April 12, 2021

Send in the clowns

There’s an old saw – if something looks too good to be true then it probably is. But the operative word is ‘probably’. What if something looks to be really good… and it’s actually genuine? Then what?

Then there’s only one thing that you can do – go along with it but keep your wits about you to make sure that you aren’t the victim of a scam, but wouldn’t it be a terrible shame to reject something out of hand thereby missing a genuine opportunity and also unsulting someone who is acting with the best possible motives.

As regular readers will know, I’ve been looking out for a large caravan for quite a while. I need one to solve my accommodation problems when I leave my present house at the end of June with there being no prospect of my having another one ready to move into either at that time or in the foreseeable future. My hope is that by then I’ll have a ‘Permis de Construire’ for a new house though, which will permit me to complete the purchase of the land I want to build it on and allow me to place a caravan or mobile home on it to live in in the meantime.

I prefer a caravan, mainly for the ease with which it can be transported and eventually resold compared to a mobile home, plus nice caravans are more readily available too. If you can get your hands on one that is. I’ve seen several of the right size and spec in the right price bracket over recent weeks but as well as being in distant parts of the country (mainly northern France) which are difficult to get to from where I live, all have been snapped up incredibly quickly often before I’ve even received replies to my initial contacts with the sellers.

So it was with an air of resignation that I responded to an advertisement on Le Bon Coin a few evenings ago only to check back a few minutes later before I went to bed and find that the ad had already been taken down. I could hardly believe it as it had only been up for a few minutes before I sent my message – there was no contact phone number – and it didn’t seem possible that someone had got in before me and it had already been sold. And indeed it hadn’t.

What follows from here is me taking everything at face value. In the morning I found that the (lady) seller had sent me a message with an email address (gmail of course) asking me to contact her if I truly wanted to buy her caravan. I did so and here’s what has since unfolded, but first here are a couple of pictures (of the 21 that I was sent of the caravan’s exterior and interior), which I’ve edited slightly to conceal the locations they were taken at and their sources of origin, that show how superb this caravan is despite being around since 2001.

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I immediately confirmed that I wanted to buy it at the asking price and that I could go down (it’s being advertised as in the south of France) with my Kia, pay her and take it away. She however demurred. She said that as long as I promised that I would treat her caravan with great care, she would arrange for it to be delivered with all of its papers to my address by a ‘transporteur’ (I don’t know whether that means a heavy vehicle or someone towing it) who would be able to complete the sale and depart with my cash payment leaving the caravan with me. She said that if I was not satisfied for any reason I could reject the sale but that she could assure me that the caravan is in perfect shape, has been well looked-after and maintained and needs nothing doing to it.

So what to do? If it’s a scam, neither I nor any of my friends or associates can work out what it is. However, there have been a couple of red flags. After a Google search, Madeleine’s sharp eyes spotted the same caravan for sale 4 years ago with some of the same pictures on an Italian web site. Interestingly, the asking price was proportionately higher and it appears that a person of the same name was behind the sale. So was it a genuine sale? Was it not sold at the time? Was it a previous scam?

We’ve also spotted a Norwegian connection in one of the exterior photos, plus there are some warning placards on the cooker that look as though they might be in Norwegian. So here we have, to use a Churchillian expression, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma and there’s no way to solve it, except by waiting. The caravan is due to be delivered tomorrow so one way and another, then all will be revealed.

I have the cash waiting and if everything – caravan, paperwork, registration document (because she said that it has one, which is a big bonus) – is in order I’ll be delighted to hand it over and take possession of the beautiful beast. But that won’t happen until I’m completely satisfied and it has been offloaded at my house, and I’ll have no hesitation in turning it around if there’s even the slightest suspicion of criminality or malpractice. Then I’ll just have to keep on looking.

So is it time to send in the clowns – bizarre or what?