Can anything put a Brit off property in France? You might think a strong euro would do the trick, but while new developments in Spain are collapsing on a daily basis, investors in French property are seeing no such disasters. If anything the market is buzzing...
Can anything put a Brit off property in France? You might think a strong euro would do the trick, but while new developments in Spain are collapsing on a daily basis, investors in French property are seeing no such disasters. If anything the market is buzzing. So what is going on?
In times of trouble and insecurity there is always a flight to quality so our old favourite France is an obvious choice. We feel secure in France, we know their habits and understand their ways. We may be irritated by them but we feel at home. And we know that there are enough potential purchasers just like us who will be keen to buy our French home should we ever chose to sell it.
“People feel really comfortable with France,” says one estate agent, “and in addition we are finding they are gravitating towards the old, old favourites like Provence and the Dordogne.”
Buyers are also aware that France has not had the boom (as Spain did) so it unlikely to get the bust, another factor that adds to security. And while prices have been rising steadily throughout the country for the past two years the strong euro is having a two-fold effect that can only be good news for British buyers.
First, agents are well aware of it and so encouraging vendors to go to the market with realistic selling prices. In the past some vendors have tried putting properties on for up to €100,000 more than the valuation. This is no longer an option if you want to attract any viewings.
Second, there is less competition over properties as some of the more speculative purchasers have fallen by the wayside.
So where should you look?
In southern France, the Languedoc region still represents good value for money. Sometimes called the poor man’s Provence it has many of the charms of Provence and the Riviera but is more affordable. Are agents suffering because of the high euro? “Personally I have seen no difference at all, if anything the quality of the buyers we’re seeing is going up,” says one agent who was an estate agent in London for 13 years before moving to France in 2001. “Property in the Languedoc continues to be a hot favourite with foreign buyers. Ever growing communication links, competitive fixed rate French mortgages and a wide variety of property means that now is an excellent time to buy.”
If you are keen on the Languedoc then bargains are to be found the further away from the sea you go into the hills. The landscape is stunning, with parts of it more reminiscent of Scotland than the France; pine trees, rivers, windy mountain roads, isolated churches and hill-top villages.
The Languedoc is still considerably cheaper for property than neighbouring Provence - with prices still 30% lower on average, in fact, the further from Provence you go within Languedoc, the more prices tumble. The Languedoc's 'Aude' and 'Pyrénées-Orientales' departments are cheaper than its 'Hérault' and 'Gard' departments, and in areas away from the coast, beautiful 3-bedroom villas with gardens and pools can be found from only €250,000."
It is a rare breed of Englishman who thinks about moving to France without considering Provence and the Côte d'Azur. But for the first time in history, we are no longer the largest single group of foreign buyers; the east Europeans have taken over. Prices on the Côte d'Azur are rising, partly due to the influx of east Europeans, so Brits are looking further inland.
People are edging westward away from the overcrowded and expensive Côte d'Azur in search of something more French and as they do so the areas they are moving into are becoming less seasonal. Saint-Rémy really has almost become a mini-Aix-en-Provence, humming all the way through from Spring to Christmas. The quality of hotels and restaurants in the area has improved beyond recognition over the past five years or so - as, of course, have the wines of Provence.
One agent in this area says he has seen a slow-down in what he terms the middle market as a result of the rise of the euro. “The lower price range, by which I mean €200,000-300,000, is dynamic,” he says, “as is anything over around €800,000 and running into the millions. But the medium range of between €300,000 and €700,000 has been badly affected.”
If an Englishman’s ideal French home is in Provence, many Frenchmen say they would prefer to be in Gascony. For a start there are fewer foreigners – it helps to have a smattering of the language here, but you do get authenticity. Gascony no longer appears on maps, but it covers an area stretching from the Atlantic beaches to the Pyrenees, including Bordeaux, Bayonne, Pau and Auch.
Within easy distance of both the Pyrenees and the Atlantic coast, the area has something for everyone. Add to this the beautiful rolling countryside, relaxed and friendly way of life, wonderful stone built houses, a temperate climate – for some reason the Gauls like steady rainfall and fear drought like an Arab - wines and gastronomic delights, I would have to agree. The communication links are excellent, with both Easy Jet and Ryanair offering budget flights from the UK to many regional airports including, Biarritz, Bordeaux, Pau and Toulouse.
"Like many areas in France, Gascony has seen a steady rise in the value of property but it still represents very good value for money", says one Gascony agent. "For example, a 19th Century farmhouse with attached converted barn and swimming pool can be had for £237,500 while a fine stone Maison de Maitre with beautiful outbuildings and gardens is for sale at £600,500".
"We are finding both French and non-French sellers to be far more realistic on prices," she says. "Sales are brisk, while growth will only occur when the level of supply starts to shrink, which is bound to happen, so now is a good time invest."
Dordogne, otherwise known as Little Britain, is synonymous with Brits settling on France. In some villages they outnumber the locals and if your idea of a good life is cricket matches and a plentiful supply of Jaffa Cakes then this is the place for you. Southern Dordogne is traditionally the most popular and most expensive, but if you venture towards the north you can pick up some bargains, although if you go north of Brantome where the climate and landscape changes it might be a “rainy bargain”.
One Dordogne agent told me that he had seen a significant slow-down as a result of the rise of the euro along with the stagnation of the UK market. “It has had a major impact,” he says, but stresses that there can be positive effects for potential buyers. “We had one buyer pulling out of a sale and the price being re-negotiated,” he adds. “There is much more scope for this kind of thing at the moment, especially if the seller is repatriating funds to the UK. And in a slow market like this you can find some bargains if you come across sellers who need to sell in order to move back to the UK.”