And they said le slump couldn’t happen here…
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.