Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The mystery of the disappearing house

It sounds a little like one of the stories I read my children at night doesn't it.

Yesterday I was with a lovely couple who are selling their home just north of Cognac.  They were telling me that when they were originally looking to buy over here they did lots of research on the internet from the UK. 

They identified a really pretty house they liked and had lots of conversations with the agent about it to make sure it fitted their brief.

Sure enough it did, indeed it looked and sounded idyllic. 

So they flew over to view it and turned up at the local estate agency at the appointed time.

In fact they arrived a little early.

So early that their guy wasn't in the office yet.  They excitedly chatted to one of the other negotiators about the house they had come to view and he accidentally spilled the beans that it had been sold almost a year ago. They just hadn't taken it off the website yet because it was pretty and got people through the door.

A few minutes later their contact arrived and casually said "sorry, the house you were interested in has just gone under offer. Don't worry though, I have some other viewings lined up for you".

If I hadn't heard similar stories dozens and dozens of times before I might have been shocked.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Professional rugby comes to the Charente

The charente has never had a professional rugby team.

Until now. 

Plans for CAC 16 were unveiled in Jarnac last week and are raising €1.2 millions for the launch.  CAC stands for Cognac Angouleme Charente (the two towns are ultra competitive) and to make things fair the team will be based in Jarnac.

Coached by Daniel Herrero (ex Toulon hooker & coach, pictured above) they aim to be in the second tier of the top flight of French rugby within three years.  You can read further details here.

They will have to develop the "stade" in Jarnac and whilst it may never be Twickers I can't think of a better place to have a pre-match Pimms & picnic than outside the Courvoisier chateau on the river front.

CAC 16 v Wasps with Jonny Wilkinson kicking a last minute drop goal to send the locals home happy....well a man can dream.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Seal to headline at Cognac Blues Passions

The Cognac Blues Passions festival is one of the highlights of the year in this neck of the woods, regular readers will know that I had a wonderful time watching The Commitments perform on an island overlooking the Courvoisier chateau.

This year the festival starts on July 27th and Seal is performing on Wednesday 28th...I'll be booking tickets as soon as they go on sale.

Further details can be found on the Blues Passions website.

Monkeying around in Poitou-Charentes

We undertook a lot of research before deciding to change our lives and move to this particular corner of France.

One of the biggest influences was our need for "things to do" with the children....we knew that we were spoilt in London and wanted to make sure that the girls didn't miss out.

Fortunately we chose well and the area around Cognac is idyllic for families like ours.

Cinemas, theatres, bowling, ice skating, water-skiing, horse riding, gym, dance, golf, name it the girls have done it.

There are also plenty of places to go. From Europe's finest zoo in Royan to Champions League football in Bordeaux.

We have visitors at the moment and seven of us piled into the trusty VW and spent a glorious day at the wonderful Vallée des Singes which is about an hour north of us.

Take a look at the website for some great pictures.  If you are visiting Poitou-Charentes and have never been I heartily recommend it.

As you can see, my two little monkeys loved it.

Guest Blogger: Paul Hajek of Clutton Cox Solicitors

My guest blogger today is fellow Primelocation "property blog" award winner (and Spurs fanatic) Paul Hajek of Clutton Cox solicitors.

He describes his practice as "small but perfectly formed" and you can read more about the conveying services they offer here.

Twist Stick or Bust? How to Deal in the UK Housing Market, Spring 2010

The Good News:

The average growth in house prices in the year to February 2010 was 9%, although the average house price was 13% lower than in October 2007

Hometrack, the housing market research company shows the average time to sell a house now to be just over 8 weeks.

The Stamp Duty blanket exemption for homes up to £175000 ended in December 2009, and has been replaced in the recent Budget with a further “exemption holiday” for homes up to £250000, but strictly limited to first time buyers.

Some major lenders have reduced their insistence on 20 -30% deposits.

Second homeowners spurred on by negligible returns on deposit accounts and the lack of value in the traditional second hand markets of France and Spain, have lead to an increase to a record high of 245,385.

The Not So Good News:

We are not out of the woods yet. Economic uncertainty is still a reality

There is evidence that the mortgage companies have staved off wholesale repossessions, but with unemployment still perhaps not yet peaking, there will be room for more property on to the market to potentially weaken prices.

Mortgages have been as hard to come by as last year and the number of agreed home loans fell slightly fell in February 2010, from 48099 to 47094.

Any sustainable recovery would need 60000 or so approvals per month

The so called accidental landlords, forced to rent to avoid loses on their investments, who have shown signs of stirring, may yet be further encouraged to put their properties on the market.

It is usual that activity is dampened prior to a General Election with a spike in activity afterwards.

In 2005, the quarter before the election prices were flat at 0.8%, but went up to 5.2 % in the next quarter.

We all know about problem with relying on statistics and what was different back then was the relative ease in obtaining mortgage finance.

Should you Sell?

The increase in supply is not sufficient in itself to see a re-emergence of a buyers' market.

A necessary rebuilding of the depleted housing stock, which Estate Agents were complaining of at the beginning of the year, is clearly desirable.

Over the last six months of 2009 the supply of homes for sale grew by just 1% while sales volumes grew by 20%.

If you are only selling, provided you did not purchase at the height of the market in 2007, a reasonable return on your investment is likely: the better return depending on how long ago you purchased the property.

There is no likelihood of significant house price inflation in the foreseeable future.

Should you Buy?

The winners in this recession have undoubtedly been cash purchasers or low loan to value buyers picking up the best mortgages.

The Housing Market is still dependent on improvements in loan availability and a return of greater economic confidence.

If you are a first time buyer who can avail yourself of the new “stamp duty holiday” the clock has started to tick. Now is a good time to purchase.

Again, the deposits required are not as stringent as in the last year and more people should benefit

Twist Stick or Bust then?

An outright majority in the General Election would for most commentators be the best outcome not only for the housing market in Spring 2010 but throughout the rest of the year

In such a climate of economic uncertainty, it is highly unlikely interest rates will rise in the short term.

A change in Government or no, the outlook is for nevertheless tax rises, either directly or indirectly. This may depress the market.

But, if more property were to come to market this could indicate a growing optimism. It would suggest a revival of confidence among some homeowners in their ability to get a mortgage, to stay in employment and ensure that they meet their repayments. These were cited as concerns which lay behind owners’ reluctance to sell in 2008 and 2009.

Yet again for most homeowners, employment stability and mortgage availability will be key features determining the strength or weakness of the housing market in the coming months.

A slightly different version first appeared on Paul Hajek’s Clutton Cox blog on 6th April 2010.  You can contact him on 0844 372 3011, email

Monday, April 19, 2010

FNAIM figures for April 2010

The equivalent of the NAE (National association of Estate Agents) in France is the FNAIM and they have just released their report for quarter one of 2010.

As usual, it's a long, fairly turgid, document with plenty of meaningless diagrams but there are a few nuggets.

  • While overall prices are still falling, particularly in the north and east of the country they are bouncing back a little in the south west.
  • 78% of people think that prices are still too high.
  • 16% of people surveyed said that they were looking to buy a house but only 5% thought it would be in the next 12 months.
  • around 575,000 transactions took place in 2009 which was well down on the 800,000 "averages" since the year 2000.
  • A house in Poitou-Charentes will cost you €1417 m2 on average which compares most favourably with other regions.
You can read the full report here.

French whine

Last night, around 6.30pm the phone was my father in law.

"Hello, we've got some friends coming round for dinner, do you have a bottle of white wine we could borrow"?

My in-laws live a couple of hundred metres away (my fault, the mayor told me that they were going to put the old school up for sale and the rest, as they say, is history). It's actually quite delightful having them so close and we see them most days, if only for a coffee and quick chat.

Turns out though that a "bottle of white" was actually three bottles of my good stuff.... but here's the punch line:

"I'm just about to jump in the shower - you couldn't pop down and put them in the fridge could you old chap"?

Have to hand it to him, he's got style my beau pere.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Angouleme flights to Gatwick confirmed

Local residents here in the charente valley will be able to fly directly from Angouleme to London again this summer thanks to Cityline Swiss.

The flights will arrive at Gatwick and we will also be able to fly directly to Lyon & Marseille (handy for those Bordeaux away matches).

The Gatwick flights are currently available from €49 and will be Monday, Wednesday & Friday from June 2nd.

Homeowners in a hurry to sell as election fears loom

So says the Daily Mail anyway in this editorial comment on an RICS report out today.

A spokesperson for the RICS said...

'With the General Election approaching and uncertainty growing over the political direction of the country, many vendors who were previously inclined to sit on the sidelines now appear eager to put their properties on the market.'

...which some budding Piers Morgan at the Mail somehow turned into "Householders in a hurry to sell before the election decimates the market". Outrageous eh.

You can read the RICS press release here which contains a link to the full report.

Monday, April 12, 2010

South West France voted "Top 10 dream destinations" by The Telegraph

Yet again, SW France heads up the list of 10 "dream destinations" in this Daily Telegraph article

The author says:

"It has a diverse and established property market, good range of international schools, easily reached by train, car or plane. Rates highly for relaxed lifestyle".

They're right of course but I wasn't feeling too relaxed earlier when trying to have a phone conversation with a prospective client from Australia and my youngest was banging on my office door to ask if I could help with her homework.

Hmmm - I wonder if the little monsters would like to board at the international school in bordeaux?

Looking for an immobilier in Ruffec?

As you will know by now I deal with many local agents in my beautiful corner of France.

They come in all shapes, sizes and competency levels with some agencies employing ex-pats, with no property experience, who simply aren't up to the job.

No such problems with the excellent TIC team in Ruffec though.

I always look forward to viewings with them.  Christophe, Mike & Tiphaine are highly professional, honest, friendly and truly knowlegeable about their area.

I was out viewing with Christophe on Friday and he explained that he and Mike were in the process of buying the agency from the current owners (it's common knowledge now so I'm not breaking any confidences).

It's always been the "jewel in the crown" and I think that it's a shrewd move on their behalf. If they can make money in this market then they should do really well as things pick up.

If you're looking for property in or around Ruffec you should pop in and see them....I'm sure you'd receive the same warm welcome that I do.

You can see their current website here or simply contact Christophe by email at

Best of luck with the new venture chaps....look forward to watching you go from strength to strength and seeing the twin Porsche's in your car park within a couple of years.

Friday, April 09, 2010

French buying agents - where to find them

Just had a heart warming conversation with a colleague of mine from Nice.

Rebecca Russell has been part of the FrenchEntrée property finder network for just over a year.

Despite the tough market, she has started to carve herself a niche on the Cote D'Azur and has recently found a spate of houses for international clients from all over the world.  The latest is a beautiful villa for a professional couple from the UK that was being marketed at well over a million euros.

She offers a professional and discrete service. Like all of the agents in our network she has been invited to write a number of articles for specialist magazines.  Read her blog and you will see why I think that journalists will continue to seek market comment from her. You can visit her website here.

Serious buyers are still in short supply but, as Rebecca is proving, if you are prepared to go the extra mile for a client then the service and value that buying agents can offer is invaluable.

All of our agents work to the same exacting standard and have true local knowledge (often of properties that are not being sold on the open market).  We all also follow a "quality charter" set out by our national federation.

If you are thinking of buying a property in France then a good opening move would be to click on the link to any of the experts below:

Loire & Thouet valley
Languedoc Roussillon
Cote D'Azur
French Alps

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Cognac production to move to England

In a shock announcement last night French president Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed recent rumours that global warming has finally taken it's toll on the world famous cognac industry.

"For some time now we have realised that the change in climate has been affecting the quality of cognac produced. Experts deliberated long and hard and discovered that Tunbridge Wells has the ideal mixture of  soil, temperature, rainfall and sunshine" said the President.

Details are sketchy but it's thought that major producers like Courvoisier, Remy Martin and Martell will simply move lock, stock and (1,000,000) barrels across the channel.  Employees with specialist knowledge are likely to move too and there's even talk of dismantling the famous Hennessy chateau and moving it on the TGV.

Avril LePremiere (pictured here with President Sarkozy) is the chic spokesperson for the mayor of Cognac and she confirmed the switch:

"In the long run we hope to also swap the names of the towns. Tunbridge Wells will become part of the Charente and Cognac will become the administrative capital of the county of Kent. Vines are being planted as we speak and the full move is likely to occur on 1st April 2020".

It's also rumoured that the whole champagne region are in advanced discussions with local councils in County Durham but this is yet to be confirmed.