Friday, February 26, 2010

Daily Telegraph - where to buy a property overseas

The Daily Telegraph have published an article by respected property journalist Graham Norwood on where to buy property overseas.  They quote research from Savills and rightly say that buyers have been scarce.

They do, however, say that traditional locations, like France, are tipped to do well in 2010 which is excellent news. Savills research also tips SW France as a "hotspot" (which is kind but a tad optimistic given our stage in the recovery cycle - they're right about the stock, infrastructure and prices though).

It's doubly excellent because they have very kindly included a comment from yours truly.

Graham Downie runs Cognac Property Services, a buying agency in France's Charente region, and says the report's findings ring true.

These days he sees few British investment buyers or profligate leisure purchasers. "You can buy a beautiful Charentaise house with pool, gardens and views for £250,000 to £350,000. There's no need to break the bank. My clients are driven by sunshine and quality of life," he says.

First the Indie and now the Telegraph.

Whatever next, I guess the only place to go from here will be the Financial Times....

English buy record number of 2nd homes

Here's an interesting statistic.

According to Knight Frank (and who am I to doubt them) the number of second homes in England has been steadily rising.

A 2.6% increase on the 2008 figure equated to an additional 6,212 second homes pushing the overall total to a record 245,384.

You can read the full article from Global Edge here.

Always optimistic I'm hopeful that with a mixture of returning confidence and the UK's appallingly bad weather, buyers might start looking at a slightly warmer, yet still just as accessible, investment in the charente valley (like the house pictured, yours for a bargain €240,000).

H20 + 4x4's = misery

There is little chance that meteorologists can solve the mysteries of weather until they gain an understanding of the mutual attraction of rain and me going to England.

Just back from a flying visit to England (I use the word advisedly as I managed to take in Gatwick, Bristol & Newcastle airports in a 2 day frenzy).

As I flew out of a sunny and warm Bordeaux I hadn't fully prepared myself for the sheer misery of hiring a car at Gatwick airport and crawling along the M25 and M4 in the driving sleet to a meeting in Bath.

The thing that really stood out though was not the foul weather, the roadworks or the traffic.

It was the volume of giant 4 x 4's that trundled along in the outside lane....where have they all come from?  Is the property market so bad that developers have been giving them away free with yuppy flats in Docklands and Weybridge.

Most of all though I'd like to know why every single one of the seven hundred and eighty three that I counted had a personalised number plate for someone called ROB or ALI....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A sparkling day out

It could only happen in France (well, it certainly never happened in Brook St).

I'd had a call earlier in the week from a local agent asking if I'd like to meet a local developer who specialises in wooden houses (I have a client interested in this kind of project).

He picked me up at 3.30pm yesterday and we set off for a quick meeting in Bouteville which is just up the road. "I'll be back by 4.15pm I yelled".

Here we picked up the developer and set off again for the house...which turned out to be 40 minutes away near Villebois Lavalette.

The house was pretty impressive and the "kit" had been imported from Rumania so the pricing was exceptional.

Also present was an imposing man described as "the big boss" who turned out to be a charming Belgian entrepreneur. So charming in fact that he invited us all back to his maison de maitre for a glass of champagne and some aperitifs.

Off we set down windy roads and through beautiful countryside - nobody had mentioned that he lived in a rural spot on the edge of the Dordogne.

A few (extremely pleasant) hours later we rolled out and I was dropped back home just as our evening visitors arrived.

Needless to say the senior partner wasn't too amused but, hey, it's not every day you're invited for a glass or two of vintage champagne.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

So that's why CNN loves France so much...

"Why France is the best place in the world to live" screams the headline on the CNN website.

Read on and you'll see that the person they have interviewed seems to base this on the fact that she can have 12 months maternity leave followed by seven weeks holiday pa....wondered why my taxes & cotisations were so high.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You just can't beat local contacts

I've written much about the changing face of estate agency and how the internet will allow buyers to source properties online.

However, I have always said that estate agents will adapt their roles and change their services rather than become exctinct.

Here's a good example why.

I have some clients arriving shortly who are looking for building land in or around Cognac. I have trawled the market for them and have some good plots lined up to show them.

Yesterday though I found two additional plots, both of them not yet on the open market, both of them superb.

The first came from a conversation I had with someone in my village. We were just "chewing the cud" when they suggested I call someone they knew who was going to sell some land they had inherited. I called the chap and it's a prime building plot in a beautiful location. He's in no hurry to put it on the market but would be happy to sell if a buyer fell into his lap.

The second came from one of my favourite local estate agents, a really go ahead chap called Jerome Desset (see his agency here). He knew that I had been looking for land and he called me on my mobile to say that he was just about to take on a beautiful plot in the heart of one of the prettiest villages around - did I want to visit it with him.

Neither of these are actively being marketed, let alone visible on a property portal.

The changes are coming for sure but there will always be a place for expertise, professionalism and local knowledge.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Parisian Love

This is the first ad that Google has taken on TV, they ran it during the Superbowl last night.

I guess that not many of my UK/French readers will have seen it because it aired around 2.30am French time.

Isn't it great that even a giant US corporate knows that the most romantic country in the world is La France.

Where to buy in France (2) - the south coast

Following my last "where to buy in France if you don't fancy the charente" on Mayenne I thought that I'd do a short piece on two fantastic spots on the south coast.

The first is Aix-en-Provence.  It's a university town, famous for its culture. It hosts two significant music festivals each year.

Musique dans la rue is held each June and does what it says on the tin - as classical, jazz and popular concerts are held in the packed streets and squares.

The main Festival is held in late June/July and now ranks with Glyndebourne for quality and ambiance.

Aix-en-Provence also boasts some terrific museums and galleries - probably the best way of giving you an instant flavour is to say that it's twinned with the beautiful city of Bath in the UK.

If you'd like to know more about property in the area click here for the website of Provence Property Connections where you'll be able to speak to Neil Ranadé who is the FrenchEntrée property finder for the region.

The second spot is Nice.

I guess that most people know it as the capital of the riviera. What you may not know is that there has been a huge investment in a hi-tech city centre tram system which has made getting around much easier.

It's also brought to light some very interesting investment opportunities in areas that have not historically been fashionable with investors.

Whichever spot you choose though, Nice will always be popular with the investment community.

It is the second most visited city (after Paris) and the 4 million tourists per annum enjoy some of the best café culture around.

Try the Place Masséna, Place Garibaldi or Place Rossetti for some serious people watching.

If you're looking for property advice from an expert and permanent resident click here to visit the website of Cote D'Abode, where you will find Rebecca Russell who is the FrenchEntrée property finder covering this wonderful city and the surrounding area.

Next up in the where else to buy series will be the Dordogne.

Primelocation see huge boost in overseas property enquiries

Following the positive figures from both FrenchEntrée and Rightmove Overseas it's heartening to see this press release from Primelocation International.

1.8 million foreign property searches in December is not to be sniffed at....and it's an annual increase of over 200%.

It's clear that people are beginning to once again turn their thoughts to buying a place in the sun. Let's hope that the economy continues to improve and that the pound continues to strengthen agains the euro.

Given both these factors then enquiries should translate into sales and the transaction numbers will take off.

If you are contemplating buying in France then now would seem a good time while it remains a buyers market and the bargains are there to be had.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A guide to Poitou-Charentes....

For those of you who don't know France I live in a region called Poitou-Charentes.

Within this region are four "departments" and you'll find Cognac sits within the department called Charente (named after the beautiful river that meanders through it). It's number 16 on a map of France.

Now, I could either spend hours researching and posting a guide for you or I could point you in the direction of this great site

On it you'll find a whole host of regional info including restaurants, accomodation, events and how to get here.

It's a wonderful part of France - friendly, authentic and picturesque.

If you like what you see and want to talk about owning a property here please feel free to get in touch. You'll find that I'm also friendly and authentic but sadly I can't promise anything on the picturesque front.

A father's promise

It was one of those typical Charentaise winter days on Wednesday.

Clear blue sky, brilliant sunshine but bitterly cold with a north wind & frost on the ground.

It was lunchtime & I was walking the dog through the vines (couldn't say that when I worked in the west end) and the girls were with me.

Obviously the fact that A little drop of Cognac had won such a prestigious award has been a topic around the dinner table lately and my youngest picked up on this:

"Dad, if I break a lump of ice off that puddle and take it home will you put me in your blog so that I'll be as famous as Hannah Montana"?

As you can see I foolishly said yes.

Yes, I know that it might lose me all those followers I have recently picked up (who are perhaps tuning in to read my thoughts about the rental renaissance or the 50% slump in building society lending).

And yes, I know that all the experts say not to mix messages on a blog and to keep your private life out of it - but hey a promise is a promise. A lot of readers say that they like hearing about the minutiae of my life in France and this certainly fits the bill.

So, ladies & gentlemen I present to you the beautiful Downie girls and their lump of ice...."Troy".

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Agents aren't normally this shy

OK - I've had a chance to sleep on it now.

Here's my "considered" opinion about winning the Primelocation property blog awards.

Where are all the agents - commercial or residential - why are they not embracing this opportunity?

Some people may think I write about pretty trivial issues, but I do so because my clients & friends are interested in the intimacies of my lifestyle out here. That shouldn't diminish the power of blogging in the property arena.

Want a great example of a serious topic (and a brilliant use of blogging) then click here

These "Notes from Davos" were written by Colin Dyer the CEO of Jones Lang Lasalle. In them he says:

This ‘blog’ was also an experiment in ‘Connections.’

I summarised what I saw, and made it clear when I was giving you my opinion. It gave me a small insight into the life of a journalist, including the feeling I have today, that yesterday’s news is quickly stale!

Want another great example of how a brand can be fortified and stand out from the crowd... then I'd point you towards Chesterton Humberts, read their success story here.

It's not just blogging. A couple of weeks ago I replied to a "tweet" from a journalist looking for comments on a property issue and a few days later found myself quoted in The Independent.

I'm just a one man band "buying agent" in one of the remotest parts of SW France.

OK - I have a lifetime of experience in property marketing but if I can get national press coverage and win a prestigious award like this then imagine what some of the big players in the property world could do!

Social media - it's here to stay and it can bring personality to your brand.

Used correctly it will become an integral part of your marketing strategy and spend (although use it poorly and you'll do untold damage to your business).

Don't be shy now folks.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

French house prices rebound.

Just read this very bullish report from the Global Property Guide.

Quoting statistics from the FNAIM the report begins with the statement:

House prices in France rose 3.9% q-o-q in Q2 2009, after several quarters of price falls, according to the National Association of Real Estate Agents in France (FNAIM). France’s economic recovery has surprised market players and government officials, and is attributable to a fiscal boost, and to automatic stabilisers such as welfare support. When adjusted for inflation, the average house price rose by 2.97% over the same period. These quarterly price increases are the highest since Q2 2004.

They then go on to praise the way that the mortgage market operates over here and claim that foreign buyers of second homes in France can still get 100% mortgages.

It's worth reading the full article if you have time.

Primelocation property blog awards - winner, "best blog"!

I'm thrilled.

Being shortlisted was an honour in itself.  My fellow entrants were of an exceptionally high quality and The House Historian leads the way in showing how social media can be used in the property industry. Everything about it is top quality from the design & graphics to the research & writing.

I'm in distinguished company and I know it.

Here's what the judges kindly said about A little drop of Cognac:

It was a closely fought battle, but A Little Drop of Cognac’s Graham Downie has emerged victorious with the top prize. The judges were won over by his refreshing and entertaining mix of property market musings and insights into his life in France, alongside some great images and interesting guest posts.

Have to dash as I have a day job to run but I'm sure I'll be back later to give a more considered opinion once things have sunk in.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Is that daylight I see before me?

Let's be frank.

The last year or so has been a pretty poor one for my business.  You think that estate agents in the UK have had a tough time (one in six agents closing, Countrywide turning an £85m profit into a £47m loss) well try throwing a ridiculously weak pound/dollar against the euro into the mix.

I've seen a plethora of local agents close their doors and British negotiators have to return back to the UK to seek work. My own business has seen turnover plummet and while my figures for 2009 were not quite in the Countrywide league they did have my accountant wringing her hands in despair.

I have done everything in the book to win new business - increased advertising, attended trade shows, written articles for the national, trade and regional press, assiduously followed up all leads (new and old) and networked relentlessly - yet international buyers have simply been thin on the ground.

There have been a couple of "false dawns" where I thought that global transaction numbers were going to increase but they have led to nothing substantial.

I realise that there's nothing further I can do about it. This is my third recession and I know that we simply have to ride it out. My business is "ticking over" but that's not how I like it.

Yet around 11.00am this morning I suddenly saw the faintest glimmer of hope that perhaps things are going to improve.

First I had an email from the team at FrenchEntrée. Their visitor stats for January 2010 are excellent and way up on this time last year. As we move into the Spring they are hoping that they will reach record levels.

Then, two minutes later, I saw a "tweet" from Rightmove overseas saying something entirely similar.

Now, it's a long way from "showing an interest" in moving to France to employing a buying agent like myself but it's encouraging that the demand is so noticeably still there.

I can't see 2010 being anything other than another tough and bloody year but experience tells me that while recoveries don't happen overnight they do have to start somewhere..