House Hunting in Guadeloupe

Within two days of arriving in Guadeloupe after a hellish move, we started house hunting.

We had 100,000 euros* in savings but we thought, at first, that we might try for a loan of up to 50,000 euros. After some research, I realized that between my freelancing and my husband’s de facto unemployment, it would be virtually impossible to get a loan, so we needed to stick to our budget of 100,000 max.

Our plan was to buy a house with a nice bit of land (originally we wanted several acres, but that got quickly and severely reduced as we discovered that areas like that are few and far between here, and those that do exist are *way* out of our price range) so that we could build 4 rental apartments.

I created a simple spreadsheet to help us in our house search, with fields for location, price, real estate agency phone number, and the like, and sent off numerous emails asking for appointments to visit. A few days later, no one had responded and we were getting anxious. We didn’t have a phone yet so couldn’t call the agencies, and since the vast majority are at least an hour away, we really didn’t want to drive there. We did find one in Basse-Terre, but he didn’t have anything even in our original “with a loan” price range. We also visited with a man who was selling exactly what we wanted: a villa and separate building with 4 apartments, but that was listed for something like 300,000 euros – absurdly beyond our means.

We finally happened upon a rental agency on this side of the island and met with the agent, Anny-Claire, who was young but seemed knowledgeable and very nice. The first place she showed us was a giant shell: walls and roof, on 2,000 meters of hilly terrain. It had a slice of a view of the sea and a boulder-strewn, unpaved “driveway” which was not part of the property, so paving it would have required negotiating with the neighbors – no doubt a nightmare. This monstrosity cost 60,000 euros, which would have left a fair amount for finishing the work, but we didn’t like the way the house was set up and the land was unusable. So that was a no.

Through another agent, we found a house in Deshaies, and went to visit. The owner was a widower and the house a complete mess. The kitchen was about a square meter – too small for a refrigerator, which was in the next room. One of the bedrooms had a shower in it, the whole floor plan was very odd. It was also *filthy* – I felt sick about this poor man living there. My husband, on the other hand, saw nothing but potential. There was a nice view, and my husband had grand plans for gutting the whole thing and rebuilding within the shell, then adding a huge wraparound deck. It sat on 7,000 meters of property, but 6,000 of that was the side of a mountain that was part of the national park, so unbuildable. The agent claimed that this might be changed, it was just a matter of time, and then jackpot! we’d have tons of new land to build on, but that was ridiculous. It was so steep that the road you’d have to build to access it would have to zigzag multiple times, which would have used up at least half the land right there.

But that didn’t matter – the house was fixable, according to my husband, and there was just enough buildable land for our rentals. The house was officially listed for 70,000, the agent told us it was 65, and we offered 55, which the owner reluctantly accepted. This was in mid-December, so we’d been in Guadeloupe for 2 months. My husband and I went to city hall to make sure that we’d be able to put in a pool and do the other work, and the adjoint we talked to said yes, pending an official permit application, of course. The agent emailed a ton of paperwork that we needed to fill out, and it took me the better part of a day to email it back to him – his connection kept cutting out. The next day he went off the grid – no response to emails, no answering the phone – and it wasn’t until 2 stressful weeks later that we found out he’d gone on vacation.

Around this time, I met a friend of a friend living in Guadeloupe, who recommended that we look up certain maps of the property that showed risks of earthquake, flooding, and the like,** and it was entirely thanks to her that we avoided a huge disaster: the entire property, not just the mountain, was in the red zone: completely unbuildable. We withdrew our offer and started over.

I went through all the real estate sites again, and we looked at a house in Vieux-Habitants which was poorly designed and, even worse, had a huge power line running over it. Not good.

Anny-Claude showed us two other houses: one an enormous building with two apartments, built on a very steep slope; the other, a cute little house on a more manageable slope. They both had spectacular views but very little buildable land, and they were about 70,000 euros each, so definitely within our means. We considered the house for a few days, but in the end, we decided that in a place like that, we’d look at the sea but rarely go down to it; it would be better to be closer to the water, even if we didn’t have much of a view. And it was with that realization that we decided to give up on looking at houses, and start looking for land instead.

*I’m using made-up numbers so that I can give a sense of how much things cost in relation to what we have.

**Atlas communaux des risques naturels de la Guadeloupe

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.

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