Wednesday, January 27, 2010

French Property News: article on schools/property prices

Those wonderful people at French Property News have kindly published an article I wrote for them which talks about the correlation between schooling and property prices.

Clearly this is a huge issue in the UK but hasn't really affected the French market....until now perhaps.

You can read the article here.....hope you enjoy it.

Google Real Estate - a view from The Independent

It's nice to have some of my thoughts quoted on the Google Real Estate revolution in today's Independent.

Graham Norwood has written (another) excellent article on the issue which you can read here.

Yours truly is given the final word which was gratifying as it happens so rarely at home. Obviously space only allowed Graham to pick and choose from the comments I gave him. In full these were:

It's clear that the internet (with Google firmly behind the wheel) is changing the property market from being "seller driven" to "buyer driven" which is it's natural place. Historically estate agents have been all powerful - controlling the flow of information on what's available, how much a property is worth and how it is best exposed to the market.

Property portals and listing sites have chipped away at this over the last 10 years and with Google entering the market the walls protecting this information will soon crumble and fall.

Buyers will be able to use Google to locate the properties available, view exterior photos (and the surrounding areas) and will be one click away from floor plans, internal photos, video tours and other data....where's the mystique now? No more smiling estate agent reaching into his bottom drawer to show you grainy pictures of a house that's "just come on the market".

The really interesting thing will be to see if Google are brave enough to ignore the existing portals (Rightmove, Primelocation etc) and the established agency about a mixture of "hard" Google technology and the "soft" pretty and ubiquitous, face of Sarah Beeny who runs Tepilo (a private sale website). Now that truly would get them spluttering in their tea at the RICS and NAEA.

Estate agents aren't going to die out but I'm sure we'll see a sea-change in the way they work and earn their fees. Expect to see a mad dash away from advising the seller and towards advising the buyer (it is the buyer who has the cash and desire to spend it after all).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Social Media and the property industry

For those of you who use Twitter you'll know that RT stands for "re-tweet". It's a way of spreading interesting news across the internet in seconds.

Today saw a flurry of RT's over this article on a website called Techcrunch. In it the author senses that social media is beginning to alter the way that the property market operates.  It's well written, interesting and worth a read.

Last November I posted a link to a report on the use of social media within commercial property, published on behalf of the RICS.  This too is worth a read.

There's something immediate and tangible that hasn't really been discussed yet though.

It's the ability to use social media to set a corporate "tone of voice" and to allow big corporations to differentiate themselves.

What's the difference between JLL, CBRE and DTZ?  Don't know....nor do I. Because if you took their logos off their corporate ads, literature and websites you'd be hard pushed to know who's was who's.

The same goes for PWC, KPMG and E&Y (getting fed up of the initials yet?).

Now, I've been in the board meetings and I know why this is.


Publishing a report & accounts.....for goodness sake don't inject any personality into it in case one of our institutional investors objects to it.

Publishing research....keep it dry or people won't take it seriously.

PR campaign....bugger the true state of the market, keep on message and always highlight these three points (copyright Alastair Campbell, 1997).

Get my point?  Well, social media and blogging in particular can change all this.

If any of the six sets of initials above published a blog then shareholders, clients, potential clients, competitors and staff would all have different expectations (and higher tolerance levels) than usual.

It's a chance to inject personality and charisma into your brand.

Humour, market comment, a softer tone of voice perhaps even some truth.

Of course there are plenty of potential pitfalls and it would be easy to destroy a brand. But it can't be beyond the wit of man to put procedures in place that ensure social media enhances and humanises your other marketing efforts.

Need a brilliant example of what I mean? Click here.

I can hear the property journalists sharpening their pencils...

I'm sat here in the depths of rural France but my mind has wandered back to 10 turbulent years worth of working in the heart of the West End of London.

For those who don't know I held a pretty senior position at Chesterton International plc who were one of the largest and most acquisitive property consultancies in the UK.

Just before I joined, the board had floated the practice on the stock exchange and been on a huge buying spree which included recruiting a senior team from Price Waterhouse and a Facilities Management company called Workplace Management

There followed a whole host of further acquisitions as they tried to become a true "one stop shop".

As most people know the strategy failed miserably. 

Some put it down to the "deal junkie" mentality of the board, others said it was simply a flawed strategy, even more said it was a fine strategy but the execution was woeful.

Chesterton went into receivership and was broken up. Many people lost their jobs and some (me included)  are victims of a massively under-funded pension scheme.

Anyway - the point is that with Deloittes & Drivers Jonas announcing their "merger" and the likelihood that Capita will be buying Nelson Bakewell in the next week or so I'm offering short odds on a rash of "remember Chesterton" stories as the property journos trawl through their archives and memory banks and sharpen their pencils.

There's nothing new in politics and for those of us who have been around a while we know it's exactly the same in property.

Primelocation blog awards - pls don't vote more than once

I had an email earlier today from a beautiful cousin of mine on the other side of the world.  She told me that she'd voted for me a dozen times.  Of course I love her dearly for this and am truly grateful for her kind support.

It's not really cricket though and against the spirit of things so, tempting as it is, please only cast a single vote per person.

I'm grateful too to the owners of my favourite internet café who have encouraged all their regulars to put down their café & croissants and vote for their "local" entrepreneur (whether they can read English or not).

It's all a bit of fun and takes my mind away from what is a pretty appalling property market over here.  I was out with a well known French agent this morning and I asked him what style of house was currently in vogue with his local buyers.

"Graham" he said "they couldn't care less about the style - they're interested in one thing only and that's the price.  If it's cheap enough they'll buy it otherwise they'll wait".

It's a buyers market for sure.  There are some terrific bargains around and if you're considering buying in France this year your problem will be wading through the average & good to find the outstanding.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thanks for the nominations - Primelocation property blog awards

Wow - thanks a million to those people who nominated me for the Primelocation property blog awards.

I have been shortlisted for three of the four available categories and if you really want to make my day you can vote for this blog here.

It's a tough one though as I'm up against some full time journalists/bloggers with massive resources behind them.  Still, if Rage against the machine can knock the X factor winner off the christmas number one slot then anything is possible.

I'm actually chuffed to bits that A little drop of Cognac has done so well.  There are literally thousands of property blogs and many of them have professional writers funded by major corporations.

I write this for fun and (sadly) have to put most of my time and energy into running my business and finding beautiful houses for my clients.

Anyway, that's enough self ego will explode if it gets any larger so it's back to "day to day" life now.

And, as regular readers know, that means it's off down to Jarnac, buy L'Equipe and into the bar for my Saturday morning ritual.

Enjoy the week-end (and don't forget to vote!)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rightmove fire a salvo at Google

Terrific stuff from the FT who write about a leaked memo circulated by the top brass at Rightmove.

They (Rightmove) are in a tricky position.

Do they just ignore all the speculation about Google entering the real estate market - and get accused of burying their heads in the sand.

Or, do they come out fighting - and get accused of defensiveness and "feeding the flames".

They're going to be damned whatever they do but I do think that the memo they sent out could have been better crafted.  Read it, (link here) and judge for yourself. 

My take is that they sound scared and bewildered - I'm reading Watership Down to my kids at the moment and I had a "rabbits in the headlights" feeling when scrolling through what Rightmove sent out.  The second paragraph was particularly poor:

The reality – we think! – is that at some point Google will launch a real-estate feature in the UK. We can’t be sure about when they will launch but we can hazard a guess that what they will launch will be along the same lines as their real estate features in Australia and the US, launched in July. So, what do we know about the brave new world of online property advertising in Australia and the US?

Bewilderment and sarcasm aren't the tone to set things off with.

The FT say that they await Googles response.  My guess is that there won't be one - they'll just continue testing, evaluating and meeting the major players in private.

They're a juggernaut and the momentum they are gathering won't be deflected by tactical volleys like this.

Guest Blog: Henry Pryor

Here comes Google!

It was only a matter of time but we now know that everyone's favourite search engine looks like it wants a bit of the Property pie. I don’t mean that it’s going to start buying and selling homes nor is it about to help build some of the 200,000 new homes we were told we needed to keep homes affordable. No, it wants to help it’s users to find homes to buy or to rent.

Rightmove, the UK’s biggest property portal announced it’s busiest week ever at the start of January with over 157 million page views over seven days that the country was covered by snow. We knew that most home movers now start their search online but these numbers make scary reading for traditional estate agents who used to control the registers of prospective buyers and tenants. Pre-qualifying those who were to look at their clients homes is still something that some agents trot out as an excuse for the fees they charge.

Sadly, the internet means that you don’t have to answer a whole heap of irrelevant questions from someone you know wants to ‘sell’ you something (probably a mortgage or some conveyancing services!). You choose when you want to look, you choose what you say, you can lie and say you have more to spend than your spouse would ever believe and you can do it all anonymously.

Over 90% of all the estate agents in the UK and a growing number of agents and brokers abroad pay to list on Rightmove and in the UK their rates for new joiners are now over £400 per month per branch! Small wonder that Rightmove is a £600m company and even less surprise that Google is interested in taking a slice of this pie.

Of course Google aren’t saying that they want to compete. It’s all about providing a service to their users. I am still amazed at the number of people I see who put a www address into Google rather than just typing it into a web browser so I can testify to the number of people who given the chance will stay within the Google site if they can.

Imagine using Google maps for directions, seeing homes for sale as you do (and cars, jobs and who knows what else in the near future) and being offered the chance to view the homes, being offered two or three mortgage products while you’re looking and given the chance to be sent more properties like this in the future - all without leaving the Google site and you can see why the established portals might be nervous.

The Digital Property Group (owned by the Daily Mail group) also have a significant investment in the property marketing space having paid north of £70m over the years to acquire brands such as Primelocation, FindaProperty, Under one Roof to name but three. They along with Trinity Mirror (who own Smart New Homes amongst other online property businesses) will all be planning a defence no doubt.

One aggregator, has already taken the option open to all (including estate agents) of using the helpful Google code to populate the Google Base product that at present you can list your inventory on. has irritated some property players as they collect their inventory by indexing other sites.

This is exactly what Google does so the argument seems a little flawed to me. The bottom line is that those looking to market their properties have never had it so good. The choices are numerous and if you’re looking for something it’s never been easier.

I expect Google will launch with innovations in the next few months. At their offices in London last Spring they helpfully explained the Google approach of being certain that what they want to do will work. There has been silence so far from the Company but you can be sure that when they do go public with their property offering we can expect their competition to be howling and pointing out the Google motto “don’t be evil”!

It is unlikely that customers are going to be anything like as worried.

Henry Pryor

Many thanks indeed to Henry for this entry.  To find out more about his work as a buying agent, industry pundit, internet entrepreneur and all round "good egg" please visit his website at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The rain in Spain....

Here's an alarming piece on the Spanish property market written by respected journalist Graham Norwood in the Emirates Business magazine.

In it he says:

Some figures show around 1.05 million empty homes (completed or in the later stages of construction) now exist in Spain and some 40 per cent of those are in the Costas, aimed at foreign holiday home buyers or investors.

These are complemented by many second hand homes in these areas which are also on sale; their owners become cash-strapped and (in the case of older Britons) find the cost of living soaring because their income from the UK loses value thanks to the poor Sterling-Euro exchange rate.

Now the over-supply of homes on the market, especially holiday homes, is likely to get worse.

Banks forecast that 100,000 to 150,000 repossessions will reach court stage this year – although many of these foreclosures began in 2008 and have taken two years to reach fruition.

With few vulture funds and individual "distress buyers" (yes, even they have dried up, and auctions are reporting poor numbers of attendees) banks are likely to repossess the properties at the financial industry "norm" of 50 per cent of their valuation.

In 2005 two of my best friends were tossing up between buying a house in a Spanish resort or in Jarnac. Looking at my last post I guess they'll heave a big sigh of relief when they read this.

Property price movements in the Charente

It's a major part of my job to keep a keen eye on property price movements over here. 

You need to take any figures with a pretty hefty pinch of salt but when combined with anecdotal evidence and tales from local vendors, agents & notaires they do help form a picture.

According to the national association of notaires house prices in charente have done the following:

2004/5     +21.4%
2005/6     +3.2%
2006/7     +15.1%
2007/8     +8.7%
2008/9     -8.1%

In theory this means that the house we bought in 2004 should have increased in value by over a third. In practice though I'm not sure this is the case and the drop of -8.1% for 2008/9 doesn't mirror the discounts I've been able to get for clients when negotiating on their behalf.

Lies, damned lies and statistics eh....what we can be sure of is that with transaction numbers still down in the doldrums the buyers market is going to be around for a while.

One final thought. 

With an average price of €1300 per m2,  houses in Charente last year were almost 50% of the average across France (€2570 per m2). This is simply remarkable value considering the climate, landscape and general economy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Absolutely delighted - my next "guest" blogger will be....

....the "housing expert" himself, Mr Henry Pryor.

You will probably know Henry from his regular appearances on the BBC (as well as Sky News, ITV and channel 4) or from the Sunday Times where he appears in the "ask the experts" column.

We first met when we both worked at Savills in the early 1980's.  I think that one of his greatest achievements since then is to set up from which he still collects data on around 97% of all homes for sale or to let in the UK. A phenomenal database.

Like me, he also offers a "buying agent" service for private clients and you can find out more about this by visiting his website at

I will be posting up his thoughts this coming Friday and can assure you that - as always - they'll be worth reading.

Monday, January 18, 2010

British house owners in France make £1 billion

This amazing statistic has been revealed by the foreign exchange team at Close Brothers:

Between 2008 and 2009, property prices in France declined by around 6.63%, but because of the rise in the value of the Euro, if those Brits owning property there had sold-up and converted the money back into Sterling, they would have actually made money. Close Treasury estimates that there are around 98,000 properties in France owned by British citizens, and between 2008 and 2009, the combined Sterling value of these would have increased by just over £1 billion, or £10,373 per property.

Of course the currency swing could have been the other way and we'd all have been £10,373 worse off but it's nice to know that despite the recession we've actually had a little bit of good fortune over the last 18 months.

Rest assured though that I won't be blowing my slice of the billion pounds on a caribbean cruise just yet.

A guide to buying property 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.  Here's my step by step guide to finding and buying your dream home in France.


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

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.

I believe that everything here is correct at the time of writing but obviously things change and you should take up to the minute professional advice at the time of purchase.

Google looking to buy one or two real estate companies a month

Google is once again making waves about its intentions in online real estate, with an executive of the search giant reportedly saying at a conference last week that they are "actively looking to acquire one to two small real estate companies a month.”

So begins this article from a Seattle based news source.

The conference was the prestigious "Real estate connect" gathering in New York and the speaker who reportedly made the comment was Sam Sebastian who works for Google as a director of their Local & B2B markets in Chicago.

One to two real estate companies a month eh....they don't do things by halves and if it's true then expect to see a global feeding frenzy. 

Stick the kettle on, grab yourself a cup of coffee and some chocolate biscuits, settle back and enjoy the show.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturdays in France

I've always loved Saturdays.

When we moved to France it was a great worry that my Saturday ritual would be gone for ever (wake up, cooked breakfast in the local greasy spoon, Telegraph crossword, "football focus", trip to White Hart Lane, dinner with friends).

The good news is that nothing's changed and it's the one morning each week when you'll catch me singing in the shower and in an assuredly good mood.

Take today.

The senior partner teaches some local children each Saturday morning so it's always down to me to get the two girls off to English school by 10.00am. 

No sooner were they dropped off than I'd parked up in Jarnac, bought my copy of L'Equipe from the bar/tabac and was ensconced on my favourite bar stool with a grande creme in front of me.

The proprietor of the café is a friend of mine (I know you won't believe me but his name is M cool is that for a bar owner) and he always lets me sit peaceably for 90 minutes and we chat about all things sport that crop up in the paper.

I always get a little tingle in my tummy when I turn to the TV page in L:'Equipe to see what matches are being shown on Canal+. 

Today it's Stoke v Liverpool (1.40pm), Chelsea v Sunderland (3.50pm) and Everton v Man City (6.25pm)....then, of course, they're showing all the French matches, Real Madrid &  Barcelona tonight.

Sadly I'm going to have to forfeit the evening matches as we're off to friends for dinner.  Christian is the cellar master of this place so we always have the finest wines and cognacs to accompany our meal....they really are sensational hosts.

So there we have it.  Life over here is so, so different to how it was in the UK - and yet it's the same.

It may seem mundane but to me it's like having christmas day 52 times a year and I'm seldom happier than when I'm sat on that bar stool, at peace with the world and anticipating the day ahead.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Guest blog: Sarah Beeny

My Top Tips – Selling in 2010 – Sarah Beeny –

Happy New Year!

I was flattered to be asked to write a few tips for selling your property in 2010. Here goes with a few ideas on how to sell in the current market.

  • Be realistic on price - As a general rule everything has a price - the chances are if you have not had any viewers or had viewers but no offers, it's probably on for too much money.

  • Clean the whole house - If you smoke, stop smoking inside and clean all ashtrays - if you have pets, wash their beds. Pet and cigarette odour are the two smells that come up most often in ‘put off' smells list.

  • De-clutter - As if you haven’t heard it before, but use this as the perfect moment to move the piles of stuff you don't use to a charity shop.

  • Don’t wait to get your house on the market - Traditionally there are busier and quieter times of the year for house selling. These are based on what much of the population is doing. If now is the right time in your life to sell, get on with it asap. If the market falls lower by the ‘suitable time economically' you will kick yourself.
Best Wishes,

Sarah x

Thursday, January 14, 2010

First guest blogger tomorrow - but who is it going to be?

I thought that I would try and add some variety to A little drop of Cognac by inviting others to drop in and add their thoughts.

Primarily these columns will either be property related or France related although I'll be happy to publish anything else that I think will be of genuine interest to readers.

I'm very excited by the first guest entry I will be publishing tomorrow.  I won't spoil the fun by telling you who my guest is but I will just say that they are one of the most famous and well respected names in the UK property industry.

If you think that you have something of interest to say and would like to make a guest appearance on this blog please just drop me a line at

I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

France tops quality of life index for 5th year running

International Living magazine have just published their annual "Quality of Life" index. Here's what they say about the number one place in the world to live:

For the fifth year running, France takes first in our annual Quality of Life Index. No surprise. Its tiresome bureaucracy and high taxes are outweighed by an unsurpassable quality of life, including the world's best health care.

France always nets high scores in most categories. But you don't need number-crunchers to tell you its bon vivant lifestyle is special. Step off a plane and you'll experience it first-hand.

They weight their findings in the following way:
  • cost of living (15%)
  • culture & leisure (10%)
  • economy (15%)
  • environment (10%)
  • freedom (10%)
  • health (10%)
  • infrastructure (10%)
  • safety/risk (10%)
  • climate (10%)
So there's no excuse at all for not taking the plunge and making 2010 the year that you buy a house over here and turn your dreams into reality.

If a man's tired of London....

I have a real love/hate relationship with London.

I worked in the heart of the West End for twenty years, commuting in from Walton on Thames or Weybridge every day.  This all stopped in 2003 when we upped sticks to Cognac and I noticed some real changes when I went back for The France Show last week-end.

The underground was just as busy as ever and the packed ranks did their utmost to avoid eye contact and to look as miserable as possible.....nothing new there, I was always the same. 

What's different is that pretty much without exception everyone was plugged in to their i-pod and even more wrapped up in their own world. Coming from a village where it takes me an hour to post a letter (I always get collared by at least three neighbours) this was different.

I had a couple of truly excellent meals and there's no doubt that the diversity of restaurants available is unrivalled.  That's the London I love.

Getting to the restaurants from the hotel meant either arguing with the rip off mini-cab ordered by the hotel (he wanted £15 for getting lost on a 5 minute journey....he didn't get it) or wading through streets packed with scowling "hoodies" and "chavs".   That's the London I hate.

Terrific shops/surly assistants, rude shoppers
Great public transport/don't try it with a suitcase
Multicultural/no one has time to help
High speed internet in the room/£15 a day to use it
Small bottle of water by the bed was a nice touch/£5.40 if you drink it though

Yup - I love London dearly but boy was I glad to get home.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Now that's a real client testimonial....

Just back from The France Show in London which was an incredibly encouraging three days.

We were busy on the stand throughout with old clients and new prospects braving the snow and ice to come and see us.  We had a giant poster showing "testimonials" of satisfied clients, the first of which was a nice quote from David & Lorraine (pictured above) was even better when they dropped by in person and told all and sundry what a great house I had found for them. Who needs video testimonials when you can have the real thing!

I made my way to the show with pretty low expectations given the economy, state of the housing market and the horrific weather in the UK.  However, it's clear that there's still a huge demand from UK purchasers for houses in France and at one stage on Saturday I had a queue of people waiting to pick my brain about life in the charente.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out over the next few weeks as I follow up the leads and see how many search mandates the show generates but I'm now cautiously optimistic that 2010 will see an increasing level of international buyers in France.

My colleagues from other regions were also kept very busy and it felt really great to be part of a team and to take leads for pretty much any area of France. Rebecca (Nice) told me that she has started a blog about life as a buying agent on the Riviera so you'll be able to view her take on the show by clicking here.

Thanks to everyone who came by to see us - I'll be blogging about some of my individual thoughts and experiences over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Off on Eurostar to The France Show early tomorrow

For anyone in or around London on Friday, Saturday or Sunday please don't hesitate to drop in to Earls Court for The France Show.

You'll find me on stand P80 (FrenchEntrée property finder network) where you'll also be allowed to enter a competition to win an extremely rare bottle of vintage 1966 cognac.  It's from a small family vineyard near where I live and they literally don't have any barrels's a truly spectacular prize.

You'll also be able to chat with other buying agents from across France.  Stretching from beautiful Bayeux in the far North to sunny Nice in the South.

Hopefully the snow in the UK won't deter visitors and the show will have the same "buzz" as in previous years.

Hope to see you there....

Property values - a 10 year view

Now here's a brave woman.

Caroline McGhie, writing in the Daily Telegraph with a headline of "Property: The decade ahead".

There's some interesting stuff too, for example Mark Lawson of the buying solution says:

We will also see an increasing tendency to hide big spending rather than boast about it. "I believe more and more properties will be available privately – perhaps as much as 75 per cent compared to 25 per cent on-market, but vendors will want premium prices."

Then Ms McGhie says:

The runaway market of the decade is likely to be down on the farm, where Knight Frank predicts a 100 per cent increase in land values by 2015.

And, according to Bidwells:

We could see a 68 per cent rise in prices by 2018.

It's all absolute twaddle.

Analysts consistently fail to predict 6 months ahead let alone 120.  What we do know is that values will rise, fall,  then rise again with an overall upward Mark Twain said "buy land because it's the only thing they don't make anymore" (that was before Spangles and Bovril crisps of course).

When I first started my career in property back in the early '80's a very wise (and rich) developer told me that it's just like it says in the bible. You get seven years of famine followed by seven years of feast...the timescale may vary slightly but the general sentiment is spot on.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Google to buy US property listing site?

Trulia is to the USA what Rightmove is to the UK.

This article by Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal claims that sources close to Google have confirmed that they are looking to buy Trulia  for $150-250 million.

If this is true, and it happens, then the shake-up in the way owners & agents market their houses for sale will continue apace.  A lot of technology commentators have forecast that 2010 will be the year that online video moves from the "just for fun" sector into the corporate world....expect Google to embrace and push this if/when they do launch a property portal.

I wrote a fair bit about the changing face of estate agency last year and fully expect to be writing more throughout 2010.  The action taken by these huge corporations globally will have a direct effect on the way people buy and sell houses in my hidden (but beautiful) corner of France tomorrow.

Meanwhile let's keep an eye on both Trulia and Ms Swisher's column as she does appear to have some excellent sources in Silicon Valley.

Monday, January 04, 2010

So, how many UK ex-pats live in the Cognac region?

I've always wondered and now I know thanks to this report from INSEE.

There are a total population of 91,000 in the area they define as the cognac region of whom 991 are UK ex-pats. I don't know if this sounds a little or a lot - at 1% it certainly doesn't feel like a huge amount (France has an overall 6% of population who are "foreigners").

What I do know is that it certainly doesn't seem like too many and we have never encountered any kind of racism or negative feeling.  Indeed it's the opposite as our French friends seem to embrace the friendly rivalry when it comes to sporting events (particularly rugby) and our children were welcomed into the local school with open arms back in 2003.

Nobody really seems to look upon us as "les Anglais" anymore.

We're "les Downies", a part of the community just like "les Martins", "les Guerins" and the rest of our friends and neighbours.

Anyway, the next time one of my clients asks if there are many Brits around here I'll be able to say it's 991. 

Right up until someone dies, has a baby or moves out.

10 property "tweeters" to follow in 2010

Here's my list of ten property folk to follow this year on Twitter. 

Apologies as I've just realised it's rather UK centric but hey ho. There are some big, some small but all are worth listening to:

1. @ed_mead  He's a well respected agent with Douglas & Gordon in London

2. @anneashworth Anne is the editor of Bricks & Mortar in The Times

3. @lizmale Liz runs a property related PR consultancy

4. @adders  Adam is head of blogging for Reed Business Information (same stable as Estates Gazette)

5. @tepilo  Sarah Beeny's private sale site

6. @mattdollinger  Describes himself as a "real estate technology & ideas guy"

7. @retribob  Bob Thompson is a researcher, writer & tutor in all things property

8. @buyingagent  Homefinders in London and the South-East of England

9. @kirstiemallsopp  Probably doesn't need any introduction

10. @4homes  Latest property news from the Channel 4 homes team

Charente houses - French Property News reports

The January issue of French Property News carries my two page article on winter househunting in the charente valley.

You can read the feature on pages 58 & 59.  The magazine is available in all decent newsagents or you can download a digital copy here.

So, read the article, settle down with a cup of coffee & a map of France and start putting those long held plans into place - 2010 looks like being an excellent year for buying a property over here.

If you find what I have written interesting and would like to learn more about life in and around Cognac then don't forget that you can find me at The France Show in London between 8-10 January.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Why isn't my house selling?

Here's a question that is being asked of many agents at the moment, "why isn't my house selling?".

Of course, every case is different but I just love the responses given to this question on the MSN money site here. The article opens with:

Has your lawn grown up around that "For Sale" sign? Have the wasps moved into the lock box on your front door? Did you just receive an invitation to your real estate agent's retirement party?

If so, chances are your home sale fizzled.

Here are the six most-common reasons why homes don't sell and what you can do about it.

It then gives the following reasons:

1. Your home is overpriced

2. Your home doesn’t present well

3. You’re in a bad location

4. You have made a bad choice of estate agent.

5. You are battling market conditions

6. You have ineffective marketing

Two of these are beyond your control (bad location, difficult market) but the other four are absolutely down to you. 

It's not rocket science....make sure the price is absolutely competitive (do your own research don't just rely on the agents valuation), clear the clutter, tidy the drive and entrance (first impressions are everything), employ the best agents (not the cheapest) and make sure they take great photos and market the house in ads, online and in prime position in the shop window.

Get the basics right and 2010 should see you get the sale you've been waiting for.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A new years day treat

After arrogantly telling the world that the best ever christmas song was by Bruce Springsteen I thought I'd go one better in 2010 and say that the greatest track ever made is the reasonably obscure "The Last Resort" by The Eagles.

Best played after midnight, with glass in hand, at full volume and with everyone else tucked up in bed so no-one talks over it.