Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The changing face of estate agency

The revolution is gathering pace.

Today's Independent has an excellent article headed "Online property search: the diy sellers", you can read it in full here.

In it the journalist says:

Customers are becoming increasingly autonomous, finding properties on the internet for themselves and seeking professional advice as and when they need it. With the vast majority of properties now advertised online, and tools that allow buyers to look at flats and houses from street level such as Google Street View, buyers don't need an estate agent in the same way they used to.

This strikes a chord with the way my business has changed since I set it up in 2003.
In the beginning my clients would have no knowledge of what properties were available and simply trusted me to show them a suitable cross selection. Some clients still act in this way.

However, there are a growing number who have spent ages scouring the internet and have a good feel for what is on the market - they may well even have found houses that look promising on paper. They are looking for someone who can "project manage" their purchase:

  • add to their existing list of properties (by using local contacts, private sales, back street agents)

  • do an initial sifting to weed out unsuitable prospects

  • guide them through the buying process, offering independent advice and acting purely for them not the agent or vendor

  • help in negotiating the lowest possible price

  • act as a signpost towards other professional advisors (notaires, surveyors, lawyers, currency brokers, architects, builders, artisans, mortgage advisors)

The French market is going through the same fundamental change as the UK. Nightly television is full of adverts for private sale websites and for property portals. The number of traditional agents is diminishing (I was shocked to see that in the UK one in four agents have closed over the last two years).

I'm not saying that traditional agents are dead men walking, nor am I saying that they don't have a place in the market. Clearly they do and changes like this don't happen overnight. If I were selling my house I would still use local agents and would expect them to advise me on how to "dress" my house to the best effect and how to get the highest possible price for it.

What I am saying though is that customer needs and actions are changing fast. Buyers will need traditional agents less and less.

Sellers on the other hand will be looking to their agents to help them differentiate and stand out from the crowd.....if the agent fails to deliver this then more and more sellers will go it alone and Sarah Beeney may well be proved right when she says:

"The internet has removed the need for estate agents and that in the future it is likely that estate agents will be the preserve of complicated or "out of the ordinary" sales".

5 expensive cognacs that are worth the money

Excellent article from the good folk at and you can read the full list here.

If you have the cash just hanging around you can also buy them directly from the website...just make sure you invite me round to taste them too.

One of my very best friends out here is now the cellar master at H Mounier. His family have been involved with the cognac business for generations and I often tell the story of the first time that he & his wife came to dinner.

We served our finest wines and all seemed to be going well until it came to the digestif. We'd bought a mid-range cognac from the supermarket but Christian took one look at it and said "wait a moment" before jumping in his car.

Five minutes later he was back with a bottle from his private cellar. Resplendent with hand crafted label it dated back to 1901 - the colour, texture, scent and taste were exquisite and lingered on the glass long after we had finished.

He told me to keep the bottle but to only drink it with special friends on special occasions.

We've dined together hundreds of times since but although I've hinted often (and asked straight out at times) he's never repeated that incredible gesture.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Charente property - what makes it special?

I was chatting to an old colleague from Chestertons this week-end and he asked me that very question.

"I know you love it out there Graham, but what makes the houses so special"?

The answer was threefold:

  • the cost of land & housing. Even with the pound & euro at virtually identical levels you can still find a beautiful family home for around €250,000.

  • the landscape. Regular readers will have gathered that I love the region deeply - and not just when the vines and sunflowers have their annual battle for your attention.

  • the care that the "artisans" take when renovating the older properties. The stone masons were adding a terrace to my in-laws house and when they finished they had created a couple of wonderful carvings into the stone at each end because they felt it was "appropriate", no charge of course.

I know that everyone has different views on what they want & don't want in an area (it's what makes the world such an interesting place) but I really do feel that we struck lucky back in 2003 when we decided, on a whim, to book into a hotel in Jarnac overnight.

French grape picking season begins

The "vendange" or annual grape picking season started this week-end.

It's an important couple of weeks for the whole cognac region. An excellent harvest brings higher sales and prosperity for the farmers and the myriad related industries in the area. A poor harvest and the outlook would be as gloomy as an album by Morrissey.

In all over 75,000 hectares of vines will be harvested in the charente and charente-maritime.
We have become firm friends with one of our local viticulteurs and the good news is that he's pretty optimistic that 2009 is going to be a good year. Those are his vines in the pic above - you can't buy his cognac, "Chez Bacou", in the shops but if you're ever passing this way you can buy it direct from his vineyard.....believe me, it's worth a visit.

The sleepy villages around us have come alive and we're woken at the crack of dawn by the huge picking machines rumbling off to work.

The roads become clogged with tractors pulling huge trailers filled to abundance with grapes and standing at the school gates all eyes are on the activity in the surrounding vines.

Picking lasts for 3-4 weeks and I enjoy this time of year so much that I'll be using our labrador as an excuse to get out into the vines at least two or three times every day throughout.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"3 Peaks" offers road to redemption

There's a little known golf tournament called the "3 peaks challenge".

It's played every year by the same four friends and we've been competing in it since we were kids. As you may imagine it's usually ultra competitive and it has provided some of the most enjoyable, challenging and fulfilling moments of my life.

All square on the 17th, ball 120 yards from the flag but with a copse of trees in the way. You know that you can only hit your sand wedge a maximum of 100 yards but let the adrenalin kick in and simply will the ball to soar over the topmost branches and nestle eighteen inches from the hole.

Asked & delivered.

One year Tim & I even took a day off work to drive across to Chantilly to have a sneaky practice on the course before the official event took place a week later. We take it seriously.

Next month we're going to Biarritz for the three day challenge. It's not a special year and indeed with the current "crise financiere" everyone is working hard and there is far less time to practice. Pre-tournament banter is practically non existent.

For me though it's possibly the most important three days in the history of this illustrious competition.

If Chris & I win then (rather like Brazil) we'll get to keep the trophy and next year Steve & I will take on the other two for the first time.

On paper it looks one sided - Steve & I have the best records over the years and should be clear favourites.

In reality though I will be facing my biggest demon.

You see I have never "choked" on a golf course. We all remember Greg Norman falling apart in 1996 and letting Nick Faldo win the Masters. The pressure was intolerable and he was found wanting. That's never happened to me.

Apart from one time.

Fifteen years ago Steve & I were playing Chris & Tim at Gatton Manor (even now I can hardly bring myself to think about it). It was only a friendly...not even part of our tournament.
They had this thing about never having been beaten and we were just itching to throw it back in their faces.

I have tried to wipe the exact details from my memory banks but I remember getting off to a flier and posting par after par. We were soon six or seven up and if it had been a boxing match the ref would have stopped the fight.

And then it happened. They won a hole and started talking about the greatest ever comeback. They truly believed they could win. They won another hole and the pressure began to tell.

Pars and birdies turned into sevens and eights. We lost.

Asked and failed.

I've missed many putts and hit many bad shots at inopportune times but this was different. I choked. It still haunts me. Others may think it's lack of practice or bad luck but deep inside you know.

So you see - win this year and in 2010 I'll have a chance to banish the demons.

And looking at Stuart Pearce's face above it's going to be a pretty good feeling when I do.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How did he survive school?

Over here the sun continues to shine, the grape harvest is just beginning and the trial of the decade continues to dominate conversations in the bars and at the school gates.

Most headlines have been about the "de Villepin fightback". He's on trial facing up to 5 years imprisonment but yesterday his lawyers said that the former prime minister would file suit against (current President) Nicolas Sarkozy for violating his right to presumption of innocence.

All most intriguing but the most important thing I learned yesterday is that the slick old charmer was actually christened Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin.

He's gone up hugely in my estimation....anyone with that name who can come through their teenage years unscarred and with enough self confidence remaining to reach the very top in politics has to get my vote.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

French property portal launches iphone app

The leading property portal over here is who claim a 70% share of the online market (think rightmove in the UK).

They have just launched their own application for the iphone.

This is a big thing for the way that property searches will be undertaken in the future.

Imagine being in a town or village in France and having the ability to instantly see details of all properties available. Price, floorplans, pictures, cadastral plans and any other info you need.

You'll be able to drive around, discount areas you don't like and just concentrate on those you do. Stop for lunch in some off the beaten track restaurant, fall in love with the surroundings and simply consult your iphone to see which of the houses around are for sale.

Don't hold your breath though. Whilst this is a most significant step it still is just one step.

For the process to work 100% efficiently you'll need a portal that lists all houses for sale and you'll need every agent/owner to input the pics, plans et al in the first place.
Don't forget that this is a country where half of all houses bought & sold are still done so privately.

This isn't going to happen in the short term (1-2 years) or even medium term (5-7 years) ....but it will eventually happen.

Traditional estate agents, property finders and everyone associated with this industry are going to have to adapt to a new way of working.

It will take a generation to work through (I doubt that 20% of my clients over the past six years have an iphone or even the slightest desire to know what an app is) but unless you're coming up to retirement age you should ignore this new way of living at your peril.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Health care in France

Many thanks to Craig McGinty and his excellent website for this link.

The NY Times ran a most instructive article today on healthcare in France.

You can read the whole text here.

So far we have only good things to say about the system over here, even though (or maybe because) our family doctor is just about the most eccentric person I've ever met.

The children love him and he has a real knack of putting them at ease. Our youngest was ill last year and we had to see an emergency stand in who prescribed all kinds of pills.

We took her (and the collection of tablets) to see our doc the next day and he promptly rounded up this mightily expensive phalanx of bottles and popped them in his bin.

"Puce (little flea) - you've got a virus and antibiotics are no use. Go to bed, get daddy to read you plenty of stories and drink lots of water or decent red wine".

Bush & Obama in "trial of the decade"

OK, hands up...I'm sure you spotted my cheap shot at getting your attention. Bush & Obama aren't actually involved at all.

It's Sarkozy and de Villepin who are today beginning the so called "trial of the decade". That shouldn't lessen public interest though.

It's a complicated affair but in a nutshell ex French prime minister Dominique de Villepin faces accusations of a smear campaign against current prime minister (and Obama favourite) Nicolas Sarkozy.

If found guilty he faces up to five years in prison and you can read about the accusations and murky background of the case here.

It's old money against new and it's going to get dirty. My eyes will be glued to the news each night for the next few weeks.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Electrical storm leaves me puzzled

We had a wonderful storm earlier this week. Rolling thunder and non stop lightning that lit up the church opposite so that it looked like something out of a horror movie.

Torrential rain too which is good for my melons.... but I digress.

One of the side effects was that we were without electricity for a whole morning. What an eye opener.

I simply couldn't work. No computers, no internet and no telephone line (it all comes through the livebox). Of course I could have done some filing but why break the habit of a lifetime.

After scratching my head for half an hour I decided that the only thing to do was to pop down to Jarnac and invest €3.20 in a Daily Telegraph and spend the morning doing the crossword in my favourite café.

I used to know an amazing character called Fred Rippingale who could do both the Times & Telegraph crosswords in under an hour. I could never get to grips with the "Thunderer" but the latter could usually be half completed after a couple of weeks of cogitating and begging my mate Chris for help.

This time I didn't do badly but am still stuck on 12 down - my French friends are no help at all:

Looking for short cut for riders to use (7,4)

If anyone can help please email me at and I'll be eternally grateful.

Meanwhile I'll leave you with my two favourite clues of all time:

1. geg (9,3)

2. H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O (5)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Buying agents - why you should use one...

OK - I'm biased as that's what I do for a living but if you're seriously considering buying a property in France then it makes absolute sense to use one.

You can get a good idea of what a buying agent does by reading this piece on wikipedia. The pertinent paragraph is:

The main advantages of using a buying agent are the savings in time and money and access to properties not available on the open market.

Whilst nearly all charge a registration fee (anything between £500 and £2500) and a percentage of the purchase price of the property (usually between 1.5% and 2% of the sale price), the agent’s negotiating skills and access to properties before they reach the open market often mean that clients purchase properties for substantially less than they would if they went to estate agents or vendors directly.

Buying agents will preview properties for each client, shortlist the most suitable, and usually accompany clients on viewings of the shortlisted properties.

Now, if it makes sense to use one in the UK or USA it must make even more sense if you're buying in a country with a different process, legal system and language.

Just make sure that the person you use is fully legit. Ask to see their "carte professionelle" and copies of their professional indemnity insurance.

A good starting point would be to look here to see if there's one near where you want to buy or by contacting the French national federation of house hunters here.

It's worthwhile doing the research - a good buying agent will save you time & money as well as giving you peace of mind.

France "most popular destination" for expats

The Halifax have just issued some research claiming that 16% of British expats currently live in France which tops the charts ahead of Spain (10%).

This comes hot on the heels of research by BNP Paribas that says Britons will make up 20% of all overseas buyers in France during 2009.

It's no surprise that France remains popular with Brits - either as a place for a second home or indeed to move here permanently. There's a good reason why it's the most visited country in the world with 82 million foreign tourists making an annual pilgrimage.

In troubled economic times you need this kind of heritage and stability if you're thinking of investing in real estate - prices may well tempt you to open a gite business in Bulgaria but are you sure it's going to be popular with the punters!

Ultimately though we Brits love it over here because of one thing, perfectly described by Jean Anouilh:

"Everything ends this way in France - everything. Weddings, christenings, duels, burials, swindlings, diplomatic affairs -everything is a pretext for a good dinner".

Thursday, September 17, 2009

UK housing recovery "unsustainable"

My old friends at JLL research are predicting that the current recovery in the UK housing market is not going to last, with prices predicted to fall 7% in 2010. Here's what they say:

"Our view is that the present recovery is quite fragile and that at sometime over the next six months housing market sentiment and prices will fall back. This could occur quite naturally or have a trigger event."

The bit about a trigger event is interesting as I too feel that there's still a huge amount of nervousness about both the economy and the housing market.

I don't think it would have to be anything too dramatic (such as a terrorist attack) either...any excuse would do. The next election must be held before 3rd June next year and markets often go totally quiet in the run up.

It's unusual for an estate agent ( property consultancy) to publicly be so bearish but it does make a refreshing change from some of the idiotic comments we've had to listen to over the past few weeks (Things are great, never been so busy, record enquiries etc).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Property marketing - the shadow of Google

Two separate events have got me thinking over my coffee & croissants this morning.

The first was a tweet from Sarah Beeny about the new property portal she has created. You can see it at

It has been brilliantly designed and is friendly and easy to use. You can promote your property online for free and get online guidance throughout the process. There's even an "Ask Sarah" button although somehow I can't see her sat in an office waiting for mundane emails from all and sundry.

Rightmove, Primelocation and Propertyfinder have sown up the market in terms of listing sites for agents to post details but I think that Sarah Beeny's site has a genuine chance of influencing the market in terms of private sales. People have been trying to do this since the internet launched (and before) but nobody has really succeeded.

The second event was when I stumbled across Ben Wood on twitter. He's Head of Property at Google and you can read one of his white papers by following this link.

I guess that even Google themselves don't know in which way their "property" team is going but we shouldn't underestimate the power of what is now probably the biggest brand on earth.

When I started my French property search business in 2003 I used to send clients photos of properties I had seen for them. Now, thanks to Google I can also upload video and zoom in on the house and locality from outer space down to the tiles on the roof. Researching the area (shops, schools, parks, events) is also a doddle.

A year ago Google announced that they were going to exploit some of their existing data and technology and the Times ran a short piece with the headline "Google ventures into the property market".

Now, they have just announced a major sponsorship of this years prestigious "What House" awards.

The house buying process is being flipped on it's head as you read this post. At the moment Google are researching, innovating and hovering....pretty soon they may well swoop.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Girondins plan The Italian Job

One of my favourite cult films of all time is "The Italian Job".

Set in Turin, Michael Caine utters one of the best known one-liners in cinema history.

Well, tonight in the intimidating Stadio Olimpico the Girondins de Bordeaux are planning a smash and grab of their own against Juventus.

The omens are against them.

Juventus have never lost to French opposition on their home turf and Bordeaux have come away from their last five trips to Italy with the grand total of zero points.

However, it's a long time since we last tasted defeat and a boring nil-nil draw would more than suffice.

All eyes will be on our star player, Yoann Gourcuff, who came from AC Milan and is sure to receive a warm reception. He's a cracking player and what better stage to show that he's up there with Kaka, Ronaldo, Messi and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

Maybe I'm a dreamer but I have this clear vision of Laurent Blanc taking him off after 89 minutes with the immortal words:

"You were only supposed to score a bloody hat-trick".

Monday, September 14, 2009

Property finder network takes off

Mixed messages still coming out of the UK.

FTSE 100 over the 5,000 mark (hurrah) and house prices are either on the rise (Halifax) or it's a false dawn (Ernst & Young).

One thing is for sure though. The activity levels of our French property finder network are beginning to take off.

I'm not claiming that we're all inundated but as the guy from Savills so eloquently put it "A year on (from the collapse of Lehman Brothers) power has been restored and there's a flicker of hope".

I've just taken a phone call from Caroline who is based in Mayenne. She has had clients over from Thailand and, after a week-end of hard negotiations, they have just had an offer accepted on a beautiful property. I'm thrilled for Caroline as she had put her heart & soul into finding something truly special for them.

Janine in Bayeux is flying - she's bought two houses for clients in the last few weeks and is slap bang in the middle of another search now.

Rebecca in Nice reports the same with a couple of offers accepted and more clients out shortly.

We've also just taken on mandates for further searches in the Dordogne, Aquitaine, Perpignan and Chamonix too.

The good news is that a lot of these enquiries are non-UK related (we've recently been instructed by clients from Hawaii, South Africa, Sweden, Canada and Asia)....hopefully this means that when the UK market does come back we should have real cause for optimism.

If you'd like to discuss joining the network (we're currently 12 across France but plan to be 50 by the end of 2010) you can email and he'll send you a prospectus.

Alternatively just pick up the phone and I'd be happy to chat about it.

Classic car rally comes to Angouleme

This year's "circuit des remparts" promises to be a cracker.

It's on 18-20 September and plans are afoot to recreate the grid the crowds witnessed at the first Ramparts race in Angouleme in 1939, with many of the classic cars being sourced from collections and museums.

Expect also to see vintage cars working their way round the famous hairpins and Touring and GT cars power sliding round this tight Angouleme street circuit.

Hotels in Angouleme have been sold out for months but, if you're thinking of coming, you should be OK in near-by Jarnac or Cognac.

You don't need to be a "petrol head" to enjoy the spectacle...after all who can resist smiling at the thought of seeing so many Terry Thomas lookalikes in one place together.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Golf in France - seeking out the value

Here's an interesting article from last weeks Daily Telegraph. It talks about buying a property on a golf course in France and says that golf is "taking off" over here.

As an avid golfer the article was of particular interest...we have a superb 18 hole championship course here in cognac and the area around it (St Brice) is one of the prettiest villages around.

In the article they talk about the excellent investment opportunities of one particular development in the Languedoc.

Prices start from €430,000 for a two bed apartment....that's when my eyes popped out of my head.

You may remember this post from earlier in the Summer. It's a new, architect designed, four bed house with pool and super gardens that lead down to the river charente....a Tiger Woods five iron from Cognac golf course and yours for well under €400,000.

A two bed apartment or a four bed house and pool with change to buy your own golf buggy, four new sets of Callaways and enough multi-coloured golf jumpers to keep even Ian Poulter happy....hmmm.

An insight into my life....

As you may have gathered my job is to find houses in France for people who live overseas and don't have the time or inclination to risk tackling it themselves or to sift through all the rubbish.

One of my key messages to clients is that I use local knowledge to dig out the gems that they simply wouldn't find by themselves. Yesterday was a prime example of how this can work.

I drove across to Montbron to view a house that I had seen on, it's a private sale as the owner doesn't want to go through an agency (amazingly almost half of all the houses bought & sold in France are still done so privately).

I met the owner at the hotel de ville and off we went to her house in her car. She was a real character and had spent most of her working life as a notaire's clerk in Paris.

I was expecting to go straight to her house but we stopped off on the way to look at a barn she was selling with planning permission and 4 ha's of land. Sadly the two weren't attached but it was just a quick detour and no big problem as the sun was shining and she was good company.

Next we went to her house. Bizarrely this wasn't the property she had advertised either. Terrific property, everything about it was ideal for my clients except the price...she wanted €400,000.

I then asked to see the house she had advertised (not an unfair request I thought), this turned out to be owned by some friends of hers. Off we went again.

Sadly the house was a bit of a pit (I'm being polite here) although the owners were charming and insisted we sit and chat over a coffee. They were fascinated by how I work (they don't have Kirsty & Phil over here) and I explained the brief I have from my clients.

A lightbulb went on over their heads and they said that I had to go with them to see a property belonging to someone they know who is going through a messy divorce. Again, it's not on with any local agents and is just for sale privately.

The owners weren't in but bingo....great location, superb views, good looking house, plenty of barns and only 5 mins from the local school, restaurant etc.

Of course I now need to contact the actual owner and go back to view the inside and check the cadastral plan.

Who knows if it will lead anywhere but I'm 100% convinced that anyone from the UK, USA, Asia etc just couldn't find properties like these without employing someone locally to do it for them.
I'm equally convinced that my fees of 2.75% are more than covered by the amount I help save them when it comes to negotiating a "locals" price.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Plan International - because children are at the heart of everything we do

It's been a while since I linked to Plan International and having just finished reading the girls a bedside story I figured it would do no harm to say that I think this is a truly worthwhile charity.

We sponsor a child in Kenya. His name is Mutie and his life is just so different to ours.

The things we take for granted like water, food, electricity, schooling and healthcare don't come so easily in his remote Kenyan village.

Plan help equip the villages with the tools and knowledge to implement long term change - on top of this we've been able to send gifts to Mutie such as a football with accompanying letter and pictures from the girls.

In return he has sent us pictures of himself and family and even letters that are translated by Plan staff in Kenya.

Donations don't have to be huge and if you get half the satisfaction from it that we do then it will truly be money well spent.

To sponsor a child click here.

Felicity Kendall eat your heart out

Now this next tale may well sound just a tad mundane.

But it has to be read in context. Before moving to France my weekday lunches consisted of a couple of sandwiches from pret-a-manger wolfed down at my desk.

I had never grown anything in my life and had always gently mocked my parents for carefully tending their fruit and vegetable patches.

Earlier this year we decided to make the most of our big garden behind the church and we spent many back-breaking hours digging two distinct growing areas.

Well, our hard labours have finally borne fruit - literally.

Yesterday we picked a load of carrots, onions and broccoli as well as a couple of luscious, ripe charentaise melons to go along with some of our strawberries and raspberries.

Within a matter of minutes J-A had turned the veggies into a glorious, creamy soup accompanied by a crusty baguette supplied by Madam Whiplash, the local baker.
For dessert the melons & red fruits tasted simply divine. From mother natures belly to mine without preservatives, packaging or queuing at a checkout.

Now, I know that this is a scene replicated (and bettered) in most households across the world....but for our family it was a first and something that made us laugh out loud.

We had created an entire meal by ourselves (yes, I know we cheated with the bread and yes, I also know it was only a simple soup but that's why I put the caveat at the start).

There's a way to go before we trade in our E Le Clerc loyalty card but it's true that the simple things in life are often the most pleasurable.

Monday, September 07, 2009

waiting for my enquiries

Interesting article from the Sunday Times about the return of the bonus culture in the city.

Any of you bankers at Goldman Sachs (or indeed any other financial institutions) looking for an innovative way of spending your money should look no further.

Not only is Cognac renowned throughout the world as the home of Remy Martin, Courvoisier, Hennessy and Martell but it's a beautiful town in it's own right. Just look at what it has to offer:
  • second sunniest part of France

  • airport with direct flights to the UK

  • TGV access to central London

  • Glorious chateau's with views over the vineyards or townhouses in the historic old quarter

  • choice of michelin restaurants or sampling the rustic 10€ local "plat de jour"

  • the caché associated with one of the worlds top 10 brands

So, @GS people, it's time for an investment that you can make with your heart as well as your head.

Just imagine the envious looks on your colleagues faces as you sneak away from the dealing desks to compare your week-end pad in Cognac with their dull old bolt holes in Cornwall or Shropshire.

Friday, September 04, 2009

French property - parallels with the UK market

Interesting article in the Daily Telegraph about the UK property market one year after Lehman Brothers collapse.

This bit really struck home:

The day recession dawned will linger in the minds of estate agents for years. “The effect of Lehman’s demise was immediate and immense,” says Ed Lewis, head of new homes in London for Savills. “It was as if the telephone sockets had been ripped from the walls and the lights turned out. Many of the younger agents had never seen anything like it. A year on and power has been restored, to a flicker of hope, anyway, and the telephones have just started to ring again.

It was the same here in Cognac. I'd been merrily sailing along for five years and new clients just seemed to appear out of thin air. France is an incredibly popular destination and overseas buyers will always need someone to find and then advise upon their investment.

Then, within the space of 24 hours, everything changed and the world just hunkered down.

Like the chap at Savills though my phone has been ringing for a few months now and the lights are flickering back on.

As it says at the end of the Telegraph article I'll be looking forward to the 15th September so I can say that "the year" is behind us. It's not quite a reason to crack open the Dom Perignon but the senior partner and I might risk a little of the local "methode traditionnelle".

Thursday, September 03, 2009

OK - so I'm not Bill Gates or Larry Page

One innocent blog entry about how much I like i google and I've unleashed a torrent of abuse.

I guess I should have realised at school when I was hanging out with the nerds & the geeks rather than the cool guys or the sports "jocks" that something like this would happen.

My latest words of wisdom have come back to haunt me in spades now as I'm getting texts, voicemails, tweets, emails et al taunting me for being behind the times.

Please bear in mind that the senders of these missives are the ones that were always found at the front of the classroom, in the kitchen at parties and invariably were the last ones picked at any kind of sport.

And as for girls.....forget it.

So chaps - I may well be behind the new technology wave rather than riding it but let's face it...the coolest kid at school was never going to get a job in IT was he....

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

How cool is i google?

OK - I realise that I'm probably a bit slow off the blocks here but I've just discovered igoogle and have created my own personal home page.

As well as the usual search facility my default page now also has:

  • the 5 day weather forecast for the charente valley

  • real time (almost) changes to my stock portfolio

  • the 10 newest messages I've received on gmail

  • a french/english translation tool for when I come across a word I don't know

  • google map, centred on my house, so I can plan route times when visiting houses

It's absolutely brilliant and I'm sure I could discover a zillion other add-ons if I didn't have to actually get on and do some work!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Jarnac property search pays off

The senior partner received a text from some Arsenal season ticket holders who also happen to have gone from being old clients into new friends.

They are settling into the beautiful riverside house I found for them in Bourg Charente (pictured), midway between Jarnac & Cognac.

I was out cycling with a couple of friends and happened to be passing their house....I couldn't resist letting rip with a quick "come on you spurs" as we sped by.

The text read "Is your yob of a husband out cycling at the moment. If the answer is yes then you need to have words as he scared our guests".

Of course I have subsequently issued a grovelling apology and all isn't lost as we were invited to a truly scrumptious BBQ with them the other night.

It's a perk of the job that I sometimes get to enjoy the pleasures of the houses (and gardens) that I find in this way.

It's an added incentive when I'm searching to know that if I play my cards right there's a decent chance that I'll be invited to share a cold beer on the terrace - or, if I'm really lucky, maybe even some prime entrecote, a decent Bordeaux and plenty of laughter as with David & Lorraine.

First rule of buying in France - use a good notaire

Just back from a completion at the notaires office.

It makes life so much easier when you have an efficient & friendly notaire that speaks English. He went through the contracts in both languages so that my clients could fully understand the proceedings and he offered on the spot advice on taxation, wills and all kinds of related issues.

My clients are thrilled at the property (above) that I found them for less than 100,000€, and impressed with the whole buying process over here.

On the way back from the signing we stopped at the Orange shop and set up a phone line for them and now I've left them the exciting task of unpacking their van and setting up their dream place in the sun.

I love my job when things run smoothly like this and you see the joy and sense of adventure on clients faces. Of course it has it's downsides too but I work so hard to dig out the gems that I get a real sense of pride when it comes together.

In fact I'm feeling so smug that I'm almost tempted to award myself an afternoon off with a decent book.

I say almost because what I'm actually going to do is nip down to Jarnac to look at a couple of plots for some clients coming out in three weeks time. I have a terrific architect & builder lined up for them to meet and I want to find them somewhere truly special to build their property.

No peace for the wicked.