Given we now had a plan for where we wanted to live, and how we wanted to live (rented), we took the first tentative steps in searching for properties in and around Montpellier.
For me, this seemed really daunting. If you don’t know a place, how do you know where to start looking? I’ve only ever lived in South Yorkshire, and I always had a rudimentary knowledge of the area I planned to move in to. I could always just nip along to an Agency and look in the window, or look in the local papers for a place to live, and failing that I could go online and within minutes be looking at a property from an area I knew to be nice and had local amenities. Add to that, the language barrier and it was a little nerve-wracking.
Luckily for me, I have Google Chrome, which translates websites in real-time, and a wife who has previously lived in Montpellier (and also translates websites in real-time). So we started a long, cyclical process of me suggesting areas of Montpellier and my wife turning her nose up at them.
We looked on sites such as Leboncoin and Seloger and found a range of properties within our price range in and around Montpellier. We found properties in Mosson, near the football stadium, and in Castelnau Le Lez. We found several properties in Lattes, just South of the city and connected by tram to the city centre and in close proximity to the airport. Every property was listed with a letter and a number, such as “Appartement T2” or “Maison F3”.
In France, the letter basically means the number of usable rooms (T means Type, F means Function and is used by professionals/private individuals or commercial properties, and P means Piece, the French for room and is more commonly used in South of France). The number after the letter means the number of main rooms, or habitation rooms that the property contains. Bathrooms and Kitchens don’t count, so for example a house with one living room, a dining room and two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom would essentially be classed as a house with four rooms, so would be advertised as a “Maison T4” or “Maison P4”
All the properties we found that we liked, and that my wife knew to be a pleasant area were adverts placed by agencies (Agence Immobiliere). So we decided to contact them all and explain our situation, moving from the UK and when we were looking at arriving, and enquire about availability.
And that is where the trail ended with agencies.
90% of the agencies never get back to us, and those that did made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with us.
We were considered a massive risk, despite being able to show our income and finances, and proof of work. We were unable to prove a history of living in France (even though my wife is French), and ultimately that is what they needed from us first. We didn’t have a bank account, and were unable to open a French bank account in the UK, as you need proof of address, and usually a utility bill. But to get a utility bill, you need a place to live. It was a vicious circle (or rather a nonplussed circle…nobody seemed to want to help, even when my wife called to speak to agencies).
We even enlisted the support of my mother-in-law, based in Montpellier and she was advised the same. Even if we could find someone to act as a guarantor for us, the risk was too big.
It seemed like the journey was over before it had even begun.