From her metropolitan residence in Australia, the thought of purchasing an estate in France—a twenty-two-hour trip by plane—could have been a mere flight of fancy for Julie Huh-Currie, who had never visited the country and was not fluent in French. But a spirit of adventure emboldened the self-described Francophile to pursue the idea. Aspirations carried her nearly ten thousand miles from the capital city of Melbourne to the village of Chevaigné-du-Maine. The owner of a petit château, The French Manoir, offers advice for others who long to find the maison of their dreams.
Consider the possibilities. Months before arranging her family’s first scouting expedition to France, Julie perused real-estate listings online. “It was so much fun house-hunting in Europe while sitting in our living room in Australia,” she recalls. Along with locating reasonably priced options, she also connected with lenders willing to work with international clients.
Follow your heart. Over three years, the Curries vacationed in France several times. Each extended stay afforded opportunities to view homes with an agent. In 2013, they discovered The French Manoir, built circa 1857 and originally named Château des Echerets. Although Julie immediately felt a pull toward the locale, her family initially struggled to see its potential. “The house wasn’t in good condition,” she shares, “but I could imagine vividly how beautiful it could be.” Within the week, Julie’s husband, Graeme, agreed to make an offer. The couple signed a promise to buy and began the process of finalizing the sale.
Realistically evaluate the state of the dwelling. “Many of us fall in love with a property,” says Julie, “and we don’t want to suppose that the roof could leak or there could be a damaged chimney and rotten structural beams.” Although sellers must provide an expert report, the Curries caution that this document often will not give all of the data needed. Independent assessment can prove helpful in making informed decisions.
Approach restorations thoughtfully. Before beginning the first project, Julie recommends taking time to develop a plan for the full scope of the transformation. Securing reputable workers is crucial—a lesson the Curries learned the hard way. “Our kitchen ceiling collapsed because of the bad builder who renovated the bathroom above,” Julie shares. “I was devastated to witness it.” Ultimately, both spaces were remodeled, and the family feels better equipped to take on future makeovers.
Budget appropriately. Study quotes from contractors, and note any portions of a job not covered in the proposal. Beyond the estimated costs for scheduled repairs and cosmetic updates, set aside extra cash for dealing with unforeseen problems. “It is wise to have a financial buffer so that you are comfortable to manage surprises,” Julie says. Resources should also be reserved for furnishings and fittings. “You can be surprised how these items add up!” she adds.
Enjoy finding a haven in a foreign land. Although purchasing property internationally and coordinating its care may seem daunting, the experience can also be fulfilling. While their youngest daughter completes her education in Australia, Julie visits The French Manoir regularly and allows guests to rent the château when she is away. In time, she and Graeme hope to settle permanently in this place that has become so dear: “We now call it not just our house in France, but home.”
Text Melissa Lester
Photography Stephanie Welbourne Steele
Discover the splendor of The French Manoir in the May/June 2017 issue of Victoria magazine.