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

French Property News - - Expert Advice -

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.

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