As well as ever-popular Eymet in Dordogne, the Alpine ski villages and Haut-languedoc communities are among the places most sought after by British borrowers, finds Felicity Sullivan
The property hotspots in France favoured by British borrowers
Brexit has been cited as both the reason for a drop in British interest in buying in France and a driving factor for increased demand! Depending on who you ask and when, it seems we are just as unsure about the impact the 2016 decision has had as we are about the details of any deal made with the EU prior to Britain leaving.
However, amidst the confusion there are some certainties. Firstly, we aren’t buying in France purely because it’s in the EU; our love for France, its culture, food, wine, lifestyle, and our dream of moving there is still strong. Enquiries at International Private Finance are up by 15% on 2017, and estate agents have been reporting similar increases. Secondly, for all our complaining about the cold British weather, we love an Alpine retreat!
The Auvergne-rhône-alps region is the most popular region for our British buyers so far this year, and we’ve seen a 10% increase on 2017 in the number of purchases there. Its popularity with the British is nothing new; it’s been the most popular region with our buyers for several years. This growth seems to be coming at the expense of the seaside areas in the Provence-côte d’azur region, which is the biggest faller in terms of our transactions this year.
The hills are alive with the sound of buyers The Auvergne-rhône-alps region is a vast one, covering almost 70,000km2 (half the size of England). It stretches from the beautiful, verdant Auvergne in the west, with its lush volcanic landscape, to the snow-filled valleys and peaks of the Alps, bordering Switzerland and Italy, to the east. And it’s in the east where the British have continued to flock, especially to the departments of Haute-savoie and Savoie. Our stats show that they are the two most popular departments in 2018, an increase of 12% on last year.
Property prices within these two departments can vary considerably. Our average is €718,000 which is a two-bed flat in Courchevel or a seven-bed chalet in Châtel. This year, we’ve seen a huge increase in nonresident Brits buying around the key resorts near Geneva. Chamonix is up 80%, fuelled in part by its investment in nonskiing activities such as mountainbiking and climbing, which has made it a true year-round resort.
With euro mortgage rates for non-residents at historic lows (1.25% for a 15-year fixed rate), smart buyers are seeing the sense in borrowing money in euros to mitigate any exchange rate fluctuations and, with no limitation on renting out the property, the ability to attract tourists all year-round increases the revenue potential.
Other areas in and around Morzine, such as St-jean-d’aulps, Châtel and Megève are also increasing in popularity, and we have seen a fall in demand from those resorts with three-hour airport transfers, such as Méribel, Courchevel and Val Thorens in Les Trois Vallées. It makes sense to have your Alpine retreat within an hour of a main airport hub, to maximise those weekend getaways and when travelling with the kids (although the seasonal weekly direct Eurostar service to Moûtiers and Bourg-st-maurice does make those resorts more accessible in the winter season).
We spoke to Alpine Property, an estate agency in Haute-savoie specialising in assisting foreign buyers. Their figures backed up our assumptions around the desire to find value for money. Founding partner Gareth Jefferies said: “2018 is already well up on 2017, kicked off by the great (and early) snow we had this season, and the summer hasn’t showed any signs of slowing. Our feeling is that the average property in the big-name resorts is currently losing out to really lovely property in the surrounding villages. When you compare what €900,000 will buy in the centre of Morzine the Brits prefer what they see in St-jeand’aulps!”
Red red wine So, we love the Alps for its all year-round activities, but let’s be clear; we do still love wine, vineyards and fields of sunflowers. Including the popular departments of Dordogne, Lot-et-garonne and Gironde, the Nouvelle-aquitaine region to the west of France remains the second most popular region with our British buyers this year, with purchases in the Dordogne increasing by over 4%. The French banks prefer to lend in
French banks prefer to lend in property hotspots, where the market is more liquid
property hotspots, where the market is more liquid and will offer higher loan-to-values on homes in those areas. Here the rental market is going strong with over 80% of our purchasers saying that they intend to rent out their property for part of the year. We’ve even had a client come back to buy a second French property within a couple of miles of the first; their first purchase proved such a popular rental they have had to buy a second to be able to make use of it themselves!
Bergerac and its surrounding Dordogne villages continue to draw in foreign buyers due to the low-cost flights. Indeed agents in the nearby town of Eymet, which has long had a high concentration of British expats, were saying they had reached 30% of their 2018 target by February!
If you are thinking of purchasing with a French mortgage it’s sensible to get an approval in principle before heading out on viewing trips. When properties are selling quickly both vendors and estate agents are insisting on seeing ‘proof of funds’ before going out on viewings or accepting offers.
Walking on sunshine
Finally, our third most popular region in 2018 so far is Occitanie, with almost 15% of our British buyers purchasing in the region. With a coastline stretching almost 200km from Perpignan in the south to Montpellier in the north, it enjoys over 2,200 hours of sunshine a year (London averages 1,400) with an average high of 29°C in the summer months. A total of 87km of the coastline falls within the Hérault department, which was one of our fastestgrowing of all the French departments in terms of number of transactions this year.
Interestingly, most of our buyers weren’t purchasing property in the larger seaside resorts of Sète and Grande Motte, nor in the major urban area of Montpellier. Instead, they have ventured inland, to the foothills of the Black Mountains where they have found beautiful towns and villages such as Orlargues (voted one of France’s most beautiful villages), Roquebrun and St-geniès-de-fontedit.
In terms of property prices, the most recent report from the Notaires de France shows that prices in Montpellier and its surrounding areas have risen by 4.8% over the past year to an average of €313,500. Interestingly, our average purchase price for this region is €350,000, which is probably explained by the fact that purchasing with a French mortgage can increase your budget, especially when there are banks willing to lend up to 85% (or more in some cases) of the purchase price.
What remains clear, when looking at all the popular areas, is that France truly does have something for everyone. What are you waiting for?
Paragliding at St-jean-d’aulps
The village of Roquebrun on the River Orb in Hérault