Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Troubles of the Landed Classes

We have just over a month before we move.  I bought a pack of milk today with an expiration date past our moving day and I had an moment of excitement and panic, the same panic/excitement that's accompanied every major milestone in my adult life: going to college, graduating, moving to France, giving birth to my two children: The Milk Moment Freak Out.  It was ultrapasteurized milk this time with a long shelf life, but still. This is getting serious.

I can hardly believe it, but I have to, and also admit we're not ready.  We would be ready but every step of the process has taken longer than planned, from the bank (and God help us, they still don't have all the paperwork finalized) to the notary to, now, the choice of the moving company.

I have never purchased real estate in the US, but I gather that it is a significantly simpler process than it is here in France.  Here a "notaire" -- an august profession closer to a lawyer than the American idea of a stamp-and-sign notary -- handles the paperwork, drafting both a presale contract, which is generally signed three months before closing, and the final sale agreement at closing.  The notaire also claims a hefty percentage of the sale price, although the majority of it is collected by the government as real estate excise tax.  There is no way to avoid using a notary, and theoretically their role is to protect the interests of both the buyer and the seller.  In reality, they seem to take a long time to do not so much work, but they have a talent for making trouble if things don't go exactly as planned. To outsiders, their role seems archaic at best.  I personally suspect that they are the incarnate revenge of the Ancien Régime, here to persuade us, the peasantry, that we never should have joined the landed classes.

The day of the closing there is the signature at the notaire's office and the Transfer of the Keys.  Before the Transfer of the Keys a buyer has no right to occupy the property, and thus the root of my current difficulties: our closing to purchase is the 28th of June, and we won't have keys to the new place until, at best, that day at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.  In order to avoid an expensive bridge loan to cover the portion of our down payment we're obtaining through the sale of our current apartment, we are closing the sale at 11:30 on the same day. If you're still following me -- and I won't be shocked if you're not at this point -- that means that our current place needs to be empty of all of our (copious) crap by noon, yet there will be nowhere to unload it until at best 3 o'clock the same day.

That alone wouldn't be a problem per se, although it would cost extra in moving company overtime, if it weren't that we in our infinite naiveté chose the last business day of the month of June to schedule our move, a date which may be the biggest moving day of the entire year.  We also waited to contact moving companies (and here I'm wringing my hands) until we were more or less certain we had bank approval.  Which was stupid, stupid, STUPID.  Now I'm scrambling to find someone who is willing to work within our constraints and who seems reputable and reliable, never mind the relative high cost.

The positive side of all this, since I'm still calm and philosophical enough to find one, is that I'm learning an important new skill.  Until recently, and even after almost ten years in France, I still left most of the administrative duties to my husband.  Then I noticed this spring that he was about to crack under the pressure, while I felt like a helpless bystander.  So I took on the moving company logistics, which as a result has me making polite-yet-insistent phone calls to people who kinda scare me, grilling bank managers and notaries on details that matter, using my best administrative French to try to make sure people do their jobs.

This is empowerment, people.

And as a colleague said to me yesterday with a grin, "Whatever happens you are going to move.  It's not like you have a choice anymore."

I find that reassuring somehow, really.


Cloud said...

In the US, the Notaire's role is done by your escrow service. I don't remember how much of a cut they get, though, and I don't remember them causing any problems.

We're in the midst of refinancing our house, and even with no moving or transfer of ownership it is a PITA. My opinion is that real estate is a PITA!

Sylvie said...

Ah, wish I could just fly over, commandeer a truck and more you myself! It's a shame you're having to go through such stress; moving in and of itself is plenty stressful already....

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Cloud - yes, I think they do play the role of the escrow service, but with more pomp. And I heartily agree that everything related to real estate is a PITA...

@Sylvie - thank you!! This weekend I may have found a solution that will simplify things considerably (and no, it doesn't involve renting a truck :)). At least stress does have the benefit of making you push beyond your comfort zone and think out of the box...