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.