Wednesday, June 22, 2011

French X Factor - Brit makes the final two

I'd wager a good deal of money that you've never heard of Matthew Raymond-Barker.

Yet last night he made it through to the final of X Factor 2011.

He's a 21 year old student from Mitcham and he's going to get my vote in next Tuesday's final, live on M6.

There's something delicious about X Factor in France.  It's not as glitzy as the UK version and the singing & choreography is often naive but at least it's honest. 

No clearly scripted spats between Louis & Cheryl.

No hyperbole from Simon ("in anybodys money that was a world class vocal.....better than the original").

They've had some decent guests this series too, from Lady GaGa and James Blunt to The Black Eyed Peas and, of course, Johnny Hallyday.

Next week the invitees are Beyoncé and Bruno Mars but I hope that they are upstaged by M Raymond-Barker.  My guess is that you never will get to buy his records outside of France but his story is still quite remarkable. He's conquered the nation and millions of teenage girls think he's more hip than Justin Bieber.

Bravo Matthieu et bon chance......

Friday, June 17, 2011

Charente - the second sunniest part of France

A few years ago I wrote an article for French Property News saying that I lived in the second sunniest part of France.

Since then I have taken huge amounts of stick every time a little, white, fluffy cloud has the temerity to tiptoe into view.  Clients, friends and neighbours all take great delight in reminding me of my words.

Well, after the hottest spring since 1900 they're all changing their tune now and begging for their sun baked potagers to be watered.

Recently their collective rain dance bore fruit and the photo above was taken in his garden by my good friend, and ex client, Andy and stolen from his excellent blog "Prunings from the vines". 

Just to rub salt into the would I've found a map showing sunshine levels across France which prove, once and for all, that a career in the met office beckons if ever I decide to quit the world of international property.

As Steve Martin so famously said:

"A day without sunshine is know....night".

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

France expects an increase of 31% more UK tourists this year

There was an interesting piece in The Observer last Sunday about the further rise in popularity of France as a tourist destination from the UK. 

The (incredibly clumsy) headline was "Families rediscover French holidays as Arab spring and taxes take their toll" - you can see the full article here.  It goes on to say:

The average price of a holiday in France this year is £554 a head, compared with £978 for Italy, which has seen a 15% rise in bookings. The steepest falls in bookings have been in Tunisia and Egypt, by 16% and 30% respectively because of the political uncertainty. More expensive destinations, such as the Caribbean and the US, at an average cost of more than £1,200, have also proved a turn-off in straitened economic times.

France is the world's number one tourist destination, with almost 80 million visitors last year – more than 10 million of whom were British. Philip Westerman, 30, from London, who has been to France "more times than I can remember", puts food, culture and identity at the top of the list of reasons why he can't stay away.

These statistics don't come as a surprise to me as there really is something special about this country we now call home.

I shall listen out for more British voices during my weekly visit to the local market and to being accosted in my local bar with the oft asked "On holiday? How long have you got left...."

Hopefully a long time yet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

House prices - will Google ruin your dinner party?

Way back in the dark ages, before I "saw the light" and gave up all kinds of power, money and status, I used to host, and be invited to, some excellent dinner parties.

Over a decent rack of lamb and bottle or two of St Emillion the conversation would inevitably turn to house prices.  Of course everyone would have an opinion as to where we were in the property cycle and for how long the boom/crash would go on for (no-one ever talks about periods of stagnation).

Many of my friends were also in the property industry and would be happy to quote figures from one of the myriad conflicting housing reports and indices (government, agents, developers, banks, industry bodies et al).

The historic beauty of these reports is that the analysts and research teams always contradicted each other - leading to an endless supply of data to stimulate debate and conversation.  You could say what you want and always be able to find some obscure stats to back up your argument.

Now though, it looks as though big, bad Google could well end the debate and put all those well paid analysts and researchers out on the street.

No less an authority than the Bank of England has a whole section in their quarterly bulletin about using internet search data as an economic indicator.  You can read the article here.

So...can Google predict house price movement?

Well, the Bank of England are, typically, cautious about giving us a one word "yes" but they do say that search data outperformed other traditional economic indicators.  Their researchers found that searches for "estate agents" tended to peak a month ahead of rises in house prices.

We've been waiting for centuries for a single, authoritative house price index....we still struggle to say with certainty what house prices have done in the past.

Can Google now skip a step and tell us what they're going to do in the future....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Proposed tax on French holiday homes

There's been quite a lot written & said about the proposed new tax on French holiday homes.

Last night I read a new "global briefing" from exclusive agents Knight Frank which was so good that I thought it was worth sharing.  You can read the full paper here.

In essence we have two forms of "council tax" in France, taxe fonciere and taxe d'habitation - both of which are calculated on a property's rental value.  Even when taken in combination these are usually well below the equivalent tax you would pay, for example, in the UK.

The proposed tax would equate to 20% of the valeur locative cadastrale (VLC) - a theoretical rental value of the property set by the local tax office - and would apply from January 2012 if approved by the French parliament this summer.

If you read the Knight Frank briefing paper you'll see that, even if approved, the new tax will have a relatively marginal effect.  They give an example of a tax of €280 pa on a property worth €700,000 (well, it is Knight Frank!).

Indeed, with new changes (already ratified) to the wealth tax then France is looking an increasingly tax efficient country to retire to.

It's nice to see that the chap from Knight Frank finishes with this, bullish, sentiment:

"With the anticipated weakening of the exchange rate now more likely than ever, we expect British buyers to return to the market".

I have always liked those nice folk at Knight Frank (even going back to when there was still a Mr Rutley)  - let's hope they're right with that final prediction.


Friday, June 03, 2011

Top tips for buying in France

Set out below are my top 10 tips for those looking to buy a house in France this year.

1. Identify your preferred location:
France is a huge country offering seaside resorts, skiing, cheap equestrian property with acres of land, plush penthouses in Paris and much more. Find your ideal area before beginning your house search.

2. Write down your "brief":
If you're vague with agents then don't be surprised if what they show you doesn't take your breath away. The more thought you put into your brief the better the results.

3. Make sure you see a good cross section of the market:
You'll find that some agents are friendlier and more knowledgeable than others but you're buying a house not on a blind date. Agents can only show you what they have on their books. Also, don't forget that every second house purchase in France is actually a private sale but do remember that this route isn't for the faint-hearted and carries plenty of risk if you don't know what you're doing. If possible use a buying agent (see 10).

4. Get your finances in place:
It's pointless finding a little gem if you're not in a position to buy it. This is a simple thing to do and will save masses of heartache.

5. Check out
This site shows average house prices (and price fluctuations) from around the country.

6. Don't deal with an unlicenced agent:
There are still plenty of sharks around. Ask to see their carte professionelle or you could get your fingers burnt.  There are thousands of professional agencies offering an excellent service - make sure you use them.  If in doubt go to where there are plenty of friendly & efficient immobiliers to choose from.

7. Use a good notaire:
Quality differs among notaires and you 100% have the right to choose (don't be told otherwise), ask around and find one you are comfortable with.

8. Try and collect as much comparable evidence as you can:
Houses are notoriously difficult to value in France and it's often the owner who sets the price. Visit as many "similar" properties as you can and use this comparable evidence to help negotiate a good price.

9. Don't be greedy:
It's tempting to get more land than you need (you'll live to regret it) or to buy a house with masses of barns (roofs cost a lot to repair). If in doubt take your time to really think it all through.

10. Use a buying agent:
Let's face it you may well not be fully conversant with the language, laws, process and local area. Buying a house is a huge commitment and a good buying agent will save you time & money as well as give you peace of mind. Not sure where to look? Try here.

Bon courage....

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cognac Gym - Club Championship: And the winner is......

I know that most people read this blog for insights into the French property market but tough - if a father can't take pride in his daughter's achievements then it's a poor show.

It's a bank holiday in France today and I've spent most of it with my family watching my youngest compete in the Cognac Gym club championships.
There were four disciplines: Bars, Beam, Vault and Floor.  Her strongest by far are the bars and she was happy that she was drawn to start with these.
The Downie family held their collective breath as she started swinging and then disaster struck as she fluffed a hand adjustment and lost both momentum and, surely, her chance of gold.
She's a fighter though and the next three disciplines went well with a huge backflip on the vault that Beth Tweddle (her heroine) would have been proud of.
We had to hang around for an hour and a half before the Palmares (awards ceremony) and we waited nervously to see if she had clawed her way back onto the podium.
The MC took centre stage.
"The 2011 club champion of level EG4 is...........DOWNIE Katie".
He even pronounced her name properly.
The stadium erupted (well there was warm applause anyway) and Katie stood on the podium to receive the gold medal, with the broadest smile imaginable on her face.
No national anthem I'm afraid.....probably for the best though.
Now, if you're reading this Lord Coe (well, you never know) - how about reconsidering my application for those four tickets to the Olympics next year?
I'm warning you, if you don't come up trumps then I'll tell her to represent France in 2016 :-)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Two new French property finders join the team

I've just finished training two new buying agents who have joined the French Entrée Property Finders network.

Jacqueline Miller has set up "Ma maison parfaite" and will be covering the Ile de Ré, La Rochelle and Vendée coast.  It's a simply stunning area that I know well and I'm sure that she will be a real asset to the network. 

Further south, Jacqueline Hanks has set up "Southern Dordogne property finders" and, again, it's an area that I know.  Indeed it was a golf course & chateau for sale just outside Bergerac that first inspired me to think about moving to France.  Jacqueline is a French national and knows the market intimately.

I wish both of them luck.

If you'd like to know more about how you too could join the network then you can get a full prospectus by requesting one from

Education in France - a teenage perspective

I've just read this excellent blog post from one of me fellow FrenchEntrée property finders.

Val Walmsley runs Poitou Property Services and recounts a conversation she had with a young lady who came to France at 14 and who has now passed her Bac.

I really liked this quote:

“Moving to France…”,she said,“…is the best thing my parents have ever done for me. My life is far richer. I’ve learned a new language,I have great relationships and I love life here. I’ve been pushed to extend my limits and am really proud of what I’ve achieved”.

As regular readers will know, our experiences of the French education system have been largely positive with small class sizes, plenty of discipline and caring teachers.

I say "largely" positive as I wasn't particularly happy last week when our 12 year old came home and said she was going on strike for a day and was going to spend the day listening to Justin Bieber & Katie Perry instead of conjugating verbs and learning about French history.

I've managed 49 years without striking and wasn't too chuffed with her militancy but she explained that the PTA weren't happy that one of the classes was going to be cut and - being France - they had organised a strike to solve the problem.

Ho hum.