Wednesday, November 14, 2012

10 Reasons Not To Buy A Second Home In Another Country

So tell me why it's not a good idea to have a second home
in a place where these surprises await you every day.

Now that all the papers have been signed, the radiators are kinda sorta finally producing heat, and I’ve bought a fire-engine red aspirateur (vacuum cleaner) for the place, those buyer’s remorse thoughts are snaking their way into the back of my brain.  What business in the-world-of-what’s-sane do my husband and I have buying a second home in a foreign country instead of, say, a condo in Lake of the Ozarks or on a Florida beach like most people I know?

It must be a side effect of staying up late to watch too many House Hunters International marathons (yeah, I know it’s fake, but mostly because they don’t ask the hard questions like “How did the plumbing work after you moved in?”).

So as I sit at my little writing desk with the morning sun washing through my 9-foot French windows, listening to my water heater hum loudly (just a minute, let me go turn on the faucet in the kitchen; that usually stops the noise – for about three minutes), let me give any of you considering something as crazy as this all the reasons you need to run the other way.

1.  You probably don’t speak the language very well.
Some of you may be international business titans who mastered the tongue of your new home through an immersion course in the Swiss Alps or somesuch place.  Most of us, however, don’t have that advantage.  And we really can’t demand that any native friends we have in that country move in with us in case we need someone to make a phone call or translate a bill that arrived in the mailbox.

2.  The heating/plumbing system is completely unfamiliar.
I’m not talking about all the different toilets one discovers as a world traveler.  Believe me, I would never buy a home in a country that had two platforms for the feet on either side of a hole in the ground (although that’s frequently the option in public restrooms in France, e.g., at highway rest stops.  Come on, France! Qu'est-ce qui se passe?).  I’m talking about knowing something is wrong with your heater and all you can do is stare at the box on the wall with all the strange levers, knobs, and gauges and wonder if you should dare touch them.  And you certainly can’t call the plumber (see reason #1).

3.  You may not have a ready supply of friends and family to haul new furniture up to your 3rd floor apartment.
I never understood Europe’s addiction to IKEA everything – beds, chairs, even complete kitchens – until I realized that it came packed in compact boxes that could easily be carried and dragged up winding staircases and through small, ancient doorways into 3rd floor apartments.  The best incentive to make new friends in a foreign country, is to have someone help you haul something home from a brocante (flea market or antique fair) that isn’t packed in an IKEA box (and for my non-European readers, that’s pronounced IK-e-a, not eye-KE-a).  I don’t have enough of those yet.

4.  Netflix streaming and Hulu don’t work across the ocean.
Don’t tell me that you would never waste your life in a foreign country watching TV.  If you have enough chilly, drizzly Sunday afternoons when nothing is open you’d do it. After a while, though, the novelty of trying to watch local programs in an attempt to improve your language (again, see reason #1) grows old.  And then you stumble upon a random episode of Law and Order!  But listening to tough New Yorker Jerry Orbach dubbed with a Maurice Chevalier voice makes you want to put a skewer through your ear canal.  And Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police seems to be your only option in English.  Sometimes you’re just dying to hear an uninterrupted stream of your own language.  So you thank the entertainment gods that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart does actually provide worldwide online access to each episode.

5.  No good Mexican food is available.
It’s an important matter to consider, even if this new apartment is in a food-and-wine capital of Europe.  Why would I want to live someplace, even if not on a permanent basis, that would mean no opportunity for extended periods of time to eat a burrito as big as my head and smothered in queso?  Missing out on that for a vacation is one thing; missing out on it for multiple weeks each year is a challenge up there with adjusting to pit toilets.

6.  If you want to justify the money you put into this home in a foreign country then you have to spend time there, which means not spending time going elsewhere in the world.
Point taken.  But then again, this new place could be a jumping off spot for visits to other countries and continents.  I can swing by my new place to pick up hiking boots (don’t have to use precious carry-on luggage space) and then hop a fast train to Switzerland, Germany, England, The Netherlands, or fly down south to Morocco.  I could get to them as easily as I could take a long weekend in Portland, OR if I need a serious food truck fix and hike in the mountains.  I now have a lifetime to visit them all instead of planning one huge Grand Tour in an unending series of planes and tour buses.

7.  You are not one of those people with a private jet to whisk you off to your foreign digs at the drop of a hat.  It’s 18 hours of grueling travel (and what travel isn’t grueling now?).
That’s true, but I can go whenever I want to now.  I don’t have to make “arrangements.”  No compromising on rental dates, no coordinating with tour groups, no sense of having to make the trip worth the expense and time.  If I want to go and there is a fare sale on, I pack my carry-on and go.  I don’t redecorate my home every two years, I don’t spend money on new cars (well, maybe once every ten years or so), most of my shopping is done at Home Depot and Target (or now their French equivalents of Monsieur Bricolage and le Carrefour).

8.  It’s hard enough taking care of the house you live in every day.  How do you keep up with one across the ocean?
Well, yeah.  Makes lots of sense.

9.  Taxes, taxes, and more taxes.
And in a foreign language and currency.  Yikes!  I think my husband and I should be committed before we can do more harm.

Pizza delivery vehicules in my neighborhood
I think I’m going to stop at 9 reasons.  Finish the list for me.  Give me a reason #10 in the comments box.  Tell us why buying a part-time home in a foreign country is the worst thing a person could ever do.  And then tell us where you’d buy yours after you ignore all the reasons why not. 


Nadine Feldman said...

Well, you're keeping your sense of humor! I love this list -- can't think of a number ten. Look at all the great stories you have to tell!

Nancy said...

Someday you and your husband will look back on these trials and smile - while the plumbing hums out a tune in the background that you haven't noticed in years.

Deborah said...

If you're in France, you have to know that problems WILL arise in August (just when you should be in vacation heaven)...and the swimming pool engineers, plumbers and sanitation guys WILL be on vacation themselves...

...but what the hell, when it all works, it's wonderful!

Julie Farrar said...

Thanks for the reminder to take care of everything in July.

Lynn at Southern Fried French said...

Too funny, I love this! All those reasons but we do it anyway. And it's great. Mostly.
I can solve your tv problem though. Buy an english
digi- box (cheap) and you can get british tv and films for free, many channels. With some US shows, but british tv is so much better! French tv is good practice, but it's lousy.

Sara Walpert Foster said...

Reason #10. People you barely know will want to "borrow" your digs for a few days while traveling through, will have all the same problems with the language, equipment, etc. and will call YOU to fix things for them. :)

Julie Farrar said...

Hi Lynn. I may have to get more information on that digi-box thing. I subscribed to an anglophone channel, but it seems to be an endless parade of East Enders episodes. Nothing recent (like Downtown Abbey).

And Sara, I have offered the apartment's use to friends and family. Haven't thought about them calling me to fix things, though. Hmmm. I may have to be less generous.

Ellen Gregory said...

I reckon #10 would have to be related to the lack of decent coffee (no large skinny flat whites to be found!), although possibly offset by the fantabulous food :-)

Anonymous said...

Martine Said
Hello Julie,
I just read your wonderful comment. You live a great experience with this purchase abroad. There are always advantages but also disadvantages in a new adventure.
I would like to buy in the U.S. but for me, I think that the reason 10th it would "the fear of not have a big time to enjoy of this second home".

Julie Farrar said...

Yes, Martine. The lack of time for the home is a concern. But I just need to make it happen.

And Ellen, the great duck I ate this week still doesn't make up for the lack of great Mexican food. It's a toss-up.

Muriel said...

Ah, the joy of buying in France! And may I say, Julie, that there is a lot more to discover! Good luck with my home country -soon they will want to give you a passport!

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