And they said le slump couldn’t hap­pen here…

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - OVERSEAS - Will Ran­dall

At the end of a sur­pris­ingly be­nign and golden Oc­to­ber, ev­ery­body in France – even es­tate agents – are fi­nally will­ing to ad­mit that the credit crunch est ar­rivé.

Builder friends at the bar of Les Trois Marchands in Cour Chev­erny in the Loiret-Cher look gloomily into their glasses of rosé and tell tales of work­ers be­ing laid off. Constructi­on sites are grind­ing to a halt (barely 40 per cent of next year’s new­builds are likely to see the light) and the al­ready much-ma­ligned bankers are prov­ing to be any­thing but amenable.

In a coun­try that has al­ways con­sid­ered it­self rather above ob­ses­sive dis­cus­sions about the value of prop­erty and the va­garies of the hous­ing mar­ket, even the least eco­nom­i­cally minded news­pa­pers are rak­ing over the ev­i­dence of a se­ri­ous slump in ac­tiv­ity.

In Paris, anal­y­sis is al­most street by street. Prices per square me­tre are quoted to the near­est euro and th­ese prices are fall­ing – by, on av­er­age, 5 per cent in the month of Septem­ber for les vieilles pier­res — char­ac­ter prop­er­ties.

Nev­er­the­less a num­ber of es­tate agents con­tinue to send me de­tails of houses by email – a prac­tice that most of them have now (vaguely) got their heads round. A num­ber have added a note sug­gest­ing that I ig­nore the ask­ing price. If the house should in­ter­est me, all I need do is have a look round and make an of­fer.

Yes­ter­day I re­ceived the lo­cal so­lic­i­tor’s glossy mag­a­zine which deals with house sales. Ad­ver­tised within its pages was a wa­ter mill just east of Blois that I had vis­ited early in the year with my brother. We had agreed that the Monet-style three-acre gar­den was stun­ning, al­though a se­ri­ous dis­in­cen­tive to get­ting down to work. Un­for­tu­nately, we also recog­nised that the ris­ing damp that had al­most reached the first floor was go­ing to be an in­sur­mount­able prob­lem. It is still for sale but now, I no­tice, it has been re­duced by 25 per cent.

So much then for the pop­u­lar the­ory that France would never see the sort of hous­ing slump that the UK is suf­fer­ing. It is true that bank­ing reg­u­la­tions here made it im­pos­si­ble to bor­row the colos­sal amounts avail­able across the Chan­nel, but prices of at­trac­tive pe­riod prop­er­ties, in par­tic­u­lar, had be­come much in­flated of late.

The cause of this ef­fect, to a great de­gree, has been the bonuses, the large amounts of dis­pos­able cash that many Parisians (and Lon­don­ers) have had avail­able to in­vest in the pur­chase of une mai­son sec­ondaire.

Some in the prop­erty busi­ness here among the lakes, forests and plains of the Sologne have taken a dis­tinctly bu­colic ap­proach to la crise économique. One ac­quain­tance, a de­vel­oper, has de­cided to shut up shop for a year in or­der to let things right them­selves again – or so he hopes. In the mean­time he plans to con­cen­trate on his young fam­ily, fish­ing and shoot­ing.

Word has it that, of the three agen­cies in a nearby town, one will be gone by Christ­mas and an­other by next Easter. Not a great deal of re­gret is be­ing ex­pressed about this par­tic­u­lar event lo­cally. In France, es­tate agents rate not very much more highly than the leeches that teem in the lo­cal marshes.


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