Friday, October 19, 2012

A day in the life, or a life in the day....

When I meet new people the two questions that I'm most often asked are "What's it like living in France" and "What do you do for a living"?

I thought that I'd try and answer both questions in a single post by taking you through a typical day (if there is such a thing).

Morning - up early and in the office to answer emails that came in through the night (I'm trying to get a business off the ground with some brokers in Florida and they are six hours behind and tend to mail me in the wee small hours) and to plan my day.

Quick break at 8.10am as it's my turn for the school run and I pack assorted children - some mine - into the car and weave my way through the tractors and grape pickers.

Then it's off to Cognac and environs for some house viewings.  I'm mandated by some UK clients who are looking for a mill or waterside property and I have three properties to see this morning.  Two are hopeless but one could well make the shortlist.

Time for lunch and I stay in Cognac and make an unannounced visit to one of my favourite agents - he happens to be free so we grab a quick "plat de jour" on the main square.  Place Francois Premiere in the centre of Cognac is always full of tourists and today is no exception.  It's also good to see that the hotel on the square has opened again after the refurbishment.  You can get a feel of how good it looks now by seeing it here.

Afternoon - back to the office after lunch to call a notaire.  I have clients buying a house with three lakes - unfortunately the state only has knowledge of one of them so the red tape has become somewhat entangled.  The upshot is that my clients will rent the property for a few months while the paperwork is sorted - not ideal for either party and a potential minefield but probably the best solution.

Then it's on to a new experience for me.  I have clients in Dubai who have been looking to buy a house I found for them at auction.  It's proving difficult as the lawyer handling the sale wasn't too pleased to give us access to see it in the first place (and only did so because I kicked up a fuss) and now doesn't want to let a surveyor in to give his opinion until the official viewing programme starts.  As this is just a few days before the auction itself it doesn't leave much time for making decisions and arranging finance.

I speak to surveyor, avocat and huissier (who has the keys) and wonder why I ever came to this country with it's archaic property processes!

The end of the day is spent working with some of my colleagues in the FrenchEntrée Property Finders network.  This is a collection of buying agents spread across France and I'm a part owner in the business which follows my business model of acting exclusively for the buyer.

The guys at Brittany Gems have just tied up a really nice purchase for some clients and Stephen calls to update me.  He's thrilled - but not as delighted as his client who thanks him for "the most amazing support, you have achieved the practically impossible, given my dream list".

That's pretty much it for the day but I just have time to press "send" on my latest article to the editor of FrenchEntrée magazine.  Hope you like it Justin!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Vendange time in the Charente

It's that time of year again.

The school run takes five minutes longer, the roads on my Sunday cycle rides are covered in mud and squashed grapes and most of my French friends are working seven days a week from dusk until dawn.

The sleepy old Charente comes to life at this time of year and I love it.  I was going to make this post about the grape picking process but my friend and near neighbour Andy has done it a million times better than I could in this post. (I have taken the liberty....again....of pinching one of his pics as you will see if you visit his excellent blog "Prunings from the Vines").

Instead I'll give you a little insight into the Cognac Property business empire.

Successful corporates understand the need to make work fun and motivate employees.

Google has a "play" area in its offices to aid creativity among staff.  My lifelong buddy Tim is COO of a big ad agency and has a table football area for use by clients and staff which helps stimulate the creative juices.

I have my "chemin blanc".

You see, most lunch times I take Paxton the black lab out for a walk in the vines and we invariably end up on the same rough track which wends its way back to my garden.  Usually it's deserted and allows me to prioritise work, get my thoughts in order and plan my business.

This week we're sharing the vines with huge machines straight out of War of the Worlds and my attention is diverted.  It's a small price to pay though - Paxton and I take our time and watch as the workers pick the grapes, transfer them onto a trailer, hook them on the tractor then hurry back to the Chai before they get spoilt.

It's a process made all the sweeter in the knowledge that aforementioned friends will undoubtedly be inviting me to birthdays, christenings, weddings and simple dinner parties where I will get to sample the fruits of their labour.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

French property market report - Summer 2012

Regular readers of this blog will know that there is a real shortgage of information about the French property market when compared to say the UK, USA or Australia.

However, the Notaires de France do their best and a few weeks ago released some figures on the year to date.

It's clear from their figures that transaction numbers are dropping across the country including the previously untouchable Paris market.  They are forecasting a fall of around 15% in the number of sales for 2012 which would bring the total down to a little over 700,000.

They say that Paris will be badly hit but that the areas around Bordeaux, Nice, Toulouse, Lyon and Montpellier will be slightly cushioned.

These figures are total sales and not to be confused with the statistics issued by BNP Paribas which are focused on sales to international buyers only.

This is the third major downturn of my property career - each one seems to last forever when you are in the middle of it but, thankfully, each one has been followed by a dramatic upturn.  The property market is a cyclical one and I'm used to the fact that we seem to have "seven lean years followed by seven years of plenty".

What never seems to change is the bullishness of estate agents despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.  Oh for a euro for every time I hear that "our market is different and thriving" or  "prices in Paris/London/wherever will never fall"....hmmm.

I remember well attending a property conference in the early 1990's in central London - I was on the panel and one of the speakers was an extremely high profile Chief Exec of a huge, listed, property developer.  He gave a morale boosting, upbeat and most enjoyable speech talking about the number of sales they had and how the market was back on its feet.

When he had finished he sat back down and whispered "If anyone believes all that **** they need their head seeing to".

I was still a naive 30 year old and remember being devastated that he didn't truly believe what he had been saying.  It was one of many lessons I learned and I now know that it is part of the industry DNA to talk the market up.

My point is that property sales across France are falling and prices naturally fall with them.  If both sellers and agents recognise this (and price accordingly) then transaction numbers will remain comparatively healthy.  Price sensibly and there are still 700,000 buyers out there!

For info you can get the Notaires de France research here.