Friday, October 30, 2009
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
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.
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
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.
Back from my trip away to discover a bulging inbox, voicemails galore and that the girls are (yet again) off school.
To make matters worse the senior partner is working most of this week so I'm juggling babysitting with appointments to view plots of land, visits to local mairies (to enquire about said plots) and my winter "new business drive"....so far the latter is still a cacophony of brilliant ideas. I'm very aware though that at some stage I'll have to actually do something!
The good news is that the editor of French Property News is interested in running two articles over the coming months. Now I just need time (and solitude) to flesh them out.
On our recent golf trip we had a big debate over the merits of giving our children Latin or Mandarin Chinese lessons (yes, I know but we're old & dull now). I was firmly in the camp for the latter and am considering going out and buying some tapes & books.
Instead of letting them play on the CBBC website I've also discovered the Beeb offers free Chinese lessons online.
That should keep the little buggers quiet for the next couple of weeks.
Friday, October 23, 2009
History has been made.
2009 is the first year that a fully completed tournament has been halved and boy did Chris & I have to sweat to retain the trophy.
We were playing the famous course at Seignosse and in the morning round we simply couldn't live with Steve's consistency and Tim's incredible shot improvisation (one particular "save" from out of a bunker will linger long in the memory).
We lost 6&5 and lunch was a tense affair. It had been a drubbing and we needed to find inspiration from somewhere. Chris had lost the "toss" for who has the honour three times running and put me in to bat. 30 second later we were teeing off first and we had our omen.
All of a sudden we were hitting fairways, finding greens in regulation and holing putts. The result was never in doubt and a 4&3 victory meant that we retain the trophy.
Cornwall next year where we'll be tackling St Enedoc & Trevose....a change of partners too where Steve & I will be looking to justify our position as red hot favourites.
Robert Trent-Jones is a genius. We played Moliets GC today and the score was (almost) irrelevant.
I've played many classic courses in my time: St Andrews, Muirfield, Turnberry, Gleneagles, Wentworth, Paris International and Druids Glen to name but a few.
Moliets ranks up there with them all. Part woodland, part links and wholly challenging. The golf today was worthy of such a test and it was a match that ebbed and flowed like the Atlantic Ocean we could see.
We were all square down the last. Steve had played well all day and decided to smack his driver down the middle, nail a 3 iron to 20 feet and lag his putt for a stone dead four that we couldn't equal.
Match lost 1 up and we go in to tomorrows rounds all square...it's perfectly set up for a fitting finale to what is proving to be one of the best tournaments in years.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
When one thinks of inspirational captains in sport names like Martin Johnson, Bryan Robson & Seve Ballesteros spring to mind.
Well now you need to add Chris Stead to that list.
We got off to a terrible start on day one of the "3 Peaks Challenge - 2009" and were soon 3 down. Our opponents were cruising and my game had been left in the locker room at Pessac golf club.
Then it happened. Chris decided that he simply wasn't going to sit back and accept this. What followed was one of the best single rounds in 3 peaks history. He was splitting the fairways, finding the greens and chipping & putting like Ben Crenshaw in his prime.
Single handedly he hauled them back to all square and the pressure began to tell. If I were to say that he finally closed them out on the 18th with a curling 25 foot putt you'd probably think I'm making it up...but I'm not.
Victory was ours - one up.
We go into the match tomorrow at Moliets golf club with confidence and a point securely lodged in the hotel safe.
I need to up my game as Tim & Steve are sure to fight back....but with Seve at the helm they'll need to go some to level the match.
Watch this space.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Just read an interesting little piece of research from a company called Global Edge marketing. They rank the investment potential of property held in 77 cities throughout the world (using gross rental yields as the determinant).
Surprisingly Paris only comes 59th (outlook very poor) with New York 62nd and dear old London down in 66th.
Chisinau (me neither) heads the list and is marked "spectacular". Amongst the top 10 you'll also find Jakarta and Bogota.
Now, I've never been to Chisinau (it's in Moldova) or indeed any of the other "hot spots" listed but I'd have thought that it's a brave man who decides that buying property there is a better long term investment than in, say, Fulham.
I'm not sure that I'd feel too confident that my money was entirely safe either which surely has to be a factor if you're claiming to offer investment potential - the upside is that I guess you'd have great fun visiting your portfolio!
We're very lucky here to have an 18 hole championship golf course on the doorstep.
Doubly lucky that the practice facilities are open to non members and always in pristine condition. As well as the standard putting greens, bunker facilities and grass driving range they have a four hole course to hone your game on.
I was there yesterday for a while, fine tuning my game for the 3 Peaks Challenge trophy which starts tomorrow. I was shamed into this when my partner, Chris, told me that he'd been taking this years practice routine very seriously and was hitting the ball like a dream, which bodes well.
There's no finer sight in sport than seeing him roll up his sleeves and hit his driver out of the sockets 300 yards down the middle.
The bad news is that I was out yesterday in short sleeves with the sun on my back and yet the conditions in Biarritz & Bordeaux are forecast to be wet & chilly from tomorrow....I'm not sure that my swing will be quite as free flowing under shirt, jumper and bulky waterproofs!
Still, as the great man said "the more I practice the luckier I get".
Wish me luck....
Monday, October 19, 2009
The grape harvest has come to a close and the experts are unanimous; all the factors are there to make this the first great vintage of the 21st century.
‘Nature has been very generous,’ says Denis Dubourdieu, director of the Institut des sciences de la vigne et du vin (ISVV) at Bordeaux. ‘It is difficult to find comparisons – you have to go back to weather of the 1940s to find, perhaps, comparable conditions.’
My viticulteur friends also seem to have wider smiles than usual this year so it does indeed seem to have been an excellent year for the local firewater.
Let's hope it's a double whammy with the football team seeing off Bayern Munich in the Champions League this wednesday then going on to lift the trophy in Madrid next year.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Let's get one thing straight. The valuation of residential property in France is not, and never has been, an art form.
Out here it's usually the vendor who decides how much he wants and then the agents add their fees on top. That's why you can walk down a high street and see the same property at different prices in each agents window.
Throw in the fact that vendors often don't tell all the agents that they're changing the asking price and I've seen a difference of €70,000 on the same house (I kid you not).
It does seem to have hit new heights recently though. Ever since Lehmann brothers tumbled and the crise financiere began in earnest property prices seem to have gone haywire.
Some owners have slashed the asking price, others refuse to budge. Some agents still say they're busy and that the market has not changed (hmmm) while many others have simply shut up shop and left the premises.
I mention all of this because I had a client out last week and at one stage we spoke about value for money. It's a difficult one to call at the moment and you have to rely upon experience and gut instinct more than ever.
What I can say for sure is that the first house I took him to was a corker. With an (albeit over inflated) asking price of €475,000 and a nod & a wink from the agent that the desperate owners would accept around €330,000 it has the makings of an exceptional bargain too.
Friday, October 16, 2009
He's the Greek god of the cold north wind and he's arrived in the charente with a vengeance.
Two days ago it was still summer and we were parading around in shorts and a tee shirt. Now I'm writing this with my jumper on having had to scrape the car for the girls school run. Maitresse has just put the heating on in the classroom and all the parents are talking about the brutally cold wind.
It's bizarre....we still have the same deep blue sky and the sun is just as bright as ever yet the temperature has plummeted and my nose is red from frostbite rather than sunburn.
Reminds me of this old classic:
The Indians asked their Chief in autumn if the winter was going to be cold or not. Not really knowing an answer, the chief replies that the winter was going to be cold and that the members of the village were to collect wood to be prepared.
Being a good leader, he then went to the next phone booth and called the National Weather Service and asked, "Is this winter to be cold?"
The man on the phone responded, "This winter is going to be quite cold indeed."
So the Chief went back to speed up his people to collect even more wood to be prepared. A week later he called the National Weather Service again, "Is it going to be a very cold winter?"
"Yes", the man replied, "it's going to be a very cold winter."
So the Chief goes back to his people and orders them to go and find every scrap of wood they can find. Two weeks later he calls the National Weather Service again: "Are you absolutely sure that the
winter is going to be very cold?"
"Absolutely," the man replies, "the Indians are collecting wood like crazy!"
Day three and the final two rounds will be played at Seignosse GC. We'll be kicking off with a fourball and then finishing with an alternate shots greensomes.
Seignosse is one of europe's outstanding golf courses with the immense pines and oaks creating a cathedral like atmosphere. With rolling fairways and immaculate greens it should be a true test of our abilities.
At 6124 metres it's not a monster but it does have a tremendous finish.
The 17th is a short (365m) dog leg and the green is pretty much surrounded by water. It's here that the trophy will be won or lost. The afternoon round in particular will be highly charged. Alternate shots means that someone will have hit a decent drive down the 17th but it will be their partner who plays over the water to the green.
It's imperative here that the encouragement is positive. "aim for the centre of the green and let the slope bring the ball down to the hole" will go down far better than "don't go in that ******* lake whatever you do".
We'll be looking to hold them in the morning and go into the afternoon with a clear point advantage. The pressure will be on and the lake at the 17th could just prove a bridge too far for them.
So, who will be enjoying the champions dinner one week from now?
Tune in to Canal Plus or Eurosport (France) to see the action live or come back here for daily updates from 21st October.
Statto says: There has only ever been one tied match (1999) in three peaks history. This year things will be close too. I see a halved match in the morning but the 17th proving decisive in the afternoon with the low handicappers winning out. Morning match halved, afternoon 2 & 1 to Chris and Graham who will retain the trophy.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
France has just introduced a national scheme to bring the digital revolution into rural schools and I'm all for it.
Our two (8 & 10) came back the other night saying that maitresse was excited because she's had it confirmed that they're taking delivery of fourteen new laptops - all wifi enabled and fully loaded.
That's one laptop between two pupils (CM1 and CM2 share a classroom) which I think is a pretty decent ratio for a state run rural school in one of the poorer regions of France. Hopefully now the girls will have sufficient time online in the classroom to stop them kicking me off the laptop when they get home.
I love the schooling out here as they seem to have a sensible mixture of "arty" cultural activities and rural field trips as well as an understanding that the basics of maths, french & computing need to be mastered early.
The lunches aren't bad either!
Day two will see a different style course (both links and woodland). Moliets is considered one of the top ten courses in France and was designed by the brilliant Robert Trent-Jones.
It's 6173 metres from the back so Chris & I should have a slight advantage as we're a little longer off the tee. This will be negated by the fact that there are three "blind" holes and Tim, in particular, seems to play his best golf on links courses. His game is suited to picking long irons cleanly off the tight fairway lies and we'll do well to hold them both here.
A half would be a great result for us.
Statto says: When Tim played a French links course for the first time he went four down with four to play but played brilliantly to snatch a half. I can see this course suiting them so Tim & Steve to win a tight match one up. Surprisingly, 20 matches have gone down the 18th yet only seven of them have been halved.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Next years Tour de France route was announced today. You can see full details here.
I'm looking forward to not one but two stages close to me.
There are twenty stages in all. Stage 18 is from Salies-de-Béarn into Bordeaux while stage 19 (and the penultimate day) is a time trial between Bordeaux and Pauillac, passing some of the major wine houses of this famous region.
If you've never been to Bordeaux then I'd heartily recommend a visit - it's a cracking place with wonderful architecture, lively bars & restaurants, good shopping and a terrific tram system to help you take it all in.
Similarly the worlds greatest cycle race is also a sight to behold - with plenty to do and see for both ardent enthusiasts and simple "hangers on".
So, put the dates in your diary now - Friday 23rd July and Saturday 24th July 2010.
See you there.
That's just about it for another year.
The vineyards have been battered and bruised into submission and the huge machines have rumbled back into their garages until next autumn.
Soon the vast green acres of vines will turn a brilliant mixture of red & gold - it's my favourite time of year as for a few precious weeks the landscape looks as though it's on fire once the sun starts to set each evening...it truly is specatcular.
Thoughts turn from summer pursuits and the mornings and evenings have suddenly become much colder.
This year we're thinking about building a huge bonfire and having the girls make a guy so that we can invite all our French friends to celebrate the 5th November.
We haven't done it before and I think they'd love the roast chestnuts, fireworks and, of course, baked potatoes from the ashes of the bonfire. I have such fond memories of this from when I was a child that it seems silly to let the fact that no-one in France has heard of Guy Fawkes to stop us.
There's a touch of Mandy Rice-Davies' "well he would say that wouldn't he" about this but it's worth repeating.
Nick Clark, managing director of the Property Investor Show has commissioned some research which shows that investors think that confidence has risen by 43% over the past three months. He says:
"There has been a strong shift in the market, with savvy UK investors beginning to explore overseas opportunities as they search for sound investments with better returns than the other poor performing investment vehicles such as bank savings and the stock market".
Strangely he failed to mention either John Profumo or Christine Keeler.
This is the course we'll be playing a week today on the first morning of the 2009 Three Peaks Challenge.
We're opening with a fourball and the course is set among the vineyards, yet with a staggering 250 acres of pine woods as well.
At 6056 metres it's not particularly long but there are plenty of water hazards to gobble up those wayward Titleists.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
There seem to be a whole raft of articles coming online about "Generation Z" - the baby boomers born in the 1990's who are now reaching adulthood (and thus getting jobs, buying houses and generally spending money).
Much is made about how different their buying habits are. The commercial world seems to be becoming aware that many of this generation will be looking at the eco credentials of what they purchase (and who they purchase from).
Even SEGRO (Slough Estates in old money) have just announced that it is auditing all 2,500,000 square metres of its property portfolio to look for ways to enhance its green credentials (Source the ever excellent and evergreen Kim Tasso).
More and more people will be looking to live in or build eco friendly houses and expats moving to France will be no different.
I found this informative article on FrenchEntrée. We have some French friends who have just built there own house and they have incorporated both of the first ideas which are working smoothly and saving them money (geothermal heating and rainwater recuperation).
I also have some existing clients who are looking to build an eco friendly house, spa & log cabins in the charente. It will be the first of its kind (as far as I know) and it will be exciting and fulfilling to watch the project progress.
I'd love to know more about this topic - if any readers of this blog have experience, ideas or contacts in this area do please get in touch.
Monday, October 12, 2009
It's official - France offers the highest quality of life within Europe according to Uswitch.com.
Over here we enjoy one of the lowest retirement ages, the longest life expectancy and the best healthcare.
Workers benefit from 34 days annual holiday (yeah right) and only Spain and Italy offer more sunshine.
France had a total score of 6.87 with Spain second on 6.42. The UK came bottom on -7.65 despite having the highest net household income in all of Europe. Long working hours, low holiday entitlement, high cost of living, rain and Simon Cowell seemed to be the reason (OK I made the last one up).
You can download the full research and press release here.
There was a most interesting story in the Charente Libre this week.
A new company XO-Airways says it is planning a series of international charter flights from the Charente’s Angoulême-Cognac airport to destinations such as Rome, Porto, Marrakech, Dublin, Amsterdam and even Moscow. The fares are low, lower even than most low-cost airlines.
If you read on the person setting up the business does not have a very inspiring track record and the website is little more than a single page. They have been in discussions with the airport and Chamber of Commerce though so I guess there is an outside possibility of it coming to fruition....if they start on 6th November I'll be watching out for flying pigs though.
I guess that if it ever does get off the ground it would be ideal for those "awayday" Champions League trips with the Girondins de Bordeaux. Visits to Spartak Moscow, Barcelona, Roma, Ajax and Porto hold a lot more glamour than traipsing across France to Auxerre or Lens!
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
The 2009 Three Peaks Challenge kicks off two weeks today. I always get so excited in the run-up that I'm sure to post more stories over the coming days.
It's an event steeped in history that has entailed thousands of holes over 34 different courses in England, Ireland, Germany and of course France.
The protaganists are:
Chris - big hitting, wild, competitive with a solid short game.
Tim - wonderful long irons, prone to the odd air shot with an air of "bad boy" Sam Torrance about him.
Steve - consistent, likes coming down the 18th all square, sartorially elegant.
Myself - fussy, easily distracted, good out of bunkers.
Our thoughts always seem to turn back to the great match of 1998. We were based in Chantilly, a beautiful town on the outskirts of Paris.
I was paired with Tim and we stormed into an early lead.
We held this throughout and going into the last day we had a one point advantage. We decided to take the short journey into the capital for a quiet dinner on the eve of an important last two rounds.
France were hosting the world cup and the streets of Paris were full of football supporters from all over the planet. Brazilian beauties were doing the samba while scandinavian blondes looked on and four (married) lads from England tried to keep their eyes from bulging too far out.
The last train back to Chantilly was around 11.30pm.
On our way back to the station Tim & I looked at each other and decided we simply had to stay and continue partying. The other two opted for an early night and a knowing smile.
The rest is consigned to the history books: a 6.00am taxi ride back to the hotel, straight out to the course for an 8.00am start, 36 closely fought holes and one missed eighteen inch putt on the last meant we lost by three and a half points to two and a half.
We'll never know if our late night antics cost us the match but it certainly brings a smile to my face every time I think about it.
I'm still owed 60 euros for the taxi fare home mind.
We did it ourselves in 2003 and I've been helping clients do it ever since.
Here are my seven top tips - if you have any others please feel free to share.
1. Make sure your finances are in place and you know how you will earn a living. It's no use thinking "I'll easily get a job when I'm there". Unless you are completely fluent and have a special skill with great contacts it will be difficult to enter the corporate world. That means you'll probably be self employed and 100% reliant on your own endeavours to put bread on the table.
2. Get your tax affairs sorted out from the off. The only thing in life more complicated than the French tax system is the Duckworth-Lewis system in cricket. Use a specialist and understand the implications of your move.
3. Make an effort to learn the language. It's not easy and takes application but it's essential to your integration and enjoyment. So many things rely upon you being able to converse with the locals (work, schooling, healthcare, social activities). Even if you were hopeless at languages at school. Fail to do this and you'll miss out on all the good stuff.
4. Research, research, research. Look at the area you want to move to - how hot does it get in summer, how cold & wet in winter? Is it lively all year round? What are communication links like (airports, motorways, TGV). Do the schools have a good reputation and are there plenty of activities for your kids?
5. Understand what houses are available. It looks pretty easy when you're sat at home looking at pretty pictures on the internet. You think you have a handle on the market. You're wrong! Most agents don't have websites and you're seeing the tip of the iceberg. By definition you're looking at houses which are being marketed by "switched on" agents....and guess what, they come at a premium price. Nearly 50% of houses bought & sold in France are private sales. then there are the notaires and the many back street agents who don't have websites, email and glossy photos. They do have some cracking houses at low prices though.
6. Paperwork. Make at least five copies of passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate and get any diplomas or degree certificates translated. The French just love paperwork.
7. Buy "Living & Working in France" by David Hampshire (and no, I'm not on commission, nor have I ever met him). We found it invaluable.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Just been announced at the Tory Conference by the shadow housing spokesman.
Hard luck on those poor buggers who spent thousands on training programmes in anticipation of a long term career change (assuming that Cameron does get in next Summer).
I think the French system works really well with the vendors paying for obligatory tests for asbestos, lead, termites, energy efficiency etc.
Everyone knows where they stand and it's just a given part of the process. What next for the UK though?
I live in an area called "Grande Champagne" and it's slap bang in the heart of the cognac region.
Clients often ask about this area and where else you can grow grapes to produce cognac.
The region authorised to produce cognac is divided up into six zones which are, in order of decreasing appreciation of the cognacs coming from them:
Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois and finally Bois Ordinaire.
You can see from the map above that it's quite far reaching and doesn't follow departmental boundaries.
Now, obviously I'm biased but I'd say that the map above also highlights the best places to live in the area.
Grande Champagne hosts prime properties in the prettiest locations. Rolling hills, beautiful scenery and magical little villages.
I guess that "location, location, location" holds just as good for producing the world's finest drink as it does for the world of property.
Monday, October 05, 2009
I did the school pick up on Friday.
"We had a history test today daddy"
"Oh yeah, how did it go?"
"Well, the whole class found it really hard but Madame Florent went through it all verbally afterwards and I understand it perfectly now"
"That's good sweet-heart, practice it again when you do your homework this week-end"
"Oh, I will daddy. I did get the first question right and Madame Florent was really pleased when I held my hand up and explained it to the rest of the class"
"Well done darling, it's good that you're prepared to help others like that"
"Does that mean you're not going to be angry on Monday when you find out I've only got 1/10 in the test daddy".
Excellent ideas from Sarah Beeny in the Daily Telegraph over the week-end that are probably even more pertinent in my slice of rural France than they are in the UK.
I see it all the time with my business. I was doing a search last year for a professional couple from London - Mrs X was, and indeed still is, Chief Exec of a big property company.
We came to one particular property, walked through the (freshly painted) gates and she literally started skipping through the (immaculately tended) garden saying that this was "the one" before we'd even opened the (shiny new) front door.
This kind of thing is intensified here as the charentaise simply have no idea when it comes to presenting properties (note to Sarah....big business opportunity to launch a programme or two on TF1). Rusty gates, peeling shutters, patchy lawns and junk filled rooms seem to be the norm.
As it says in the article, on average it takes potential buyers just 8 seconds to decide if they like a property or not.
With winter coming up it's going to be even more important to sweep your drive, get the lighting right and make sure that yours is the most inviting & welcoming house on a buyers short-list.