ALMOST 22 MILLION NON-EU CITIZENS LIVE IN EUROPE Agents and lawyers have had a bumper year but buyers are worried, finds Ruth Wood
Insight from agents, buyers and property experts helping Brits buy in France
Anglophone estate agents who specialise in helping Brits buy in France are celebrating a record year – but are also urging people not to panic over Brexit.
With buyers racing to get a foothold in France before the UK’S expected exit from the European Union, it has been an exceptionally busy 12 months for agents, as well as experts in cross-border law, mortgage brokers and currency exchange specialists.
Allez Français, an agency covering south-west France, has had its most successful year since it was founded 16 years ago. Clé Rouge had their busiest ever French property exhibition at Olympia London in September. Foremost Property Group has seen unprecedented numbers of property searches on its website over the past few months.
And 2018 has been another record year for Leggett Immobilier, founded more than two decades ago. “We have had around 13,000 enquiries a month coming in to our sales support team,” says Trevor Leggett, chairman of the nationwide agency. “All of our research shows that the driving factors for UK buyers are climate and lifestyle, neither of which can be messed up by the politicians!” But he added: “A lot of people are feeling they want to buy something in France for fear they may no longer be able to. I think it’s a little misguided, but some people seem to think the door is going to go ‘Bang! Closed’ and that’s it; you can’t come in anymore. So it’s a little bit of panic.”
Worried and hurried
Indeed FPN readers on social media tell us they feel worried about Brexit, and those in a position to relocate across the Channel feel under pressure to move fast (see our Facebook comments, right).
Their anxiety is understandable. As we go to press, the UK-EU divorce arrangement hangs in the balance and British nationals have no guarantees about the rights they will have after the timetabled exit date of March 29. In principle, it has been agreed that Britons will retain most of their EU citizen rights during a transition period lasting until 31 December 2020. This means that people who move to France and can prove they are legally resident before this deadline will have the automatic right to stay and enjoy the same social security, healthcare, education, training and employment opportunities as French citizens – though not the right to move on to another EU country and not necessarily the right to vote. However, this offer is subject to a final deal being signed between the UK and EU.
“For those who are looking to move permanently, there are of course concerns, in particular relating to residency rights, pensions, healthcare and so on,” says Matthew Cameron, head of French legal services at Ashtons Legal. “However, there appears to be a general consensus that, on the basis of a fast-moving media story, there is very little guidance we can give on the overall picture.”
In the absence of certainty, many people are racing to get established in France before the official leaving date of 29 March. But moving too hastily can lead to costly mistakes, cautions Robert Kent, of Kentingtons Tax & Investments, a company regulated by the French financial regulator.
“We see so many people making a mess of their move to France before they have even moved,” he said. “It’s often how they set up the purchase, using the wrong clauses; arranging money for purchase after they arrive, doing marriage contracts that cause problems. The list is long.
“The main issue is that few people take advice and then wonder why it all went wrong.”
Worried but not hurried Many of our readers tell us they are worried about Brexit but are not hurried, simply because they are not in a position to move to France in the near future.
According to Charente Immobilier, others are biding their time, waiting to see what happens. “From our discussions with them, the main concerns about Brexit lie around the exchange rate and access to healthcare,” says Charles Miller. “Their intention is to buy, but only when they know what their funds/ revenue will afford.”
Of course, the transition period may well ultimately be extended, giving people extra time to move and secure the automatic right to stay and enjoy the full benefits.
But even in a worst case scenario, Britons will not be barred from relocating to France if they so wish. Blevins Franks, international tax and wealth management advisers, points out that there are almost 22 million non-eu citizens living in the EU – more than 4% of the total population. “Just as UK nationals lived in Europe before the UK joined the EU in 1973, they will continue to enjoy living in the EU after Brexit,” said business development director Jason Porter. “While living in the EU is certainly easier for Britons with today’s automatic freedom of movement, there have always been ways to reside in Europe without EU membership.”
Old favourites and new hotspots Perennial favourite Dordogne is still the most popular department with househunters searching on our market-leading website Francepropertyshop.com, and Charente has jumped in popularity to overtake Morbihan as the second favourite destination.
It’s a picture reflected by estate agents, who report that many of their buyers are seeking a home in south-west France or Brittany.
“The evergreen departments of Charente, Charente-maritime and Dordogne see continuing demand but are being challenged by the rising stars of Vienne and Lot-etGaronne,” says Julie Savill, of Beaux Villages.
Foremost Property Group has also noticed a growing interest in the Limousin, a rural central area of France encompassing the departments of Creuse, Corrèze and HauteVienne and offering some of the cheapest property in the country.
The average home in Creuse is just €55,000 while in Corrèze (which boasts no less than five Plus Beaux Villages) it’s €110,000, making it slightly more affordable than neighbouring Dordogne and Lot.
Clé Rouge Immobilier admits to “aggressively and successfully” promoting its patch of Nouvelle-aquitaine, between Bergerac and Bordeaux, where former Changing Rooms presenter Anna Ryder Richardson has bought a ruin to transform into her dream home.
“We try to focus buyers on choosing the right area before they look for properties,” says Jerry Green. “We have an amazing amount of sunshine here but not unbearable heat; the scenery is beautiful and varied, and there’s a healthy French/expat ratio – there are English-speaking people around but it’s not ‘Little Britain’.”
Customers who take out mortgages are more likely to be buying prime property on the Riviera or Alps. The Auvergne-rhône-alpes is by far the most popular region for customers of broker International Private Finance, while luxury buying agent Home Hunts has had a busy year on the Côte d’azur, Paris and Provence as well as Chamonix, Megève, Annecy and the French side of Lake Geneva.
Buyers and budgets Young couples and pensioners are among them, but the typical British buyers of property in France are still pre-retirement couples looking to buy a holiday home with a view to moving permanently in a few years’ time.