Thursday, December 31, 2009

A final thought for 2009

Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.

I wish you a happy, peaceful and prosperous new year and will see you in 2010


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Six predictions for 2010

When I lived in the UK it was a tradition at this time of year to find a decent pub and sit down with friends forecasting events for the new year. 

Since we moved to Cognac in 2003 this is something I no longer get to do - but as I know that some of these friends are avid readers of this blog here are six of the best for the new year:

  • Tiger Woods will be back with a bang and will not only compete in the Masters but he'll be putting on the green jacket on April 11th.
  • The FTSE 100 will see huge falls at around the same time.
  • The World Cup will be a huge success on the surface but fans who actually make the trip to South Africa will tell a different story.
  • The star of the World Cup will be little known Tom Huddlestone.
  • Aretha Franklin, Akon or Janet Jackson will be the headline act at the Cognac blues festival this summer.
  • The French domestic housing market will remain stable, with international buyers making a big comeback in the second half of the year leading to increased transaction levels.
You heard it here first.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thumbs up for a French Christmas

Well, that's pretty much it for another year (and yes, I know all about the 12 days of christmas and the tree not coming down before twelfth night but how much good cheer is a man expected to take).

The most notable thing this year was the complete absence of television.  I can honestly say that from first thing on christmas eve to close of play on boxing day we didn't put the tv on once.

I guess that like most families we usually retire to the sofa after our turkey and watch The Great Escape or The Sound of Music....this year though we walked, sang, laughed, played games, read and cycled.

As usual our french friends oohed & aahed over the christmas pudding and went yuck to the jelly in the trifle. They marvelled at the fact that our christmas tree sat precariously on a Mont Blanc size present mountain (even though I have been pleading poverty ever since Lehman Brothers toppled) and they invited us into their homes and treated us like cherished members of their family.

Enough is enough though.  It's time to get back to work.

I have to continue my search for a 2,000m2 plot of building land on the edge of cognac and an old house with barns around Segonzac.

Or do I have time to squeeze in just one last mince pie....

2009 - the year house prices defied gravity

There are some interesting statistics in this Times article published today about the UK property market.

It was the disaster that never happened. The picture at the end of 2008 appeared bleak: property prices had plunged by more than 14 per cent, hastened by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September, and almost every market commentator forecast Armageddon for 2009.

The article reports that house prices fell (but not dramatically) and have risen again in most areas. Yet still one agent in six had to close their doors due to lack of business.

It's worth reading the whole article especially the last paragraph which caused me to spit out my croissant at the breakfast table:

This month the Nationwide consumer confidence index found that 84 per cent of the public believed that the economic situation would be the same or better in six months’ time. In contrast, many agents suspect that 2009 has been too good to be true.

84% of the general public think that the economic situation would be the same or better in six months time.

As a Spurs supporter since the age of six, I have had to inject my life with a particular brand of blind optimism which defies now looks as though this has rubbed off onto the citizens of the UK.

Let's hope they're right.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My christmas present to you....

It's a general belief amongst the cool dudes that the greatest Christmas song in the history of mankind is Fairytale of New York by the Pogues.

Well, it's not...the greatest Christmas song in the history of mankind is this one by The Boss which holds such great memories that it gives me goosebumps (RIP Roger Scott, I do still miss "The 3 o'clock thrill").

I hope you enjoy it and that you have a very merry Christmas indeed.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

5 Bordeaux players who would make it in the Premiership

Having put paid to Juventus & Bayern Munich my beloved Girondins de Bordeaux have now won away at Lyon and Montpellier (currently 2nd in the league) in the last week.

I guess it's time to acknowledge that they're not a one man team after all.

So here's my guide to which five players would take the Premiership by storm (are you reading this Harry?):

5th: Cedric Carrasso - A big money signing from Toulouse in the Summer the 28 year old keeper has more than justified the expense and is quickly becoming a crowd favourite. Sure to be in the French squad in South Africa.

4th: Yoann Gouffran - another newcomer. He's a 23 year old attacking midfielder with oddles of skill and plenty of confidence.  He's better than Obertan was so expect Fergie to come calling soon.

3rd: Benoit Tremoulinas (pictured) - Rampaging left-back, born in Bordeaux in 1985 the ultras's on the virage sud love him.  He has everything that Ashley Cole has apart from a wife who can't sing.

2nd: Marouanne Chamakh - it's hardly a secret that he wants a move to a Premiership club but he hardly endeared himself to Sunderland fans when he said they were too small.

1st - Yoann Gourcuff - no surprise that the Bordeaux number 8 heads the list.  It's a case of when he heads off to play in England or Spain not if.  Look out for him in South Africa this summer, he could be player of the tournament if Domenech gives him free rein.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas in Cognac - just plug & play

There is a report in our local paper, the Charente Libre, this week about christmas festivities in the town of Cognac.

As well as the usual wooden cabins, mulled wines and frosty window displays it says that on Saturday we can take the girls through to the town centre so they can "chat live to Father Christmas via satellite".

Technology eh.

Next thing we know the lazy old blighter will be sat at the North Pole, playing on his Wii, while entirely outsourcing christmas to Amazon.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A warming tale on a freezing day in the charente

Just heard from one of my colleagues in the FrenchEntrée Property Finder network that his clients have just signed on a pretty spectacular house. He had put a huge amount of time and effort into the property search and I'm really glad that it has paid dividends.

There's no hiding that it's been a poor year for both traditional estate agents and buying agents alike.

However, throughout 2009 we have helped clients find and buy houses in all corners of France including (off the top of my head) Calvados, Mayenne, Limousin, Poitou-Charentes, Aquitaine, Languedoc Roussillon and the Cote D'Azur.

Hopefully 2010 will bring easier market conditions and the network will continue to grow throughout this beautiful country.

Meanwhile I imagine that at least one of my colleagues will be enjoying a decent glass of red wine over his lunch today.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cognac estate agents bucking the trend

There have been one or two estate agents shut their doors for good in Cognac but by & large they're mostly still there (although with noticeably less staff).

I've just read this report in todays Daily Telegraph with the headline "Estate agencies shut 150 branches a week".

Debtwire, an organisation that monitors the health of companies, said the number of estate agency branches had fallen from about 13,000 at the start of the year to about 12,000. The rate of closures is accelerating and presently stands at 150 a week.

Kirsty Allsopp, the founder of the Kirmir property search company and the presenter of related television programmes, said: "If Tesco suddenly sold 26 per cent less food tears would be shed.

"That's what is happening in the housing market and it is starting to have an impact on DIY shops, on removal men and estate agents.

"I know not many people will sympathise with estate agents losing their jobs, but the economy needs a housing market that is ticking over steadily."

2009 has seen absolute carnage in the property's been as bad as I have known it in twenty plus years.

Let's hope that 2010 brings a tad more cheer.  I won't be asking Santa for rising property prices but I will be asking him for sensible lending criteria and an increase in the number of transactions.

Friday, December 11, 2009

So how rich are you?

The Office for National Statistics have just released a UK "wealth & assets" survey and it's fascinating reading.

There are a bewildering amount of statistics but the most pertinent is probably that median household wealth is £204,500 - most of which is made up of property & pension assets.

Of course the figures vary wildly dependant upon location & age - no surprises that a middle aged Londoner is worth more (on paper) than a 20 year old in the highlands.

It does though allow you to compare your wealth to those around you.  The calculations are actually pretty simple. 

Add up your property wealth, financial wealth, physical wealth (cars, TV's etc not your six pack) and private pension wealth.

Now, subtract your household borrowings and arrears.....if you need a calculator then you're wealthier than me.

There's a synopsis of the findings on this BBC blog by Mark Easton and I'll leave you with his secret to accumulating wealth:

So, if you do sincerely want to get rich, get a degree, buy a house in Surrey, live with a pensioner and don't have children.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

£2 trillion of pensions debt - only Simon Cowell can save us

Scary story in the Telegraph today.

Taxpayers are facing a £2 trillion unfunded pensions liability, equivalent to more than £80,000 for every household in Britain, according to figures quietly released by the Government yesterday.

As I wrote a few days ago I simply don't understand where the money is going to come from.

Perhaps most worryingly of all is the fact that the Government can sneak these figures out just before the pre-budget report and get away with it.

Perhaps the best way to ensure some serious news coverage is to get Simon Cowell to turn the next election into a "talent" contest (votes cost £2 per minute and calls should last no longer than half an hour....if you can find a responsible adult then make sure you get them to text in too).

Who knows, he might even raise enough to pay off 0.00001% of the debt.

Two trillion pounds of debt & rising....what a legacy to leave to our children.

Girondins de Bordeaux - fancy a trip to Milan?

So now we lucky souls who follow Bordeaux know our list of possible opponents for the knockout stage of the Champions League.

The draw takes place at mid-day on December 18th and the runners up from the league stages were:

Bayern Munich (who Bordeaux can't play)
CSKA Moscow
AC Milan
Inter Milan

I'd love to draw either of the Milan clubs.  I have this view that if you're going to win a competition you want to do it in style and draw the best teams throughout.  I know it's not really sensible but as Laurent Blanc would probably say:

"The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."

Barcelona and Chelsea are the 7/2 joint favourites with Real Madrid at 11/2 and Man Utd at 8/1.

If you believe that Les Girondins will lift the trophy in Madrid on the 22nd May you can get a pretty decent 33/1.  Seeing as they whupped Bayern Munich & Juventus and are undefeated with only two goals conceded that could well be real value for money.

After all, Monaco were in the final in 2004 and lost out to Porto - neither team has a better European pedigree than Bordeaux.

If you're looking for a truly speculative bet you can also get 80/1 on Marouane Chamakh being top goalscorer in the tournament , he's netted twice so far.

With Ronaldo already up to six I wouldn't put your (French) house on it though.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ten top chateau's to buy or rent in France

Just been reading about some of these lesser known chateau's to buy or rent in France.

The one pictured above is in Anjou and is my favourite - you can hire the Empress Suite from a very reasonable sounding €200 per night.

When I set my business up I was sure that all my mandates would be to find properties like these and that the average purchase price would be €1 million upwards.

Well, seven years in and my average purchase price for clients is a far more modest €280,000 - indeed just a couple of months ago I helped some clients find a cracking house for under €100,000 all in.

I'm also being asked more and more to find decent plots of building land for clients to do their own thing.

As you probably gather I'm really looking forward to The France Show at Earls Court next month.

One of the most interesting things will be to see what kind of enquiries it brings for my colleagues in the more glamorous parts of France like Chamonix and Nice.

Who knows, I may even stumble across some clients who would like help in finding one of the beautiful chateau's we have in and around that would alter my annual statistics a tad.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

French house prices in 2010

It's that time of year again when all the agents, banks, building societies and public bodies make predictions for UK house prices in 2010. Even the BBC are getting in on the act.

Here in France the price of ones house doesn't hold the same kind of compulsive fascination as it does across the channel.  Houses are somewhere that you live and watch your family grow up in.  The French move house far less regularly than us Brits (I have a vague notion that on average we move 16 times in our lifetime but please don't accept that as gospel) and aren't used to seeing it's value bob up and down like a yo-yo.

If there's one thing I've learned during my twenty odd years in the property industry it's that it is an absolute lottery predicting house prices.  All of the august bodies mentioned above have teams of highly paid researchers that crunch the numbers, analyse the statistics and then make a wild guess while adding in all kinds of caveats.

At the start of 2009 almost everyone predicted a year of double digit percentage falls in price. Yet, if the HM Revenue & Customs are to be believed house completions rose from 41,000 in January to 90,000 in October.

The Nationwide say that if prices remain unchanged this month that they will have increased 6% throughout the year. Many other lenders tell a similar story with the Halifax saying that prices are now up for the 5th month in a row.

It's a different story over here in France and the FNAIM are saying that average prices are likely to have dropped by around 5% this year. You can read their latest statement here.

At a local level I'd say that this seems pretty bullish indeed.

Sure, window prices don't seem to have changed much when you trawl around the estate agents, but if you pluck up courage to go through the door and chat to them about actual sale prices you get a different picture and a lot of anecdotal evidence of double digit falls.

It's incredibly difficult to get a clear picture here where real data is so hard to come by.  What is clear is that overseas buyers are scarce and it was they who tended to pay the premium prices.

Locals are still buying houses and while transaction numbers are down the underlying market remains pretty healthy and will be so in 2010 again I'm sure.

What nobody knows is whether the overseas buyers will be back in force next year. If not then prices will remain pretty stable but if they do come back then be prepared for some increases again.

For these buyers to re-enter the market they will need confidence that the world economy is not going to nose dive again and that we're coming out of recession not heading back into it again. Confidence means everything when it comes to buying houses and although it seems to be returning it won't take much to knock it back.

Ultimately the most prudent prediction for house prices in 2009 came from the Council of Mortgage Lenders.  They simply said that it was too difficult to call the market and they refused to get involved.

Guess what.....they're saying the same thing about 2010.

Monday, December 07, 2009

French Property News - an expert speaks

Those wise folk at FPN have picked up on something I sent them about France topping the European Quality of Life Index and even quoted me extensively.

You can read my views on page 11 of the December issue, under the heading "East, West, France is best".

Over the next couple of months you'll also be able to read some feature length articles that I have written.

The first is on what a great place the Charente is during winter and the second is on the changing face of estate agency (it's probably out of date already).

If you are interested in buying property in France and don't subscribe to FPN then I'd heartily recommend you do so immediately - it's an investment that would be sure to pay dividends.

Sumo 1 v 0 Lance Armstrong

Regular readers will know that after my marathon ride through to Barbezieux I fancy myself as a bit of a Lance Armstrong.

Well, yesterday morning was my chance to settle a few old scores.

I was out cycling with beau pere (the professional) and my old mate Paddy. Historically he's always been much fitter than me and when we go out cycling he tends to chortle a lot whenever I begin to puff, pant and whinge.

He's just got back from a two week, all inclusive, holiday in Cuba and he's piled on the pounds....ten in total. His normally flat'ish stomach is a grand reminder of the good old days of darts when Leighton Rees & Jocky Wilson ruled the roost.

In short he now looks like a sumo wrestler who has a MacDonalds fetish.

Whenever we go out on the bikes we have this childish rule that when we enter a new town or village there's a mad sprint to be first past the signpost and yesterday I devised a cunning plan.

There's no Mont Blanc around here but we do have the devilishly difficult Mont St Preuil.  It's a long ascent followed by a kilometre downhill section and then a short, sharp climb up to the village.

I took it easy on the ascent and timed my downhill run to perfection, hurtling past Paddy and gave it a lung bursting, out of the saddle, sprint towards the St Preuil sign.

I might also have turned round and said "eat dirt Sumo" with a sly grin on my face.

You can guess the rest.

Paddy let out a great roar and his chunky legs started going like a steam-piston.  I got to about 50m from the sign when I could hear the swish of wheels turning on the wet road.  Like a rabbit stuck in the headlights my rhythm went out of the window and I couldn't resist a, fatal, sideways glance.

He took me on the line.

He also didn't stop chortling for the next hour and a half.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Uh oh....why the next banking crisis could be even worse

Just read this in today's Money Week.

As you may have gathered from previous posts I spent most of my "A" level classes trying (and sadly failing) to woo the scrumptious Denise Knox rather than listening to the wise words of my English & Economics teachers.

This is probably the reason why I simply can't get my head around the strategy of the UK simply spending it's way out of trouble. Indeed, my very first post on this blog was about that subject.

Money Week have this to say.....

The more you look at the numbers, the scarier it gets. Fifteen European banks now have assets - and liabilities, too, although bankers don't like phrasing it that way - larger than their home economies. That compares with ten such lenders three years ago. In Britain, for example, Barclays' balance sheet alone is bigger than the country's entire annual output.

and leaves us with this sobering opinion....

But one price move does make sense. It's an old MoneyWeek chorus, but the more you look at the threat of another bank blowout, the more the latest gold price rise – 28% since the start of September – makes sense. Even at over $1,200, it's still not too late to buy. No doubt there will be plenty of corrections along the way (Gold's still looking good), but the current gold bull market is a long way from ending.

Sorry to highlight such negative thoughts but it's enough to get me planning a big extension to my potager*  in 2010.

* vegetable garden

Thoughts turn to Christmas

We have a rule in our house that no-one is allowed to mention Christmas until after our youngest's birthday which is at the end of November.

Well, that's all done and dusted and the girls have even begun munching their way through their advent calendars so there's now much planning to be done.

First on the list is the Cognac Property Services Christmas party.  My friends back in London are chattering away about Claridges and other exotic venues but we've decided upon the very French sounding Le Grizzly restaurant.  It's a truckers paradise with an €11 set menu (all wine included) and where the clientele usually includes the two guys who drive the local septic tank lorry. What can I's been a tough year.

Next up will be the annual trawl around all the local markets for the myriad ingredients to the Christmas cake (and yes, I know it should already be baked and in the tin).  It's always a last minute dash and the senior partner usually shows her true colours when confronted with the fact that French supermarkets don't stock up on spices just because Delia or Jamie say they should.

Finally there's the small matter of presents.  Do we lovingly search for those unique and hand-made gifts in the wonderful array of Christmas markets we have over here?

Or do we just do a bulk order on Amazon and spend the time curled up in front of the fire feeding the flames with all the calendars we're currently having to buy from the postman, fireman and assorted other public service organisations.

ps: no - it's actually ridiculously mild here at the moment, the pics are from the snow we had at new year.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Google confirm move into UK property market

Regular readers will realise that I truly think we're on the cusp of a "big bang" in the way we buy & sell property.

This morning's report in the Daily Telegraph says that Google have been in talks with UK agents about a free listings service they are thinking of launching. That shouldn't be too surprising if you've read this or this.

Shares in Rightmove have dropped 10% even though Google refuse to confirm or deny anything. This was the reaction from the Rightmove camp:

Ed Williams, managing director of Rightmove, said: "We provide visibility of brand and logo. Agents are spending money on raising brand awareness, not getting more properties online."

Now, forgive me but I'd have thought that agents don't just spend millions of pounds with him to raise "brand awareness" but do so to generate leads & income.

The crucial thing for all parties (Google, agents & property portals) is to look at things through the eyes of the buyer.

Follow the money and it's the buyer who has it.

They control the board and the companies who realise this will become the "King" & "Queen" while those who don't understand will be consigned to being humble pawns.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Fancy a week-end away - try Bordeaux Christmas market

Bordeaux is a wonderful city at any time of year but it comes into its own at Christmas.

The architecture is stunning, the pedestrianised shopping centre is buzzing and the modern tram system makes getting around a pleasure.

The Christmas market is perfectly positioned in the centre of town and has 104 wooden chalets offering every kind of gift conceivable.

There are plenty of fantastic restaurants (the local plonk isn't too bad) and you should be able to get a great deal on a hotel room.  Here are a couple of hotels I'd recommend:

1. Splashing out: Try the "Regent Grand" . It's a majestic hotel opposite the opera house and looks simply sensational when it's lit up by the Christmas lights.

2. On a budget: : Just around the corner is the three star "Hotel Seze Medoc".  It's a small, family run, hotel with friendly staff.  It certainly isn't grand but it's in the perfect position and double rooms are only  €60 a night.

The Christmas market is open seven days a week, 10.00am - 8.00pm (10.00pm on Fridays & Saturdays), full information is available from

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

BBCi player in France

It's one of lifes constant irritants that I can't access BBCi player over here, nor get Radio 5 live online.

Now I read that UK Telecom are offering to solve this with their broadband package, you can read a review from the team at FrenchEntrée here.

I have to say that it's pretty tempting and would love to hear from any expats that have switched to this service. 

Having altered my France Telecom/Orange package twice in the last 12 months I'd hate to start the process again unless I really have to.

Dealing with their call centre has to rank as the real lowlight of 2009 (and that's in a year when the "Butcher of Segonzac" gave me root canal treatment without an anaesthetic).

If you've switched to the UK Telecom offer please do let me know what you think by mailing me directly on

"Brits in France" brings in the visitors

I'm addicted to the google analytics for my blog pages.

They tell you how many visitors you've had, how they found you, how long they stayed and a zillion other interesting facts.

Today I discovered that nearly half my visitors who arrived from the google search page did so after typing "Brits in France".  Pretty amazing as this blog didn't come anywhere near the top of the list when I tried this.

Why too did readers stay for an average of seven minutes last Sunday when usually I can only be entertaining enough to keep them stimulated for two and a half?

One stat that I'm proud of is that 35% of all visitors are in the top two "loyalty" sections and come back every day.

Finally, four people this month stayed on the site for half an hour or more which means they must have read just about every post I've ever written.....if you happen to be one of this elite group then take a bow and if you click here you'll find out how to turn this original, informative & witty online content into a book for Grandma this Christmas.

Alternatively I hear the new Dan Brown thriller is pretty good.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Buying agents - the miracle workers

So say "The Times" this morning in this illuminating article.

It's great PR for those of us who act purely for the buyer and does go a little way to justifying some of my earlier blogs about the changing role of estate agents.

I particularly liked this quote:

“We take the pain out of buying and make it fun,” says Mark Lawson, head of farms and country estates at The Buying Solution, a Newbury-based agency. “People come to us principally because they have been looking for a while and are fed up, or because they know they don’t have the time or knowledge to do it well.”

If someone buying a house in the UK is scared that they don't have the time or knowledge to do it well then imagine those overseas buyers looking to buy a property in France - with its different language, process, laws and tax structure.
Trust is a big issue in the buyer/agent relationship and we need to earn the same confidence that buyers have in their other professional advisors like their accountant or lawyer.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Gammon flu" hits Jarnac

The girls are pleased as punch because swine flu has closed a private school in Jarnac.

It's not their normal school but they do go there to special English lessons on Saturday morning's - they now have a free day tomorrow and are delighted.

So delighted in fact that Katie woke up this morning and announced to the world that she had developed "gammon flu".

Mum: "No, no're fine and if you had anything it would be swine flu"
Katie: "Yes, I had that but I went to Doctor Reynaud and he cured me"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Win a rare 1966 cognac - just in time for the world cup

In just a few months we're all going to be struck down with world cup fever as Wayne Rooney and crew try to emulate the feat of England's triumphant 1966 heroes.

You could be lucky enough to watch the matches whilst sipping one of the rarest cognac's in the world. It's difficult to find single vintage cognac (even the finest bottles are usually blended) and even more difficult to find one from this historic year.

There truly are only a few bottles left in the world so visit us at the France Show between 8-10 January and make sure you enter our draw for this magnificent prize.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Girondins de Bordeaux - a taste of life without Gourcuff

I'm setting off for Bordeaux this afternoon with trepidation in my heart.

A groin injury means that Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux's world class midfielder) will miss the game against Juventus.

I'm not saying that Laurent Blanc's men are a one man team but imagine Argentina without Maradonna and you get the picture.  The rest are all good team players but certainly not exceptional and I fear for them against a Juventus side that need a result and who have won six of their last seven matches.

I'm convinced that next season will see Gourcuff playing in England or Spain so tonight may well be a little glimpse of things to come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Property marketing - the future is now

Just released - Cities in 3D.

This is a video preview, imagine the impact this is going to have on the way consumers search for property in the coming years.

Fancy buying a house in Cognac but don't know what it's like out here?  Take a tour of the town....check on the map to see what properties are available...find a couple that look the floorplans & internal photos then look them up using the 3D feature.

Like what you see then call me and I'll go buy it for you at the lowest price possible.

The quantum shift in power is taking place from the seller to the buyer and the services offered by estate agencies are going to mirror this shift.

French X for a shock

So, last night the one half decent singer, Cyrielle, was in the bottom two again and luckily was saved by the girl with the second sexiest eyebrows in the world (my wife wasn't too chuffed with my comments in my previous posting about Julie Zenatti).

The standard remains dire with a set design that uses Opportunity Knocks or New Faces as a model and an audience of, oh, at least two dozen screaming fans.

Next Monday night the star guest is none other than Leona Lewis.

It'll be interesting to see what the comments are after seeing someone who can actually sing live.  I feel sorry for the poor candidate that has to follow her on.

Maybe they should have invited Jedward instead.

French "HIP's" explanation

Came across this excellent article in The Connexion.

It explains all about the seven surveys that must now be undertaken: for asbestos, lead, energy efficiency, termites, gas, “natural or technological risks” and electrics.

I know that HIP's get a bad press in the UK but I think the French system works really well with everyone knowing where they stand from the start.  Sellers see it as "normal" and buyers get a lot of important information before they sign.

Adding septic tanks to the magnificent seven above can only be a good thing too.

Take note too of the last line of this report:

In no case is the owner of the property required by law to remedy any defects found as a result of the surveys.

Buy the house or the dog gets it

Had to chuckle yesterday.

I was showing a house, barns and 10 hectares of mixed woodland & farmland to a client who had flown over specially.  It's a smashing place and the owner is a lovely Ukrainian lady who had offered the agent and I hot coffee and lashings of home-made apple pie when we first visited it on a wet & windswept day.

She had also introduced us to her beautiful Alsation called Diane. 

Seemingly Diane had lived in the house all her life and was her husbands dog until he died - she used to follow him all through the woods and fields and never left his side.

The lady now wants to move into a much smaller town-house as she hasn't the energy or inclination to look after the property. It's a special place but it really does need and deserve the sounds and sights of a family running round it.

At the end of the viewing the agent asked my client what he thought and we were just chatting generally about the pro's and con's of the property. 

In a classic case of sitcom magic the agent got a little over excited and blurted out "Of course the lady can't take Diane with her and she'll be sold with the property....that means that if you don't buy the house the dog will have to be put down".

I'm (almost) sure he said it as a joke.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dear Mr Google - pls can I have a job

Just seen this on Global Edge about Google's property portal advances.

On July 6th this year Google announced its first foray into the property portal market with the launch of Google real estate in Australia.

Properties are presented on a Google map but users had to click to the agent’s or property portal’s website to view the full details. That changed this weekend with the integration of property detail pages into the Google system.

Google Australia, which seems to be the testing bed for Google’s global real estate ambitions, has now introduced Place Pages which are essentially property detail pages containing descriptions, photographs, local information, maps, videos and Google Streetview.

There are going to be some big casualties in the fall out here and I can really see Google sweeping up all before them.

So Larry (Page) how about a job as Head of International Property Marketing for Google, I'd love to help define and implement such a momentous industry changing strategy....

....based out of Cognac, France of course.

91% of Brits would use a "buyers agent"

Encouraging research coming out of the Association of Property Finders and Buyers Agents (APFBA).

Over 2000 people were questioned between November 2008 and March 2009.

Worryingly, two thirds of buyers questioned believe that estate agents work for both buyer and seller. On being reminded that estate agents are generally paid to represent the best interests of the seller, 89% of buyers accepted that a conflict of interest exists where an agent deals with both buyer and seller in the same transaction.

Indeed, some 86% of those questioned said that they would get a fairer deal if they had a professional to represent them, and 91% would use a buyers’ agent if this would save them time, stress and money.

I have blogged before on the changing face of estate agency and firmly believe that buyers agents (or property finders as many people call them) will become more and more prevalent as the market changes.

I have been asked by French Property News to write on this subject and will post a link when it is published.

Meanwhile I leave you with this from the excellent UK based Homebuyers Agency:

The survey also showed that 75% of buyers prefer use the internet as their primary search method. With portals such as Rightmove, Globrix and Property Live providing access to every property listing in the UK it seems that the UK is moving towards a similar model as the US and Australia.

There, estate agents work as ‘listing agents’ for the vendor, uploading their listings to the Multi-Listing Service (MLS), or in other words the internet portals, and buyers’ agents are employed by the buyer to help find, advise, evaluate and negotiate on the property purchase.

Lance Armstrong eat your heart out

Just recovering from yesterdays exertions in the rolling countryside of the charente valley.

My father-in-law has been a keen cyclist for years and is a regular in the amateur stage of the "tour de france".  Since he moved out here he's started to take me out on weekly rides and he just won't take no for an answer.

He had suggested we add an extra stage to our normal Sunday morning route and cycle to Barbezieux and back - a journey that is tiring enough when I do it in the car.

Now, as well as being ultra fit he also has the advantage of a €1500 lightweight racing bike and proper riding gear (yes, even the hideous pink jersey and lycra shorts).

I have to struggle along with a twenty year old mountain bike (brakes not working since 1998) with flat tyres as I haven't got a pump.

Meanwhile, my expensively put together cycling regalia consists of a pair of shorts and an official, yellow, 2006 tour de france tee shirt which is the only genuine item of sports kit that I possess.

Maddeningly, my overnight prayers for rain went unanswered and we set off at 8.00am on Sunday morning. Needless to say there was a strong headwind and the only silver lining was that pa-in-law couldn't hear my foul curses as they were whipped away into the vineyards as soon as they left my mouth.

"Come on boy, I'm giving you 15 years" loses any inspirational meaning after the fifteenth time and it took us 1 hr 20 mins of wretched sloggery (not sure that's a word but it really should be) to reach the summit of Barbezieux.

Then, miracle of miracles, we turned around and everything fell into place.  Whether it was an adrenalin rush after turning for home we'll never now but I felt great.  Having a tail wind helped and we did the 22km's back in 58 minutes.  I even found time (and energy) to make polite conversation and to stop for a pee when he was caught short.

I know that a 44km ride is chicken feed and you're probably thinking "so what".....but nuts to that, it was me pedaling not you and it gave me a huge sense of achievement.

My legs don't half ache today though.

Friday, November 20, 2009

10 tips for buying in France next year

Inspired by this article in The Times I have set out my top 10 tips for those looking to buy in France during 2010.

1. Choose your location:  France is a huge country offering seaside resorts, skiing, cheap equestrian property with acres of land, plush penthouses in Paris and much more.  Find your ideal area before beginning your house search.
2. Decide on your "brief": If you're vague with agents then don't be surprised if what they show you doesn't take your breath away.  The more thought you put into your brief the better the results.
3. Make sure you see a good cross section of the market: You'll find that some agents are friendlier and more knowledgeable than others but you're buying a house not on a blind date. Agents can only show you what they have on their books and always have a vested interest. Don't forhet that every second house purchase in France is actually a private sale and done without an agent.  If possible use a buying agent (see 10).
4. Get your finances in place: It's pointless finding a little gem if you're not in a position to buy it. This is a simple thing to do and will save masses of heartache.
5. Try looking in Jan/Feb: The annual Brit invasion usually starts around Easter and you see prices rise beforehand.  Try getting here beforehand and snapping up the best properties.
6. Don't deal with an unlicenced agent: There are still plenty of sharks around. Ask to see their carte professionelle or you could get your fingers burnt.
7. Use a good notaire: Quality differs among notaires and you 100% have the right to choose (don't be told otherwise), ask around and find one you are comfortable with.
8. Try and collect as much comparable evidence as you can: Houses are notoriously difficult to value in France and it's often the owner who sets the price. Visit as many "similar" properties as you can and use this comparable evidence to help negotiate a good price.
9. Don't be greedy: It's tempting to get more land than you need (you'll live to regret it) or to buy a house with masses of barns (roofs cost a lot to repair).  If in doubt take your time to really think it all through.
10. Use a buying agent: Let's face it you may well not be fully conversant with the language, laws, process and local area.  Buying a house is a huge commitment and a good buying agent will save you time & money as well as give you peace of mind. Not sure where to look? Try here.

Bon courage....

The use of social media in the commercial property industry

Forgive me this indulgence.  My life post 2003 is purely geared towards the residential property market.

However, for 20 years before this it was a mixture of both commercial & residential property and I still like to keep in touch with what's going on.

The RICS have just issued this white paper on the use of social media and it makes fascinating reading.  I met one of the authors (Bob Thompson) a couple of times while I was at Chesterton and he's always worth listening to.  He also references a professional services marketeer called Kim Tasso who is also seen as one of the most passionate and brightest lights in the industry.

You can download the report here and it's a good read whether you're interested in offices, shops & sheds or not.

That's it....normal service will be resumed shortly and I'll be writing about the much smaller (but ultimately sunnier) world in and around Cognac again soon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

France qualify for World Cup finals - but where's the passion?

So, it's the morning after the night before. 

Thierry Henry is now the most hated man in Ireland after knocking Maradonna's hand of god from the top of the "outrageous cheating in sport" charts.

It's a shame for Robbie Keane and his men, as well as the hordes of Irish supporters who would have brought colour, song, good humour and huge emotion to the finals.

Personally, I'm delighted that my friends and neighbours will now at least be watching the world cup next June but I can't see there being any real buzz, street parties or bunting unless France reach the final.

In 2006 we went to some of the matches in Germany yet based ourselves in North East France (Strasbourg).  Whilst in France there was little attention paid to the football but as soon as we crossed the border you could see & feel the passion immediately.

Every town or village we drove through seemed to have giant screens erected with flags lining the streets and bars promoting football evenings. 

This passion for football is something I miss about the UK - but I guess there's a fine line between national pride and jingoism/racism. It's easy to slip from singing positive songs that encourage your team to vile chants about the other teams supporters or players. 

I love the old fashioned respect, politeness & tranquility here in France so shouldn't really complain that their football chants aren't loud enough.

It is possible though - Irish & Scottish football fans have a great reputation at World Cups and prove that you can have a good time and make friends while still roaring on your team. 

So I'll be taking a leaf out of their book next June & July. 

The streets of St Meme les Carrieres will be alive with the sound of "three lions" and the fluttering of a huge flag of St George. 

It's just a shame that the drapeau tricolore is unlikely to be flying next door.

Monday, November 16, 2009

French property blog gets worldwide exposure

Just taken a quick peek at the google analytics pages for this blog. 

I update it most days and it's easy to think that all I'm doing is talking to myself.

However, a couple of things lately have made me realise that this isn't the case.  A short while ago I did a piece on the current state of the market and (gospel truth) within a couple of minutes the phone rang and it was Trevor Leggett of Leggett Immobilier to say how much he liked it & could we work together.

Then, last week I was with some new clients and out of the blue they said how much they enjoyed reading the blog each morning before they got down to real work.

Hence my desire to know how widespread the readership is.  A little drop of Cognac hasn't quite got the circulation of The Sun but it certainly does have a hardcore of fans....primarily in the UK, France and USA. 

Then there are readers in a further 57 countries around the world including regulars in South Africa, Russia, India and Scandinavia.

If you take a step back it's quite extraordinary to see how far things have come with the internet.

Journalists face some enormous challenges from the millions of unskilled amateurs like myself. People who haven't been taught how to check facts, compose sentences, paint pictures and weave must be hugely frustrating for anyone who did actually make it through journalist college.

I'm not complaining mind and if you happen to be reading this over a cup of coffee in Vietnam, Iran, Mexico or Argentina please do feel free to let me know what you think.

Cognac marathon man causes some snickers

Running twenty six miles has never appealed to me but we do always turn out as a family to support those hardy souls who run the annual Cognac marathon.

This year was no different and Saturday saw us lined up by the finish line at the quay in Jarnac applauding all kinds of folk.  The biggest cheer (and the odd wolf-whistle) was for a burly charentaise farmer kitted out in a bunny girls outfit with just a small white fluffy tail covering his fish-netted derriere.

The second biggest was for a local runner, and good friend of mine, Jean-Francois Blaineau who came in third behind a couple of seriously good runners from Paris & Spain. 

Watching him sprint for the finish and give an effortless radio interview afterwards it was easy to forget the hard work he puts in.  I see him out on the road, at all times of year, always alone (no-one else could keep up) and always humble about his achievements. Go into his home though and you'll see his trophy cabinet absolutely full to the brim of cups and shields that he's won.

As well as "playboy man" there were plenty of others in fancy dress, running for charity, and some elder citizens that made me feel ashamed to be watching rather than participating.

Maybe next year eh....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gordon Brown hits Murdoch for six

Total coincidence of course but at the end of his worst week in British politics (thanks to a witch hunt by the Rupert Murdoch owned Sun newspaper) the prime minister has exacted his revenge on the Aussie media magnate.

A government review has said that the ashes need to be shown on "free to air" tv - at the moment the exclusive rights are with pay to view Sky tv.

This fast ball will hit Murdoch where it hurts (his pocket) but is good news for the man in the street who thinks that cherished sporting events like this should be open to all.

Of course nobody over here understands or cares about cricket....I have tried and failed to give even a basic understanding of the rules at many a dinner party.

Maybe I should invite the locals round if the ashes do come home to the BBC.  Having regularly sat through endless hours of local charentaise politics it would be nice to get my own back by making them sit through an afternoon of forward defensive prods as England battle to hang on for a draw.

"Estate agents regularly lie to home buyers"

This rather emotive headline from the Daily Telegraph (see full article here) seems to have caused hysteria throughout the internet with most people saying "yeah, tell us something new".

I have two thoughts:

Firstly, most of the estate agents I know are honest, hardworking folk who would not knowingly mislead anyone who came into their office.  If you look beyond the headlines it says that 24% of agents were deemed "not to be complying with consumer protection laws" which actually could be the most insignificant thing.  Sure one or two agents are bound to lie and be unscrupulous but tarring everybody in the same way is just too easy to do and smacks of lazy headline writing.

Secondly, traditional agents act for the vendor who ask them to portray their house in the best light possible and to the widest possible audience.

Buyers need to recognise this (particularly if they are buying abroad or in an area they don't know). Put simply, the agent is acting for the other party and will get every penny out of you he can on behalf of his client.  Other professionals like lawyers & management consultants do this in business every day and people understand what to expect.

When they sign a mandate with an estate agent most people don't say - "I want a fair price", they say "I want the best price you can get please".

If you want a fully impartial opinion and someone to help you negotiate the lowest possible price you need to appoint a buying agent. 

Sure they will charge you for their services but they will almost certainly save more than this cost by helping you buy at the lowest price as well as giving you peace of mind that no-one is pulling the wool over your eyes.

If you're thinking of buying a house in the UK you can find a list of buying agents through APFBA (The association of property finders & buying agents).

If you're thinking of buying a property in France follow this link to a list of registered property finders who would be happy to act for you

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice day in France

Just back from the Armistice day service in our tiny village.

As usual the girls joined other local children in belting out La Marseillaise....including the lovely lines:

Do you hear in the countryside
Those ferocious soldiers roaring?
They come up to your arms
To slit the throats of your sons and wives!

We then all trooped off to the mairie to share "un verre d'amitie" (literally a glass of friendship, in our case a couple of hefty pineau's). It's a bank holiday here and most of the locals seemed set in for the day.

It's always a poignant occasion and, being English, we tend to get a warm welcome, especially from the few people who don't know us now. 

It all took me back to my first ever memories of Armistice day.  I was a young lad in a cash & carry with my father when, over the tannoy, they announced a 2 minute silence at 11.00am.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and it was the first time I had seen him cry - it was also the first time that I realised he had actually fought in the war.

I wish he could have been there today to see the grand-daughters he never met pay their respects....I guess it would have brought a few tears to his eyes again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

French X Factor - where is Simon Cowell when you need him?

There are one thousand and one brilliant things about living in France....sadly TV isn't one of them (unless you include the sport on Canal +).

This year sees the first ever French X Factor and we had really been looking forward to it.  I guess we should have realised it would be awful when we first heard it would be on tiny station W9 rather than big budget TF1.

Same concept, same graphics, same music but that's about it.  Castings were attended by one man and his dog, the quality of entrants is poor and the guy who hosts it is still to fully recover from his charisma by pass operation. It's so poor that it makes you think even "Jedward" would have a legitimate shot at winning it.

You can see some of the videos for yourself on the official site.

The best thing about the show is the presence of Julie Zenatti on the judging panel.  She's a spiky French pop singer and she doesn't hold back with her opinions. She's also got the sexiest eyebrows I have ever seen.

It's also a novelty to be watching the X Factor without feeling that you are constantly being manipulated, where "arguments" are not blatantly scripted and where they might just put someone through on talent rather than on who will net the show most press coverage.

Ultimately though it's utter rubbish.

And needless to say we're addicted.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Property market has bottomed - it's official

As Disraeli (and then later Mark Twain) said: "There are lies, damned lies and statistics" and boy does the UK property industry thrive on market data.

Every day we seem to be bombarded by forecasts from the government, estate agents, developers, building societies and Uncle Tom Cobbley.

At last though I've found a statistic that I trust because it comes straight from the horses mouth - those searching for property.

Bickey Russell is an analyst at Google and she's recently been talking about the way that the general public searches for property online.

Ms Rusell says that the public believes the days of the bargain are numbered, with queries relating to bargain properties, such as ‘repossessed homes’, ‘property auctions,’ and ‘cheap properties’, down by 55 percent since February.

She has all kinds of other statistics but it's this little gem that strikes a chord with me.  The number of property transactions is all about confidence. 

If Joe Public thinks that the market has bottomed (and clearly Joe does) then they're going to start buying again.

I know this sounds ultra simplistic (because it is) but I place more store in this single stat than all the bumph that gets released by the RICS, NEA or the agents/banks who all have not very well hidden agendas.

Ms Russell also says that the first half of 2009 saw unique visitors to property sites up 15 percent. In the same period searches for the term ‘house prices’ rose 28 percent (having seen falls in 2008) and general queries related to property were up 11 percent.

So there we have it - the recovery has long it will take before transaction numbers rise consistently month on month nobody knows, but it's 9th November 2009 and I'm calling the bottom of the market.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The yawning chasm between house buyers & sellers

I've had the same discussion with three different people over the last couple of days.

There seems to be a huge gap between what UK & international property buyers are prepared to offer for French property and what the locals are prepared to accept.

This means that although there are increased activity levels (enquiries, viewings and offers) the number of transactions involving international purchasers are still very low.

All three discussions have commented on the fact that the "mindset" in France is very different to the UK or USA.

I remember that when I lived in Surrey we wouldn't dream of visiting a house that had been on the market for more than a few months.  If the owners had been trying to sell it for over a year then quite clearly it was blighted with all kinds of hidden terrors awaiting the fool who bought it.

If a house has been marketed for a while then Brits tend to make a low offer and more often than not it's accepted, no one wants to hang around.

Out here there are thousands of houses that have been on the market for a year or more.  Locals don't see them as tainted or over-priced....they just haven't had the right buyer come along yet.  Prices here just don't fluctuate like they do in the UK and we haven't seen anywhere near the drop in value as my family and friends on the other side of the channel.

All of this is a huge generalisation of course and ultimately individual circumstances will dicate the price that someone will offer or accept.  However until this gap between "bottom of the market bargain hunters" and "intransigent owners" closes then times are going to remain tough for all of us who make our living in the property arena.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Girondins de Bordeaux - aux armes

Huge game for Bordeaux tonight as they travel to Germany to take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

A win and they will almost certainly top the group.  A draw would also be a terrific result and move them to within touching distance of qualification.

I was at the home fixture against Bayern a fortnight ago with three friends from the UK.

We stood behind the goal in the virage sud, with the "ultramarines", and it was a cracking atmosphere.  Even my friends (who have no allegiance to Bordeaux) found themselves caught up in the moment. I suspect they may even keep a sneaky eye out for the score tonight.

There's something about standing up at football that just seems can you be passionate while sitting down.  Similarly the exits were blocked, people were smoking and when we scored the smoke from the flares caught in our throats.  Dozens of EU rules were flaunted on the night but there wasn't a hint of aggression or trouble.

All we need now is for Marouane Chamakh to break his Champions League duck and for a girondins victory tonight.

Would it be asking too much to draw Real Madrid in the next round too?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Life in France - how do you define integration?

There have been some spikey "letters to the editor" in The Connexion recently about people buying & selling British food in France.

It (falsely) leads you to believe that there are only two types of expats living over here.  Those who don't want anything to do with Great Britain or the Brits in France and those who are happy importing their sausages, watching Sky and going to the golf club for a Sunday roast.

People get incredibly indignant over even the smallest issues and it got me thinking about our life out here.

On one hand I earn my living in euros and pay way too much to the state by way of TVA, tax and cotisations.  Our kids go to local school and most of our friends here are French.  On Friday night we had a dinner party where we didn't speak a word of English, all produce was bought at the local market and we discussed everything from Sarkozy/De Villepin/Chirac to how this year's PTA aren't as active as last year's.

On the other hand I spent Saturday watching English sport on the BBC and tonight we have (English) friends coming round to watch a Prison Break triple header on dvd.  We also take the girls to McDonalds once a month and I'd have no hesitation at all in going to the British food stall in Cognac market if I fancied a pork pie or a Curly Wurly.

It seems wrong to me to judge others by how they wish to lead their lives.  Life in France isn't better or worse than in the UK it's just different.

I do feel that those who don't attempt to learn the language or integrate are missing out on huge tracts of life over here....I also think that it's rude to live in a country and to make no attempt at communicating  in the national language. 

However, if someone wants to operate (or shop at) a stall selling produce from the UK then best of British to them - particularly if they could get hold of those little licorice sweeties I had as a child!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Free Google sat-nav - world domination continues

So yesterday the shares in major satellite navigation suppliers took a huge hit.  If you want to find out why just click here.

US firm Garmin fell 18% after details of Google maps navigation were revealed. Dutch firm TomTom fell 9.5% when markets closed on Thursday.

The Google application promises free real-time, turn-by-turn directions for people to follow on their phones.

The Motorola "droid" will be the first mobile phone equipped with the system.

Google maps navigation combines services including a search engine to find addresses, Google street view for photos of locations, and live traffic data.

The implications for estate agents and people searching for property remain to be seen as this is just one tiny segment of the thousand piece jigsaw that Google are currently weaving.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More than 25,000 UK shops closed this year

Planning Resource magazine has just run a story saying that over 25,000 shops have closed in the UK so far this year (presumably a few estate agents among them).

I'm just pulling together some research for a story that I'm writing for French Property News about the impact that Google and sites like Tepilo will have on the future of the property market (they picked up on this blog entry I wrote last month).

One thing for sure is that the days of just having a prime high street position are well behind us.

Think I'm scare mongering?  Get yourself a coffee, clear your mind, click here and then let your imagination run riot.

French property market sees lending soar

The prudent French banking system seems to be paying off with finance still available (even at 100%) and a rise in house prices of 2.8% over the last six months (although a drop of 7.8% if you take the last 12 months.....lies, damned lies & statistics eh).

The source of these nuggets is the FNAIM and you can read a fuller report here.

Of course, as any estate agent will tell you, it's the number of transactions that is the key indicator rather than the vagaries of price.  This is why many agents are still struggling and thousands of staff have been laid off throughout France.  I don't know of any agencies in this region that are hiring again yet.

It seems to me that there is still a steady trickle of international buyers looking to purchase property in France but that many more are still waiting in the wings.  It's not a case of "if" this trickle will turn into a stream but "when".

Timing is always crucial in the property market - if any of us knew the answer to this for sure we'd be millionaires but I do have a hunch that Spring next year will see some of those currently vacant high street shops having shiny new agence immobilier signs being hung up over the door.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Free tickets to The France Show

The France Show is being held 8-10 January 2010 and, once again, yours truly will be exhibiting (or making an exhibition of himself if he gets to be invited as a speaker).

It's an excellent day out and is the UK's largest celebration of everything we love about this wonderful country.

Tickets are £10 on the door but if you register now you'll be able to get in for free....make sure you get a ticket for each member of the family as there's always plenty to do and see.

You'll find me on stands P54 & P80 (they're next to each other) and please do feel free to come and say hello.