11 April 2009
tired—an update on the nightmare
Do you remember what it was like when you were a kid and you couldn't wait for Christmas to get here? How that anticipation would drive you insane until you could no longer sleep? And how when Christmas morning finally made it's slow-ass way to your house, well, you were so tired from the weeks of sleepless nights that you fell asleep ten minutes after opening the Best Christmas Present Ever! That's about how I feel.

Seven years ago Marc and I started down the road to home ownership. We looked and looked and looked in vain for a house. Our criteria were rather exacting. It had to be near the farm, big enough, with some land around it (I am American after all). And I needed windows, and lots of light. I die inside without sunlight (which maybe explains why I'm in a vegetative state most days). So we looked, and what we found was nothing. The places we did like were either too far, or too expensive, or too owned-by-people-who'd-never-sell. So we gave up looking and started fighting over plans. Floor plans.

When I say we fought, I mean that in a literal sense. We had a few good rounds over what was acceptable, what was needed, what was fluff and what was just plain absurd. And what we finally ended up with, after months of arguing and sleepless nights (sometimes on the couch), was a house we LOVED... at least in theory.

So we went to a nice reputable builder with our much-fought-over dream and handed it to them and held our breath. And the nice reputable builder looked at the plans and said, “We can do this. Just let me run some figures.” I was pregnant with my first child, and we were building a house! Life was good.

Then we got some bad news. The baby was breech and that wouldn't do. So I got checked into the hospital to try and turn him. It didn't work and while I can't say I'm sorry I tried, I will admit it was painful enough to put on the list of experiences I wouldn't want to repeat. I came home from the hospital with the date my baby would arrive written on a piece of paper with all the instructions for checking in and getting him exorcised by surgical means.

Ten days before I was to check in for the exorcism, we got another shock. The contract we'd signed with the nice reputable builder had been annulled. The price they'd given us was a bit too low for them to handle because their agent, Mr Idiot, had forgotten to include things (like the staircase, and the heating, and a few other minor (note the sarcasm) details) and the new price was a mere 13% higher than what we'd been told. I left their office reeling from the shock. Sticker prices on new houses here are enough to test the limits of your cardiac capabilities, and we were just tossed out of our dream home.

Time to cut things down a bit.

So we went back to the arguing, and the drawing and re-drawing of our dream. And after more FIGHTS, and more sofa-sleeps, we ended up with something smaller, something we could more easily afford (theoretically) and honestly something we both liked better.

We both agreed that we were turned off by the reputable builder and shopped around elsewhere to find someone to realize this dream we had. Marc had heard of a new builder in town. We went for a visit. He brought us pretty pictures with the house we so dearly loved drawn on them. We were happy. And then he presented us with the price. I think Marc fell over. It was heavenly. Mr Manthing ran around clicking his heels with glee. Screw the establishment! We were getting the house we wanted at a price we could afford. Oh, and I was pregnant again. Life was great!

So we signed the contract and wrote the check and held our breath.

We live in a tiny village and honestly there's nothing here. Nothing, that is, except for a post office, and print shop and a château. Yes, a château. And inside the château there's ONE ROOM that is classified as a historical monument. INSIDE the château. The château that you can't even visit unless you know the owner. Who just happened to be the mayor. And our neighbor.

So our plans had to pass through the hands of the architect of the BF, Bâtiments de France, an agency that is charged with making sure that the French don't ugly-up their quaint rural villages with modern architecture and PVC windows or slate shingles. No sir, those things just won't do. This group even had (note the past tense—things have since changed) the ability to impose window sizes, roof colors and, get this, the materials we used for construction.

So we went to war again, armed with everything possible to defend ourselves and our dream from the over-zealous, idiot fonctionnaire at BF. We even brought along the Mayor/Neighbor/Château owner to plead our case, because if anything we wanted to do was going to reflect badly on his ONE classified room, who better to have on our side. And for the most part we won. The idiot finally relented and let us have our PVC shutters after I told him it was either that or he'd have to drag his sorry carcass up there every year to repaint the wood ones he insisted we use. We got our building permit. Things were starting to roll.

And they rolled, and rolled and walls went up, and things started taking form.

And then we started noticing odd stuff. Like the roof hadn't been ordered. And the front door? Ha! I managed to find one though, and it looked like we were going to get there in time for the second child.

Oh but no! Delays, delays and delays. Except where the second child was concerned. She decided to make her entrance a bit earlier than expected by kicking around a bit too much and making everyone think I was an the verge of a uterine rupture. So she came kicking and screaming into our lives in January. And the house? Oh, for February, for certain.

So February came and February went and our house? Well, it didn't get finished. Not in March, nor April nor May. In June I was getting rather anxious. And in July the kitchen arrived and...

Sometime in July the oldest child, who was by that time a walking talking pile of fun, decided to push on one of the walls upstairs. And it moved. A lot.

And it rained, and the house flooded.

The house is 65 meters above the water table.

And it flooded.

So we grumbled and we yelled and we called our insurance.

And around this time the builder filed bankruptcy.

But we weren't worried, because our beef was with the contractor. And he was still operational.

So everyone showed up to a nice meeting with the insurance expert who pointed out a lot of problems we didn't even know we had, problems like the roof that wasn't put together correctly and the drywall that was installed incorrectly and a few other minor (sarcasm again) details. The contractor took lots of notes and promised things would get straightened out... just as soon as he got back from vacation. What? July. In France. Everyone goes on holiday.

So six weeks later we expected to have his proposal for fixing things. The expert from the insurance set up another meeting so we could work things out amicably. We went up to the house and waited. The expert showed up. We chatted. We waited some more. No contractor. The expert, after having been prodded a bit, did mention that while we could do whatever we felt like, there was not a snowball's chance in hell he'd move into the house with the roof in the shape it was in. “You get a few centimeters of snow and that thing'll come down” was pretty much what he told us, although he did say this in French.

Lovely. We had a house that flooded and risked falling down on our heads.

And the next week? Well, we found out that the contractor had filed bankruptcy.

And the insurance? Ha! Not that kind of insurance. Why? Because the builder explained to us in minute detail why That Kind of insurance was a waste of money, how we'd be covered by the contractor's insurance should anything go wrong and how much wiser we'd be to save that money and upgrade our kitchen tiles.

Yep, one born every minute.

So we finally got serious, and got a lawyer. And not just any lawyer. A GOOD lawyer (and here's hoping I don't have to eat those words one day). Only he lives in a far away land. And the only day he could see us was the Monday after Marc's best friend's wedding.

So we drove from the extreme north of France where the wedding was, to the extreme prostate of France to drop the kids off with my MIL and then on to Besançon where the lawyer was. Weddings are quite the shit around here, and I'm sure that Vivi can attest to what a hoot (YEEEHAW) this one was. I was tired, rather hung over, and stuck in the car for eight hours. Twelve with the return trip.

Did I mention I was hung over.


Se we met the lawyer, and showed him every scrap of paper, every contract, every receipt. And we played the part of the poor country hillbillies thinking we might one day make it good. We played the part well. And the lawyer looked at us and smiled. I think now he was trying not to laugh because we were, in all senses of the word, FUCKED.

Fucked because that famous 'worst case scenario' was what we had just spelled out to him.

Fucked because I was pregnant again.

And hung over.

Basically just Fucked.

But there was hope. So we signed, and he went to bat for us. And papers were served, court dates appointed and meetings held. And then came the first court date...

No contractor. No builder. Just our lawyer and the panel of judges who decided to ask a court appointed expert to take a look at things. It was February 2007. The experts report had to be finished for the 15th of August.

We paid the advance for the expert—nothing's free ya know. And he came to visit, along with our lawyer, and looked at the place and sighed. Worst he'd seen. Poor us. What idiots we were for letting Those People touch our dream. (sigh)

But he took pictures and measurements and wrote down a good many things. It all seemed so professional and official. Surely things would be better soon.

Then I had more bad news. My gestational diabetes was out of control, so at 36 weeks of gestation, as early as they dared do it, they plucked the third child from my innards. And while we got used to the roller coaster with her, it was nothing compared to the roller coaster we were about to ride.

August came and on the 15th (which is a legal holiday here), nothing happened—nothing that is, except for a huge storm that blew part of the roof off the house. (Oddly enough we do have That Kind of insurance, and that fact only made the roller coaster a bit worse, because seriously, why couldn't the storm have taken the ENTIRE roof, right?)

September, and still nothing. October had the lawyer calling the Tribunal. Nothing. November the same story. In December he mailed off a few nasty letters, got a reply in January and by February we had the pre-report from the expert. With a nice little 23,000 € price tag on it. Ha!

We laughed. There was no way in hell we'd be able to find anyone (anyone legal that is) who could fix everything for that price. So we cried FOUL and stomped our feet. And our lawyer went to bat for us. And another round of meetings were scheduled and held. The expert, once things were explained to him, backtracked a bit and tried another route. He had Another Reputable Builder come in and price things out for him.

That was in April. May, June and July passed while they ran their figures. There were a few more official visits in-between because things were that complicated. Every time we visited the house that year we found more problems. And the roof was now so deformed that you could see the deformations from the road. The ceilings were starting to fall down. The mold was so thick in places you could scratch your name in it, and a week later it would be covered again.

In August the Other Reputable Builder contacted us to present their estimate. See, not only did they serve as the expert's Easy Out, they were also looking to make a deal with us—something we were quite happy about because finding someone to take on that nightmare and fix it (and subsequently be responsible for the work later on down the road) is impossible. Or at least had been for us.

Their nice (and rather easy on the eyes) salesman visited and gave us the shock. The price to fix the house was just a bit less that what we'd already invested. And while I don't feel easy discussing figures, I will just say we're talking about six of them. Six figures' worth of 'repairs' on a new house.

And this is August 2008, a year after the expertise was supposed to have been reported to the tribunal.

But it hadn't been. And in September it still hadn't been. October, November, December, January, February, and March all passed. And nothing. Not a word. And there's someone following the file? Riiiight!

But today, a year and a half late, we finally got the expert's report. And it's been filed with the court. And the degrees of errors and mistakes listed within are staggering. As is the price tag for the repairs. The report is almost 100 pages long, and while some of that is annexed documents and copies of plans and correspondence, the bulk of it is a detailed listing of everything that is nightmarish about this dream house of ours.

I am straining not to be hopeful again. Every time I get hopeful about the house I end up on medication. But the report is in, finally, and we should have a ruling from the court soon. And while we know this ruling is only the first of many legal steps, it is the biggest hurdle of them all. Everything from here on out should be fairly quick, relatively speaking.

And as for the house, well, I'm thinking of setting up a charity to help pay for the repairs...
posted by Doc at 00:21 | Permalink |


  • At 01:24, Blogger materfamilias

    I only know you through your blog, where your writing has engaged and entertained me on and off over the past several years. But I somehow really care about what happens with your dream home -- what we thought were our own construction nightmares (our builder had a nervous breakdown which took him down around 100 pounds; the co-builder developed gout; both of them) pale in comparison. I have no idea how you've managed to hang on to any semblance of sanity going through these building trials while simultaneously introducing the world to three young 'uns. In the midst of it all, you still write prose that reassures -- somehow you manage to shape the chaos into an order, never mind that it's an order that alternately makes me gasp or guffaw. You're obviously stronger than any bastards who might try to grind you down, and I'm holding my breath waiting for some eventual good news (and for the book's triumphant ending -- there will be a book, won't there?)

  • At 17:50, Blogger poppy fields

    Whenever I see home building horror stories on M6, TF1, etc...I think of you guys. I so hope that this one day soon gets worked out. It would make me want to murder someone...

  • At 18:43, Blogger Suz

    Wow. I'm really sorry. I'm a lawyer in the U.S., and I prosecute builders and contractors for licensing violations. So, I see stories like yours literally everyday.

    This is one reason I told my boyfriend yesterday that I would never build (or extensively renovate) a house.

    I hope you can work this all out very soon. Do they have any licensing regulations there? Could be another bit of leverage, and it's unaffected by the bankruptcies.

  • At 10:38, Blogger Mrs C

    You got the report?!

    That is awesome.

    I am praying that the ruling reflects justice. You guys have been through so much.

  • At 19:33, Blogger Mouse

    Merde Madame! Makes my pursuit of The Brit Cowboy pale in comparison. Little wonder URSSAF and the French fraud office are so unconcerned when there are so many bigger villains roaming the plains of France! How come you haven't gone totally mental?

  • At 08:21, Blogger Forest Green

    I think that this is one of the worst stories I have ever heard. I truly feel sorry for you! I hope that eventually things go right for you, and that you get to live happily ever after. You certainly deserve to.

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