MARKET LOWDOWN: HURRIED BUT NOT WORRIED
In our latest market report, Ruth Wood finds extra estate agents are being drafted in to cope with the Brexodus of buyers moving across the Channel
His honeymoon may be long over with the French people, but it seems that on the world stage Emmanuel Macron is still winning.
First, there was his rise to the French presidency last year when he set up a new political party to see off the far right. Then, there was his stirring speech to US Congress in April, in which he attacked Donald Trump’s policies and got a standing ovation plus worldwide media coverage.
Completing the hat trick was the moment in July when France were declared winners of the World Cup. Up in the VIP stand, President Macron fist-pumped the air in an image that went viral around the world.
Brits on the move Watching all this from Brexit Britain, Francophiles seem to need little convincing of France’s winning credentials. Britons remain the most common foreign buyers in France (accounting for 26% of international sales last year) and the number of Brits moving permanently across the Channel or relocating within France rose by 17% last year, according to research by French bank BNP Paribas.
Estate agents tell us they are being “flooded” with enquiries from Brits wanting to get established in France before the UK leaves the EU. Leggett Immobilier’s sales pipeline is up 24% on last year and 45% up on 2016.
“We have had to employ extra staff to cope,” says Trevor Leggett, founder of the nationwide agency, which handles one in six sales to UK buyers in France. “Each day the deadline draws nearer, the enquiries increase exponentially.”
Year-on-year sales at Charente Immobilier have grown by 20% and French agency Argu’s Immobilier in Vienne has taken on an English agent to help cope with the spike in enquiries from Brits. Tax and investment consultants Kentington’s has “never been busier,” says managing director Robert Kent. “People are in a hurry to move, with many changing their plans with early retirement,” he said.
The deadline buyers are working towards is midnight on December 31, 2020. That marks the end of the transition period after which the UK will have fully left the European Union if the government’s timetable goes to plan. In principle, British citizens who are lawfully resident in France by this date will be allowed to stay indefinitely, along with their partners and dependents.
However, experts point out that people who arrive after this date will still be able to move to France. It’s just that their rights will be covered by French immigration law and there will likely be a bit more paperwork and a few more restrictions. Luxury buying agents
Home Hunts work with a lot of non-eu clients, particularly those from the US, Middle East and China, and say the process for Brits is likely to be fairly straightforward even in the worst-case scenario of no deal. “There will be some slightly longer delays at airports and ferry terminals I’m sure and there could be a need to fill out a document each year to allow travel but that would be all,” said director Tim Swannie.
How is the French property market looking now? Close to a million homes have changed hands in France over the past year. The market is strong, healthy and driven by domestic demand, with low interest rates set to continue for the foreseeable future, says Leggett Immobilier.
In coastal resorts and in major cities such as Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille, prices have risen dramatically over the past couple of years along with demand. However, in the countryside, away from commuter belts, stock remains high and prices low. This could soon change though, says Edward Landau, who runs Agence Le Bonheur in Gascony. “The levels of stock are continuing to fall gently while quite a lot of good property is coming onto the market as positive news filters through,” he says. “For the moment prices are starting to gently move upwards and if the trend continues we will expect the increase in prices to accelerate.”
Although there is plenty of choice in rural areas, Julie Savill, of nationwide agency Beaux Villages, warns buyers against making cheeky offers.
“Very low offers are rarely successful, which is not to say that there isn’t a huge amount of great value,” she says. “Realistically priced property is selling well in all areas.”
Who is buying?
Alongside the pre-brexit rush, many people are snapping up holiday homes with a view to retiring to France in the future, even though this is likely to be after Brexit. In our Twitter poll, only a fifth of respondents said they were buying a holiday home with no plans to move across the Channel in the future. Those buying their main residence accounted for 29% of respondents but by far the greatest proportion – 47% – were buying a holiday home with plans to move to France permanently further down the line.
This snapshot poll broadly reflects the findings of agents at Argu’s Immobilier in Vienne who told us that 40% of their British clients were buying holiday homes in the countryside where they could retire in a few years to enjoy their twilight years far from stress and bad weather.
Charles Miller of Charente Immobilier agrees. “The average buyer seems to be pre-retirement, buying a property with a view to moving to it permanently within about five years,” he said. “There are many fewer young couples or families looking to buy.”
What are they buying?
Farmhouses, gîte businesses, B&BS, châteaux, the pied-à-terre that can generate income – the Brits love them all, according to Patrick Joseph of My French House international property specialists.
Channel 4 show Escape to the Château and its spin-off DIY series have prompted a surge of interest in budget châteaux and manor houses from British househunters.
But agencies tell us most Brits still lust after the traditional stone house in the countryside within walking distance of the bar and boulangerie. “These houses must be habitable but ideally with some basic modernisation to be done,” says Benoite Bernardeau of Argu’s Immobilier. “A garden is essential and it must be a decent size.”
Budgets vary widely, and some buyers are reducing their budget and retaining property in the UK. “This may be to do with concerns over residency and healthcare, however it certainly isn’t stopping them benefiting from great property prices,” says Julie Savill, of Beaux Villages.
People are in a hurry to move, with many changing their plans with early retirement
Where are they buying?
Over half of British buyers gravitate towards the south-west of France, with the most popular areas being the old regions of Poitou-charentes and Aquitaine, including Dordogne.
To escape the crowds, Beaux Villages recommends buyers consider neighbouring Vienne, Lot-et-garonne or Aude.
Central Brittany, Normandy and the Riviera are also perennial favourites, but in fact the single region with the highest concentration of British buyers is the Rhône-alpes, which encompasses the main ski resorts.
Howard Watts, of Alpine Property World, said: “It’s a niche market here but things are improving as people realise that Brexit is not going to be such an issue after all. Few people want chalets these days but neither do they want rabbit hutches; 90% of our clients are after apartments and the Brits tend to want a couple of bedrooms.”
Solicitor and tax adviser David Anderson, of Sykes Anderson Perry, says property in good Alpine ski resorts is a safe bet because building restrictions in the mountains mean demand will always exceed supply.
Brexit is also driving strong demand for apartments in prime areas of Paris while upmarket Cannes remains a good investment, he said.
“In short my view is buy a smaller property in a prime area rather than a bigger property in a non-prime area and you are unlikely to regret it!”
Barbara Reddy Looking for a permanent home with income or gite to hire out. Within walking distance of small village or town. Near lake or beach. Not a renovation projectClare Pearse Thinking about it for 3 years. Looking at 6 years time and a property with land as a permanent residence and small campsite or B&B in the VendeeFiona Stringer Wanted to for more years than I care to think about, now we have decided where and are going on our first property viewing next month – for holidays to start with but turning to home!Harriet Green Looking at south-west France for home and income. In the meantime studying French with Open University.