The listing: 655 rue des Érables, Neuville, Que.
Asking price: $319,900
Taxes: $3,436 (2018)
Lot size: 87.24 by 52.62 feet
Listing agent: André Chiasson, Real Estate Broker, Via Capitale Élite
The back story
Renée Cochard grew up appreciating old things, thanks to her father. Her dad loved to shop for antiques and would bring his daughter along to help. Whenever they added a new piece to their home, they used a special, made-up word.
“He would always refer to it as ‘rustifying’ our house,” Ms. Cochard said.
And so when she and her husband started to think about retirement, they started to look for an older home. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they wound up falling in love with a 221-year-old home outside Quebec City.
Their home is located in a small village called Neuville, about a half hour’s drive outside of Quebec City, right on the western bank of the St. Lawrence river. The town was founded in 1667 by masons and stonecutters, and over the years its population has grown to a little more than 2,400, according to the 2017 Census.
Along a street called rue des Érables, there’s a stone house inspired by French architecture called the Maison Joseph Proulx. It is named after the original owner, who used the establishment as an inn for travellers commuting between Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City.
“When we walked into the place, it was love at first sight,” Ms. Cochard said. “It was really, really beautiful.”
Much of its beauty, though, is hidden from the street.
“When you’re looking from the street, you really think it’s a small house because you only see the ground floor and top floor,” real estate agent André Chiasson said.
But if you wander around back, you’ll see that the home is built into the rocky slope of a hillside and is actually four floors tall.
The street level is in fact the second floor and it features one large social room, as well as a laundry room and a powder room. The top floor is where the three bedrooms and full bathroom are located. The first level beneath the street opens up to the garden at the back and houses the kitchen, living and dining rooms.
“But we don’t call it the basement, we call it the garden level,” Mr. Chiasson said. “We say in French ‘rez-de-jardin.’”
(The final floor is a proper basement, found under the garden-level floor.)
In the 1980s, Maison Joseph Proulx was owned by a university professor named Jacques Chandonnet, who renovated the house to modernize it without losing its historical authenticity. Between 1984 and 1986, Mr. Chandonnet revamped all of the mechanical elements of the building, including the electrical, plumbing and insulation. He also added some modern luxuries, such as a central vacuum system.
“But all of the modern things that could be seen – like a central vacuum – were hidden behind something he had built that looked like old furniture,” Mr. Chiasson said. “Just like a hidden wall.”
After Ms. Cochard and her husband bought the house from Mr. Chandonnet in 2007, they carried on his legacy of maintenance, by restoring the roof in 2014 and stripping yellow paint off of the hardwood on the street-level floor.
The biggest change, though, happened in 2011 when Ms. Cochard renovated the kitchen on the garden level. Previously installed by Mr. Chandonnet, the former kitchen was “1980s IKEA-style” with lots of grey particle board, according to Ms. Cochard. So she transformed it into an open galley-style kitchen with a yellow, brown and blue palette, butcher-block countertops and a farm sink.
“It has a European-type look to it now,” Ms. Cochard said.
Given its size and location, the Neuville real estate market operates at a different pace that most regions that get a lot of media attention. Last year, there were 49 sales (up from 39 sales in 2016), with an average sale price of $269,546.
“I think the Quebec market is very different from what most people in places like Toronto and Vancouver – and even Edmonton where the market goes up and down – are used to,” Ms. Cochard said. “In Quebec, it’s not unusual for houses to be on the market for more than a year.”
That’s because it’s a buyers’ market, Mr. Chiasson said.
“There are so many houses on the market that the buyers have a lot of choice; so some houses stay on the market longer,” he said.
Add in the fact that Ms. Cochard’s house is a historic one and that starts to explain why the property has been on the market for two years.
“[Historical homes] are a micro-market,” Mr. Chiasson said. “It’s even slower to sell than a regular home in a buyers’ market.”
Mr. Chiasson believes that some buyers may be scared off by what he calls “lent retient,” which roughly translates to “slow maintenance.” By this, he means that maintaining this property requires a little extra love (and money) in order to get the right materials to match its vintage.
For Ms. Cochard, though, it’s more than money.
“Antiques and old things are no longer as attractive to people, I think,” she said. “We don’t have much time anymore. An older house needs more time.”
Both Ms. Cochard and Mr. Chiasson say that the garden-level floor is the best space in the house, with its access to the back of the property and its sweeping views of the St. Lawrence.
Out in the garden below, though, is another special feature of the home, built by Mr. Chandonnet as his atelier. Constructed out of steel and concrete, the workshop is found on the lower part of the backyard, further down the hill.
“When you go outside, you don’t see it right away – it’s so discreet. It’s like a bunker,” Mr. Chiasson said, adding that it has heat, electricity and an intercom system connecting it to the main house.
On top of the bunker, Mr. Chandonnet added dirt and grass, so it extends the upper area of the garden above.
It’s one of the many quirks of the old house that Ms. Cochard said she is going to miss. But as their retirement plans change, she knows it’s time to let someone else add their chapter to the history of 655 rue des Érables.
“We’re never going to find a house like this again,” Ms. Cochard said. “We’ll be losing that history.”