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.