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The Londoners who ‘fell into the trap’ of buying a big French property

Initially seduced by property prices in France, the couple have downsized three times

Valerie and Darren Peterken bought their first French house in 2013; house number one was 250m² with five-acre garden in Josselin, Brittany Pic: Valerie and Darren Peterken

When Valerie and Darren Peterken moved to France in 2013 it was very much a spur-of-the-moment decision.

A B&B to give instant income

“We were both in the music industry in the UK but got fed-up with the pace of life in London,” says Valerie.

“Then I got made redundant, and we thought: ‘Let’s do it.’

“I am half French and speak fluently so I planned to set myself up as an English and French teacher.

“But initially, we decided to buy and run a B&B so that we had an instant income and a way into the system.”

‘We went big’

Having lived in London for many years, the couple opted for a town-based property rather than anything remote.

“Unfortunately, we also fell into the trap many do,” says Valerie. “We were overwhelmed by the size of house and garden you can get for your money and went big.”

The pair moved into a 250m² house with five-acre garden in Josselin, Brittany and started hosting B&B guests within the first few months. 

‘It took over our lives’

After an initial honeymoon period, however, the realities of managing such a large house and gardens began to hit home.

“It was a beautiful property, with a small lake and lovely gardens but although it looked picture-perfect, we found ourselves spending all our free time working on the house and garden,” says Valerie. “It took over our lives.”

Realising their first choice was not quite right, Valerie and Darren began looking for something more suited to their needs, eventually settling on a smaller property that was closer to the beach.  

Second home was half the size

Finally, after almost two years in their first-choice property, the couple moved into a completely different house in the small village of Muzillac, just five minutes from the sea.

House number two. Photo: Valerie and Darren Peterken

“It was built in the 1960s,” says Valerie, “but with a lot of traditional features, such as stone lintels.”

With only minor decoration needed, the house was far lower maintenance than the first. 

At 120m², it was less than half the size, and its 1,500m² garden, while still large, was more manageable. 

Chose teaching instead of B&B

“We were closer to the sea, too, so even though the house was smaller, we thought we would run a B&B there,” says Valerie. 

“However, in the end, I made contacts very quickly after moving and was offered teaching work.”

In 2015, Valerie started teaching regularly at some of the colleges in the nearby town of Vannes, as well as at the university. 

With Darren still working in the music industry, they no longer needed to host guests for additional income.

Cut the commute

Everything continued happily for a while but after five years the pair began to crave a different kind of life – one with more activity and culture. 

Valerie was also keen to reduce her commute by moving closer to work.

“I was getting more and more work in Vannes and, although it was only a 30-minute drive, we realised if we moved to the town itself that life would be much easier. 

Plus, after five years in the countryside, we were ready for a change,” says Valerie.

It was also time for yet another garden downsize, with the current space proving more than the couple really needed.

Buzz of the town

In 2020, before the first lockdown, Valerie and Darren found what they were looking for.

“It was a 95m² townhouse built in the 1970s and on the market for around €200,000,” says Valerie. 

“Everything was useable – it only needed decorating. It had quite a lot of character. 

Current house. Photo: Valerie and Darren Peterken

From outside, you could not tell, but inside were decorative touches like ceiling roses. It also had a big loft, a basement and a 500m² garden.”

They moved between pandemic lockdowns in summer 2020, and as businesses opened up, the couple were able to appreciate living somewhere more vibrant.

“It is lovely just being able to pop out,” says Valerie.

“There are concerts and exhibitions to try – and if you don’t enjoy something, you can just go somewhere else instead.”

Sales process straightforward

Despite having moved three times in eight years, Valerie has not found the property process too taxing.

“By and large, it has been fairly straightforward. You know where you stand after signing the compromis, which locks parties into the transaction. 

“We have been lucky, too, in that we have always been able to sell our homes quite easily.”

The pair have no regrets.

“Life is more balanced now – I have just a five-minute commute and, as I work in education, I still get two months a year free to enjoy our seaside location – just 10 minutes from the beach. 

“It is buzzier here, there is more life. It is the right place for us right now.”

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