Real Estate Tour Friday

Today was real estate tour Friday again. We had some super yummy pastries for breakfast and then drove to meet Tony, our Aussie realtor.  We saw 4 great properties today.

French Home for renovation in Bearn, South West France

250 square meter home for full renovation

Real estate is funny here in France. There are no exclusive listings, so a house may be listed with numerous different agents and listed at different prices. The first house on our list was listed with another agent, so she joined us for the tour, but first we had to sign an agreement that we would not go around her and go direct to the owners of the estate ( as if we could find them to begin with… And then talk business…. In French) , but whatever. We signed the document and we were on our way. According to Tony, many people will try to cut out the agent and go direct to the seller to cut costs. ,approximately 50% of all home sales in France are made directly by the owner without an agent. Hence the paranoia from the other agent! we arrived at the property and looked at the exterior buildings while the realtor sat in her car on the phone for around 15 minutes. When she finally got off the phone, she realized that she had left her keys at the office, so we walked the property and went into the 3 exterior properties/barns while she went to get the key to the house. The property sat on 2 hectares, which is approximately 4,5 acres, in the French countryside. It was very secluded with beautiful views. There’s was a parking barn and two really large brick barns that could be converted into awesome entertaining spaces. There were wild rose bushes growing all over that smelled wonderful. The house itself was enormous. It looked more like an old Abbey than a house; it had a tower and everything.

Home to renovate in Bearn, France

Overgrown Garden View

It was built in the 1700′s. When the other realtor returned with the key we went inside. The house, listed at 230,000 euros, would require a lot of work to restore, maybe another $250,000 euros, but it had potential in every way imaginable. The were 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room and a gigantic attic. And that was just the main house. The exterior buildings/barns could easily accommodate an additional 6 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms, with a full renovation. Like with last week’s real estate four, we envisioned one entire barn being converted into a wine cellar, movie theater, and home bar for entertaining guests. Just the thought of it makes me excited. I am beginning to think that bats and spiders are to be expected in every abandoned French estate. This house was no except. The bats had made a few rooms their home, and darted past me unexpectedly a few times. They caught me off guard. I screamed, slipped ( which looked more like a Michael Jackson dance move than a slip) and cursed… Again. The realtors thought that this was hilarious. Actually, I did as well. I was your typical girlie girl at that moment which is so uncharacteristic for me. This house, like many other abandoned estates in France is in is run down state because the owner died and the three cousins that now own the , just want to be rid of it. This happens often. An estate is inherited by multiple family members, they do not have the capital to renovate the house, so they sell….. If they can agree on a price, but that is a whole other story. I find it curious to see the items that people leave I. Their home when they abandon it or clear it out to list it for sale. In This house, I saw old family pictures, some beautiful old pieces of very solid wood furniture, not like the stuff that is made these days. There were also the random pieces of clothing laying in odd places, a cross, some tea cups in the sink, a few candle holders, two nice chandeliers, books, and an old baby carriage. So many memories just left behind.

French village home for sale

Renovated Home in a sleepy village

The second property on our list was a fully renovated small house listed at 265,000 euros. The house was on a small lot in a tiny village overlooking a field and a beautiful little church. It had a kitchen, dining room, 1 bathroom ( as is pretty typical in many old homes) 2 bedrooms and a very small study. The yard as a decent size and had a beautiful rose garden. The garage/barn was clean on the first level, but you couldn’t walk on the second level because the flooring was not stable. Although the house was acute little quaint home, it was not for us. It was too small and we would prefer something with more space and more land. We also think that the renovation of e property, although it will double the cost, will be a really fun project to undertake.

French Village Property with enclosed court yard

French Village Property with enclosed court yard

The third house that we saw today was completely different from the first two. It was another large home, but it had a completely enclosed exterior courtyard, similar to the old colonial homes that we saw in Antigua or Granada. It had a unique charm to it that we liked right away. Listed at 289,000 euros, it was similarly priced ( a little higher) to the other two that we had seen today, but like the first one, this would require at least another 200,000 euros to make a home out of it. This house sat on 1 hectare of orchard land at the edge of a sleepy village.

 

French Home Court Yard

Court Yard

This one was on the market due to a divorce and all of the belongings were left in the house, as if they went to work and would return that evening. Even the ironing board coffee pot and mugs were left out. There was even a wall of colorful horse racing awards displayed. The kitchen was as if they left in the middle of a meal. There were half empty wine bottles, open spice jars, and dishes still in the sink. In the US, I am used to the realtor giving you a LONG list of all of the cleaning, enhancements , and staging that you need to make to the home in order to get it listing ready. Here, that is not the case . People seem to leave the homes in whatever condition it is in , slap a price on it, and leave hoping that it sells. It is no wonder many of the beautiful homes here remain on the market for years in some cases. Many people need to see a house in perfect condition to be able to picture themselves making it a home.

Exterior of French country village home in Bearn, France

Exterior of French country village home in Bearn, France

If you are one of them, old French restoration projects may not be tour cup of tea. Sometimes it can be difficult to see through a strangers clutter, and envision yourself making a house a home. This house had a living room, dining room, kitchen, basement, huge attic, 2 very small bathrooms, and 5 bedrooms. It also had 2 large connected barns that could be converted into livable space. When we were in the attic, I had a bat fly directly at my head as I was crouching down to look into a dark space. I nearly fell over. After the bat attack, I explored a little more and again was intrigued by the things that you see in someone’s home. In their attic, they had old wine barrels, a bike, an antique baby carriage, and a full size horse buggy, like something from an old black and white film. I had to look twice when I first saw it in the dimly lit attic. Out on the patio you could see the mountains in the distance. I was enjoying the scenic view when a few doves flew out of their hiding in the ceiling and startled me. Asses, the perks of old abandoned homes. Bats, birds , spiders, oh my.

After this house, we took an ice cream break to discuss our thoughts with Tony and decide on our next property to see. We decided that we only want to see restoration projects, and not remodeled homes. We think you get more for your money, can build value, and that the project will be an interesting experience. We also decided we want to be closer to the outskirts of a larger city vs in the rural country, but that we still wanted the land and the privacy of a country home, and a stellar view. Although we made the search more specific, as to not waste time, we definitely eliminated many options. There was one option that Tony mentioned that still has me intrigued, but he does not want to show us because he said that nothing will hold up after seeing this estate.

Apparently it is Vogue magazine worthy, like something old of a storybook. It is an old , completely restored water mill, that is absolutely divine. The landscaping, the architecture, the interior design, the works. it is currently listed at 550,000 euros and is the cream of the crop. The couple that owns it and restored it, is from Paris and just want to sell it and look for another project. I am intrigued, but we passed and stuck to our plans to only view restoration projects and not fully renovate homes, even if they are divine.

Jurancon Wine Region French Country Home Rennovation Project

Jurancon Wine Region French Country Home Rennovation Project

Our final house of the day was by far the best one. It was listed at 265,000 euros and would require another 250,000 euros to restore, but it had a caveat. Part of the house was habitable, so we could immediately make a few renovations just to live for now, while we work on the overall project. The house sat on 3 hectares of land overlooking the mountains, the valley and even a wine vineyard from the upper portion of the property.

On the flip side, although it was secluded, it was near a larger city. This house was also like an old colonial home. It had a grand entrance door that looked as if you were entering a castle.

 

Inerior courtyard of country home in jurancon wine region

Courtyard

The outside of the house had wild rose bushes growing up the side of the wall and hydrangeas everywhere. There was even an old out house. I laughed so hard when i saw it, all surrounded by beautiful flower bushes. Once you walked through the grand entrance door, the house had a completely enclosed beautiful courtyard, where we envisioned putting a pool and an outdoor haven. One side of the home was occupied by an old lady that passed away 3 years ago. Now the home belongs to her heirs. This is the more habitable portion of the home. It consists of a living room, kitchen, bedroom , bathroom, and a rather large attic , and a basement where we could create our wine cellar.

Pyrenees views from the jurancon wine region

Pyrenees and Jurancon wine region from upper part of property


It even had a new roof. In this portion of the house there remains a beautiful old armoire, kitchen table and bench, an old vanity, washer, dryer, and a few odd end items. The other side of the estate has a completely separate entrance and would be a complete renovation. There were bats flying out of the walls, unsteady flooring, the roof needs to be replaced, but with the most beautiful views off the mountains. This side of the house contained 3 bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, a large basement, and an attic. This side of the estate, although in complete disarray, was left fully furnished, all the way down to the bedding remaining on the old beds. There were a few scattered toys, old collectors’ items of Japanese comic figurines and random figurines still left in the original packaging, dozens of old books, pictures on the walls, and candlesticks on the old mantle of the fire place, where bats were flying in and out of the house. outside there were two rather large stone barns, one still contained a car and an old tractor, along with a few bicycles. The main barn opened up to the back side of the property that wound up a hill to overlook two separate wine vineyards on either side. One side with the vineyard and the mountains in the distance. Now this was the money view. There was no structure up on this portion of the property, just empty land. It would have been perfect if the home sat on this piece of the property or if only the house faced South to capitalize on the house being in the warmth of the sun throughout the majority of the day, this would have been a perfect home.

Today we continued to learn a great deal about not only the old French style architecture, but also the pros and cons that come along with the style. I am excited to see what we have on the list for our explorations for next Friday!

French Real Estate Tour – Valley d’Aspe, Bearn France

This morning we got up with the sunrise, had a quick breakfast and drove approximately one hour to the mountains for our first French real estate tour. We started the morning in a small village nestled in the mountain out in the country. The first house we saw we were unimpressed with and a little turned off because the images from the web that led us to choose this house to visit were misleading . The house was super close to a main road, right next to a hydro-electric plant, and no where near as cute as it appeared in the pictures. To make matters worse, the bank had recently foreclosed on the property, so the key we had was no longer of use for us to get into the house to view it. That was ok by us though, because as soon as we pulled up, we knew that we were not interested in the house, bur since we were there, we were going to view it anyway. Priced at 150,000 Euros this house appeared to be astral in the pictures, but was a dud in reality.

Valley d'Aspe Village in Pyrenees of Bearn and South West France

Pyrenees Village in Bearn, South West France

The next house on the list was not one that we had selected. The realtor thought that we may like it, so he suggested that we see I. We were glad we did. It was in a super small hamlet on the top of the mountain overlooking other mountains and a valley . The hamlet was completely picturesque , like something from a postcard. For those of you that don’t know what a hamlet is ( don’t worry, we were clueless as well ); it is a village that is so small that there is not even a single shop in it. Not a bakery, or a gas station, or even a corner market. Nothing! But it was such a pretty and quaint little village that you just want to visit it. The man that gave us the keys to view the home , said that there are 6 houses with a burning fire in the winter, that is how they measure how many people live in the hamlet. Otherwise, it is more of a mountain Summer vacation spot where French tourists come to rent a Maison in the French countryside, hike and relax.

Window view - direction of the village

Window view – direction of the village

The home was for sale by three brothers who really would just like to get the property off of their hands, so at $157,000 euros, it was a steal. The property was huge. It was a true old character home, from 1812. Although the main level was habitable, the house would require quite a bit of work to make it something that we would want to live in, but the possibilities with this place were endless. On the main level there were 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and a laundry room. Each bedroom offering a better view than the one before it. They each had a view of the mountains, the valley, or the picturesque hamlet. Up in the attic there was so much space, with super high ceilings and charming exposed brick, that you could create an excellent loft to entertain guests in, relax, or simply use as an additional bedroom or two.

Real Estate in South West France - Character home for restoration

Character home for restoration, Basement with stone where animals used to live below the house

The basement of the house, where the animals were kept in the old days, was completely uninhabitable, but it had so much potential. The space was massive. We envisioned building a wine cellar, a movie theater, an entertainment area, and a home bar in the basement area. Maybe even an additional bedroom or two. There was so much space to utilize underneath the house . It was actually two separate houses in the basement. I think that there was actually more square footage under the house than there was on the main floor. The land that the property sat on was not that big, but the canvas we would have to ok with would allow us to create a masterpiece. We would need to invest at least an additional 150,000+ Euros in the home to make it what we would want, but it would be a fun project.

Valley d'Aspe, Bearn, France Home for restoration

Valley d’Aspe, Bearn, France Home for restoration

The final house we visited today was an old stone farm house from the 1600s, that was now maintained by a convent . The view was spectacular. The farm was secluded from the hamlet, yet so close at the same time. It had its own private drive and was not connected to the village water system, but we could get our water from a well. The old farm house sat down in the valley completely surrounded by the mountains. The view was beautiful. This house, however would be a completely different kind of project. One that requires both a lot of time, patience , and money. The farm house was priced at 190,000 euros but would easily require at least another 200,000 Euros to make something livable out of it. As of now the place is completely uninhabitable. But again, the potential and the opportunity is definitely there. However, this would be far more than a renovation, this would require a complete gutting of the entire place, tearing out all of the walls, the floors, the works. Only leaving the old characteristic stone shell. Although the farm sat on a decent amount of land , we would not be able to expand the property because there is a clause in place that protects the land as farm land. As soon as reopened the old, almost chamber like, entrance door to the place we saw a little bat hanging from the ceiling staring at us.

Don't mind the little bats on your real estate tours of renovation projects in Bearn, France

Don’t mind the little bats on your real estate tours of renovation projects in Bearn, France


The realtor said “I hope you don’t mind bats because you are likely to see a few in here”. A few was an understatement. There was bat poo everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The main floor was small, but had a really cute, quaint feel to it. As we cautiously headed up the stairs, afraid that they may cave in at any given moment, 4 bats flew out of one of the rooms at the top of the stairs and they flew directly at me. I screamed, swore a little, and then I was fine, although the realtor was probably thinking , that this was not a good sign :) the bats were coming out of the walls, literally. The middle floor had two small rooms, also filled with bat droppings. Next we headed up to the attic. Admittedly, I was a little scared of what we would see. The attic was actually really cool. It was huge, spacious, and all stone, and I didn’t see a single bat. As we left the house, the same little bat was still hanging at the front door, staring at us, completely un-phased by our presence. As I mentioned, this farm house would need to be completely gutted to start fresh with a clean slate. Although it would be a fun project, I think this one would be biting off more than we could chew.

To end our real estate tour, the gentleman who let us into the house in the hamlet invited us in to have an espresso and to take a look at his recently renovated home. it was beautiful. He went with a completely modern interior with the beautiful characteristic old French stone exterior. He even had the actual side of the mountain protruding into the architecture of his home. It was awesome. As a side note, if we were to buy the village home, it is a good thing that this gentleman was very nice and that we liked him, because he had us surrounded. He owned the house directly across from the village home, and right next to it as well :)

Today was a great learning day for us. We saw a restoration project, a complete redo project and an fully renovated home. It was great to be able to envision what we would like to accomplish and see what others have done. We also learned that going forward, we only want to look at renovation projects and not complete redos. Although they would be fun, and we could really build value, it would be a lot for this marketing girl and this finance guy to take on. Especially since we have zero experience in homebuilding and renovations!

South West France – A weekend…

What fascinated us about this corner of Europe were all the options this region seemed to offer: wine country, culinary delights, pyrenees mountains, the pays basque beaches and the proximity to Spain. Wow. All that within 1 hour of a drive from Salies de Bearn. That is why we chose Salies de Bearn to be our base in south west France. Last weekend we went out to prove to ourselves that we can enjoy all of this diversity in 48 hours, not planned but it just happened that way.

Valley d'Aspe Village in Pyrenees of Bearn and South West France

Pyrenees Village in Bearn, South West France

On Friday we started off with a drive to a picturesque village in Valley d’Aspe to look at a few renovation or restoration real estate opportunities. The views of the pyrenees were dramatic and after 1 hour of a drive we felt we were in a different world. It was an early September morning and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. 25 Celsius or thereabout.

La Grande Plage - Biarritz France

Lunch in cosmopolitan Biarritz – France

Saturday after a late start to the day we drove 40 minutes west to the cosmopolitan beach resort town of Biarritz were British royalty famously vacationed and sea bathing became popular. We enjoyed a couple salads for lunch with a glass of local rose at the casino overlooking La Grande Plage before we took a stroll down the beach.

Tapas in San Sebastian, Spain

Tapas in San Sebastian, Spain

After our walk on the beach in Biarritz we jumped in the car and drove across the border to San Sebastian, Spain. We walked the narrow medieval streets of old town and port before we set down at one of the many tapas restaurants in town. A little sangria and a few tapas later we were pretty content. We enjoyed the sunset over the bay of San Sebastian and drove home to Salies de Bearn. When we typed in the GPS information we were surprised to find out that we only had a 1 hour and 10 minute drive back home. As you can imagine we were spent after a busy Saturday but we were ready to enjoy Salies de Bearn next day.

Salt Fest in Salies de Bearn

Salt Fest in Salies de Bearn

Fete du Sel (or Salt Fest) was in full swing. Traditional basque music with lots and lots of wine, a parade, lots of singing and berets, berets, and more berets everywhere. We just relaxed taking in all the sights while enjoying a culinary delight at one of the local restaurants that included brazed lamb, shrimp over a bed of minced citrus and mint and a raspberry sorbet over meringue.

What a finish to a weekend. We wanted to see if you could do it all in one weekend and yes, in south west France you can. We’re fans of this region and aren’t surprised why more and more expats make it their home.

Expat Interview: Linda Rubright Expat Outside Of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Linda Rubright is an expat living outside of Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. She is currently working on a book profiling people who figured out how to move to, live in and work in other countries. Linda interviewed us over Skype. We’ve never met Linda in person, she interviewed us and we found out during the interview where we were both were living at that moment. After our interview we asked Linda to share her own expat story with us.

Linda Rubright

Linda Rubright – Writer – Living in Catalonia, Spain

Where is/was “back home” for you?

The United States. I was born outside of Detroit and lived for the last 12 years in Denver and Vail, Colorado.

How long have you been an expat?

In total, about two and a half years with most recent experience being 14+ months.

Outside of your “home” country, where else have you lived/worked?

Puerto Rico (US Commonwealth), Amsterdam and Catalonia, Spain in a town north of Barcelona.

Why and how did you choose these places?

They chose me. I went to Puerto Rico and Amsterdam for work and Spain for love.

How long did you stay  in each place and what is your opinion of each?

10 months, 6 months and 14+ months respectively.

All are incredible and I would highly recommend each of them. Puerto Rico is extremely laid back. The perfect place to be in the Caribbean but not have to deal with any visa / immigration issues (if you are from the US).

Amsterdam is nothing short of magical. It is an amazing international city powered by bicycle and truly is there anything, better?

And there are very few places in the world like Catalonia – home of amazing mountains, wonderfully kind and gentle people, delicious food (served via 3 hour bottomless wine lunches for 10 – 15 Euros a pop, total), former home of some of the most well known artists in the world, fascinating history, a first class major world city and what National Geographic calls one of the 2012 must go to places – Costa Brava.

What motivated you to “leave home” and 1. Travel 2. Become an expat in these places? Did your primary concerns include:

For the adventure of being alive and in love.

Exactly what do you do to earn a living?

I am a writer. I have a website thedeliciousday.com and I recently wrote a book ’14 People Who Cured Asthma’. I am working on my second book profiling people who figured out how to move to, live in and work in other countries, without the aid of marriage, job transfer or similar situation which would facilitate getting a visa easily. My husband and I also do SEO and web development.

Describe your current lifestyle

Tranquilooooooooooooooo

How do you see the move to Barcelona impacting your life?

I think living in another country is an extension of who I have always wanted to be, but not necessarily what I have always done. In that regard, now that I am here I feel very much at peace. I have found my cadence, my rhythm.

Describe the local folks in Catalonia from your perspective.

Small town Catalonia is like small town anywhere as far as way and pace of life. It and the people are very tranquilo. I find Catalan people to be extremely humble, kind and accepting. I do not know if there is a place I have been where the men are more genuinely polite to women as they are in Catalonia. It is a very community oriented culture. When you go out with your friends it is always with a group of 6 – 12. They are, as they should be, very protective of their culture and language and are extremely proud of Catalans of notoriety in the world.

Were the locals friendly and tolerant? How were you treated as a foreigner?

They are very polite. As an outsider, especially one who does not speak Spanish and/or Catalan fluently, it is far more challenging to integrate in the community. I would very much recommend if someone is moving to Spain that they move to a larger city or a more international place to start. There are enormous joys in living abroad but there are also frustrations and those frustrations can be easily exacerbated in a place that is not as accustomed to foreigners. I, of course, have it a bit easier as I came here with family and friends built in but I think it would be incredibly difficult for others without that structure in place.

How did you find a place to buy or rent?

My husband found it. As a note, if you go through a rental agency you are expected to pay the rental agency one month rent as a finders fee. Read the lease VERY closely.  As they put things in there, which at least by US standards are ludicrous such as ‘if the furnace breaks you pay for it, if  the roof needs repair you need to do it’ etc.

Please give us some highlights of your Book that you writing?

The first is 14 People Who Cured Asthma which I published in August of this year. Writing about people who have cured themselves of diseases Western medicine claims are not curable is something I have done extensively on thedeliciousday.com. I start researching this when my husband David’s lifelong asthma was going from bad to worse. I was tired of seeing Western medicine pump him full of drugs and laugh (literally) when he suggested there could be alternatives.

I set out to find people who had cured themselves of asthma to help him and to help the almost 10% of the world’s population that suffers needlessly as David was. What I found is not only natural and healthy ways to eliminate David’s asthma symptoms but incredible stories of people from all over the world who decided to stop listening to the doctors who said there was no cure for asthma and through their own research and healthy lifestyle changes now live a life completely asthma (and asthma medication) free.

The other is on people who have managed to live and work in another country without the help of marriage, job transfer or similar to assist in facilitating the process. I think many people around the world are realizing the dream they were told as children they should want not only doesn’t exist but is actually spiritually unfulfilling. I think they crave living a life in another country but have no idea how to do it or think such things are for ‘other people’. This book will break down how people, just like them, figured out how to work within the system and live a life – outside of the physical and mental borders of their home country.

Have you had any need of healthcare services while traveling? How did that work out? Are you satisfied with your access to health care?

Before I got state healthcare here I had to go to the local health center once because I was bitten by some freak insect and got an infection. The visit was in total about 60 minutes, 80 Euros and 15 Euros in antibiotics. I felt better in a few days.

How is your expat life better? Can you give some specific examples? Draw a contrast between the home life and the new one.

It is calmer.

While in the US I was, to the point of being frequently made fun of by my friends, ‘anti-rat race’. I did not buy into the insane work schedules or the disproportionate value people put on their jobs. I was not much of a consumer. I did not have credit card debt. I mostly ate at home. But being here even further illuminates the utter insanity of the money I was still spending and the unfortunate culture many in the US buy into of  “spend, spend, more, more, bigger, bigger, new bathroom, new couch, new house, NOW.” I hope to someday have the words to explain that the US culture although it tells us that having things is what brings you solace, the truth is that not having things is where true peace is to be found.

Conversely, I have also realized there are a lot of amazing things about the US. I have grown tired of listening to people bash it. I vehemently disagree with US imperialism and nation building. I also think there are truly amazing things about the US that are not recognized or understood beyond our borders. As the US has much to learn from the world, the world could can learn much from the US. The media unfortunately does not do any country or any peoples any favors.

What are your future plans? Will you move somewhere else, travel extensively? Do you see yourself settling down somewhere else? Do you see yourself travelling in another 5 years?

Keep living, loving, traveling, writing, enjoying. I am not sure I know what settling down is. It would be fabulous to find a long term housesit somewhere fabulous in the world.

What sort of advice would you offer somebody interested in doing what you did?

  1. Luck has nothing to do with being able to do this
  2. A lot of money has nothing to do with being able to do this
  3. No matter what you are doing now, if you are open and interested in experiencing life in another country the experience you have elsewhere will be more enlightening, more memorable and more ‘you’ than anything a paycheck or a bathroom remodel will ever be able to give you.

Final thoughts you want to share?

‘Someday’ is today.

To contact Linda Rubright please visit her website thedeliciousday.com.

Expat Interview: Uli Bartke of Casa Cubana B&B in Granada Nicaragua

The best thing about our world travels is that we meet very interesting expats from all walks of life living out their dreams. In our interview series we share their stories. Today, we’d like to share the story of Uli Bartke, owner of Casa Cubana B&B in Granada Nicaragua. We were fortunate to be his guests for 3 weeks and loved every minute of it.

Uli Bartke, Owner Casa Cubana

Uli Bartke

  • Where is/was “back home” for you?
    • Home was in Burcot (near Oxford, UK) on the river Thames, still own a property there, which is rented out long term.
    • home now is where I am
  • How long have you been an expat?
    • Started travelling 5 years, 11 month ago
  • Outside of your “home” country, where else have you lived/worked?
    • Worked in various positions in pharmaceutical industry  in Germany (Berlin, Hildesheim, Munich) as well as 4 years in UK and 2 years for a company in NY
  • Why and how did you choose these places?
    • Driven by job opportunities
  • How long did you stay in each place and what is your opinion of each?
    • Berlin: 8 years at a time, when the city was still enclosed by the wall: now a great place to live
    • Hildesheim: 12 years: medium sized town in northern Germany, good schools, great place to bring up kids
    • Munich: 6 years: fabulous city, great location close to the Alps and Mediterranean, great outdoors (skiing, hiking)
    • Burcot (Oxford, UK): 5 years: great University town, lots of young people and activities
  • What motivated you to “leave home” and
    • 1. Travel
      • I spend a lot of time travelling during my working life, typical business travel (airport, hotel, conference room, airport). In the 1990s I (with my family) did a 6 week trip in a motor home through western Canada and really enjoyed it. Always wanted to experience the many national parks in US and Canada and to do it in a motor home is the way to go. In 2006 my partner Lesley and I were both between jobs and we decided to have a new life time experience. We rented out our home in UK, bought a motor home near Philadelphia and started travelling North America. At that time it was not planned as a permanent change in lifestyle, initially we were thinking 6 to 18 month. So I was still in contact with headhunters, even attending job interviews. After 12 month Lesley and I decided to continue the travelling lifestyle as long as we were enjoying it. We ventured out into Mexico, spend 3 winter seasons there and really liked the country. With growing confidence we decided to travel Central America for the next 15 month. When we came to Granada we fell in love with the city and after 3.5years continuous travel we were ready for another life time experience. We loved the colonial house style there and decided to build us a home with a view to spend a significant time every year in Granada. After one year of project work, building and finishing the house, adding garden, pool, searching for furniture etc. we continued travelling south in Costa Rica, Panama and northern Colombia, ready to do 2 year travels in south America.

Only at that time we decided to make use of our home in Granada as a B&B while we were on the road. We found a professional girl from Atlanta to take on the job as a B&B manager.

2. Become an expat in Nicaragual?

    • We decided for Granada because we fell in love with this colonial city and the time was right for us to have another lifetime experience. Liked the year round warm climate, the mixture of locals, expats and tourists which provides for a buzzing and colorful environment, variety of restaurants and things to do. It is a safe environment, lowest crime rates in Central America and low cost of living contributes to a great quality of life.
  • Exactly what do you do to earn a living?
    • I have income from properties in UK and Germany, the properties are rented out and managed by professionals, so I am not involved in day to day management.
    • B&B in Granada, Nicaragua, managed part of the year by myself, majority of time by professional
  • Describe your current lifestyle (Travel & Run a B&B, else?)
    • Travelling in a 31 foot Winnebago motor home for most of the year, currently in Bogota, Colombia. Planning to travel South America for the next 2 years along the Pan-American to Tierra de Fuego
    • Living in Granada and managing Casa Cubana for about 2-3 month / year
    • Visiting family and friends in Europe for about 6 weeks / year
  • How do you see the move to Nicaragua impacting your life?
    • I have lived in Granada for about 18 month now, on and off. Every time I go back to Granada, I like it again. Fabulous town, nice vibes, great mixture of locals, tourists, expats.
  • Describe the local folks in Nicaragua from your perspective?
    • In general very friendly and curious people, happy to help, if you need help
  • Were the localsfriendly and tolerant? How were you treated as a foreigner?
    • Very friendly and tolerant in general. Locals are used to foreigners, as Granada is a tourist center. From time to time you might get a stare, especially if you are tall and blonde. Kids might try a few words of English on you and adolescent boys might call you a Gringo, nothing to worry about! As Nicaragua is a poor country, you will have beggars in the streets asking you for money and handouts. In the tourist spots you will experience local vendors trying to sell to Tourists everything from handcrafts to cigarettes and chewing gum.
  • How did/do you feel for personal safety?
    • Nicaragua is considered the safest country in Central America and it is politically stable. In Granada itself you can walk anywhere in the center of town during day and night. I would not recommend to walk outside the center (in the barrio’s) during night times, taxis are plenty and cheap so why take a risk. Lots of tourist police on the ground, patrolling the central areas and parks.
  • How did you find a place to buy?
    • Used a realtor to show us around, she provided a good overview of what is available, both, fully restored colonial homes and fixer uppers and anything in between.  We looked at places in town as well as in the vicinity.
  • Please give us some highlights of your colonial B&B project?
    • Bought an old colonial house (375 sqm, 5 accomodations) in the central area of Granada, which was half way restored: new roof, back part of the house newly build with open kitchen and 2nd level accommodation.
    • Build ensuite bathrooms  into each room
    • painting, decoration and furnishing of the rooms,
    • tiling of staircase and 2nd level accomodation
    • outside fencing,
    • new central water system
    • build in pool and garden
    • woodworks: restoring all doors, windows and all ‘old’ furniture
  • Have you had any need of healthcare services while traveling? How did that work out? Are you satisfied with your access to health care?
    • I had no need for serious (hospital) treatments so far, access to doctors and dentists and medical labs in Granada is easy on short term notice and cost for medical service is very low compared to US and Europe. For example, I had some significant dental work done in Granada and I am very satisfied with the quality and extremely satisfied with the cost.
    • Granada has a local hospital but most expats prefer to go to the Pellas Hospital in Managua where medical service is on par with any good hospital in US, as I have been told. The Pellas hospital is about a 35 min drive from Granada.
  • How is your expat life better? Can you give some specific examples? Draw a contrast between the home life and the new one.
    • I very much enjoyed my previous ‘executive’ working life with a nice income, lots of perks, travelling around the world in business class, staying in 5 star hotels, a nice home.
    • But this life came at a prize: stress, not enough time for family and friends, no time to explore what else is out there in the big world. I always felt, there is more to life than just working and making money. For a long time I had a personal goal to be able to stop working when I turn 50 and to be able to do different things in life and with my life.
    • My new life is very different: no more 5 * hotels, gold cards gone, air miles gone, no use of business class lounges at the airport, no preferred treatment at check in, the list is long… But now I have all the time in the world to stay at places and with people I like, to explore the wonders of nature, where I find them. To go on a chicken bus with the locals, to enjoy a winter in Mexico, Nicaragua or any other place I like. There is a great feeling of freedom now and I have not missed my old life for one day!
    • Do I feel bored sometimes? Missing the structure of a 9 to 5 job? No way, there is always projects around the corner, try volunteering in an animal rescue station, or work with children or do some serious hiking, learn diving…..
  • Ok, we saw your wonderful B&B in Granada. What are your future plans? Will you still remain a few months out of the year there? Do you see yourself settling down somewhere else? Do you see yourself travelling in another 5 years?
    • I am planning to be in Granada for 2-3 month in a year, enjoying Casa Cubana and life in Granada.
    • For the next 2 years I am committed to travel South America, after that, the jury is out. I am planning to travel parts of Africa and Asia, but at this stage it is more ideas than firm plans.
  • What sort of advice would you offer somebody interested in doing what you did?
    • What are you really interested in and what is the driver to change your life? Escape the rat race? Different life experience???
    • Read up on experiences others made, keep in mind, that other people not always telling you the whole story….
    • Give it a try first, without burning all your bridges
    • Get clarity on your financial situation, income, savings, budget, do you need to earn money while being Expat? Remember, cost of living is cheap in many places, but opportunity to earn money is also limited
    • If you have a partner: is she/he on board and do you share the same goals
  • Final thoughts you want to share?
    • Put a date in your diary, otherwise it is not going to happen!
    • Initially it was a bit scary to leave my old life behind and to go for the unknown. My concerns were in 3 areas: Will my relationship with Lesley be ok, living together in a 31 foot motor home 24/7? Will I be ok financially? Will I place myself out of the job market if I take a ‘holiday’ of 18 month
    • You need to get comfortable with your new life as well as saying good bye to your old life, which you know well and are so used to.
    • I found this process takes 6 to 12 month.