By Michele Reed
Photos by Bill Reed
This October marked a full year since we’ve been back to our home in France.
We had tickets to fly March 1, but canceled Feb. 28, as COVID-19 made its first appearance 10 miles from our little village. With subsequent U.S. travel restrictions and just plain common sense, we didn’t reschedule. As I write this, the French government has banned visitors from America for the foreseeable future and has gone back to 24/7 lockdown as the second wave hit.
One of the frequent questions we hear from friends and readers is, “Aren’t you worried about your house, when you are away for so long?”
While we miss our home — and our dear neighbors — enormously, one thing we don’t do is worry a lot about the house.
Thanks to a property management company, Housemartins-France, and our manager, British expat Vicki Trowers, we have peace of mind even from an ocean away.
Vicki and her husband, Charles, started their business in 2004, a year after deciding to make France their permanent home. Vicki had worked in sales and customer service, where she acquired the skills to manage a business. Charles, who worked in fine dining and wines, brings his fluency in five languages to help serve the couple’s 52 clients, who include British, Americans, Dutch, Swiss, Belgians, Norwegians and Germans.
For little more than the cost of a café au lait and croissant a day, Vicki visits the house twice a month. She airs out the place, checks any damage and brings in the mail. She sends us photos of the house, inside and out, and any incipient problems we need to keep in mind. The neighbors’ fig tree is growing over our roof, and she is keeping an eye on that, and will visit him to get the problem resolved. Any mail of importance, she will scan (with our permission), translate and even help resolve any issues. For example, this month the electric company needs access to our house to change the meter to a new Bluetooth-enabled one. She will unlock the house and remain while they are there to do the changeover.
If the house needs repairs or upgrades, she arranges with local craftsmen and repairmen, gets an estimate, and after we give approval, she will again be on site while they perform the work. Housemartins forwards us the craftsman’s invoice, and takes care of making sure they are paid. Each time — when our roof leaked, the oven broke, the fridge died, and we wanted a railing installed — we relied on Vicki for help.
She even drove us to the local tax office, in another village, and translated while we set up automatic payment of our taxes.
For an extra fee, we have Housemartins thoroughly clean the house after we leave each trip and if the weather doesn’t cooperate with my laundry plans, since I have to hang the wash on the roof (dryers are rare in France), they can launder the sheets and towels.
If relatives or friends want to stay at our home while we are away, Vicki will pick them up at the train station, give them the key, stock the fridge with food and clean up after they leave.
Anyone with property overseas can just search online for “property management” to find a similar service in their country or region.
Housemartins is a big part of our peace of mind while we are away. Other strategies that help us sleep soundly half a world away include automatic bill pay for everything from our taxes to the cable bill, online banking, checking our electric and water service accounts online and much more.
The French have a program called “tranquiliite vacances ” or holiday tranquility operation. Homeowners sign up to indicate they will be gone, and the police or gendarmes check on the property periodically to make sure nothing is out of order.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that, like small towns everywhere, our neighbors know when we are scheduled to come and go, and keep a careful eye on the place.
So we miss our lovely home in France, and Rosa, Gilles and all the neighbors. But we know that, thanks to our “crew” on the ground, our house will be safe and sound until we return.