Monday, March 29, 2010

Les Girondins import premiership ticket prices

Regular readers will know that, last summer, I came within a whisker of buying a season ticket to watch my beloved Girondins for €130.  If you don't know the story you can click here to find out why I decided against it.

That decision came back to haunt me today.

Tickets have just gone on sale for the second leg of the Champions League quarter final tie against Lyon.

I usually pay €12 to stand behind the goal with the ultras.  The cheapest ticket I could buy for the match on April 7th was €55.

They had better win!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Budget incentive for 1st time buyers - but is it responsible governing

The online world is going mad at the moment as the budget speech is picked over sentence by sentence and then re-tweeted around the globe.

The general consensus among the great and the good of the property industry is that the doubling of the stamp duty threshold to £250,000 is a grand move and will help kick start the market - with the introduction of many first time buyers.

Excellent, that's agreed then.

Yet, there's something nagging away at me that says there is far more pain to come in the UK property market and that this feeding of the property flame is not necessarily what a responsible government should be doing.

This illuminating little piece in the Wall Street Journal perfectly illustrates the pain currently being felt in the US real estate market.  These are real people with real debts, right now.  I'd urge you to read it through and then think about how a similar scenario could unfold in the UK.

Goodness knows I'm no economist but I do have this little chap on my shoulder who's whispering in my ear that this could all end in tears for those who can least afford it...those just setting out on their adult lives.

Where to buy in 2010 - the Primelocation International view

My old friends at Primelocation International have just published this article on their website.

Once again, France is the first country mentioned as a "where to buy" safe haven. The author goes on to say:

The attractions are obvious: gastronomy and wine, uncrowded towns and countryside, and a better climate than at home – especially in the south. On top of that, France has one big advantage over all other destinations: accessibility.

Record numbers of people are downloading details from the Primelocation International site which is a healthy sign - for the market to pick up though we need to see this initial window shopping turned into actual transactions.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Europe named as most popular property investment in 2010

This article just popped up on my twitter screen and is worth a look.

In my previous life I was actually very friendly with Doctor Nick Axford who is quoted throughout (he's head of research at CB Richard Ellis and it's a little known fact that he can drive a golf ball further than Tiger Woods).

His colleague sums up the findings with:

"Liquidity risk is also a primary concern and it is therefore not surprising, given the size of the markets and relatively positive recovery prospects, that France or Germany appear most attractive to over a third of respondents".

Living in France - what's it like?

A phone conversation with a friend and a typical Daily Mail article have prompted this post.

Let's start with the phone call.  I spent twenty minutes or so chatting over a potential property purchase with a friend of mine.  We spoke about buying property with both the head and the heart.

There's a convincing argument for French property as an asset class by itself at the moment. UK equities are tied in with the ropey economy, gold looks over-valued, UK property could go either way, gilts & bonds have low returns while France has a stable economy and property is realistically priced after recent falls.

Then, of course, there's the added bonus that owning a place in France gives.  Decent weather, high standard of living and the chance to own somewhere that makes your pulse race as you drive up to it.  Owning a place in France can bring pleasure that a share certificate simply can't match.

However, life isn't better over here, just different.

This article in the Daily Mail typifies this.  It's well written and after reading it through you have to feel sorry for Mrs Booth (although a little less for her husband who was driving at five times the legal limit. My best friend out here lost his wife and left leg fifteen years ago due to a drunk driver).

Pause for even a nano second though and you can see where it all went wrong.

Looking to "escape" is not a good reason to live here - despite the name of the TV series.  If your marriage/career/life has problems then they will probably be exacerbated by a move to France.  Particularly if you don't bother to learn the language. It won't be the fault of France Telecom, Ryanair, EDF or your local bartender either.

However, come here because you want to embrace the culture or because you love the scenery, pace of life, politics and/or weather and you stand a good chance of happiness.

Be realistic and do your research - then move for a positive reason.

Believe me when I say that whilst I adore my life here and am very happy, my kids still get sick, it can rain, earning money is difficult, I sometimes argue with my wife, my dog chases rabbits and - above all else - French tv is dire.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Making money in the property market

The BBC ran this interesting article on their news pages over the week-end.

It's almost an amalgam of a couple of my posts over the last few months.  They start by saying that the internet is having a defining role on the way that property is being marketed and that Google & Tepilo are both going to have a role to play. I've been saying that for a while.

They then move on to the increasing role of buying agents and the fact that they are no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and wealthy. As Tim Hammond says in the article:

"Most people waste time looking at unsuitable properties and you don't have to be rich to be busy".

I've been working in the international property market for almost 25 years now and I simply don't see why anyone in the UK, USA or other overseas locations would choose to buy a property in France without using a buying agent.  It reduces the risk, increases the number of decent houses you will view and ensures you buy it at a price that reflects the true market value.

A visit to the dentist - oh merde!

My local dentist is the cousin of one of my best mates out here.  When we first arrived in France I should have taken the hint that whilst Christian uses him (family loyalty) Chantal and the kids go to a different dentist in Jarnac.

My guy is 6'4" tall, built like a tank with fingers the size - and dexterity - of bananas.  When I first visited his rural practice I entered the building with trepidation but was flabbergasted when entering the lions den to find it kitted out like the flight deck of the USS Entrerprise.  You have to hand it to the French when it comes to healthcare their equipment truly is state of the art.

Anyway, back to the butcher, errr dentist.

I went in because one of my teeth had snapped in half, he pulled it out and cleaned it up (you're a big guy Graham, no need for an the exact same words he used when I went in for root canal treatment.  I'm not joking).

He then fitted a temporary crown by jamming the aforementioned bunch of bananas as far in as possible and pressing down with all his weight.

Sadly, whilst extracting his fingers and equipment there was a big crack followed by a low pitched groan of "Oh Merde". Not quite what you want to hear when you're sat alone and helpless in the dentists chair.

Still, we got it sorted in the end and even managed a cheerful conversation about the France v England 6 nations match being played the next day.

His parting shot was a mighty pat on the back that would have stopped even Sebastien Chabal in his tracks and the announcement that my appointment in quinze jours might not be quite as comfortable.

Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man...move aside you're nothing compared to this guy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Girondins de Bordeaux - a vintage year?

Another excellent result last night takes Laurent Blanc and his men into the quarter finals of the champions league.

Sadly I messed up my diary dates and was too late applying for tickets to the match last night.  ITV decided not to show it so I watched the game on Canal+ and a cracking match it was too.

The draw for the next round is on Friday and I'm hoping to avoid three teams.  Bayern Munich because having thrashed them earlier in the competition Murphy's Law says that they would knock us out, Lyon because they're coming good and on a high and CSKA Moscow because everyone thinks they're a soft touch.

That leaves Barcelona, Man Utd, Arsenal and Inter Milan.  We would be huge underdogs against any of them but that's no bad thing.

We're still under the radar (despite a record of P8, W7, D1, L0) but in years to come folks may well be looking back on 2010 as a truly special vintage.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A guide to buying property in France

I have been asked to provide a short guide as to the buying process in France.

Whether you are taking your first tentative steps to buying a house here or are a seasoned ex-pat it pays to take professional advice throughout.


Around 50% of house sales in France are still done so privately, without the help and advice of an estate agent. For most people though you would be well advised to either appoint a buying agent to act upon your behalf or to only view properties through licenced immobiliers.

A buying agent will scour the local market, visit properties on your behalf, compile a shortlist, accompany you on all viewings and help negotiate the lowest price possible. For this service they will typically charge you between 2-3% of the purchase price. You can find a list of accredited agencies by visiting the website of their national federation at

Alternatively consider using a FrenchEntrée property finder who are specialists based throughout France. You can find your nearest one here.

Traditional agencies must also have a carte professionnelle as well as a financial guarantee and full professional indemnity insurance. Most agencies are members of their national federation, you can find a list at

Many people begin their house search using the internet. Just as in the UK there are a selection of “portals” listing house details across France.

Making an offer

The process here is not too dissimilar to the UK. Once you have found a house that you like you should make an offer (preferably in writing) to either the agent or vendor.

Make sure that all parties know exactly what is included in the offer (ie if it includes agents fees) and don’t forget to set aside a budget for the notaires fees and taxes.

There is no hard & fast rule as to how low your offer should be. In a “hot” market you may well need to pay the asking price, in troubled times you may well be able to negotiate a hefty discount.

You should have all your financing in place before you make the offer.

Structural survey

As you probably know most French purchasers do not bother to have a house surveyed.

There are a list of tests that the vendor must pay for and have undertaken by professionals. This is called the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT).

Up to seven surveys must now be undertaken. These are for asbestos, electrics, energy efficiency, gas, lead, “natural or technological risks” and termites.

Most sellers wait until they have an offer agreed before commissioning the reports, some of which have a short “shelf life” before they need to be undertaken again. If you would like a more comprehensive survey you will find plenty of RICS registered surveyors offering a service throughout France.

Legal representation

Contrary to popular opinion, the Notaire is not there to represent you. They represent the state and undertake planning and other searches with the local authorities.

If you want to have someone representing your legal interests there are many UK legal practices who employ French notaries and offer this service (for a fee).

Preliminary sale agreement (Compromis de Vente)

Once your offer is accepted and the compulsory tests have been undertaken you will be asked to sign the compromise de vente.

This will either have been drafted by the agent or notaire. It is a binding agreement between the vendor and the buyer, subject to any conditions that may be stipulated in the contract. The most common such condition is that relating to a mortgage being secured but others could include planning consent, rights of way etc.

Once signed you do have a seven day cooling off period – during which you may pull out of the transaction at any time, without explanation, but you must do this by registered letter.

You will usually pay a deposit (between 5-10%) to the agent or notaire and this will be kept in a special bank account as a guarantee until the purchase is completed.

Completion (Acte de Vente)

It usually takes between eight – twelve weeks from signing the compromis for the final acte de vente to be completed and ready for signature. The signing is at the notaires office and they will confirm the final time and date a short time beforehand. Beware, the date set in the compromis is a target date and not set in stone.

You must have transferred the balance of funds in advance (make sure you shop around using specialist currency brokers). You must also provide proof that the house is insured. Once the signing is complete you are given the keys and the house is yours.

Buying new build property

This option is particularly popular with French buyers and is strictly regulated with developers forced to have a bank guarantee in place for each new development.

This guarantee is provided in the Deed of Sale to ensure that the new development will be completed to the advertised standards even if the developer or construction company runs into financial difficulties.

Contracts are drawn up in accordance with the French “Code de la Construction et de l’Habitation”. This sets out very clear terms and conditions and is extremely protective of the purchaser. Notaires fees are lower and typically 2.5-4% of the house cost.

Houses come with a 10 year guarantee and need to comply with modern building standards.

The first step is to identify the developer/builder you wish to use. Visit the sites and make sure your chosen plot is available. Once you have made your decision you will be asked to make a deposit of between 2-5%. Again this will be held in a special bank account by either the notaire or the developer (if he is licenced to do so) and, again, you have a 7 day cooling off period.

The payment of the deposit is accompanied by the signing of the “Contrat de reservation” which reserves the property and fixes the price. This contract specifies the building schedule, stage payments and date of delivery (ie completion).

About 4-6 months after signing the reservation contract the notaire will send you the deed of sale (or projet d’acte) by recorded delivery. You should sign this within one month, usually at the notaires office.

When the property is ready to be handed over you will be accompanied by a representative of the developer and will agree all snagging issues. You then have a further 30 days to add to this list which you must do by recorded delivery.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The 6 nations "predict the results" competition

In honour of all those property folk here in France for the MIPIM extravaganza I'm offering this exclusive bottle of vintage (1966 but that's the wrong sport) cognac as a prize.

All you have to do is predict the results of this week-end's three 6 nations matches and email me at by 1.00pm on the 20th March 2010 (all matches are being played on Saturday, times are GMT).

Wales v Italy - 14.30hrs
Ireland v Scotland - 17.00hrs
France v England - 19.45 hrs

The entrant who gets all three predictions spot on will win the cognac, if more than one person gets it right then all winning names will be put into a hat. My decision will be final.

I know it's a big ask but the cognac comes from a local vineyard and there's no more left. It's a one off prize that you simply can't buy in the shops!

10 property "experts" predict the future...

A magazine called "Luv the city" has published an interesting article this month.  It has asked 10 property experts their views on the future of property marketing. You can read the full article here.

The "experts" are:
  • Sarah Beeny of private sale website Tepilo
  • Rosalind Renshaw, editor of Estate Agent Today
  • Duncan Dunlop of social media website Oodle
  • Daniel Latto of The Think Tank Group
  • Angus Edy of Movello
  • Darren Earney, a Search Engine Optimisation expert
  • Carolyn Hughes who blogs about Manchester
  • Giles Ings, an architect
  • Martin Smityh of
  • Phil Shankland of
It's a great shame that only one of the ten is actually a practicing estate agent. A balance of five existing agents, a couple of portal owners and three support service suppliers would have given the article much more value.  What are Savills & Knight Frank thinking?  How about some of the huge chains and what do Primelocation and Rightmove have to say?

Still, there's plenty to chew on and it's certainly worth a read.

I'd really like to invite Martin Smith, Daniel Latto and Sarah Beeny round to dinner and eavesdrop on the conversation....particularly when the St Emilion & Remy Martin took effect and they said what they really think the future holds!

Monday, March 15, 2010

MIPIM week - social media or socialising with the media?

It's that time of year again.

Back in the day when I had a proper job the MIPIM event in Cannes was always one of the biggest weeks of the year.  For those who have never indulged (and I use that word advisedly) it's a huge property exhibition with senior property folk flying in from all over the world.

Major land owners, developers, investors, occupiers and agents (to name but a few) also attract the big names in property journalism and I always found it exciting that I could be walking along the croisette and just bump into so many reporters at all hours of night and day.

This year though I suspect that socialising with the media will be second on the agenda of many marketing people to social media.

It seems to me that everyone is talking about it but that many property folk are scared by it (whatever "it" is).

It takes me back to all the board presentations I made when the internet first began taking off and particularly to the many discussions I had with a large selection of senior partners/chief execs when property listing sites were in their infancy (Primelocation, Rightmove, Propertylink et al).

I see that JLL are blogging at MIPIM (following the excellent Notes from Davos they produced) and of course Estates Gazette are also leading the way.

But, the property world is still just scratching the surface - I'm not a huge fan of mixing facebook business with pleasure but for sure blogs and twitter could bring immediate benefits to just about any property related business that took the plunge.

I can make a direct link to new business, increased PR exposure (Telegraph, Independent, specialist press) and even industry awards - if I can do this from sunny Cognac then what could the big boys in Berkeley Square or Hanover Square achieve?

To help them find out I'd point them towards

I'm not giving up the day job of working as a buying agent here in SW France but property marketing is an area that I'm so passionate about it would be nice to get involved again & work with one or two forward thinking agencies to help them exploit this window of opportunity.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

French property - more variety than a night with Bruce Forsyth

I'm in the middle of writing an article for French Property News on the variety of properties we have for sale in this great country.

I'm obviously not going to give too much away (you'll have to buy the May edition to see what I've found).

As a little teaser though I can tell you that the gems I have found are all for sale privately and they range from a mobile home on a campsite just outside St Emilion for €9,000 - yes you have read that correctly - up to Villa Leopolda (pictured) which is reputed to be the mosy expensive house in the world. The Daily Mail recently reported that the previous buyer (the second richest man in Russia) has pulled out losing his £56 million deposit.

Whilst researching the article I also learned that France is bordered by no less than eight countries.

No prizes but plenty of Kudos for the first person to name them all without googling it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A little drop of Cognac - reviewed

There's a witty (and kind) review of A little drop of Cognac by Keith Eckstein on his website A Taste of Garlic.

Thanks a million Keith and keep up the good work.

Win free tickets to Futuroscope

My friends at Guide2 Poitou Charentes are running a competition where you can win four free tickets to Futuroscope just outside Poitiers.

It's an absolutely cracking place.  Last Summer we had some visitors from Switzerland for a week and they took the girls off our hands for the day and went to Futuroscope.

All voted it better than Eurodisney in Paris and they came back exhausted but content.

To enter the competition click here.

Bonne chance....

For Sale boards for the modern estate agent

I'm still trying to get my head around this article by Chris Thorman on "Geo - Fences", the problem with being in my late forties is that I was brought up using a phone to call people rather than to run my life.

It's fascinating stuff and certainly an advance on putting a "for sale" sign up in your front garden.

The future of property marketing currently looks like one giant join the dots puzzle and I for one can't see the shape that we're supposed to be connecting yet.

What I do know is that my daughters (currently aged 10 & 11) are going to be co-opted onto the board of Cognac Property Services within the next year or so!

Petition to Ryanair re: Angouleme airport

Local expats are disappointed that Ryanair have decided to stop flights into Angouleme airport.

A petition has been started by the entrepreneurial and energetic John West and it's really gathering pace with coverage in the local papers and a Twitter campaign fuelling the flames.

You can find out all about it and sign up here.

I remember being very excited when rumours were circulating that the airport was going to open and even wrote some articles for French Property News on the effect it could have on house prices (although with hindsight any effect was obliterated by the economic crisis and disastrous pound/euro rate).

In reality the flights back to the UK have made very little difference to our lives here and I've only used it once (although I have picked up some visitors from Angouleme a couple of times).

It looks as though there may be another carrier willing to fly to London although details are still sketchy (you can get the latest updates from John by opting in to his email alerts).

For la famille Downie we'd file this under "nice to have" but we're spoiled for choice with airports already (Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Poitiers and Limoges are all within comfortable striking distance) as well as the TGV and motorway network.

Full credit to John for this initiative though, I hope his hard work pays dividends.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Sausages, beans and a four bed family home....

Much ado about Tesco entering the property sales arena (again).  Even the Daily Mail is entering the discussion (read the full article here):

Only around 2 per cent of homeowners sell their properties online, with 27 per cent of sellers who have used traditional estate agents saying they would consider it as an alternative.

Tesco last dipped their toes into estate agency in 2007 but it never took off.  Clearly though they think that it's still a good fit into their business model and this time they are taking a more pragmatic approach by teaming up with respected estate agent Spicer-Haart and trialling the service in the south west.

I genuinely have no idea whether this service will take off but, again, it shows how the whole property buying process is changing.

Tesco and Google would certainly not lay claim to any particular property expertise but both would argue that they will offer buyers additional choice in how they undertake property search. 

Tesco bring a captive audience, a trusted brand, huge spending power and a myriad of cross selling opportunities.

Google bring....well pretty much everything when it comes to starting your property search.

I, and many others, will be watching the launch of with great interest.

Sarah Beeny, Larry Page and Terry Leahy may sound like strange bed-fellows but what a combination they could be!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The increased role of "buying agents"

Another good article from the Daily Telegraph.

This one highlights the benefits of using a buying agent (or property finder as they tend to be called in France).  It's clear that more and more people agree with me that the market is changing and that buyers are looking for someone to represent their interests.

This is emphasised by the fact that Strutt & Parker, Savills and Knight Frank all have buying agents in their portfolio (albeit trading under a different brand with chinese walls).

My favourite quotes were these:

“We know who’s out there, who’s made a bid, who hasn’t made a bid,” says Peter Mackie of Property Vision, one of the biggest agencies. “We’re all totally embedded in the business.”

Others talk of local knowledge, trade contacts, networks of past clients and even dinner-party and front-doorstep gossip.

“I had one of my best tipoffs from the man who delivers my logs,” says Tom Hudson, of specialist rural buying agents Middleton Advisors.

And once you have been whisked through the front door with a metaphorical blanket over your head, the buying agents are keen to clinch you a deal. Though not, it should be said, at any price.

I really can't understand why anyone should think about purchasing a property overseas without at least exploring the option of having a local professional represent them.