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'We downsized our French property and won back our time'

Mike and Susie Griffith's sprawling property in Lot that they bought in 2004 was 'extremely time-consuming'. After 12 years they downsized to a more modest 155m² property in a neighbouring village

The couple's old house came with two barns and a big, sloped garden Pic: Courtesy of Mike and Susie Griffith

When Mike and Susie Griffith moved from the UK to Lot in 2004, it was the culmination of a long-held dream.

“I had imagined having a house in France since I was a teenager,” says Susie.

“I had a pen-friend here, and visited in the 1960s.”

The pair had holidayed frequently in the country with children Lauren and Alex, so in 2004 they decided to invest in a holiday home.

Susie and Mike

Susie and Mike Griffith

Their plans changed when Mike, now 67, was made redundant. With their children now grown up, the couple decided to make a permanent move instead, offering painting holidays to make an income.

“I worked in design and publishing in the UK,” says Susie, 75, “but I am also an artist and had run a few painting retreats over the years.” The couple found a 180m² stone property, with two barns providing an additional 169m² between them, with a 5,000m² garden.

Bringing a 350m² Lot property back to life

The house had been empty for two years and was in disrepair, but the Griffiths decided to take on the challenge and, once the purchase completed in October 2004, employed local artisans to bring it back to life, while doing a lot of the decorating themselves.

By May 2005, the couple had a six-bedroom, four-bathroom property ready to let out, even if other parts of the project were still incomplete.

“We had dreams of renovating the huge barn but did not quite get that far,” says Susie. “It was still useful for exhibiting paintings – and we had a smaller barn that we renovated into a studio for teaching.” The couple’s business plan also evolved due to demand for chambres d’hôtes from people renovating properties or visiting relatives in the area.

They decided to combine the painting retreats with a standard B&B business model.

Years followed which, though enjoyable, were also extremely time-consuming.

“We were constantly busy,” says Susie.

“The garden was hard work – a huge sloping terrace, as well as a pool. It was beautiful, but took a lot of effort. We did it all ourselves, with a bit of help with tree trimming, and it was constant.”

In 2017, the couple thought of selling up and seeking out a slower pace of life.

'After 12 years owning the property, we were physically and mentally tired'

"We decided to put the house on the market to see what happened. We had viewings, but no buyer. “Then, in 2019, we began to seek out agents and push things forward.

“By then, we were sure we wanted to make the change and spend more time with grandchildren,” says Susie.

The property finally sold, and the couple found a new house in a neighbouring village, close to friends and with a more vibrant community.

“There is a market, there are restaurants, and more people,” says Susie.

In July 2020, they moved into the 1980s three-bed house. At a a more modest 155m² with no outbuildings to renovate, it is easier to maintain.

“It is the sort of property I probably would not have looked at in the past,” says Susie, “but it was a relief to have something that only needed small jobs – such as new kitchen and bathrooms and decoration to suit our taste.”

New property in France

Front view of the couple's new property | Photo: Courtesy of Susie and Mike

Although the land is still fairly large at 3,000m², with some set to woodland, it is flat and demands less upkeep than their previous garden.

“Now Mike can just get on the mower and do the grass.”

A year after the move, the couple have adopted a slower pace of life and are enjoying their new-found leisure.

“I still paint, and run online teaching,” says Susie.

“So I am still working, but we have so much more time. There is time to have a vegetable patch – and time for ourselves. When the pandemic is over, we hope to be able to travel more and have our children visit regularly.”

As for Mike, he finally hopes to learn the guitar.

'There are no regrets in having bought a big property to start with, but it was time to move on'

“We look back fondly on our time running the chambres d’hôtes,” says Susie. “It had its stresses, but it had its joys too.

“I loved running painting retreats and having groups of really interesting people – Russians, Mexicans, Dutch, French and English – around the same table.

“There was something wonderful about that.”

Related stories

Downsizers: We swapped our big house in France for modern - and modest

French property: what does €100,000 buy you without need to renovate?

Buying a second home in France with a family loan

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