Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Come and say hello at The France Show 2012

It's coming up to that time of (the new) year again, where the great and the good of the French property industry get together in Earls Court to present their wares.  Of course there's plenty of non property related things to do as well, including wine tasting, cookery exhibitions, a huge French market and pretty girls doing the can-can.

The France Show is taking place in London between 13-15 January 2012 and you can see full details here.

I will be joining colleagues from all over France and you can find us on the FrenchEntrée Property Finders stand which is number 207.  Please do drop by and say hello, it always gives me a boost when someone says "I read your blog".  In addition you'll be able to talk with a friendly bunch of professional buying agents who, this year, have helped clients buy properties from €40,000 to €4,000,000.

I have been exhibiting at the show for a few years now and it has been rewarding to journey from a tentative "Hi, can you help me, I'm thinking about......" to finding somewhere special for the same people and occasionally even sharing an aperitif in their new home.

Who knows, this year it could be you!

See you there.....

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

French housing numbers v UK housing numbers

The other day I was asked how many houses were sold in France each year and I didn't know the answer. So I decided to look it up and do a simple comparison between the French and UK housing markets in 2011.  Here are the results:

Population: 63 million
Size: 551,000 km2
Estimated number of house sales in 2011:  circa 790,000
Average house price Paris: €316,900
Average house price regions: €165,000

Population: 62 million
Size: 243,000 km2
Estimated number of house sales in 2011: circa 840,000
Average house price London: €398,000
Average house price England & Wales: €187,200

OK - I know that the UK isn't just England & Wales but these were the figures that I could find easily and I'm only undertaking this exercise as a quick comparison.

French figures are raken from the Notaires de France, England & Wales figures are from the Land Registry, currency conversion rate taken as 1.17 euros to the pound.

A point to note is that the UK transaction figure is the lowest for 40 years (see full story here) while the French transaction numbers for 2011 are higher than in 2010 (see full story here).

However, transaction numbers in France are forecast to fall "significantly" next year according to the Notaires, due to the general economic crisis, CGT reforms and a "wait and see" attitude in the run up to the election.

I'm not sure that we can draw any conclusions from the above other than the blindingly obvious one that 2012 is going to be another tough year for both estate agents and agence immobiliere no matter which side of the channel they are on.

The good news though is that at least I'll have some dazzling stats at my fingertips during the numerous functions and dinner parties I have in the run up to Christmas.

Monday, November 28, 2011

2011 French property market review (well kind of)

Discussing house price fluctuations in the French property market is a pointless and futile waste of time.

Sadly though not a week goes by without someone asking me about them.  Of course, they expect an answer and they're looking for a pithy summary not an hour long seminar.  So, if you were to ring up and pop the question as we approach the end of 2011 what would I say?

Well, let's face it - the UK probably has the brightest and best paid property analysts in the world (it certainly has the most) with more research than you can shake a stick at but they still can't tell us what the average house price is.

The truth is that national house price movements are meaningless.  How can you compare Bridlington with Kensington or Caen with Cannes?

Some French agents and institutions have tried to drill down into regions and departments which is more helpful. 

Read this article from the French Property portal and you'll be able to get the thoughts of Century 21, Credit Agricole, Notaires de France the FPI and the FNAIM.  If you're looking for statistics then this is a great starting point.

However, the truth is that whilst the booming Parisienne property market may well have massaged the figures to show an overall growth in prices in 2011 this hasn't been the case in thousands of micro markets across France (in my case the Charente valley).

I'm dealing with agents, vendors and notaires every day and I can tell you that prices around here haven't really moved during the last 12 months....if anything they have softened slightly.

The houses that I have acquired on behalf of clients this year have, without exception, been bought at a discounted rate to the asking price.  Properties in prime areas have been selling, those in secondary locations have been sticking unless they are very competitively priced.

2011 has been a buyers market and - trust me here - 2012 will be one too.  That's all you really need to know.

My best advice....if you're looking to buy in France next year then ignore the statisticians and "market reviews" and appoint someone who knows local conditions to be by your side.  They will scour the whole market, sift out the dross, collect the comparable evidence and help you buy the house at the lowest possible price.

They should be able to answer your questions on schooling, doctors, restaurants and the best local artisans too. Local knowledge, you just can't beat it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - an apology

My website, is back up today having been offline for three weeks.  In that time any emails sent to will have bounced back.

To say that it has been frustrating trying to get my site back up and running is the understatement of the century.

I won't bore you with the details - my language would be unprofessional and out of character - but suffice to say that if you want to register a site with you should be aware that they don't have a published phone number or address and that they simply ignore emails and faxes no matter how critical the content or how many times you say please.

And yes, you're right, perhaps I should have checked this back in 2003 when I was registering the domain and no, going with the cheap option wasn't too clever of me either. (hopefully)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So the French healthcare system works then...

Regular readers will know that France regularly tops the list of places that people want to live and that one of the reasons for this is the legendary healthcare system here.

It's all very well reading about this but how does it work in practice?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I was unable to shake off a bad dose of flu so went to my eccentric GP in Jarnac.  No appointment just turned up at 9am on a Monday morning.

He got out his stethoscope, cracked a few jokes, told me I had pneumonia, wrote out a prescription, made a phone call and kicked me out.

By 10am I had been to the clinic and had my bloods taken, by 2pm my lungs had been x rayed and a specialist had taken me through the results, checked my prescription and packed me off to bed.

Thankfully no lasting damage and I'm well on the way to recovery.

Impressive service though wasn't it.

Perhaps the next time I'm whingeing about the cost of my "cotisations" I'll remember what I'm paying for and write out the cheque a little less grudgingly!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The future of UK property portals

I'd better make it clear from the outset that I have a bit of a thing about marketing property online....and have had for some while.

Back in 1997 the Chesterton website was chosen as "site of the month" by Computing magazine which opened their story with: 

"There are now over 50 estate agents with web sites but Graham Downie offers two reasons why estate agents have been reluctant to embrace the web.  Firstly, they've seen it as an area for anoraks. But that has shifted over the past year as other professions, such as lawyers and management consultants, have moved online. It's also fear of the unknown, but that too is changing as clients are beginning to demand that estate agents have web sites."

That same year (1997 remember) I had written to all the other leading commercial property agents suggesting we create an online office & industrial property portal.  Half a dozen of us teamed up with London & Regional properties to launch Propertylink which was subsequently sold to RBI to form part of the Estates Gazette stable. 

Today, Propertylink is the largest commercial property listing site in the UK.

In 1999 the MD of our residential division and myself persuaded Michael Holmes and the Chesterton Board to invest £500,000 (along with Savills and other leading agents) into a company called Fastcrop. This was the outfit that subsequently created Primelocation.  In January 2006 the agents cashed in when Fastcrop was bought by the Daily Mail group for £48m.

Today, Primelocation is used by 11,000 agents and lists over 850,000 properties.

Of course, it's rather sad (and indicative of something) that I should have played such a role in launching these two giant sites yet remain a penniless and humble estate agent in rural France.  At least I'm happy.

So here we are, fast approaching 2012 and what does the future hold?

Well, as you may have read, the Digital Property Group (owners of Primelocation and Findaproperty) have just merged with Zoopla.  The big question on agents lips is whether they will retain all three brands as independent sites or merge them into one big super-site to rival Rightmove ( perhaps).

For what it's worth I think that they will go for the latter.  Back in 1996 Property Week ran a story about listing properties on the then fledgling internet and I was quoted: 

"Clients are saying they want  a single, comprehensive source rather than skipping around".

Fifteen years later I still believe those words to be true. For me the bigger question is whether any new super-site will refuse to take private sales. 

Don't forget that I now live and work in a country where private sales form over half of all transactions each year.

Sarah Beeny has scratched the surface with Tepilo but they have a miniscule market share.  If (or whatever the new super-site is called) were to launch as "open to everyone" then the general public would shout with glee.

The agents though would go ballistic, chuck their toys out of the pram and threaten to boycott it.

It's going to come. 

Perhaps not this time..... but if and when Sarah Beeny (Phil, Kirstie or any other high profile "expert" would do just as well) gets the backing of a DPG or a Google who are prepared to invest heavily then UK estate agents are going to see their world blown apart.

"But we've always done it this way" won't cut the mustard....just look at what has changed in the last fifteen years. Who can say where we will be in 2027. 



Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Property marketing - is the future black and white?

Strutt & Parker seem to be getting a decent amount of press coverage today for their announcement that they will be adding QR codes to their sale boards.

"Use your mobile to scan the code and the phone will then show full property details including floorplans and photos, as well as offering the option to complete a short request form for further information or a viewing".

Barton & Wyatt said that they would be incorporating QR codes into their boards & advertising a while back too.

I guess that the question is.... "will people stop the car and get out to scan the code"?

I don't know the answer and have an open mind, only time will tell.  For sure they would be very handy for me as I drive down some of the remoter French country lanes and see an "A vendre" sign in front of a mile long drive-way.  I also think that video is going to play an increasing part in the way we market property and QR codes could tie in nicely.

What I do know for sure is that "mobile" is quickly going to play a big role in the way that agents/vendors will be marketing their houses. At the moment 45% of internet users use a mobile to connect to the internet and within the next two years smartphones are forecast to reach 90% penetration in the UK.

Don't forget I live in a country where the majority of agents still don't tell you in which town a house is located.

Most do have websites now, but they tend to be steam driven.  It sounds jingoistic but it's the agencies with international ownership that are leading the way.  As an example, take a look at the map search facility and virtual tours on the Leggett site here.

All food for thought methinks..... please do feel free to leave you own ideas as to the future of property marketing in the comments section below.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lonely Planet votes Poitou Charentes in the top 10 places in the world

The Lonely Planet "Top 10 places in the world" has just been can see their full list here.

It's probably not too surprising to see the Mayan Route in South America, the tropical island of Borneo, or Queenstown national park in New Zealand listed as the best spots on the planet.

But it may come as a surprise to see Poitou Charentes alongside these illustrious and exotic locations. 

Lonely Planet says:

With quiet country roads wending through vine-striped hills and wild stretches of coastal sands interspersed with misty islands, the Atlantic coast is where the French get back to nature. Much more laid-back than the Med (but with almost as much sunshine) and ideally suited to family holidays, this is a place where you can slow the pace right down.

And there are numerous ways in which to do this. You could spend a morning quietly greeting curious ducks as you kayak down the glowing green canals, rivers and streams of the Marais Poitevin. You could cycle over the lazy landscapes of the dreamy Île de Ré or raise a glass in the pretty town of Cognac.

The article ends by saying that we are "woefully under-visited by foreigners".

With an average property price of just €140,000, yet easy access to airports in Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Poitiers, you can see why 2012 may well see an influx of international buyers to our region.  Each one looking for their own slice of paradise.

The top pic is the view from the terrace at my parents-in-law who live in "my" village here in the Charente whilst the two above were also taken in our village (midway between Cognac & Jarnac). 

We always thought that our secret was safe but it looks as though Lonely Planet has well and truly let the cat out of the bag.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bruno Mars rocks Nantes

I have always wanted to visit Nantes as it is consistently voted one of the best places in France to live.

So last Friday I took the girls to see Bruno Mars in the Zenith concert hall and we spent the week-end exploring the region (more of which another time).

Nantes centre was impressive - it's clean, attractive and has an upmarket feel about it. We had a beautiful lunch in L'Entrecote followed by dessert in the Haagen-Dazs café. The streets were filled with students and there was a real buzz about the place.

The concert was superb. 

It's an excellent venue as it's pretty small (6,000 capacity) and you really feel part of the spectacle. The crowd seemed to consist of middle class teenagers who looked as though they were on a day out from Hogwarts College. I'm sure that one of the girls in the queue next to us was called Hermione - they were polite, excitable and there wasn't a "hoodie" in sight.

I've seen some showmen - including Robbie Williams at the Albert Hall - but Bruno Mars really does top the lot.  His vocals were spot on and he was a true pro.  His guitar stopped working just before he launched himself into "Marry you" but he just said "blow it" (or words to that effect) and carried on without it.

He also did his best to interact with the locals, despite the language barrier, and he simply couldn't have put more energy into it.


If you get the chance to go to either Zenith or Bruno Mars I heartily recommend both.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

French Magazine - international buyers returning

Here's a copy of my latest article for the excellent French Magazine.

Read it through and you'll see that there is evidence to show that international buyers see France as a safe haven at the moment and are, once again, back in the French property market.

Analysts at both Savills & Knight Frank have been pushing property over here to their wealthy clients.

I also set out the role of a private client buying agent and explain how a good one could help you save both time and money.

Hope you enjoy it.  This month you will see that French Magazine is rebranding to FrenchEntrée Magazine - it's available in all good newsagents and well worth picking up.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guest blog - The lowdown on French house insurance

Today's guest post is from the insurance specialists at Policy Expert:
As in the UK, if you buy a property in France – you’ll need to insure it. As a general rule, purchasing your home insurance direct from a French provider will be the most cost effective way of going about it. However, for some foreign buyers, they may feel a little unsure about buying French insurance due to the language barrier. For the most part, it works in a very similar way to insurance over here - so don’t feel too daunted by it.

If you’re looking to cover your French home, here are a few useful pointers that should be helpful:

Common ways to buy

As you’ll find in this country, there are a number of channels through which to purchase your insurance – here are 3 of the most popular. Firstly, there are the insurance agents (agents généraux/agent d’assurance) who act on behalf of a particular insurance company to sell their products to the public. You may find an agent who is local to your property, making it easy to go in and have a face-to-face chat with them about your requirements. Remember, you obviously won’t be offered a choice of providers and that the price may be more than if you went direct.

Next, you have insurance brokers (courtiers) who will normally represent a small pool of insurers – thus giving you more choice, but not usually the whole of market. They may not offer you the cheapest deal on the market but they should be able to find you the cover you need. They may work on a commission structure, so be careful you’re not being unnecessarily oversold.

Finally, there’s the Groupement des entreprises mutuelles d’assurances (GEMA) - which is a non-profit making cooperative of providers who operate without intermediaries.

Going direct

Unlike in this country, it seems that the French are less likely to go direct to the insurer – but this doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Many well-known insurers such as Groupama and Aviva operate in France and you can always go straight to the source and contact them by phone or via the internet.

Online comparison

If you’re a fan of online comparison sites and want to go down that route – here are three French ones you could try:, and

The process

Much like our UK system, you’ll be asked to complete an insurance application - which is called ‘proposition d’assurance’ in France. This will be in the form of a questionnaire that’s designed to help your insurer establish the amount of risk your property poses to them. It’s absolutely crucial to be accurate and honest with your answers, or your policy may be deemed invalid should you ever need to claim. With that in mind, it may be advisable to get some translation assistance at this point if your language skills are a bit rusty.

The insurer will then provide you with written details of the premium you must pay, the cover you’re buying and any terms and conditions that apply. Again, if you only have basic French, it may be wise to seek a native speaker to run through this with you before you sign anything.

This article was written by Policy Expert who are insurance specialists, providing house insurance to homeowners in the UK.  You can use their website to compare quotes and buy online.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Why use a buying agent - reason #237

 This is a terrific ad for Google streetview (you should click on it to see it clearly).

It also demonstrates one of the many reasons that you should use a local, professional, buying agent if you're considering buying a property in France.

As you may well know, it's customary here for many immobiliers to give the name of "the next village along" when advertising houses.  They don't want other agents to pinch the instruction.

Similarly, private sellers on Le Bon Coin or PAP rarely give out the address of their house.

This means that viewings are often a journey into the unknown.

Mandate a buying agent and they will have visited the property and given you their opinion on it as well as offering you photos, video, google earth imagery, location plan, cadastral plan details and pretty much anything else you want to know.

I can stand outside a house, take a panoramic pic on my mobile, send it immediately by email and chat it through with my client in the space of a minute.

Forget the fact that I know the market in the Charente valley like the back of my hand, will scour it fully on your behalf, will negotiate the lowest price possible (using comparable evidence I have collected along the way) and will be acting solely for you....I think that reason #237 is a pretty compelling one all by itself.

Estate agency is a rapidly changing business, the buyer is king and we need to meet their needs to prosper.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

How's this for a tidy wood pile....

Just back from a lunchtime walk in the vines with the senior partner.  This month we celebrate eight years of living in the Charente and we were saying how happy we are that we made the move relatively early on in life.

In our previous incarnation she would spend her lunch break stalking the boutiques of Bond Street and Regent Street in search of a new pair of shoes.

Fortunately this is no longer an option (although she does rate Rue St Catherine in Bordeaux pretty highly) and she's perfectly happy strolling through the local vineyards with nary a shop in sight.

She was in seventh heaven today when we walked past this wood pile as she does like things to be particularly neat & tidy, in fact she was most insistent that I take a photo.

 It made me chuckle.....oh how our lives have changed since coming here.

International property buyers flock to France

I was up early this morning looking through some of the stats from around the FrenchEntrée Property Finders network. 

One noticeable trend is the increase in buyers from around the world.  Of course, we get our fair share of mandates from UK residents looking to appoint a buying agent in France but take a look at some of the other countries that our clients have bought from in the last 12 months.

Hong Kong
South Africa

If you add in countries that we have current mandates from then this list increases further.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.  For any international purchaser looking to buy a house in France it must be a daunting prospect and instructing a professional to act purely on your behalf will be a natural reaction.

Central London is seeing a huge amount of interest from international buyers at the moment - investors see prime property as a safe haven in these turbulent times.

French property offers a similar kind of appeal.  The property market here is traditionally one of the most stable in the world and we have an economy that is amongst the strongest in Europe.  Both Savills & Knight Frank have recently identified France as a place the world's wealthy want to buy and it's clear from our figures that this is the case.

Our agents work well with vendors,  local immobiliers and notaires all over France and another interesting stat to come out this morning was that we have helped clients buy property in a price range that stretches from €52,000 to €4,500,000.

Looking at the lower figure perhaps it's not just the super rich that know a good thing when they see it.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Guest blog - Quick Move Now

This month I have invited the team at Quick Move Now to present a guide to the top 10 unusual UK mortgages:

1. Muslim mortgages

A large Muslim population in many cities in the UK now means many lenders are offering Muslim mortgages. These are ones that comply with Sharia Law.

2. Unusual home mortgages

Unusual homes such as lighthouses, windmills, barges or even shipping containers may need a special type of mortgage. Many high street lenders and mainstream insurers may be loath to take on such business, preferring instead the more straightforward flats, family homes and bungalows found in every town and village. As a result, many lenders and insurers will charge a premium to those opting to live in more individual surroundings.

3. 125% mortgages

This is where the lender will advance funds up to 25% more than the purchase price or re-mortgage valuation. The funds are obtained purely with proof of income. Applicants normally need a very good credit history. Lenders who offer this special type of mortgage include Northern Rock, Mortgage Express and BM Solutions.

4. Builder deposit mortgages

This is where a builder genuinely provides 5%-15% deposit without the need for you to provide one for yourself. This has to be a medium sized local builder or a large national builder.

5. Self certification mortgages

These are designed for self employed people and those who find it hard to prove their earnings. Borrowers state their own income and the mortgage amount is based on the declared earnings. Self cert mortgages are open to abuse by people fraudulently declaring their earnings to be higher than they are. This is, however, a criminal offence. The FSA (Financial Services Authority) estimates self cert mortgages make up 6% of the market.

6. Shared equity mortgages

Ideal for first time buyers, shared equity schemes allow people who are struggling to get on the housing ladder a chance to buy a property in partnership with the lender or government. Under the Government HomeBuy shared equity scheme you buy 75% of a property yourself with a shared equity mortgage from a select number of lenders and the remaining 25% with the help of a 'top up' shared equity home loan from the mortgage lender and the Government. After 5 years, a small amount of interest is payable on the ‘top-up' shared equity loans which are fully repayable when you sell the property. When you sell the shared equity property you may have to also forfeit a portion of any increase in equity.

7. Shared ownership mortgages

These often occur in partnership with housing associations where the tenant elects to buy a percentage of the house and pays rent on the rest. You may be able to increase your share as time goes by, sometimes to 100%; this is called 'staircasing'.

8. Euro mortgages

A Euro mortgage is basically the same as a UK mortgage except it is denominated in euros rather than pounds, and its rate will be allied to the interest rate set by the European Central Bank. Switching your mortgage away from pounds to euros may seem attractive for pro-Europeans or a chance to make some money on the currency markets, but is it worth risking your biggest financial commitment? Switching to a euro mortgage for most people is a high-risk gamble, which could easily backfire. Currency markets are fairly volatile - and you could get caught out.
9. Guarantor mortgages

With a guarantor mortgage a parent or close family member can either cover the shortfall in the mortgage needed to cover the borrowers income or can cover the full mortgage amount. By covering the mortgage, or part of it, the guarantor is liable to make payments if the principal slips into arrears or defaults. For instance, if you earn £20,000 you could borrow £80,000. If the property you want to purchase is worth £130,000, there is a shortfall of £50,000 that the guarantor would cover. The mortgage lender will assess the guarantor’s income, current mortgage and other financial commitments to ensure that they can cover the loan amount.

10. Buy-to-let mortgages

Buy to Let Mortgages are mortgages specifically designed for people who want to invest in the property market by purchasing one or more houses and letting them out to tenants. The Owner is then able to benefit from any appreciation in the capital value of the house itself. They are also likely to be able to maintain the property and meet much of the loan repayment from the revenue realised by letting. The buy to let phenomenon has driven house prices higher over the last few years while making a broader section of rental accommodation available. Most buy-to-let mortgages are interest only, and the max amount borrowed is usually 80% of value of the property. Rent often has to be 125% of the monthly repayment (although this has recently relaxed because of rising house prices)

Quick Move Now are one of the leading house buying companies in the UK. They pay up to 90% of the value of your house and can turn around in as little as 7 days. Visit for more info.

Friday, September 30, 2011

French Magazine - a trip through western France

This is a reproduction of an article I wrote for French Magazine this summer.

I took a trip through some of my favourite parts of western France, a couple of hours north of where I live - from La Rochelle up towards Tours.

You'll see that I also took the opportunity to promote this blog by listing it as one of six that cover France and French property - a bit cheeky I know but hey I put a lot of effort in and need the readers!

If you would rather read the article in your browser then just click here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

French magazine - six sizzling hotspots

This is another of the articles that I have written this year for French Magazine.

In this one I identified six towns and cities that I thought readers might find interesting (whether to buy property or just to visit) - they are spread out throughout France but all offer something different.

One of the towns is Segonzac, which is the capital of Grande Champagne and where my daughters go to school.  Of course I'm biased but if you are looking in the charente valley then Segonzac is an excellent starting point with easy access to Cognac, Jarnac, Chateauneuf and the other pretty towns in the region.

The article also gives details of the compulsory tests that owners need to complete before they can sell their house.

If you would rather read the article in your web browser then just click here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

French Magazine - Top 10 tips for buying in France

This is another article that I wrote for French Magazine earlier this year.

Entitled "Top 10 tips for buying and selling in France" I tried to pass on some of my experience to readers.  That's over 20 years experience of the property industry (with Savills, Jackson-Stops & Chesterton) and eight years of the French property market as a private client buying agent.

If you want to read the article in your browser click here.

Hope you enjoy it.....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

French Magazine - It's the early bird

This is the reproduction of an article I wrote for French Magazine at the start of the year.  If it's easier you can click here to view it in your browser.

In the article I talk about the best time to view French property and the best time to sell it (not necessarily the same) as well as giving an example of how I sourced two houses for clients before they hit the open market.

I hope that you enjoy it - I have just been sent PDF's of three other articles I have written and intend posting them up in case you missed them first time round.

You can buy French Magazine (now rebranded to be called FrenchEntrée) in any good newsagent or subscribe here

Monday, September 26, 2011

France now UK's top 2nd home choice

Good old Savills.

They have published some research into where UK buyers invest in second homes.  You can see their findings here and they open their comments with: 

"France has replaced Spain as the favourite destination for second home owners to invest. Its perception of stability, limited house price decline and ease of access help make it a safe bet for UK buyers"

 What's more they gave an exclusive preview to respected property journo Graham Norwood and you can read his article in the Daily Telegraph here.  An extract I liked was: 

"Prices across France fell 20 per cent between 2007 and 2009, but are bouncing back. Estate agent Century 21 reports an 18 per cent rise in Paris last year, while FNAIM, the estate agents’ association, reports five per cent rises across France this year.

“French banks have continued to lend on second homes, stimulating the market,” says the Savills report. Now is the time to buy before further increases".

As regular readers will know I take French house price rises/falls with a huge dollop of salt but I can't help feeling that French housing looks as good as (or better than) just about every other European asset class at present.

Viral marketing genius or a "Ratner moment"?

There's been a buzz going around the UK estate agency industry following a viral marketing capmpaign from upmarket London agency Douglas & Gordon.

The first of what we assume to be a series of "mockumentary's" was released last week and already the Daily Mail are on the case

Housing commentator Henry Pryor wonders if it will be seen as marketing genius or a "Ratner moment" for D&G in this blog post.

Personally I agree with Henry that it will do D&G far more good than harm.  Their target audience are the chic central London upper middle classes and I think that they'll appreciate the parody.  Like all good humour it's actually pretty close to the mark and anyone who has bought or sold in Central London will recognise the type of character portrayed.

Of course it will also upset a lot of people (The Sun are on their case too)....but I guess that D&G won't lose a lot of sleep over this. A quick look at their website shows that they have 12 properties under £250,000 (and none at under £200,000) but 84 at over a million.

The biggest winners though will probably be the production company who made it on behalf of D&G.

It will be interesting to see the continued reaction to it - there has already been some adverse comment from competitors but then there would be wouldn't there.

Have a look and let me know what you does contain some strong language though so be careful if playing it in the office or in front of your kids.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's vendange time in the Charente

Yup, it's that time of year again.

We need to add ten minutes onto the school run because of slow moving tractors and the roads are covered in crushed grapes that have spilled out from the trailers hurrying to take them to be pressed.

We live in the heart of "Grande Champagne" which is 13,766 hectares of the most beautiful countryside on the planet.  The people here are renowned as being "laid back" and sleepy and the roads reflect this by being as quiet as can be.

Normally it takes me eight minutes to take the girls to their school in Segonzac but this morning we were stuck behind one of the colossal grape pickers.  The country lanes are small, winding and not condusive to overtaking - try it and you could well get a closer view of the ugni-blanc grapes than you really want.

A few years ago we helped with the picking and the machines really are like something out of War of the Worlds. 

The good news is that it doesn't wind me up. There used to be a time when the M25 was a major part of my life and I suffered road rage with the best of them.  An hour to get from one side of Weybridge to the other and steam would be coming from my ears.

I'm a changed man though.

Now I just wind the window down, take in the distinct aroma of freshly picked grapes, and look forward to sampling the end product! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

RICS forecasts choppy waters for UK property sector

Have you seen the powerpoint slides from this presentation that the RICS chief economist gave to a bunch of property bigwigs at Lloyds last week?

If not then I suggest you take a look but do put your tin hat on before you open them up.

The title slide is "Economic headwinds pose new threat for property sector" and here's a selection of subheads:
  • Reality dawns - deleveraging will depress growth for forseeable future
  • Economic expectations have deteriorated over the last month
  • Consumer confidence is heading towards Jan '09 low
  • In the resi sector activity remains subdued
  • restricted mortgage lending is not the only problem
  • pressure on the property sector will continue to grow
The very last slide finishes with the words "European sovereign debt crisis - how will it end"?

Now that's a question I'd pay a bundle full of francs & centimes to know the answer to.....

Monday, September 19, 2011

France - where the wealthy want to buy second homes

Just read another decent bit of research from the Global Briefing team at Knight Frank - "Where the wealthy want to buy their second homes" - you can see the whole paper here.

In terms of countries, France was the most popular second-home choice, accounting for almost a quarter of the properties in the survey respondents' portfolios. This popularity can be explained by the country's many second-home options across all location types. France was the most popular or second-most popular choice in all categories.


They say that when investing in property you should always go for the best location you can afford and with an average property price outside Paris of €163,000 it looks like that location isn't just for the uber-wealthy clients of Knight Frank.

Charente gardens bloom in the sunshine

A few years ago I helped some clients buy the most delightful house, in the middle of the vines on the outskirts of Segonzac.  This is a pic I took from the first floor window a while back.

It really is a stupendous location and it always raises my spirits when I drive past or when I visit my ex clients to break bread and share a glass of the local plonk.

It so happens that my wife and her gardening team were at the house this afternoon - cutting the lawns, tidying up the flower beds and pulling the weeds from the driveway.  So I took the opportunity to pop across and offer a bit of support, encouragement and advice (the latter never seems to go down well though).

The sun was shining and the house looked a picture - it's at times like this that I love my job.  I know for a fact that my clients never would have found the house without me and I'm equally sure (because I have the emails to prove it) that they love the fact that my wife and her team are so diligent and meticulous with their gardening duties.

It's not all "a bed of roses" living out here but sometimes I honestly feel as though I'm the luckiest guy on the planet. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Retiring to France? Join the queue....

I've just picked up this story from the Daily Telegraph with the rather dramatic headline of:

"Expat pensioner exodus: would the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights".

It's clear that many people of (and coming up to) pension age are looking into a move abroad.  The pensions guy from Standard Life is spot on though when he says:

"Retiring abroad is a dream for many people, but does require careful planning and advice. Many people think living abroad is cheaper than living in the UK, but this isn’t always the case".

As with anything you really must do your homework if you want your move to work.  There is a small but relevant number of expat retirees in my part of SW France and it's always sad to see people arriving with high expectations but then struggling because they haven't done their homework.

The good news is that France is a pretty attractive destination (and not just because of the sunshine, scenery, pace of life, healthcare system and local plonk).

As Leggett Immobilier's respected Chief Executive, Trevor Leggett, says:

"The new wealth tax rules coming into place are making France one of the most attractive destinations in Europe, as the threshold for this tax (ISF) is increasing from €800,000 to €1.3 million. Households with assets of between €1.3m and €3m will be subject to a tax of 0.25% and for assets over €3m the tax will be 0.5%.   

There has also been one recent change to the law on Capital Gains Tax.

Previously, a reduction of 10% per year, beyond the fifth year of ownership, has been applied to the gain calculated. Therefore, sales made beyond the 15th year of holding the property had been fully exempt from CGT and social security contributions.

Now though, the tax due on the sale of these "non primary" residences will be calculated in accordance with the "Indice du Cout de la Construction" (rate of building inflation) at the time of the sale - taking into account the year you bought the property". 

Certainly my experience has been that our move to France has exceeded expectations and we have been truly happy here.  If you're thinking of something similar though you need to take off the rose tinted spectacles and make sure that you have planned thoroughly.  A good starting point is the excellent retirement section on the FrenchEntrée site - you can see it here.

Just for a moment forget location, location, location and think research, research, research.

Bon courage.