In early January 2014, our offer was accepted – and the insanity began in earnest.
The first step was to sign the Compromis de vente (the preliminary contract setting out the parameters of the sale) and make two separate payments: a deposit of approximately 7,000 euros, plus a 500-euro payment “toward fees.” Both payments go to the notaire, leaving one to wonder why they need to be separate.
(The whole notaire thing is very complex, but it’s basically a property lawyer who has to be involved in any real estate transaction and who earns a big chunk of money for doing almost nothing. I’d read that notaires in Guadeloupe are particularly corrupt and that we should convince the seller to use our notaire for the transaction. Failing that, we should have our own notaire, meaning that there would be two notaires involved. We had to do the latter, which ended up making things worse rather than better.)
Anny-Claude told us we could pay the deposit by check or bank transfer, so we gave her a check. A week later she informed us that the notaire would not accept the check and that the agency’s internet was down, so she couldn’t email us the transfer payment details – we had to make a special trip to the office for them.
When we finally got that taken care of, nothing happened for ages. Well, other than our Certificat d’urbanisme (preliminary permission to build) being denied. We wanted to build a house and three vacation rentals, but to make things simpler – or so we thought – we’d just applied for a permit to build a house which would include a chambre d’hôtes (B+B). It was Anny-Claude who suggested this route, which turned out to be some sort of red flag for the City; we later found out that the seller had tried to do basically the same thing a few years ago, and had similarly been denied, which is why she was selling. The land is zoned for tourism, and a B+B is not strong enough, for lack of a better term: we had to reapply to build une habitation de tourisme, which apparently means that the total land usage is more than 50% touristic. The building plans are identical, but the wording seems to matter. In any case, this was eventually approved.After two months, with no word from the seller’s notaire, the agency and the seller started calling in earnest, only to find he was was either on vacation or simply “unavailable” for weeks on end. The agent ended up having to take several trips to the notaire‘s office in order to confront him, and even then it took weeks more. (We later figured out why: because of the two notaires, the fees had to be split between them, so the first notaire delayed our sale until April, because the government had announced an official rate increase. Nice.)
Just to keep things interesting, in late March the agents who originally showed us the property got wind of the sale and started making waves. We immediately contacted Anny-Claude, who again assured us that there was no problem: this happens all the time, and she would negotiate with them to give them a percentage of the commission – I believe she said 20% was standard.
As it turned out, the original agents flat-out refused to negotiate. They demanded 50%, period. Our agency was forced to agree, but not before they convened us and the seller and tried to get us to each kick in another 1,000 euros to soften the agency’s loss. The seller agreed, and the agency gave us a whole song and dance about how refusing would mean that our agency would have to file a lawsuit against the other agents. Left alone, my husband and I talked about it, but we agreed that we had been up front with Anny-Claude from the very beginning, and she had told us repeatedly that there would be no problem with the other agency, so if there was, it was her problem – not ours. So we refused to pay the extra commission. I don’t know what was eventually worked out, but I suspect our agency lost a fair bit of money as Anny-Claude was let go immediately following the conclusion of our purchase. We feel bad about it, but we still believe our decision was the right one.
Anyway, so in late April notaire #1 finally sent the papers to notaire #2. He was only marginally more professional than the first (I had to send him the same paperwork three times), and in fact handed off the actual sale to another agent in his organization. The sale date was finally set for mid-June – 5½ months after signing the Compromis de vente, about twice the time this process normally takes, even on island time.
The signing was long and boring, but uneventful. Attendees included our second-hand notaire, of course; the seller and her husband; the original agents; and our agent (not Anny-Claude, but her boss Jessica, who showed up 20 minutes late). We signed and signed and signed again, and then the property was finally ours.
Less than a week later, we found out that Jessica had purchased the property next door. She immediately started building an enormous, hideous house on it, despite the fact that the property is officially too small to be built upon (due to the tourism zoning regulations) and is supposed to be limited to tourism (idem). Clearly being a real estate agent makes it easier to circumvent zoning regulations. The work has stopped and started and stopped again – nearly two years later, the monstrous shell stands unfinished, unused, and unloved – serving no purpose other than to block part of our view and remind us that we’d hoped to buy that property some day as well.But in any case, we have our little corner of paradise. One of the things that makes this property so special is that we are near the sea yet also have a view of the sea – usually it’s one or the other.
My husband is doing the majority of the work – it took a year and half to excavate and build the downstairs apartment, where we now live, and he’s moved on to our future home: the upstairs villa. Once that’s finished, in a year or so, we’ll move up there and rent the apartment while he builds two rentals in a separate building.
It was never easy, and I was almost ready to give up more than once, but it’s been a heck of a ride and we both love living here, in the Caribbean butterfly.
Note: Guadeloupe is an overseas French department, and up until 2015, 90% of its tourists were from mainland France. This means that French is the official language and English is not widely spoken. To make the most of your trip, I recommend that you learn some French.
Chez nous en Guadeloupe