Friday, November 19, 2010

UK estate agents v French immobiliers...a licence to thrill

The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) has today launched it's licensing scheme for UK estate agents.

Housing minister, Grant Shapps has called it a "symbolic moment".

It's something that has been "bubbling under" for many years and it's sure to cause can read more about it in this article from Estate Agent today.

For sure, the UK needs to do something to generate a greater feeling of trust in the industry. 

Here in France the industry has far tighter regulations and anyone interested in buying property can easily check out the agency they are dealing with.

The starting place should always be to see their carte professionnelle.  This is issued by the local Prefecture and if your agent doesn't have one then don't use them (you can see my dog eared copy above, it's in a sorry state but you are supposed to carry it at all times).  They're not particularly easy to get and you have to prove a complicated mixture of experience and qualifications.

To get this carte the agent also has to show that they have an up to date garantie financiere (financial guarantee) as well as assurance resposibilité civile professionnelle (PI indemnity).  Further details can be found here.

It may well be that your contact is not the owner or employee of the agency but a self employed "agent commerciale".  If this is the case they must still carry a "white card" attestation, completed by the owner of the original carte and signed off by the Prefecture.

They also need to have their own assurance responsibilité civile professionnelle.

All pretty straightforward really.  Most international buyers are aware of these regulations and the cowboys seem to be diminishing in number (although this could have something to do with the state of the market).

It's an area that the French are ahead of the UK in (along with the compulsory information on the state of the property that is made available to the purchaser) but maybe this NAEA initiative will help improve matters.

Who knows, estate agents may soon shrug off the mantle of being the most hated advisors in the UK....leaving an open playing field for the legal profession :-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My property tips in "French" magazine - the Raymond Blanc special

Following my excellent run of press coverage in the UK nationals (Telegraph, Independent, Standard) and French Property News I have been lucky enough to receive a double page spread in the November/December issue of "French" magazine.

Best of all it's the special edition that has been edited by Raymond Blanc and the whole magazine looks really terrific.

My article is entitled "So many properties...." and it gives some tricks of the trade, as well as showing you how to work out which properties represent the best value for money.

You will find it on pages 78 & 79 and please don't be distracted by M Blanc's life story or four favourite recipes (mind you, "Maman Blanc's" floating island does look truly scrumptious).

You can pick up the magazine at any good newsagent for a most reasonable £3.99, or subscribe directly by visiting their website here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chinese lessons in the charente

There's a big debate in the Downie household at the moment and my reading of this article has only stirred things up further.

The article has the headline "Relocate or wither & die on the corporate vine" and is written by a UK headhunter. It leads with:

Des Hurlby, Human Resources Director at international car maker Jaguar Land Rover, has had ”pointed” conversations with up to five of the company’s best employees urging them to consider moving “out of leafy Warwickshire” to China to help the company capitalise on emerging markets“.

This seems to be coming more commonplace and is a trend that I can only see continuing.
The debate we are having is whether to find someone to give the girls lessons in Mandarin.  There is a Lycee in Angouleme that offers this later on in their education but it's a complicated language and, at just 10 and 11, it would be better to start them early.
The good news is that there is someone advertising locally who offers lessons in the Cognac & Angouleme area.
The quandry is this:
For sure it would give them a huge advantage when they come to leave school.  No matter which career path they choose it's likely that fluency in English, French, Spanish & Mandarin would help them stand out from the crowd.
It's also far easier to learn a language when you are young (I know this from bitter experience).
On the flip-side they already have special English lessons on a Saturday morning and as I have posted before teachers in the French education system give out homework for fun.  Add in gymnastics, swimming, dance & singing and they don't have much free time as it is.
We left London for rural France to escape the rat race and watch the girls grow up in the country. We don't want them to lose the benefits by being continually stuck in a classroom. 
Of course, the ultimate choice will be theirs but it will be interesting to see how the debate this space.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"How the "super rich" go house hunting"

This was the headline in a recent copy of the good old Daily Telegraph.

Their lucky property correspondent had spent the day with a central London buying agency:

I’m the guest of a buying agent, a sleek blade who finds houses for the kind of people who love spending money. I’m feted as if I were a real-life success story, looking for a residence sufficiently grand to showcase this achievement.

It certainly makes a change not to hear: “Ah, I’m afraid you’ve come through to Rupert in the country house department. Would you mind awfully if I popped you over to Barry in our starter homes section? He looks after our valued clients in your bracket.”

You can read the rest of the article here...and jolly well written it is too.

Sadly though it gives the impression that the service we give is just for the very top end of the market.

Let me put that right straight away.  The most common price of houses that I have helped clients purchase over the last seven years has been around the €280,000 mark. 

Yes, earlier this year I was mandated by some international clients who have a budget of €20 million but I have also bought plots of land for clients with a budget of €30,000 and even helped one couple who had a budget of €100,000.

It's a service for everyone and it's growing more and more popular amongst international buyers.

We're not all called Rupert either (and coming from a journalist called Jasper I'd say he's on thin ice with that joke).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is this the greatest Cognac XO in the world?

I have been inspired to write this post by reading this fascinating article, recently written by my good friend Andy.

When the Downie family escaped the rat race back in 2003 we absolutely fell on our feet by renting a gite in the middle of a vineyard called "Chez Bacou".

It is owned by Christian & Sylvie Martin and they are the eighth generation of Martin's to live there.

We could not have asked for better landlords and now, seven years on, we are lucky enough to call them close friends. 

They have watched our children grow up....indeed Christian is a councillor of the local school and helped get them into the classroom the day after we landed in France. Talk about cutting through red tape!

We too have been fortunate enough to watch their two grow from teenagers into young adults and it's a source of immense pride to them both to see their children become increasingly involved in the running of the vineyard.

As well as adding a new distillery they have recently blended and packaged the magnificent XO that I gave as a present to Andy.  They have only created a tiny quantity and it's something that you simply can't buy in the shops.

I'm lucky enough to have tasted some truly rare cognac's from all the famous houses....Courvoisier, Remy Martin, Hennessy and Martell included.

But, hand on heart, if you asked me to name my favourite I'd say that it's from this small and unknown viticulteur tucked away in the very heart of the grande champagne region.


Armistice day in the Charente

Yesterday was a miserable day in this particular corner of France.

The sky was slate grey, the wind howled and the rain was relentless. It seemed rather fitting that we should have to endure these unusual conditions as a small procession of villagers made our way from the the mairie in Gondeville to the local war memorial.

It's something we do "en famille" every year. At the end of the ceremony, after the minutes silence, the girls join the other school children in singing the rather blood-thirsty lyrics of La Marseillaise.

Last year my eldest was chosen as one of the pupils to have the honour of reading the names of local soldiers carved into the memorial. She did it without faultering and I have never felt so proud.

It was a bank holiday and we went out for lunch afterwards. Of course, the girls were curious about the role that my father had played in the second world war. I explained that, fortunately, he had been born in 1926 and was only a teenager when war broke out. When he was old enough he joined up and was lucky enough to be posted to the far north of his native Scotland where he was tasked with guarding Italian prisoners of war.

His brother wasn't as lucky and was sent to North Africa where he fought the desert fox Rommell and the Afrikakorps.

All war is a dreadful thing - we see a sanitised version on the TV, in the cinema and on our computer consoles. But as the rain and wind lashed around us,  somehow it just seemed right that we should all be soaked to the skin and made to suffer in this most insignificant of ways.

Lest we forget.

Monday, November 08, 2010

French property finders come together in La Rochelle

We had the annual conference of the FrenchEntrée property finder network in La Rochelle last week - and what a terrific venue it is with wonderful restaurants, shops and climate.

It was a gathering of buying agents from all over France and it was most enjoyable to break bread together and to swap best practice.

It's an eclectic collection of professional people and it highlighted the different market places that make up this vast country.

My colleague Janine Zdziebczok had come down from Bayeux on the northern coast of France and brought the house down with her tale of a most demanding search....with a budget of €55,000. Credit where it is due though and despite the ridiculously difficult brief Janine found and bought an absolute gem for her client.

Hop in the car and drive 900 km's south (a journey that would take you 10 hours without stopping) and you would be able to meet Nadia Jordan in Saint Girons. Nadia is just setting up her business and you can read about how she has gone about this in the current issue of French magazine. She's also started an excellent blog that's well worth bookmarking.

It was good to get together with two other new recruits to the network. David Walton is an ex professional footballer (he was goalkeeper for Chelsea while Peter Cech was still in nappies) who now looks after Brittany. Meanwhile, Val Walmsley is quite simply the friendliest and most professional person you could ever wish to meet. She is just putting together her website for the area around Parthenay and as soon as it's ready I will post the link.

There are too many more to mention but I would just like to give a special mention to John Starr who works in the Dordogne & Correze. John is wonderful company and anyone who appoints him would be assured of a warm Irish welcome and plenty of good company.

Finally, during the conference I highlighted one blog in particular as being worthy of following. Alison Morton put together the most comprehensive review & translation of the recent FNAIM figures that I have seen. I for one will be following her posts closely to see what other information she will be kind enough to share.

It truly was a most enjoyable couple of days and I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

French Property News - winter in France

It's (mostly) always nice to be quoted in the press and it can do wonders for your business...just ask Simon Cowell.

I have been particularly lucky this year with comments in the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and Evening Standard among others.

To sit alongside these I now have a three page article in this months French Property News highlighting some of the great buys that are currently available in France and giving some tips on how to make the most of your winter viewing trip. It's the November edition and I'm on pages 50-52.

What was really flattering too is that the editorial team picked me out as one of the key contributors to promote on the contents page - despite me having a face for radio as you'll see if you buy the magazine (price £3.99, available in all good newsagents).

Anyway, I hope that you find time to sit down with a fresh croissant and a piping hot café au lait to read the article in full and that it gives you a small insight into this beautiful country I'm lucky enough to call home.