Wednesday, May 25, 2011

House prices in Poitou Charentes

I was writing an article for the excellent French magazine (available in all good newsagents) yesterday and spent some time trawling through the house price indices published by the Notaires de France.

It struck me that average house prices fluctuate greatly throughout the region and here's some examples that I thought you may find interesting, drilling down from the region to the area around Cognac itself:

Poitou Charentes - €158,700

Charente - €124,300
Charente Maritime - €197,100
Deux Sevres - €109,800
Vienne - €140,600

Angouleme sector - €125,900
Cognac sector - €124,300
Confolens sector - €113,100

If you have ten minutes to spare and want to interrogate the figures further then go to

Have fun.....

Monday, May 23, 2011

UK housing market - excuses, excuses, excuses

Forget the omnipresent "location, location, location" it seems that "excuses, excuses, excuses" is the new catchphrase to describe the slump in the UK housing market.

The Guardian ran a story today entitled "Housing slump? blame the weather" with the subhead of:

"Warm weather, a succession of holidays, plus the royal wedding … they're all getting the blame for the spring housing slump".

Miles Shipside of Rightmove says that transaction volumes will remain low and Martin Ellis of Lloyds says that the underlying trend in house prices continues to be one of modest decline.

Actually I'm not sure that there's any need for excuses at all. 

Property is a cyclical business - I first came into the industry in the early 80's and this is my third period at the bottom of the chart. 

It says something in the Bible about seven year cycles of feast and famine and, whilst it's not an exact art, it's clear that property values follow a cycle too. 

Here's an excellent article from Money Week in 2005 forecasting the latest global economic collapse and saying that the cycle is usually around 18 years.

As it says - house prices can’t rise indefinitely for the simple reason that at some point they become unaffordable.

The author does say:

"There are usually 14 years of rising prices followed by four years of recession across the broader economy".

Hindsight shows the slump starting in 2008 and we're now three years down the line.

So maybe we should just realise that regardless of weddings, sunshine and cheap deals to the USA, property prices are going to remain depressed for a little longer yet.

A brave man would say that now is just about the perfect time to invest.

As sure as anything the roller-coaster will be picking up speed again at some point in the near future.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Charente life - time to sniff the flowers

Some of you may know that in my former life I was lucky enough to have two jobs simultaneously. 

First as Group Marketing Director and secondly as the Director in Charge of Chesterton's head office in Brook St, with around 200 people in the building.  I think the latter role was given to me as the Chief Executive knew I had a father from Scotland & mother from Yorkshire and would therefore keep a tight rein on the purse strings.

My office used to look out over Claridges and it was a pretty spoiled life.

I had a PA who used to organise my diary, a team of people making sure the office ran smoothly and an accountant to help me add up the numbers.

If my computer started behaving badly I'd pick up the phone and someone from the IT helpdesk would arrive before I put the phone down.  I could eat in the Excecutive dining room (choose the menu even) or send out for sandwiches.

Life is so, so different now.

I work by myself from an office in my garden - make my own coffee, type my own letters, get my own baguette, install my own ink cartridges and wrestle with my own Livebox.

This morning I have been writing to the Prefecture and photocopying lengthy contracts.  I cursed when I saw it was 11.30am as the post office closes at mid-day and there's no magical "out tray" that empties itself at night anymore.

Wearily I licked the envelopes down, sighed at having to drag myself out of my comfy chair, picked up the dogs lead and set off on the 150 metre trek into the centre of my village.

On the way I bumped into my neighbour Yves and spent time chatting with him about how the lack of rain was affecting his potager.  Three people tooted and waved as they drove by.  In the post office the lady behind the counter spent 10 minutes talking about Sarkozy's new tax plans and the royal wedding (still).

Coming home I wandered into my garden behind the church and sat on the grass eating cherries I'd picked from the tree followed by strawberries, raspberries & redcurrants that were ready in my fruit patch.

The dog sprawled alongside me, hoovering up the cherry stones and letting out a half hearted woof if the birds came too close.

Hmm - I thought. 

London was terrific, it's the greatest city in the world and if you want to forge a career in property there's no place better.

But as Walter Hagen* so famously said:

"You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

And at the grand old age of 49 I've come to the conclusion that he was absolutely right!

*Walter Hagen is the world's third greatest ever matchplay golfer.  Bettered only by Seve and my mate Chris.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

International buyers return to the Charente

I'm meeting a client tomorrow to hand over the keys to this beautiful old Charentaise masterpiece.

I thought that I had bought some houses with incredible views over the vines before but this one absolutely takes the biscuit.  It's a cracking house in a prime location and I think that we bought it at a bargain price.

Regular readers will know that after the 2008 banking crisis things became tough in the property industry.  International buyers simply dried up and went from plentiful to non existent.

The tap has been turned back on though and the purchase of this house and some of the others featured recently have led to my best Q1 figures since opening up business here back in 2003.

I'm hopeful that this is a "trend" rather than a "blip" but only time will tell. Certainly the house price indices are encouraging as is general press coverage.

According to my colleagues in the FrenchEntrée property finders network transaction volumes across France are still patchy although a couple of them have seen similar starts to the year as myself.

Long may it continue.

Cognac Blues Passions confirm 2011 line-up

It's my favourite festival of the year.

The week of Cognac Blues Passions is always terrific fun with artists and visitors from all over the world creating a unique atmosphere in my home town.

I don't care whether it's BB King in the park or an unheard of band in the street there's something about live music that stirs the soul.  Watching The Comittments perform on an island in the middle of the Charente, overlooking the Courvoisier chateau is still the finest concert moment of my life.

This year the festival takes place from the 5-9 July inclusive and acts include ZZ Top (blues?), Jamie Cullum, Texas, Moby and many others.

Book now as it's always popular.

See you there.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Britons eyeing up European property bargains....hmmmm

Just seen this article in the Daily Telegraph.  An extract says:

"Eight out of 10 Britons looking to buy a holiday home abroad are interested in those European countries which have been hit worst by the recession.

Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain are now lumped together under the unflattering acronym of the PIIGS. They’re up to their eyes in debt and, in the case of Portugal, Ireland and Greece, they’ve had to be bailed out to keep them afloat.

So 82 per cent of Brits interested in buying abroad in the next 12 months are looking to these countries in the hope that prices have hit rock bottom and they can pick up a bargain".

Sorry but I simply don't believe that.

It might be that people are idly looking at houses in these countries - just as I have spent more time than I should looking at some of the "fire sale" property in the worst hit US states. is a particular favourite.

But just as I wouldn't dream of buying anything in the slums of Detroit, Miami, Baltimore or Atlanta (I've seen The Wire) I tend to endorse the view of Mark Bodega of HIFX:

“The one country they are returning to is France whose property prices were least affected. French property buyers tend to be more affluent, older clients and having held off for the last few years they are beginning to dip their toes back in the water as retirement waits for no man (or woman)".

Ultimately, France has a long and unique relationship with the UK and buyers are comfortable with everything here from the climate & scenery to the decent wine and gentle pace of life.

Buying a home overseas is a major step and both the heart and head should be consulted or you'll end up with a "pig in a poke" that you'll regret buying forever.

Vive la France!

Looking for a house to rent in the Charente Maritime?

Talk about organised.

I first spoke to Jason & Jane at the end of last year then met them at the France Show in January.  They had always wanted a second home in France and mandated me to find them something beautiful.

They came across at the start of February to see what I had found and picked up the keys last week to a fantastic house close to the coast (followed by an extremely enjoyable lunch I'm glad to say).

Yesterday I had an email from Jason saying "check this out"

I can assure you that while it looks good in photos the reality is even better.

So, if you're looking for a holiday home to rent in the Charente Maritime this summer your search could be over!

Cycling through the Charente countryside

Regular readers will know that in a couple of months time I am embarking on the longest cycle ride of my life.  Starting in Bordeaux, myself and four friends will journey down to the Pyrenees and then attempt to cycle up the infamous Col du Tourmalet.

I'm currently "in light training" as my father-in-law likes to call it.  As a talented amateur cyclist he has been put in charge of making sure that I don't disgrace myself.

Sadly though there are a few issues:

(i) I have led a sedentary life for 49 years and I'm both overweight & unfit.
(ii) I'm going to be making the journey on my 20 year old "sit up and beg" mountain bike.  The brakes don't work, only one of the three gear rings works and it's still caked in mud from a one off whirl round Richmond Park with my mate Chris in 1992.
(iii) I'm lazy and think that Sunday mornings were made for sleeping in.

So I wasn't impressed to be up at the crack of dawn last Sunday and setting out on a 70km ride.

Father-in-law had broken it down into three stages.

Firstly we set off up into the hills around St Preuil and Bouteville.  Stunning scenery but not easy to climb.

Then came what he calls "speed work" where we kept going back and forth across the river Charente in the beautiful villages of Graves, Vibrac and Bassac.

Finally came "the grind" where we cut through Bourg Charente and up the long hill past Cognac golf course and then back down into Jarnac.

Three hours fifteen minutes later my legs were screaming but I was able to collapse into a heap.  I then spent two hours just watching muscles I didn't know I had dancing around in my thighs.