immediately and of course he was next to his computer and it transpired that he had just had a shoulder operation.  This was a major handicap to his making of a decision whether or not to buy in France.  Because he could no longer use his right hand.

I gritted my teeth and asked him where he was with his thoughts on the two houses that he liked.  There was a long silence and he said that there wasn't a garage at his favourite house but there was a pool.  So would you want to offer on that one and try and find a garage to rent?  Would she accept a cheeky offer. No she wouldn't.  She thinks she has a mini Versailles and doesn't do email so I am obliged to ring her up every time and she goes on and on for at least twenty minutes, which fractures my nerves.  

How about the other one - didn't his wife prefer it and isn't it better for her (you will remember all the houses which he chose where completely unsuitable for his wife and the other one, which I suggested, she loved and as it is single level, fully appropriate).  She did like that one.  He admitted.  But it is not her money.

Have you discussed putting in an offer on that one?  They had and he suggested an amount which, to my joy, was within spitting distance of the amount the owner would accept.  Did he want me to put it forward?  He did.  I rang the owner who was not as flexible as I had anticipated but, trimming agency fees, we were about only five thousand euros apart.  I rang Mr Wearing and told him the amount he would need to go to and there was a silence.  Could they discuss it over dinner.  I said I would ring the next day.

OH said not to hold my breath.

The next day I rang and he answered eventually and said he needed a bit more time to think about it so I said I would ring the next day.  Guess what?  So now I am giving him a week to think about it and told him I need a Yes or No answer as it is very unfair on the sellers.  This is a man who has a wife and children and a number of properties.  How long has it taken him to make all of these decisions???  Did he start very early, say when he was 12 years old.  Why cant he just say no??

The two houses are very different.  One is barely 100m2 with pool and over three levels and very pretty but very expensive.  You can walk into town in about five minutes.  The other is 2.3 times larger, has a garden and garage and room for a pool and is in excellent condition and also has a granny flat on the ground floor.  It is also 13 percent cheaper.

He said fine.  I was very wound up.  But more was to come.....  see next blog post A Pulverising Time

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

THE RETURN OF MR WEARING


4 April 2016

Surprisingly warm 18 degrees

Back in February, a client whom I referred to as Mr Wearing came over

http://normalreloaded.blogspot.fr/2016/02/i-am-worn-down-by-mr-wearing.html

And now he was back with his wife.  Surely she would be more verbose?  Or how would they ever make a life together??  She was, I am relieved to tell you, an utterly charming lady with an easy manner and an engaging personality.  

It was late by the time they arrived in my town and we only got to see one property.  She had some difficulty getting up the stairs but I attributed it to the slideliness of the paint and the fact that she had been awake already for 13 hours.  We had a drink on the terrasse of the Grand Hotel and they went in for dinner and me for a short evening and then it was Day Two and the rest of the houses which Mr W had selected, plus one I had slotted in.

It rained torrentially in the night, but the day dawned and the sun came out from the heavy clouds and they were waiting for me in the car park, looking refreshed and ready to roll.  I let Mrs W do the talking and Mr W just stood around with his hands in his coat pockets.

We drove to the first house, which was one I had fitted it.  Belonging to a gay man, it was in perfect order and clean to the point which I have yet to achieve in thirty years of marriage.  This house has a downstairs granny flat and Mrs W was very taken with it.  She again, had difficulty with the stairs and when we got back into the car, I asked her about this and she said she had arthritis and balance problems.

I was horrified.  How will you manage with the corkscrew staircase in the next house we are going now to see?  I asked.  She looked at Mr W - there is a corkscrew staircase??  He chewed his lip and said 'its very pretty'.  We went and she thought the house was far too isolated and she had terrible, terrible trouble getting up the stairs.

They followed me back to the big town, where I was about to put them back onto the autoroute to go home.  What I had not realised about Mr W is that he is a totally impractical person.  He had chosen houses he liked with no reference to the needs of his wife.  Each house had had chosen was completely unsuitable.  I was absolutely livid.  We got to the town and went for a quick sandwich in Leclerc and I did a useful exercise which is to get people to list three essential qualities for a house and then two useful ones.  I then got them to mark them out of ten and added them up.  

The house I had chosen was way out in front.  The lady loved it.  Mr W said he could love it.  Possibly.  They went one way and I went back home and was in a totally foul mood and went for a swim to get rid of my fury.  Then I just felt tired and depressed.


Monday, April 4, 2016

IT IS BACK TO THE CHATEAU BUT WILL THE FAT LADY SING?


Sunday 3 April 2016

Cool but warming to 18 degrees

There is nothing more disagreeable than an alarm clock inserting itself into a Sunday morning but, alas, at 8 o'clock it was time to don the motley and head over to the scary chateau with the big cracks and dry rot and returning for the third time buyers.

When an agent first takes on a property, the owners always keep something in the tank with which to surprise her at a later date.  This later date is when the agent manages to find someone who is interested in buying, at which point the sellers feel it is now time to divulge such information as the house is about to be seized by the bank, one of the sellers has messed up a number of previous sales by refusing to sign any offers, the neighbour is deranged, there are disputes over the boundaries or servitudes or, in the case of the chateau, there is dry rot.

For this third revisit, I had insisted that the non French resident brother also come over.  He sounded 50 years old and substantial on the phone so I was surprised to find a slight bespectacled man in his late 30's.  He had actually spend the night at the chateau on his own, and looked glad of some company. 1000m2 of 14th century chateau is a lot of space to rattle around with on one's own.  It was as cold as the grave so we sat on the terrace and waited for the French resident brother to turn up.  He had actually messed up a number of sales in the past.  And he thought it would be a good idea not to mention the dry rot.  I insisted that this was mentioned and we did some wrangling and then went to look at the offending mushroom growth.  It was spilling out of either end of an immense bookcase.  This would have to come down and the whole rot treated.  The younger brother hacked off the browning mess and put it in a carrier bag.

A car came up the driveway and the couple emerged, followed by a pale waif of a girl and a highly excitable two year old boy who promptly started falling over things.  Last out was the lady's mother whose job, presumably, was to stop the two year old injuring himself and to be horrified at the state of the property. Relatives are inevitably aghast at the work which is about to be taken on.  They spent two hours going over the property in detail.  

I was amazed to find that they intend building cabins in the woods and converting all of the immense barn space into high quality gites.  The two year old was exhausted and covered in mud and had to be fed by the time we all sat down in the cavernous dining room, doors wide open to warm its damp and chilled air.  We filled in the buyer and seller details.  The buyers said they would take on the thirty years worth of collection sitting in the barn (the mother had been an avid brocanteuse), and the sellers looked much relieved.  Fortunately no one asked the grandma what she thought and she perched at the end of a table, coffee in hand and asked for some sugar.  It all seemed to be going swimmingly until the buyer mentioned that he was seeing the bank for the loan on Tuesday and he would be asking for 700 000 euros.  The sellers and I became very depressed at that point.  The buyer will need to be an absolute miracle worker to get that amount out of a French bank.  Especially for a commercial loan on a business which is not yet set up by a non French resident purchaser.  His own country of residence will not loan him on a property in a foreign country.  We could all have been completely wasting our time.

They drove off and the brothers and I stood on the terrace and the birds sang and the brothers lit cigarettes and one said 'that is a shit loan of money' and it is.  I said it is not over until the fat lady sings and left them to think about it whilst I drove home with a headache and OH made me egg and bacon and lots of tea and then we had a siesta.  Cantona, eat your heart out.

Then it was time for the revisit of Mr Wearing.  Of which more in the next post....

FOUR WALLS AND A KNACKERED ROOF DO NOT A CHATEAU MAKE


2 April 2016

Cloudy with sunny periods
16 degrees

The phone had rung before we went away on our Madrid jaunt and the lady on the other end of the line told me about her chateau and how she needed someone who would appreciate its qualities - a very special place and I needed to come and have a look so I booked her in for today.  She agreed to wait because she needed a very special estate agent.  OH said this was flannel and I should be extremely wary.  He decided to drive me in order for me not to be taken in and end up with a mandate I was too embarrassed to refuse. I was torn.  I enjoy being driven and if a place is huge, it is much quicker à deux. However, OH does not hold back on the comments and just assumes the owners wont understand English.

It was a pleasant day and we managed to find the right windy road, even though the GPS didn't acknowledge its existence.  We got to the end and ended up in a farmyard, without having seen anything remotely resembling a chateau. We drove back and I peered at a crumbling wall which bore the words chat.... in peeling plaster.  OH squeezed the car through the battered gates and we drove up and into the property.  The gravel road led between a number of ruined buildings and eventually up to the only habitable building in the ensemble.

It was long and single level and had strangely painted large sliding wooden shutters on runners.  Its a cow shed!  exclaimed OH.  Its a real bag of shite. Just tell them we are not interested.  

However, it was too late and a dynamo of a woman had exploded through the doors in the centre and dragged us in.  The interior was not an improvement. Look at the walls, they are single skin! said OH loudly.  There were two bedrooms, one at each end, and a kitchen in the middle.  Tell her we have seen enough said OH.  The woman had me firmly by the elbow and guided me over to the 'pearl', the 'chateau'.  It was a rambling old farmhouse with bald bare eyes of windows, a shattered roof and creaking shutters.  It had no charm whatsoever.  We paused in the kitchen and I said the problem she had was that people who wanted a chateau wanted a more classic chateau and people who wanted a habitable house with a lot of land, didn't want the responsibility of a large number of ruined buildings in close proximity to the main house.  No one would want to live in that crap conversion anyway and this place has no value - they should just chuck it in, said OH loudly.

I asked the woman what price she had in mind, vaguely thinking of around 250 000 euros myself.   You may be surprised at the amount I want, said the lady, but it is in reference to the habitable space, 950 000 euros.....

I wish I wasn't so polite.  I wish I could have told her that she would not see that price in her great grand children's lifetime, or that she had totally wasted my time, or that what effectively she was selling was a two bed roomed cow shed conversion with a shed load of knackered buildings to boot, but I didn't.  I said it was not the sort of property I would be able to bring people along to, not normally being in contact with insane and extremely rich people with an urge to make a terrible investment, and we left.  OK I didnt tell her the last bit.  We left as soon as I had prised her off me and ran away back to normality.

I was hacked off, it was Saturday and I would much rather be gardening.  We stopped for a coffee in the nearby village and, surprisingly, the bar owner gave me the mandate for a large apartment in a thermal town on the other side of our big town.

Back home and took out fury at the cowshed woman on the bay tree and chopped it back into its topiary shape and dug up all the weeds in the herb garden.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

DAY TWO - THE VALLEY OF THE FALLEN


Wednesday 23 March 2016

Cold with tang of snow in the air 8 degrees

We left a cloudy city in the early morning, when the street sweepers were just coming out of their vans and the vapour from the morning coffee bars hung low and richly scented in the alleyways of the old city.

The road climbed and climbed and then we were above the cloud line and the ridge of the Guadarrama mountain range rose in splendour before us, thickly coated with dark pines and topped with crisp white snow.  Just before 2 we stopped for lunch at an albergo which was obviously popular with lorry drivers.

The dining room was just starting to fill up.  A waiter came over and gave us a rapid verbal delivery of the menu.  We didn't really get what he was saying so just stopped him periodically and he wrote things down on a pad and then brought OH a mixed salad and me something smothered in mayonnaise.  Known as a Russian salad, it is a potato base with peppers and onions and more mayonnaise than is good for a stomach trapped in already close fitting jeans. This was followed by a very large piece of meat on a bone.  And then creme caramel and coffee.  My stomach had not been happy at the salad start but was very uncomfortable by the end and I had to go and shut myself in the loo and keep shouting occupado at people hammering on the door.

Two hours later and we arrived at the Valley of the Fallen near to San Lorenzo de El Escorial.  A monastery built by King Philip II in the 16th century and the place where Francisco Franco is buried.  Called the Valley of the Fallen because of the people killed during the 1936-1939 Civil War in Spain.  The site is entered from a large gate, guarded and ticketed entry only.  The narrow road then winds through woodland for a good 15 minutes before, soaring out of the trees, you get the first glimpse of the 150 metre high cross on its granite outcrop and arrive in the courtyard of a vast Benedictine monastery.







We parked in an area which could have accommodated a vast number of vehicles.  There was absolute silence - not a bird moved, not a breath of wind. Heaps of piled aside snow on the ground.  The cold filtered right through our clothing.  We saw some people in the middle of the columns and they vanished through a large door so we followed and came into the entrance hall where the cast iron radiators were pumping out a furious amount of heat.

A lady in a booth gave us a key and led us to a simple room consisting of two beds and a desk and a cross.  Are you going out later she enquired?  Because the gates close and you wont be able to get back in.  We decided to stay put and had a shower in the gritty stone bathroom and then a siesta.

Six o'clock and we were ready to go and explore the surroundings.  To OH great alarm, the bar had only been open between 2 and 4.30.  We drove around the woods and then parked up again, put on some thick clothing and walked down to the Basilica where Franco is buried.  It was closed and deserted.  The patio in front of the building was massive and stark and gave the most glorious views of the mountains, patterned pink and purple in the fading light.











Back at the monastery and after actually reading some of the books we had brought with us - this has to be a first - it was 9 o'clock and in theory the refectory was open.  There were seven people already there - a group of three ladies,  a middle aged lady at one table and a man at another and two couples.

My stomach was still complaining so I had bread and water and OH had the dinner which was rather miserable - supposed soup which was stock with some floating bread, followed by mini empanadas and flan.  He was relieved to find that there was some wine.

Back to the room.  It had been repainted by someone of my height, and not benefiting from a ladder.  Above the paint line was a big patch of paint which had fallen off the wall.  It was the shape of England, without the rest of the UK. There was the most wonderful feeling of peace and being far away from the stresses and demands of normal life.  Through the window, the moon shone in the carp ponds




OH read me excerpts from The Spanish Labyrinth and it was so riveting that I was asleep in no time.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

DAY ONE EASTER HOLS - VALLODALID


22 March 2016

Sunny with light breeze

Took dog to pension for 11 am and he was delighted and almost sprang over wall to see the lady and her foule de chiens.  Back home, quick battle with the gate lock and then we were off into the bright morning.

Our first overnight was in Valladolid, pronounced Baya dolid, it is North West Spain's largest city with over 300 000 people and here is a little map, to orientate yourselves

By Al Silonov - author attribution

We stayed at the Hotel Mozart which is right in the heart of the old city and gives OH the chance to charge about and 'discover' interesting areas - read this as drink beer on his own in a variety of bars - and me a chance to charge around the shops without OH saying 'what do you need that for?'.  Piled into the hotel and arranged our stuff then out for lunch.  Mixed green salad topped with glistening asparagus, rich and glossy tuna and velvety green olives.  Followed by small deep fried fish and finished with flan - a type of crème caramel.  Tiny cup of evilly bitter coffee.  And siesta.

Suitably refreshed, OH went on his mission of discovery and I went out later and found one of my favorite shops in Spain - Tiger - full of unnecessary plastic items which you never realised that you absolutely had to have, until that it, you are standing in a Tiger shop.


Seriously Easterish

Eggcellent decorations

Fab handbag shop

Met up with OH again on the Plaza Mayor and found one of the first Easter Week gatherings at the main church.  Semana Santa or Holy Week is one which has very special celebrations throughout Spain, but the best places to watch the processions and gatherings is either Vallodalid in the North or in Seville or Malaga in Andalucia

Spain is known especially for its Holy Week traditions or Semana Santa. The celebration of Holy Week regarding popular piety relies almost exclusively on the processions of the brotherhoods or fraternities. These associations have their origins in the Middle Age, but a number of them were created during the Baroque Period, inspired by the Counterreformation and also during the 20th and 21st centuries. The membership is usually open to any Catholic person and family tradition is an important element to become a member or "brother" (hermano).
The distinctive cloaks and hoods (capirotes) of Spanish Holy Week processions.
Some major differences between Spanish regions are noticeable in this event: Holy Week sees its most glamorous celebrations in the region of Andalusia, particularly in Málaga and Seville, while those of Castile and León see the more sombre and solemn processions, typified by Semana Santa at Zamoraand Valladolid. This is a religious holiday.
A common feature in Spain is the almost general usage of the nazareno or penitential robe for some of the participants in the processions. This garment consists in a tunic, a hood with conical tip (capirote) used to conceal the face of the wearer, and sometimes a cloak. The exact colors and forms of these robes depend on the particular procession. The robes were widely used in the medieval period for penitents, who could demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity. These nazarenos carry processional candles or rough-hewn wooden crosses, may walk the city streets barefoot, and, in some places may carry shackles and chains on their feet as penance. In some areas, sections of the participants wear dress freely inspired by the uniforms of the Roman Legion.[1]
The other common feature is that every brotherhood carries magnificent "Pasos" or floats with sculptures that depict different scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of Virgin Mary. Many of these floats are art pieces created by Spanish artists such as Gregorio Fernandez,Juan de MesaMartínez Montañés or Mariano Benlliure. Brotherhoods have owned and preserved these "pasos" for centuries in some cases. Usually, the "pasos" are accompanied by Marching bands performing "Marchas procesionales" a specific type of compositions, devoted to the images and fraternities.






The wearing of the peaked tall hood gives the processors a sinister air and, in the glow of the tall candles and reflections of the old stone buildings, you are easily taken to previous times and can imagine the terror and cruelty meted out by these masked penitents. Religious courts, the Inquisition and auto da fés.  Spanish people may wear modern clothing and appear as contemporary Europeans but in the heart of their communities and their essential beings, this deep attachment to the past beats strongly.  Images of death and suffering, weeping virgins, bleeding crucificitions, devils, fire.  Black and red and gold.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

THINGS PEOPLE DONT KNOW ABOUT ESTATE AGENTS


17 March 2016

Cold and sunny 11 degrees

Instead of staying in France for Easter and doing thousands of kms with annoying people who think that they will look at a little property whilst they are on their break from work, we are running away to Madrid (temporarily). 

Some very vexatious enquiries this week.  An influx of 'complete isolation' specialists - no roads (how the xx do they expect to be able to get to the property?) however connected to water and electricity.  No neighbours.  Really no neighbours - like not even within seeing distance.  No noise.  Have they no idea how noisy the country is?  How people get up at the crack of dawn to shoot things, saw trees, clop past on horses, till and cultivate their fields or just stand around, lean on the gate and have an animated conversation at 7.30 am on a Sunday morning?

One client wanted something which resembles Scotland.  Scotland really resembles Scotland so what does he want with rural France?  A property with a river running through the land.  Presumably, the sort of river which wont flood him out of his home in Spring when there is a full moon and a lot of snow melt.

Another one is a composer who only wants to hear bird song and live on a hill far away.  Apparently he lives in an idyllic location in Hampshire.  OH said he could sodding well stay there and he wasn't driving him around the countryside.

Two client wrote and said they wanted to view houses and wanted me to contact them immediately.  So I rang, and rang and rang and emailed and Skyped.  Did they get back to me.  No.  And one of them then deleted me from Skype, after adding me the week before.  I wanted to send them an email, saying that as they had not had the manners to reply to any of my communications, I was deleting them from the database and not to darken my virtual doors ever again. OH suggested I needed to take a break.

Bearing in mind the above, I remembered a post from last year's blog, so here it is.

Things people dont know about estate agents

1.  They are human beings.  They have a home life and need one day a week away from the day job when they can do enjoyable things like pay bills, do the laundry/repairs, brave the garden armed with machete and thick clothing, clean the oven, scrape crap off the bathroom/kitchen/toilets and spend time with their badly neglected family.  Surprisingly, they need one whole day a week to do this.

Subtext:  if you are over here on holiday and are busy all week but everything is shut on a Sunday, please don't ring your estate agent to see if you can have a little drive around the area and visit a 'few' houses.  Especially if you have no money to buy one of them.

2.  They expect you to be on time.  It is the day job for them.  They will have planned out the programme for the day and have a list of visits with times and sellers who have spent hours cleaning their houses in the uncertain expectation of a sale.  

Subtext:  please don't text your agent (especially if she has told you that her mobile doesn't work when she is at home) on the morning of the visits to say that you are going to be an hour late because you forgot that the time is different in France or your kids cant get out of bed or you having a lie in.  You can rest assured that whilst you are having your lie in, your agent will be downing a number of 'petit cafés', grinding down her worn teeth and having to rearrange everything. 

If you get to an appointment early, do not go for a coffee in a place where you are incapable of describing its location, decide to do a little shopping, or just park somewhere completely different and sit in your car.  Please try and find the correct appointment place.  It is the Mairie.  Every town has one.  It says Mairie on the front (or Hotel de Ville which is not a hotel at all but that is another story) 

Do not cancel on the day of the visit unless one of your legs has dropped off.

3.  They expect you to be serious.   There was once a man who thought he would like to buy some carrots.  He went to his local carrot seller and asked to see all of the five inch carrots of a brilliantly orange hue within a radius of about 40 kms.  He thought the carrot seller could take him in his car and stop for lunch and it could take up to three days.  He needed to sell his own carrots in order to be able to buy some other carrots but he lived in a part of the world where carrots were snapped up almost immediately.  He did mention that he was looking for carrots in a couple of other areas of the country.   The carrot seller told him to fxxk off.

Subtext:  if you have no money for carrots, don't go looking for carrots.

4.  Their earning are their business.  Do you get onto the subject of your bank manager's/dentist's/solicitor's earnings within a few hours of knowing them?  Don't ask us how much of the agency commission we get.  It really pisses us off.  The answer is that most independent agents get around 40% of the commission.  Agents on salaries get around 5-8%. Before you throw up your hands in horror and say you wish you were earning such 'easy money' (words issued from mouth of former carrot searcher), there is the following to bear in mind

  • agents are paid on the day of the Acte de Vente.  This is an event which is at the end of the obstacle race which occurs between offer and Acte.  New and fiendish obstacles always present themselves.  If it all falls through, the agent earns nothing, despite having worked on it for months.
  • we are heavily taxed.  Say the commission gross is 10000 euros.  The agent gets 4000 euros and then has to give 20% to the VAT authorities.  RSI (regime sociale des independents) then takes 45% on the balance.  So the agent ends up with 1400 which is the basic pay for one month. She thinks this is not a lot and thinks life would be a lot easier as a cashier in Leclerc.  She would get a reduction on the price of carrots.
  • there is no personal allowance in France.  You get taxed from the first centime.  The only way to avoid this is by having lots of children.  
Subtext:  it is not 'easy' money.  It is no mean feat sorting out the carrot searchers from the people with little pots of gold and hope in their hearts.  And just the two children I had were enough for me.

5.  Your agent wants to help you.  We want you to find the house of your dreams.  We want to help you to buy it and settle in and live happily ever after.  Making people happy is what makes our job worthwhile.  There is such a feeling of joy on the day of the Acte when we hand the keys over to the new owners and see how thrilled and happy they are.  And we hug the former owners and wish them all the best for the future.  And yes, we do expect to be paid for doing a job well.  And yes, we do like champagne and coming around for BBQ's.

Subtext:  we enjoy spending time with you after you have bought.  Provided you have not tortured us in the process.  If you never see us again, despite living in the same town, it is because we hide when we spot you coming.

6.  We drink coffee - lots of coffee.  If we have driven you around for hours and answered all your questions, and shown you lots of houses and not got lost (well not too lost), we do appreciate stopping for coffee.  We also appreciate you offering to pay for it.  We don't really want to keep on going whilst you pull your little bottles of water out of your bag.  Especially when we have forgotten to bring one ourselves.  We would be delighted if you offered us lunch.  It makes us feel appreciated.

Subtext:  if you say you have brought your own lunch and the agent leaves you in a park for an hour, their enthusiasm for the job will have been reduced by about 50% by the time they pick you up again.  They will assume you are tight fisted or skint.  Or both.  If you turn up in a camper van, their hearts will sink.  Or say you want to make a yurt/glamping business. How many yurt farms do you know in France?  Enough said.