Friday, November 6, 2015

The 'uberisation' of property in France?

There are increasing concerns in the newly fashionable 'sharing/caring economy' of the increasing 'uberisation' of homes - taken from the word Uber which is an umbrella organisation providing websites and services such as taxis and car sharing, and best known for its Airbnb network under which owners sublet their homes for periods of a weekend or just a vew days.

Opposition has already come from hoteliers faced with this new competition and the city of Paris suffering the loss of tourist taxes (now collected by Uber users), and more recently with owner/occupiers living permanently in apartment blocks and finding their lives disrupted by the comings and goings of extremely short-term renters.

It is against this background that the estate agency network Orpi and the polling organisation Ipsos have published a survey of trends relating to property occupation and ownership. Among the trends noted are:

- Growing popularity of apartment sharing ('colocation') particularly among the under-35s

- Growing trend of subletting a room in their apartment - either long term, short term or very short term (Airdbnb etc) and using the internet to market their availability

- Decline in popularity of second (holiday) homes, described as 'not a priority' by 88% of those interviewed

- Growing trend towards purchasing the main home ('résidence principale') - 54% of under 35s would like to buy

- A home office is now seen as essential by 62% of under-35s interviewed, taking over from the dressing room.

- Also popular is a large open-plan living area, with a kitchen offering an island unit and facilities for informal meals (breakfast bar).

Source LeFigaro 05/11/2015 06/11/2015

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Buying a French property held by an SCI

The SCI is a French 'société civile' which is essentially not a trading company but one set up by a group of family members or friends to jointly invest in a property. Each member buys a number of shares in the SCI, with some shares confering different rights from others. Shareholders may dispose of their shares individually if they wish to retire from the SCI but the constitution of the SCI may be restrictive - for example, an obligation to offer the shares first to existing members of the SCI.

If as a property potential buyer you find a property for sale that is owned by an SCI it is essential to consult a Notaire as soon as possible (before making any binding commitment to purchase). The Notaire will examine the SCI to ascertain what its constituion says about selling the property to a third party and it is most likely that the consent of all the shareholders will be required. A Notaire acting for the SCI/vendor will deal with the distribution of the proceeds from a sale of the property between the shareholders, according to each one's share holding.

An SCI can be purchased or taken over, or created, should you wish to use an SCI as a method of (jointly) owning a French property, and as in all cases professional legal advice should be sought before you agree to buy. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Buy-to-let - flat-sharing properties

If you own a sufficiently large French property, this morning's LeFigaro on-line has an interesting article about converting it to share accommodation, or 'co-location' , popular with young people including students.

The article describes an 'ideal type of property' based in the city of Orleans which cost around 500 000 euros to purchase, convert and equip and lists among the essentials, based on nine people sharing:
- a large kitchen/diner with sufficient fridge and storage areas and two hobs, with a total area of not less than 35m²
- a minimum of four bedrooms, each not less than 13m² minimim
- sufficient bath/shower rooms and WCs

In the example shown montly rentals were based on 350 to 420 euros per bedromm.

Source: 12 October 2015

Floods in France

The recent floods along the Cote d'Azur have highlighted the problem of serious flooding in France. It is estimated that damage to homes, businesses and vehicles will cost at least 500 million euros in compensation. The French State has qualified the event as a 'natural disaster' and will pay for repairs to the infrastructure, including several highways and bridges.

One of the lessons learned is the relative lack of safety of (private) underground car parks, where several people drowned in attempts to bring their cars to the surface as the floods struck. Many had no alternative means of escape other than the exit ramp and no doubt new reulations will be introduced to improve safety in future.

Many parts of France are officially classified as at risk of flooding and when buying property you need to check the 'plan cadastral' and verif via the Mairie what kind of evacuation plan exists in case of emergencies.

Many Mediterranean towns and villages have however excellent systems for evacuating potential flood waters. In my own area of Pyrénées-Orientales some 140 000 or 40% of the population are regarding as living in a potential flood zone.

Monday, September 21, 2015

British living in France

Statistics about the numbers of British people fulltime residents in France are somewhat confusing, particularly when contrasted with the number of home owners - permanent and temporary.

According to a 2014 estimate by the French statistical office INSEE there are around 400 000 British resident in France - more than the 250 000 French living in the UK.

Other sources indicate that of France's 2.5 million second/holiday homes (10 per cent of the country's total housing stock) just 10% are bought by foreigners - of which British make up the largest single group (25%).

This percentage can be higher in some regions known for their attractions to incomers, including over 20% of homes are owned by foreigners. This figure can be distorted by even higher concentrations in some coastal (Mediterranean) resort areas, where second homes make up the bulk of the local property market, resulting in hundrds of apartments and villas which lie empty for ten months of the year, outside the July/August peak holiday season.

If you are searching for a permanent home and particularly if you are approaching retirement, you need to examine your chosen area carefully and if possible visit it both during and outside the season in order experience the practical effects of your lifestyle of their shifting population.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Furnished lettings

With the approach of autumn, now is the time to think about and to prepare for letting your property as a short-term furnished rental.

Short-term furnished rentals are designed for a minimum of twelve months (nine months in the case of a student rental) as opposed to three years for non-furnished rentals. You can also ask for a generous deposit against unpaid rent and damages, and a guarantee from parents.

There is an obligation (under the recent loi Alur) to provide a minimum of furnishings - including a bed and bedding; a hot plate for cooking; oven or microwave; chairs and dining table; basic cooking and eating utensils; adequate heating; sufficient and appropriate storage for clothes, books etc; and the tools to keep the rental basically clean.

You can advertise your property through local newspapers, student magazines (and/or get on their housing list), and specialist magazines such as LeBonCoin.

If you are considering letting a larger property you might considered letting it as a 'co-location', where each tenant signs the lease, and seek appropriate guarantees for example from parents.

The student rental market is relatively easy to enter as there is a shortage of university accommodation and those who do not live at home have to rely on the private sector. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

When does my property become my principal home?

If you decide to move to France and live permanently you should ensure that your French property is classified as your 'main and principal home' - if only to avoid paying capital gains tax if you decide to sell.

By declaring your presence and completing an annual French tax return, your new home will normally be accepted as your principal place of residence within 12 months of occupation. Any additional checks - for example, if you decided to sell within a few months of your arrival - might include checking electricity and water consumption, possession of a French driving licence and a 'Carte Vitale' which provides access to the French healthcare system.

French tax returns cover the period January to December and are issued in March/April for completion by the end of May/June. In your first year of arrival you should obtain the necessary forms from your local tax office (or perhaps the Mairie) and in future years they will be automatically sent to your French address. They can also be completed and submitted on-line. 

Bâtiments de France

Just to remind readers that an organisation called 'Bâtiments de France' - similar to English Heritage - can intervene when building or renovations are planned for a property classified as 'historic' and/or sited within an conservation area - normally close to a historic building such as a church or public building.

Their local architect should be contacted as early as possible at the planning stage and his guidance sought about what is or is not allowable under their regulations. Most rules refer to external changes and can include paint colours, windows and shutters, roof lights, type of bricks or tiles etc. Early discussion and agreement will save costs in the long run. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Simplifying the rules when buying a French apartment

Following the widespread criticism of the loi Alur, the French government has announced imminent changes to the procedures for buying and selling apartments and other types of property situated within a co-ownership complex or condominium.

Under the loi Alur, promoted by the then housing minister Cecile Duflot, owners are asked to provide large amounts of extra documentation detailing the history of the building in which the property is situated, including any works undertaken and planned, and detailed accounts going back several years. These have to be provided by the syndic (the building managers) before a would-be purchaser signs a pre-contract ('compromis de vente') and at which point he/she is entitled to withdraw - creating additional costs for the owner/vendor for the work needed to compile the dossier.

The new procedures have created serious delays, of up to three or more months, before the 'compromis' can be prepared and hopefully signed, and in some cases have increased the number of documents required from 30 to 300 or more pages.

No detailed information about the proposed changes is as yet available and is awaited in a decree promised for mid-September. The only detail announced is that documents may be sent in electronic form rather than hard copy, but their is no indication about how the quantity may be reduced. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How to target your French property sale

Some interesting figures on patterns of movement within France may help give some clues how to successfuly market a property for sale.

There are around 3 million movements of people within France every year. Given the rate of annual property transactions at up to 800 000, that represents two to four people on average per household, which seems about right.

Of these 93% move no further than within their own region! The reasons for this include:

- the lack of jobs to be found elsewhere;

- one of the spouses being the principal or only wage earner;

- children at school or at a critical stage such as a first job or apprenticeship;

- extended family commitments from babysitting by grand-parents to caring for elderly or sick family members.

There are only two regions of France which are growing as a result of incomers from outside the region - Provence/Côte d'Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon. The new arrivals are predominantly retirees ( from among the estimated 10 million baby boomers from the post-war years) who are not seeking work - Languedoc-Roussillon has above average unemployment locally. These potential purchasers have funds in hand from the sale of their home in the (former) industrial areas and a secure pension, and are seeking a retirement home in the sun. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Renting to students

Between now and the autumn, some 1.4 students in France will be searching for accommodation at the start of the academic year. Due to the scarcity of student hostels in France, the majority will be lodging in the private sector or living at home with their parents -many students opting to go to the university nearest to them rather than in another part of France, unless their chosen course is highly specilaised. A recent article in LeFigaro* described the student rental market as follows:

Private rented accommodation - 28%
Living at home with parents - 27%
Sharing ('colocation') - 12%
Cité Universitaire - 11% (165 000)
Student residence - 8% (110 000)
Other - 5%
Family owned property - 3%
Linked to job - 1%

The minimum monthly rental in Paris is likely to be 750 euros, slightly less at 500 euros in cities such as Lille, Lyon or Marseilles; and a minimum of 300 euros elsewhere.

If you happen to own a rental apartment that is also close to a holiday resort, you may be able to let it also during the high season (July, August) when students are on holiday. A typical weekly rental would be about the same level as the monthly charge out of season, as a very rough guide.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Simon and his dog

This post arises out of one I've just been answering on another forum ( which poses the perennial questions raised by some British people in France - about how to deal with French greetings - kissing, handshaking etc. and the differences between regions, and above all Paris, compared to the provinces.

I live in a medium sized French town (pop. 120 000 or 250 000 with the outlying suburbs) in the Mediterranean south, where there is an interesting mix of nationalities - people from Spain just over the border, as well as places like Morocco and further south. Most evenings I take a walk round the nearby park, where many people are sitting on the benches alone or  talking to friends, and they sometimes greet me or I say 'Bonjour' to them. Also on a quieter road, if someone is coming towards you alone, it is quite normal to say Bonjour as you pass each other.

When it comes to more formal greetings, there are what seem like complex rules governing the business of kissing and handshaking - but I find you pick it up as go along. To take an example: Yesterday I was in the town centre with my closest (male) friend and as we have known each other for more than 10 years and work together on various writing projects, we kiss each other 4 times when we meet or say goodbye. This now extends to his family and to some of his close friends who in turn have become close friends of mine.

Yesterday we met the younger brother of the same close friend - four kisses from him for my friend, two for me (I know him fairly well), two kisses for both of us from his girlfriend, whom neither of us had met before; a handshake from another male, a kiss from his girlfriiend.......It may seem complicated but there is a certain logic to all of this, and you tend to follow the customs by instinct. All the above were repeated as we parted five minutes later.

And what of Simon and his dog? One of the other things I like about this region is the comparative lack of class/snobbery - the boss shakes hands with the factory worker or the man come to fix the radiators. Simon is a young homeless lad who sits begging almost opposite my apartment, with his faithful dog called Vagabond. We shake hands and talk when I pass, and know a bit about him as a result; a lot of other people say Hello to him, as well as putting a few coins in his pot. I find this much more heartening than people scurrying past pretending not to see him. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A 'Portakabin' on your roof?

The city of Barcelona is now authorising the addition of pre-fabricated apartments on the roofs of some apartment blocks, as one means of solving the city's perennial housing crisis. The apartment modules are pre-fabricated in the factory and transported and lifted by crane onto the roof of the building, where final connexions are made within 24 - 48 hours.

The buildings selected are normally those within a row of apartment blocks where the 'full height' has not been used, and adding the prefabricated modules can help improve the aesthetic appearance, as well as discouraging random use of flat roofs for storage or washing lines.

The developers also argue that the more even distribution of weight can help reinforce a building and that no strengthening of the foundations is required. In some cases landscaped gardens and terraces have also been added, and the lift (elevator) extended to reach the new top floor.

Further arguments point to the saving in land costs, discouragement of urban sprawl as less land is eaten up for housing and access roads, and that adding to the city's urban population means more efficient use of the city's existing services such as public transport, shopping and entertainment.

Would this work in France - where the Paris municipal authority has already spoken about extending some buildings upwards? Private apartment buildings are owned in common by their resident occupiers and managed by a syndic, who can object to and block certain developments, even when planning permission has been given by the local authority. There might also be objections from owners who occupy the existing top floor and do not wish to see a new neighbour appear on their roof!

Further information and a video (English subtitles) can be found on 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Amazing French health service.....

In just under three hours this morning, starting at 08.30, I had an ultrasound scan, waited for the report and took it to the specialist who came out of his office between patients and gave me a quick all-clear; then dropped it off at my doctor who did the same thing. Wonderful people. Oh, and within the above scheudle I ate a late breakfast having fasted from midnight. Great reaons to live in France....P-DdeR

Monday, June 8, 2015

Renting out your French home for profit.....two useful guides

If you are considering renting out your French main or second home, you may be interested in a couple of books that guide you through the process and help you make a profit. Both are heavily influenced by the American short-term rental platform Airbnb and are published on Amazon Kindle.

They are:
- Doublez vos réservations by Thibault Masson (in French)
- The Airbnb Entrepreneur by Warren Bell (in English)

Masson's book is discussed in this morning's LeFigaro* online and covers six principal areas:

1. Investigating and deciding on your target market, such as families with children, business visitors or romantic couples. Each market is quite distinct, and depends on the size and type of your property, its location and what are its nearby 'attractions' that will appeal to your target group.

2. Target your marketing and description to your chosen group and emphasise the elements likely to appeal to them.

3. Reply quickly to enquiries - potential renters usually approach an average of five competing properties and a prompt reply helps win customers.

4. Having done your research, make sure your prices are in line with similar offers in the same sector.

5. Look after the details and ensure particularly that beds and baths are impeccable, as they are among renters' prime concerns.

6. Provide little extras, such as overnight items for breakfast, or a bottle of champagne for couples.

Airbnb also publish a number of guidelines, specifically tailored to France, including essential tax and legal advice.


Friday, June 5, 2015

France's retirement boom may not be enough to create jobs

French politicians looking ahead over the next decade or so have for a long time assumed that the retirement boom - resulting from the high birth rates in the decades after the war - will be the chief answeer to the country's high unemployment. As an estimated 10 million French give up work and enter retirement, their places will have to be filled - so the argument goes.

A recent report* however has taken a more cautious view and thrown into doubt the idea that the retirement boom alone will solve France's high unemployment. The report offers three possible scenarios, cautious, moderate and optimistic and in the worst-case version unemployment in 2022 could be as high as 9.7% (with just over 1 million jobs created); the 'central version' suggests the creation of some 1.8 million new jobs and an unemployment rate of 7.9%; while the most optimistic version talks of 2.1 million new jobs and unemployment at 6.7%.

What are the reasons for this? The analysts suggest that inevitably the demand for certain types of workers are likely to decline, citing in particular industrial and manufacturing jobs, work in agriculture and the lowest category (C) of employees in the public sector. They also suggest that among the self-employed and owners of the smallest businesses (cafés, restaurants, small shops etc) when the owner retires, the business tends to close and disappear from view.

The only sector likely to recruit in large numbers is that of 'home helps' but the researchers note that this type of work is regarded as unattractive and low-paid and may even fail to attract the unemployed. Generally unskilled and medium-skilled jobs requring few specialist qualifications - sales assistants, drivers, cleaners - will decline due to streamlining and automation.

Among the remedies being discussed are shorter working hours (!) and the researchers note that the introduction of the 35 hour working week in France generated over 2 million jobs between 1998 and 2001.

* 'France Stratégie" as reported in "Alternatives Economiques" no. 347 June 2015.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Reasons to move to - or leave - France?

I am pretty sure no statistics exist which explain why some British people choose to move and live permanently in France, the variety of reasons why - and sadly, why some decide that this is not for them and return home to the UK, wiser in experience but possibly poorer materially.

During my years as a French estate agent negotiator and property adviser in the south of France, I have met many buyers of 'second homes' and an equal number of people who have decided to give up their British property and lifestyle and settle permanenty in France. The majority have stayed, moving the Mediterranean to enjoy their retirement, and in a few casers younger individuals have set up successful businesses. (This is quite different from the pattern of French moving from France to Britain, who are invariably of working age and go there to find jobs or set up their own business).

Among the few who have returned 'home' to Britain, their reasons have included:
- not being able to adjust to a radical change of lifestyle, though moving almost anywhere to enjoy ones retiremant can prove traumatic unless you plan ahead and are clear what you are looking for.
- not being able to cope with the French language.
- as a result of the above, unable to settle in a new location and make new friends and contacts.
- making a radical change from, say, a large (English) town to a small (French) village.
- health and prefering to rely on the known NHS rather than the excellent French healthcare system.
- in the case of parents, because the children are not appy in a French school.
- inability to find suitable work or set up a viable business.
- wanting to be closer to children and grandchildren or other family, back in England.
- death of one of the partners.

Looking at the list, it is clear that a permanent move to France needs careful planning about where to live, what sort of lifestyle you are seeking, effect on accompanying children and on those left behind, your prospects of survival either through working, pensions or savings; and some kind of 'what if?' contingency plan.

While I was selling appartments and houses on the Mediterranean coast, a typical client (who succeeded in settling permanently) :
- knew and had visited the region previously, usually on holiday
- had visited other reagions of France or even other countries such as Spain or Portugal, before deciding on this part of France
- knew more or less what they wanted - beachside apartment, country cottage etc - but sometimes changed their ideas
- had a clear idea of budget for the property purchase and their 'survival plan' to finance their new life
- sometimes had a Plan B in case their situation changed.

As often happens, people do not always follow their own advice and my own arrival in France happened entirely by accident! It all started when the central London property I was living in, with a controlled rent, was sold to property speculators, and I found myself facing a tripling of my rent and increasing uncertainty of freelance work lecturing, writing and consulting, as I moved towards retirement. It was a colleague at the university where I taught who introduced me to the region where we both now live. He had already bought a small holiday flat to enjoy during the long university holidays, and then decided to stay (finding lecturing assisngments locally and then setting up his own 'chambres d'hotes' with a French partner). I calculated I could just about affford a small property, using my savings, as this was just before ther boom in prices which took off after 2001. And I too found my own means of survival, doing much the same as I did back in London but with a French twist. It has not all been plain sailing but looking back I feel I made the best of a bad situation that was beyond my control.

The moral here is by all means plan ahead but sometimes you have to react quickly to events and do the best you can. It often works!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Choosing a French estate agent

Though many owners choose to go it alone and successfully market and sell their French property, the vast majority of property transactions pass through estate agents. How then to choose your French estate agent? I offer some guidelines:

1. Look around your area and check which estate agents handle the same sort of property as the one you are trying to sell. Some estate agents specialise in high value chateaux and wine domains, while others may have more experience selling holiday apartments or moderately priced houses either as first or second homes.

2. Check that your property fits naturally into the agency's selection, including your hoped for price - if your propertyly is more expensive, be prepared to argue why, and listen to the agent's advice.  Bear in mind that no two properties, even in the sqme street, are ever entirely alike.

3. You can sign an exclusive contract with a sole agency, or choose to appoint more than one, and at the same time reeserve the right to market and sell the property yourself.

4. If you decide to appoint more than one agency, there should be a logical reason - such as achieving wider coverage. There is little value in appointing several agents in the same town or local area, and prospective buyers may be confused and wonder if you are desperate to sell - and why?  A local agency plus one or two with, say, British connections can reach a wider market for your property and improve your chances of finding a buyer.But note point 5 below.

5. When I worked in a French estate agency, with over 60 years experience in the area and four local offices, I found that:
- buyers tend to come to the office, having seen local publicity or looked in the window, either unannounced or by appointment
- they tended to visit a number of estate agencies in the region and may have seen the same or similar properties via another agent
- buyers generally knew the area from holidays or previous visits and had a fairly clear idea of what they wanted, including how much they could afford to spend
- our role as 'negotiators' was principally to listen and try and match the properties on our boooks to the potential buyers' aspirations, then accompanying them on visits to those selected from our online catalogue (totalling some 500 properties of all types)
- the bulk of our work, once a sale was achieved, was supervising the transaction through to completion, in close cooperation with the Notaire handling the sale

6. Finally to dispell some popular misconceptions:
- estate agencies are generally not in fierce competion with each other, even in slow times and there is little chance for aggressive 'marketing' (see 5 above again) of a property, sometimes expected by the seller. Property selling takes time, buyers are naturally cautious and may dislike 'pushy' sales tactics. They have a wide range to choose from, even in busy times, and may even change their plans.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

March of technology - USA versus France

An interesting post, with nearly 150 responses, on the American home deco site *. It incorporates an eclectic list of various household items, classified as 'Nearly extinct' (mainly techology such as fax machines, address books, alarm clocks), 'Endangered' (desk top computers), 'Vulnerable' (books and magazines) and items defined as 'Defying the odds' (such as vinyl disks making a comeback, board games). The responses from forum members have for the main leapt to the defense of many 'traditional' items listed, ranging from bar soap to sewing machines. And in my own response I tried to give a 'European' view of some of the items listed, including:

- desk-top computers - as many readers pointed out they are essential for 'serious' writing or formatting text, needing multiple screens and extensive software, that does not suit a laptop. Also apparently for gaming (a new one for me!)

- books - Kindle and other reading devices never made a real inroad into France, and they seem to have vanished from bookshops and multi-facet stores such as FNAC. Book publishing and sales are increasing, with many independent booksellers continuing to survive. My own small town of Perpignan has at least six independent bookstores, plus FNAC, and at least 20 secondhand book shops or open air stalls that I know of.

- corks in wine bottles - In my reply I emphasised that no real wine lover would buy wine that did not come in a bottle with a real cork made of cork!

- mail boxes - Obligatory in France and often standardised, and can be opened by the delivery person with a pass key. Ideal for receiving small packages such as items ordered on-line.

- cash and notes - A system known as Moneo (a cash card for small purchases) came and went within about three years. Users found it simply too fussy when paying for a baguette or the morning newspaper.

This just a small selection and interestingly the list included the category 'Defying the odds' - including vinyl records and board games making a comeback. Added to real food, vegetarianism and downsizing I see these as welcome news!

* Source 'Going, going, gone - 30+ items that are disappearing from our homes'. Scroll down if the article is not still on the first page, as the site is added to several times daily.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Too many public holidays in May?

The month of May in France is perhaps best known for the number of public holidays that occur - four in total starting with May Day (Workers) on 1 May, 8 May (end of war in Europe), Thursday 14 May (Ascension day) and finally Pentecost on Monday 25 May. Three of the holidays occur on a Friday or a Monday, enabling a long weekend for those who can afford it, and with Ascension day on a Thursday, many French will 'faire le pont' (literally 'make the bridge') and take Friday off and enjoy a four day weekend.

All this is occurring just a couple of weeks after the staggered Easter school holiday, where schools in different zones take their holidays at different times to ease the burden in the popular resorts (something that does not happen during the peak July and August period when everyone choses to take their holiday!)

Are there too many holidays in one month? Most would probably agree but the dates are immutable, due to outside events and religious traditions. One of the results is that some shops close and others do not, some open for just half the day or - as we now approach the third holiday this Thursday - announce that they will be opening all day with business as usual. It is all very confusing, as some public monuments and museums also choose to close, and buses and trains adhere to a 'holiday' schedule. As a result town centres can be deserted and unless the weather is exceptional many families can spend a miserable day at home waiting for life to get back to normal.........

Friday, May 8, 2015

France has ten times more airports than Germany!

An astonishing statistic, but France has 160 passenger airports while Germanay manages with just 17. The bad news is that only 10% of the French airports are judged to be viable economically, with the remaider supported by subsidies - from the Region, chambers of commerce etc - to the tune of some 100 million euros each year.The Normandy region alone boast a dozn airports.

During an investigation by France's Channel 2 last night, the example of Dole (Jura) was highlighted. It somehos survives as a departure point for Ryanair flights to Morocco, but with low cost tickets still susidised - each customer paying 49 euros and the Region a further 23 euros on each ticket. Dole is located just 50 kms (half an hour) from Dijon which runs just 10 per cent of the flights it predicted after a 25 million euro investment.Even an idle airport can cost over one million euros annually to staff, service and maintain without a single flight taking off.

How did this situation arise? Last night's programme argued that many Regional governments mistakenly argue that a local airport brings further investment, people and jobs, but opponents argue that more often it creates a further tax burden for local residents. Competition from fast TGV links and a good road network can also reduce airport traffic, as can decisions by low-cost operators such as Ryanair and Hop! as to where they choose to base a service.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New York finally allows small apartments

The city of New York is finally following France and almost all of Europe in allowing the constuction of small apartments  that up to now had to be a minimum 37m² - huge by French standards!

Studies revealed that 31 per cent of New Yorkers - the same number curiously as those found to be living in my home town of Perpignan in apartments of less than 30m² (from one-room studios of 15m² upwards). Further investigations in New York found that single occupiers prefer a microwave oven to a traditional cooker and a small kitchen, to which I would add a washing machine/dryer popular with busy singles. Elise Franck, a very successful owner/developer of apartments designed for short term furnished rental has written a book* full of practical ideas and case studies based on her projects in Paris and Lyon.

Back in Manhattan, the New Yorkers are making a cautious start by building 55 apartmenrs ranging from 24 to 33 square metres. 'We have to admit' said a city concil spokesman 'that these are what people want, as we accommodate more singles, people live closer to work, marry later and get divorced sooner'.

* see her website for details

Thursday, April 30, 2015

French property prices - latest trends

One of the most accurate surveys of French property prices comes from Notaires de France, who together with INSEE (a government research organisation) base their figures on actual transactions completed over a 12 month period. They have just produced their report for 2014 and the main conclusions are as follows:

House prices have fallen dramatically only in some areas, particularly second homes located remote inland sectors. Examples include  La Creuse a 50% drop (since 2008), and Périgord, le Gers and Normandie (20 to 25% drop). Whereas overall prices are down from 1 to 3% overall in the rest of France.

Prices for apartments show similar wide variations, from extremes such as Reims (11.1% drop), Toulon (11.2% drop), Limoges (9.1% drop), St Etienne (10.1% drop), while overall in  the rest of the country price deductions have been in the order of 1 to 4 per cent.

Some cities showed significant rises in house prices (older properties) during 2014 compared with 2013, and include Marseille (4.2%), Grenoble (10.9%), and Dijon (7.3%), while several towns in the north of France showed significant falls - Le Havre (14.2%), Rouen (9.1%), Lille (6.6%) and Orléans (9.3%).

Overall there were an estimated 700 000 proerty transactions completed during 2014 - just 3% less than recorded in January 2014 for the previous year.

The overall outlook is seen as promising, with mortgage interest rates at a record low, but France's high unemployment and general uncertainty about the 'recovery' are discouraging many would-be buyers from purchasing.

Bear in mind always that average prices and overall trends are simply indicators, and no two properties are precisely alike, as are the individual circumstances in which sellers and buyers arrive at a common accord.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fewer cars in French cities?

An interesting article in this morning's Guardian online* about various European cities which are making huge efforts to reduce inner-city traffic and make town cities more enjoyable for cyclists and pedestrians. Among them is the French city of Lyon, and there are several examples from the UK including London and Birmingham.

Many French cities are already experimenting with tramways, improved bus links and cycle routes, such as my home town of Perpignan, which also has a historic town centre which is largely pedestrian-only. At last concerns are being expressed about the growth of huge suburban shopping centres (we have two for a town of just over 100 000 population) and their effect on the closure of small independent shops and restaurants in the town centre.

The Guardian article has a number of useful references, including the forum '' and you might which to check my article below about choosing where to live in France.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Moving to France? How much 'stuff' to bring?

We are always being advised on the home decorating pages that the secret to a happy life is to 'de-clutter' our lives and with that, our house or apartment. Moving permanelty to France offers a golden opportunity perhaps to put this into practice - but with a few cautions.

French homes are generally smaller than their British or American counterparts and the first rule when you have found your dream property is to decide how much of it will fit in - or not. Doorways and openings may be narrower and awkward, and if your home is in fact an apartment, in older buildings there may be no lift; and even in some newer ones, it may not be large enough to transport furniture above the ground floor. Some buildings offer (basement) storage as part of the apartment but this is not universal, if you find yourself with a surplus of furniture.

I have noticed the increased use of mechanical hoists to transport furniture to the higher floors of apartment buildings, provided there is wide anough access through a window.

It used to be the case that some electrical non-French electrical appliances were unsuitable for use in France - fast-boiling kettles could bloswa sensitive French fuse, and there is the problem of compatibility, with fixed plugs that do not suit the French socket outlets. French electrical wiring is completely different, with no equivalent to the well know 'ring main' used in Britain, as well as individually fused plugs.

Weighing up the coast of transporting your furniture from Britain, you may find it is cheaper to leave somethings behind and buy new replacements when you get here. There are branches  of IKEA in many of the larger towns or across the border in Spain, and huge retail chains such as Fly, Maisons du Monde, Conforama and BUT: and specialist electrical goods retailers including Darty and Boulanger.

If you find you have more 'stuff' than you have space for, there are storage facilities available such as Home-Box that rent lock-up rental facilities short term - for example if you are between moves.

If you decide you have items to give away, almost anything is welcome by charities such as Emmaus, who will repair and re-cycle most things, and help support the homeless.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Creative ways to buy your French homes

It is relatively straightforward in France to acquire and pay for a house or apartment, provided you have the cash available or are able to obtain a mortgage. The vast majority of transactions follow this route, but if you happen to be - say - single or poor (or both!) there are a number of more creative ways to buy your ideal property.

I wrote some time ago on this blog and in French Property News about a new trend whereby groups of family members or friends get together to jointly buy or build a single or group of properties, and thereby create their own large or small 'co-onwership' (copropiété). This is known in French as a 'habitat groupé participartif' and can range from two or three families or more who wish to select their future neighbours and work together from planning through to occupation to create their ideal environment. The motivation behind such schemes can be financial but some aim to bring together like-minded groups such as ecologists, vegetarians, retirees - and in one case I discovered while researching this subject, a group of women. This new approach is comprehensively described, with several case studies in a book by Yves Connan entitled 'Habitat groupé partifipatif' (Editions Ouest-France) and includes detailed cost breakdowns of various sized projects.

If you find this sort of approach too daunting you may be interested in joining a smaller group, including people you may not have met before, but may find through social contacts or even the internet (yes, there are sites and forums devoted to this).  I watched a documentary on French television last night which told the story of three such individuals - a young man approaching 30, a single woman about the same age, and another in her forties. They met via the internet and had got together to buy a three story house in a fashinable part of Brussels, which they planned to convert into three seaparate apartments on each level. They all admitted that - as they said - being single they would never have attempted this on their own.

The house had belonged to a single family but the three individuals, seen at the Notaire's office, basically each bought their own section, together with a share in the building itself. This is very much the same process as when you (individually) buy an apartment in an existing multi-occupancy building - you acquire your own freehold apartment, together with a number of shares (known as 'tantièmes') in the building itself. The only practical difference here is that the three people concerned were the first joint co-owners of what was to become a shared building.

I have just bought a top-floor apartment in a building occupied by just four people - my neighbour and myself each have separate apartments on the top (third floor), a third owner who owns the whole of the first and second floors (run as a guest house or 'chambres d'hotes'), while the ground floor consists of an indoor garden and the flat-cum-fitness studio of the fourth occupant. Our shares in the building itself are in proportion to the size of our apartments (I own a modest 160 out of a total 1000) and we contribute to joint costs - such as the building insurance (in addition to that of each individual flat) - in proportion to the number of shares we each own.We manage the building ourselves, without the need to pay for professional managers that may be needed in larger multi-occupancy buildings, and meet informally to discuss any issues arising. We have recently decided to upgrade the entryphone system and will split the cost four ways once we agree the electrician's estimate.

You might consider this approach if by chance you have descovered a likely building suitable for conversion and can find one or two others that may wish to join you as futur joint owners. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

French report claims 1.7 million jobs exist that no-one wants......

In a convoluted set of statistics, which many commentators have already challenged, France's public job finding service (the Pole-Emploi) have claimed that while official unemployment remains at record levels, there are still 1.7 million jobs on offer that no-one is prepared to take. They have arrived at this figure by interviewing employers, who in return have estimated their actual and potential  job requirements - and more interestingly, suggested why some vacancies do not get filled.

The emphasis placed ny employers is one two particularl problems - lack of appropriate qualifications and 'unwillingness to move to where the jobs are', the latter comment a harsh reminder of the 'get on your bike and look for work' advice offered by British politicians several decades ago. The two issues merit closer examination.

On the question of 'qualifications', it is widely acknowledged that while British education tends overall to be more practical and work oriented, the French still tend to provided a philosophical approach and see education as a process of producing a well-rounded individual able to think and argue for themselves and to draw on France's vast cultural and artistic heritage. That said, it should not be forgotten that at or before the level of the Baccalaureate, many students are helped towards more or less vocational/practical studies, and others streamed towards more intellectual courses - and potentially university.

In addition there are now many (university level) business and commerical schools turning out students with specialist qualifications, such as marketing, computing and management, including those up to MBA level. As a result it is difficult to accept the arguments of employers, though it is clear that many youngsters from deprived areas and backgrounds can miss out, and end up swelling the ranks of the unemployed.

The question of job mobility is more complex but research (including my own) shows that there are clear reasons why French people tend not to moved to where the jobs are. They include:

- The majority of the jobs offered are on short term contracts (CDD) and at low or minimum salary (the SMIC), which means that moving away from home can be extremely risky.

- The low wages offered make it difficult to find low-cost accommodation in areas where the jobs are.

- Unemployed people in middle-age may have family responsibilities and do not wish to interrupt their children's education.

- One or more other members of the family make be in work and contributing to the household, and clearly do not want to sacrifice their own job - imagine a middle-aged manager seeking work and his wife currently holding down a fulltime teaching job.

- Middle aged jobseekers ofter have wider responsibilities such as caring for elderly parents and moving out of area can become impossible.

- People are generally reluctant to sacrifice networks of family and friends, and have deep roots in their local community.

All these considerations explain why 'job mobility' is something of a myth - it sounds logical but there are many practical and emotion reasons why people are relucant to move.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Buying a second home in France

If you already live in France and decide you wish to move and buy another property, then you need to plan your sale and purchase carefully to ensure the optimim tax benefits.

If your present home in France is recognised by the tax authorities as your 'main and principle residence' and you submit French tax returns from this address, then on sale your home will not be subject to the property taxes (capital gains tax) and charges that apply to selling  second homes in France. If you acquire your 'second' home before selling the primary home (and move into it) then you normally have 12 months to sell the first home, without it attracting capital gains tax. In today's slower property market you may find it difficult to sell a property within this period of time, which can accordingly be risky if you wish to avoid the tax - and also repay a bridging loan (normally repayable within two years).

In order to reduce these risks, you could sell your first home before committing to purchase the second home - this requires perseverance and a cetain amount of juggling between buyers and sellers, if one transaction (buying your new home) depends on the other (selling your existing home) - but it can be done. I have found that using the same Notaire to handle both transactions can help ensure the process runs smoothly. In the worst circumstances you might have to move out of you first home and move into temporary accommodation until completion of your second (new) homes.

Alternatively, you can purchase your second home but continue to remain in the first home until you manage to sell it (free of capital gains tax), as the second home would not be liable for CGT unless you decided to sell it while you first home was still designated as your principal residence. 

With careful timing and good advice, selling one property and buying another in the above circumstances should be relatively straightforward.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Choosing your ideal French town

Those of us moving to France have a wide range of choices when it comes to deciding where you want to live. In addition to the basic north/south divide and the choice between town or country, coastal location or deeply rural, France is also blessed with a number of small size cities, each offering a variety of attractions.

Recent surveys in Britain and America have revealed a general preference for (in Britain) a 'market town' - one that is regarded as a manageable size and with all basic amenities within a convenient walking or cycling distance. While in America, as I reported in March on this blog (scroll down for more information) there is the start of a reaction against large out-of-town shopping malls, and a desire to live in small city centres that, like the British models, offer convenient shopping and entertainment choices that do not rely of using a car.

Interestingly, one of the major influences on town planning is a book written in the 1960s by a journalist, Jane Jacobs, called (The Death and Life of Great Cities) in which she analysed what makes a small city successful, under four main headings, which can serve as a useful guide when trying to identify you ideal location when moving to France.

1. A mix of 'primary users' who are drawn to the area either for work or because they livve there, plus sufficient attractions to bring in people from outside - such as convenient shopping, a library, a tourist attraction, a weekly market etc. The right mix is needed to generate sufficient 'foot traffic' all day and during the evening to sustain a sufficient number of cafés, bars, restaurants and other attractions. When reading this, I was reminded of the huge difference between London's City area and the West End, the former sustaining a tiny permanent population, and when th area is total deserted between Friday night and Monday morning.

2. The ideal city centre should have short blocks, with plenty of side streets that make access easier from one area to another. Long ininterrupted avenues are not inviting.

3. There needs to be a mix of businesses of different types, from specialist/luxury to those catering for everyday needs.

4. There should be the right density of population who can arrive on foot, which means efficient public transport (buses, trams, metro etc) and sufficient edge-of-town parking.

Many French cities conform to this ideal and, as in America (see earlier posts), there the beginnings of doubts about the efficacy of the out-of-town 'centre commercial' which eats up valuable land needed by hypermarkets and the adjacent parking. The result in many places has contributed to the death of the city centre. In my home town of Perpignan, many empty vacant shop have a sign in the window saying 'A city without commerce is a dead city'.

My local council are slowly understanding this and as part of their remedial efforts the  university, situated in the suburbs, is creating a new law degree campus in the heart of the old town which will cater for 500 students, on the site of the original university found in the Middle Ages!

The French prime minister Manuel Vals has recently spoken about the mistakes of the post-war years when huge estates of tower blocks were built, which have gradually become - in his words - ghettoes and no-go areas, with high unemployment and crime, and created a form of 'social and cultrual apartheid'.

One of the groups promoting the new thinking is New Urbanism (Gooogle will reveal all!) and it clearly distinguishes itself from the Urban Village Movement which promotes the idea of converting former industrial warehouses (think London Docklands) and creating the new ghetttoes, restricted this time to the affluent middle classes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Average prices for long term rental

Many French people opt to live in rented accommodation, either through choice or necessity, and recent research by INSEE (a government think-tank) shows that in my local town Perpignan some 55% of households comprise renters. Perpignan in many ways is a typical medium size French town, with an urban population of 115 000 and surrounding suburbs and close-by villages adding a further 100 000 residents. It has its own university with ten per cent students from overseas, and as well as being the departmental capital the town survives on tourism and retailing, much of it on the edge of the centre. All these factors make it a useful example to study in terms of 'average' rental prices, bearing in mind the usual cautions about no two properties being precisely the same.

The INSEE findings can be broken down as follows and covers all of the 55% rented households. Of these
- 31% live in single bedrooms up to 15m², paying a monthly rental avraging 311 euros ( a reflection of the highish student population)
Or - a studio up to 24m² at 387 euros per month; or a type T1* apartment up to 30m² at 399 euros per month

- 65% live in a T2 (up to 45m²), or a T3 (up to 65m²) at 595 euros per month, of a T4 (up to 80m²) at 678 euros per month

- just 4% of renters live in houses of more than 100m², costing an average 1,021 euros per month.

The report also notes that some 340 rented properties changed hands during 2014, indicating that there is a wide choice of rented accommodation from which to choose and renters will quickly move to somewhere cheaper or more attactive.

If you own a property you are considering letting long-term unfurnished, and live in a similar sort of town, the INSEE figures provide a working basis by which to arrive at a market rent. Bearing in mind that potential renters have access to similar information and may use it as a guide when searching, you may have to offer something a bit special if you charge a higher-than-average rental.

* Type T1, T2, T2 etc (sometimes expressed as F1 etc) basically means 1 room plus kitchen and bath, 2 rooms plus kitchen and bath, and so on. Bear in mind that many 'kitchens' are now incorporated into the main living room (sometimes described as a 'cuisine américaine'). The additional room(s) are normally bedrooms, if of a sufficient size.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How much to spend on food in France?

I recently came across an informal survey on an American forum* which invited members to describe how much they normally spent per month on buying food. The results were so interesting that I launched a similar thread on an English website** addressed to those living or thinking of living in France and surprisingly the results were remarkably similar. The US website drew over 250 comments, most of them extremely detailed (location, size of family, food preferences etc) and the English site around 40. Taking the salient points from each site, the main conclusions were:

- it depends whether you buy organic or not, there is a considerable price difference
- it depends if you are vegetarian or not (ditto)
- it depends where you live - shopping in a large city/suburban supermarket can be cheaper, as can urban (open air) markets; as can living in the country or small village where you can shop direct from producers or through a buying cooperative, otherwise the country may offer reduced choices
- it depends on how often you (have to) eat out, for example at work
- it depends on how much entertaining you do
- it depends whether you enjoy cooking at home and buy fewer packaged/prepared products

In terms of the amount spent each week or month, the main variation in price depended on the number of people in the household, and the lowest weekly/monthly expenditures were generally those of single people - though some pointed out that 'bying for one' means that you cannot always benefit from econolise of scale.

Finally, in terms of the actual amounts spend in either US dollars or Euros (the two currencies were virtually at pariety at the time, $1 being equivalent to 0.9 euro), the lowest was about 200 per month (an American graduate student) and the highest 1000 per month - a largish family who also entertained and/or ate out a lot. Both American and French spending levels were remarkably similar.

*    **

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spain's recovery ahead of France

Regarded - along with Greece, Italy, Portugal and Ireland - as one of the 'sick men' of Europe, Spain has now emerged from the crisis of the last five years, following a period of schock treatment, according to a report in the French business journal Capital (April 2015), compared with France. According to four main indicators highlighted in the report, Spain now beats France in terms of reduced labour coasts, which in turn has led to an increase in exports (while those from France are down); increased (foreign) investment - up by 4.7% compared with France's meagre 0.6%; and increased consumption - up 2.7% compared with just 1% in France.

The reasons for the Spanish success compared with France include the insistence of the government on a series of measures to cut spending - including raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 (while for most it remains at age 60 in France with many occupations alowing even earlier retirement from work); cutting public sector salaries; reducing public sector jobs by 400 000 by not replacing those retiring (talked about in France but not really implemented), and reducing expenditure in several areas including education, with a huge rise in university fees (as in Britain), and trimming hospital budgets.

Along with Ireland, Spain has taken drastic action which is now beginning to pay off and it will be interesting to see that happens to Greece in particular under the recently elected populist government, while France contues to tinker around the edges with measures such as the loi Macron, which recent polls confirm that the vast majority of French do not understand, other than the law allowing slightly increased Sunday opening of retail outlets.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

'Wasted square metres' when considering a French property

I have recently been apartment hunting before settling into a third floor mini-loft in a town-centre building parts of which date back to the 17th century. What ever ceases to surprise me when judging apartments (and houses when visiting with clients) is the amount of wasted space resulting from poor internal layout, particularly bearing in mind that every extra square metre costs money in rent or purchase price, taxes, building charges, maintenance and upkeep, and heating or cooling. Among examples most commonly found are:

- Too large entrance halls and corridors often too narrow to accommodate any kind of storage. The worst example I have seen amounted to 20% of the total space - one-fifth was virtually unusable.

- Disproportionate sizing of rooms - bedrooms too large compared with the expected number of occupants, and/or in relation to the main living areas which were often too small.

- Kitchen too large (and often over-equipped) in relation to the expected number of occupants. Quite often in a studio designed for a single person or couple, the kitchen seems to have been designed for a family of four. My own, which I decided to accept, comprises a 3.5 metre (approx. 12 ft) run of worktops and cupboards, and includes a family-sized fridge/freezer, a full size oven (never used in 10 years by the previous owner), extra fan and filter unit for the oven, a washing machine, and microwave oven. But there is no dining area to match!

It is amazing how planners and designers get it wrong and I have seen an American example* where a developer has taken over a former shopping mall and turned the two upper floors into mini-studios,  with the tinly kitchens including a dish-washer! All the occupants admitted they never used it for a single plate or cup and would appreciate more storage space instead.

* See video on

Monday, March 30, 2015

French local elections - 50% fail to vote

France has just gone through the second round of regional elections and the only surprise after the defeat of the socialists and rise of the (far) right is the extremely low turnout among the electorate. There are a number of reasons for this, in my view including the following;

- Feelings of political/election fatigue, with too frequent elections (European, national, regional, local....) resulting in some sort of election every year
- People are weary of non-stop television coverage, political analysis, opinion polls and predictions, and both major parties already campaigning now for the next presidential elections
- No clear statements of policies and solutions for France's 'problems', with politicians more ready to attack each other than offer a credible alternative
- No local contact between politicans and their constituencies - few know who is their MEP and in the latest elections few recognised the bulk of candidates
- Too many tiers of government - local, regional etc - and few understand the various divisions of power - regional, departmental, local etc
- Other than knowing who is their local Mayor people do not know their elected representatives
- At the very lowest elevel, too many 'mairies' - in my home town of Perpignan (120 000 pop;) there is a 'mairie' for my district about 200 yards from the town 'mairie' which is virtually next door to the departmental HQ.....
- Each outlying village, many of which are virtually suburbs of the nearby, has its own 'mairie'....

This list is not exhaustive!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Paris offices become luxury/mixed apartments

Like many other European cities, Paris is suffering from a surplus of office space, much of it created to fulfill a demand which has since reduced. A spectacular example is the 15 storey block formerly occupied by scientific laboratoriesand offices in Courbvoie on the outskirts of Paris and close to La Défense.

The huge complex has been converted into 182 apartments (some selling at an average 8000 euros per square metre), 46 studios designed as lower cost student accommodation, and 99 units designed for short-term letting and professional use. The complex also includes a supermarket and car parking, and services such as a concierge, fitness centre and 'guest rooms' that enable owners to accommodate short stay visitors such as family and friends.

The Paris/Ile de France area is estimated to have some 4 million square metres of empty office space and the Mairie de Paris is planning to convert some 200 000 square metres into housing, during the next six years. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

France's mad, chaotic social security regimes

Unless you have tried to make a living in France, you may not be familiar with the utterly chaotic and inefficient tax and social security regimes - and the consequences on (un)employment.

It would tale a sizeable book to explain but very briefly if you work in France, either employed or self-employed, your social contributions are collected by one of several semi-independent bodies, and depend under which 'regime' you are working. For example as an employee, a farmer, a liberal profession and so on. If you work at more than one job - for example, you are an employed school teacher but during those long weeks on holiday, you also run an art gallery - you will pay security contributions into at least two schemes, one for each activity. Heaven help you if you have muultiple occupations, as many people do in Britain, or in the above example also create and sell your own artworks (another regime!)

When I lived in Britain before coming to France, I worked simultaneously as a part-time university lecturer, a writer and journalist, a legal consultant and as an advocate in the employment tribunal. In France this would involve five or possibly six separate social security 'regimes' (as authors are separate from journalists!). As I earned more I paid proportionately higher tax and social security charges, with contributions all going into one pot, regardless of their source. This situation will of course be familiar to many others who have multiple-sources earnings.

Not surprisingly the Anglo-Saxon approaches, proposed two or three secades ago by authors such as Charles Handy, have not reached France. It was Handy and others who predicted a future of 'mixed employments' for many, involving periods of full or part-time working, job sharing, self-employment, mixed employment, unemployment, and this is a reality for many in Britain and the USA.

French economists such as Emmanuel Macron, author of a 200-point plan to revive the French economy, appear not to have glanced across the Channel, and whatever reforms the socialist government*  proposes are rendered ineffectual because no-one has had the courage and foresight to radically to tackle the current system of separate social security regimes.

As I wrote in an earlier post among the worst scandales associated with the different social security regimes are the long delays in making payments: twelve months or more since becoming retired, several thousand French people are still awaiting their first pension payments while their social security providers try to work out the correct level, based on a lifetime of contributions.

* It should be noted that none of the other major French political parties has come up with a better plan. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Decline of the out-of-town shopping centre?

They say that a trend which starts in America will eventually follow in Europe. And so it  was with out-of-town shopping centres - known as malls in America - and their current decline. The statistics for mall closures in America are still sketchy but most agree that while the percentage has not yet reached double figures, the trend is clear and accelerating. Worst hit are the oldest, the largest and those furthest from the nearest town.

Among the reasons for this decline are the growth of online shopping, particularly where the famous brands found within the malls, have themselves entered the online sector. Why drive when you can shop at home? The scarcity and consequent high costs of building land are also cited, along with climate change where heavy snow can make access difficult for several weeks of the year. Many people are also turning their back on the car and among cities voted as among the best places to live are those where it is possible to move around on foot or by bicycle - to work, to shop, to enjoy ones leisure.

France is still at the expansion stage but there are already signs that this may be slowing down or halting, partly due to recession, but also for the reasons noted above. France has been Europe's largest creator of 'centres commeriaux' which are a feature of most suburbs - and the statistics are impressive:

- estimated number of shopping centre is 750, featuring over 33 thousand indiviual shops
- the amount of land occupied has been estimated at 17 million square metres
- total annual visits by shoppers over 3.2 billion
- annual turnover estimated at 118 billion euros
- 420 000 people are employed (25% of the total retail sector) with an estimated 15 000 new jobs each year
- it takes from 5 to 7 years before a commercial centre becomes viable (before it was morely to be 3 to 5 years)

Among the reasons cited for their success are the appeal of one-stop shopping, based around a flagship brand (such as a well known hypermarket) and a concentration of all the best-known retail chains. Easy access and parking are also appreciated by users.

For the retailers the attractions include potentially lower rents compared with the town centre and being alongside their well known neighbours.

Factors which may (as in America) lead to their decline include online shopping, traffic congestion, lack of public transport for non-car drivers (bearing in mind Europe's aging population) and the overwhelming size of some centres and individual hypermarkets.

There are also concerns about the corresponding decline in town centres which are seen as dying through lack of convenient shops and services. City councils  are reacting by lowering rates and taxes, improving public transport and parking, and creating more pedestrian areas. Some retailers have reacted by opening smaller in-town outlets, including Monoprix and Carrefour.

A final heartening trend from America is the recyling of some out-of-town malls, including schools, universities,  hospitals and medical centres, and sports and leisure complexes.

Friday, March 20, 2015

French property searching: the 'bon de visite'

Quite often the question arises about the 'bon de visite' - it's role and validity in the French property searching and buying process. Here I try to explain briefly.

When an owner decides to put his/her property up for sale, he has a number of options -  to try and sell it privately, or to place the property with one or more state agents; or to use a combination of the above.

If you decide to use an estate agency, as owner you will agree a 'mandat de vente' under which the agent agrees to market and try and sell your property, against an agreed commission, based on a percentage of the sale price. If you use only one agent you can sign a 'mandat exclusif' under which the agent has the sole right to market your property, and even if you attract a buyer yourself, you normally expect to pay the agent a commission - or at least an agreed portion of it.

If you want to use use more than one agency, you can sign a number of 'mandats simples' - and indeed include in the contract the right to try and market yourself. This alternative can give rise to confusion and even disputes where it is unclear which agent 'first introduced' the client to the property and is therefore entiled to his/her commission in the event of a sale. Hence the 'bon de visite'.

When a potential buyer buyer walks into an estate agency to help find a suitable property and is eventually taken on a number of visits, he/she will sign a 'bon de visite'. This is a simple document which includes and name and other details of the potential buyer,  and most importantly a list identifying the properties visited with the agent. In the event of a dispute over commission or who first introduced a buyer to a property, the 'bon de visite' becomes part of the evidence.

Note throughout all this, that it is the owner/vendor who is bound by the terms of the mandate which he/she signed with one or more agents, and not the buyer. A vendor who is in breach his agreement with the agency, for example by not paying the agency's commission when the agency has fairly secured a sale, can be subject to prosecution through the courts and subject to costs and damages.Note finally that a vendor who has signed one or more 'mandats simples' will find that among their conditions is the obligation to notify the agency of a buyer either introduced by another agency or privately. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Estimating the value of a French property

If you are thinking of buying or selling a French property, you may be interested in a short article in this morning's LeFigaro which summarises the pirnciple factors that can affect the value of a property, for better or worse. Here I summarise the main points and (French) terms used.

- 'Surface' - More square metres normally cost more money! Square metres are calculated where the ceiling height is 1.80 metres or more. Mezzanines are not counted as officially  habitable space even when 1.8 metres or more in height. The 'loi Carrez' governs the sale/purchase of apartments and in all cases if the measurement of the area proves to be 5% inaccurate or more (over-estimated) a buyer may claim compensation.

'Terrain' - A tiny patch of grass or space enough to include a pool, a tennis court etc.

'Implantation' - Refers to where the property is located - urban, suburban, rural; close to local services or not; undesirtable elements such as a main road, factory entrance, noisy bar etc nearby

'Agencements des pièces' - Refers to the interior layout of the property, particularly bathroom/WC(s), wasted space (corridors, landings), inter-communicating bedrooms etc.

'Aspecte' - Which way does the property face in relation to natural light, the sun, a nice view etc

'Date de construction' - What were the applicables norms at the time compared to present day?

State of the interior 'décoration' and 'equipements' (such as kitchens etc, gas, electrics, plumbing) - and much will it cost to put right?

'Dépendances' - Presence or absence of outbuildings such as garage etc.

'Servitudes' - restrictions such as a right of way across the property

'Etat du marché - State of the local property market

To the above list I would add, in the case of an apartment or villa, within a co-ownership property ('copropriété') the level of monthly management and service charges, which can be high where there are shared extras such as a concierge, parking a pool, extensive gardens etc.

The article adds that while estate agents may offer a free 'estimation' they may pitch the price too high (to raise the owner's expectations and secure a mandate to sell) or too low (in the hope of a quick sale). An independent professional valuation will cost between 200 and 700 euros.

Source. 18 March 2015 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Smoke alarms

A recent French law has decreed that all domestic properties should be equipped with smoke detectors (alarms) by March 2015, which have been a feature of UK homes for probably 20 or 30 years.

Unfortunately, like so much well intentioned planning, this one seems to have gone terribly wrong.
France has some 30 million households, ranging from large houses to studio apartments, and according to the comprehensive guidelines published some will need several alarms strategically placed in order to be effective - hallways, living rooms, bedrooms etc. Let's say, as a very conservative estimate, 100 million alarms needed in a comparatively short space of time - a manufacturing/marketing opportunity handed to suppliers on a plate by the French government, a huge captive market........

But where are they, now that the deadline for installation has been reached? My own tour of  localsupermarkets, electrical shops, 'brico depots' - and the assistance of friends in my search - has not turned up a single smoke alarm in stock, with salesmen saying they don't know when or if they will be receiving any. As a last resort I finally tracked down one on for delivery next week!

This is the reality of the French 'market economy' - and surprisingly no-one seems to have commented!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Renovating an older property in France

The French have a passion for buying newly-built properties. They are often cheaper than renovating an older property, are constructed (normally) where there is a demand and basic services are provided, close to work - and most recently, constructed in accordance with the latest BBC normes (designed for low energy consumption). This means two things - if you have an older property you wish to sell, you may have to make some improvements before you can find a buyer; and if you are moving to France to live/retire, you are among the many thousands wanting to find and older property and spend time doing it up. Here I suggest just two valuable ressources which offer valuable guidance.

First, the French TV programme 'Maison à Vendre' presented by an experienced estate agent Stéphane Plaza (Wednesday evenings from 20.55, repeated Sunday afternoons from 13.00 on channel M-6). In the programme Plaza and his team help vendors prepare an older property for sale, that has usually been on the market for several months and has attracted few or no potential buyers. Invariably the decor is from another age and the owners are often retirees wanting to escape south to the sun. Many are over-priced and Plaza is on hand to point out why, taking the owners to visit similar sized properties that have sold, and explaining the reason why. The transformations that he and his team achieve, with the cooperation of the owners, are somewhere between home-staging and a full renovation, and spectacular results are achieved at a cost of between 2 - 4 per cent of the selling price, split between materials and labour costs, and items purchased.  And in virtually every case, the property is sold......

The second ressource is a book in the 'Archi Pas Chere' and called 'Bâtiments modestes réinventés' by Olivier Darmon. Don't worry if your French is not perfect as each of the fifteen case studies  is illustrated with before and after pictures, floor plans and - most important- a breakdown of the actual costs of the work undertaken, showing the cost of each operation (plumbing, heating, electrics, decoration etc). The works have generally been done by French artisans which will give you an idea of how much they cost, under the guidance of an architect.

'Bâtiments modestes réinventés' by Olivier Darmon, Editions Ouest-France, 142 pp, 2012, price €15.90 ISBN 978-2-7373-5238-6 

Renting versus buying in France

Out of 27 million 'principal residences' (excluding holiday homes) some 60% of French are owners of their home, consisting of some 15.5 million households. Of these 80% live in individual houses and the remainder in apartments. Some householders elect to rent out of choice, perhaps also owning a secondary home, while others have fewer options - including the young, those on low salaries, the old - who are obliged to rent within the private sector (nearly 60%) and the remainder in social housing, much of it built in the period after the war when huge estates - known as cités - started to appear on the outskirts of many French cities and towns.  Many of these are now considered 'problem areas' (see post below) and have created wide social divisions between rich and poor.

Those moving to France from abroad tend to be property buyers, unless their stay is intended to be short for professional reasons, such as a temporary work assignment or to complete a course of studies at advanced level. Some potential buyers may choose to rent for a short period - say one year - while they look around one or more areas before deciding where to settle and this category can include many (older) people seeking a retirement home in the sun.

Rentals are offered either on a short term basis - up to 12 months and invariably furnished, with the possibility to negotiate an extension. Houses or apartments in this category tend to be more expensive to rent than longer term unfurnished properties. An unfurnished private rental is normally for a minimum of three years, with considerable security enjoyed by the tenant, particularly if it is his/her principal home. Even defaulting on rental payments or causing nuisance or damage cannot automatically lead to a tenant's eviction - legal cases can take years to reach the courts, while there is a 'period of grace' during the winter months with yet more protections for those in old age, all of which can make eviction difficult. Potential landlords should be aware of these potential problems, mindful of corse that the vast majority of tenants behave correctly.

As in Britain and elsewhere, the French government bemoans the lack of social housing and there are long waiting lists for properties at controlled rents (known as HLM). And as noted in the posts below, government subsidies (through tax relief) to provide lower cost rental homes have generally failed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Social housing and creating ghettoes......

French socialist prime minister Manuel Valls has called for the creation of more 'social housing' in wealthy areas of cities such as Paris, but critics argue that the plan would only create more 'ghettoes' and further encourage the separation of rich and poor. As one centre right mayor put it "You cannot simply force people to live together and hope to create a community".

Following the events of January 2014, Valls has spoken of 'social apartheid' while many argue that creating social housing is counter-productive as it results in huge segregated estates in parts of cities where no-one wants to live (see my earlier post above about Carcassonne) and in reality causes the divisions about which Valls is complaining.

According to a law dating back to 1980, French mayors are obliged to provide social housing as a proportion of all new dwellings but many fail to reach their target due to the high cost of building land and construction. Meanwhile as shown in the case of Carcassonne many subsidised apartments (14% of the housing stock) lie empty for want of tenants.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Research - before you buy!

An interesting and enlightening report in my local newspaper L'Idependant this morning. It concerns the city of Carcassonne - 44 000 pop., head of the Aude department, a historical walled city popular with visitors, but there is a property crisis.

Apparently there are 4 000 empty apartments seeking tenants and representing some 14% of the housing stock. Unfortunately they are the products of numerous buy-to-let government subsidised investment schemes dating from 2000 onwards and designed to promote the construction of low-cost apartments. Unfortunately, as in many areas of France, the Carcassonne apartments were built on cheap former agricultural land, remote from public transport and other services, and in places no-one wanted to live because of the absence of jobs.

My own researches show that in over 50% of cases 'investors' failed even to visit the area where promoters encouraged them to sink their money, and few if any actually investigated the market potential for low cost rentals, by talking to local estate agents etc. As a result many are now the owners of a property they can barely afford to pay for, that is impossible to let and near impossible to sell, for all the above reasons. In the Carcassonne case, the town hall is talking of taxing owners to force them to rent their properties......

What these examples show is that it is absolutely essential to conduct your own researches on the ground, particularly if you are thinking of buying any kind of property from which you hope to make money - a café/restaurant, bar, rental apartment, shop, B&B etc. Never, ever rely entirely on the brochure!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Bondy Blog

Bondy is the sort of typically ugly suburb you can see out of the window as your Eurostar pulls out of Paris - tower blocks, criss-crossed with flyovers, auto-routes and the RER rail network. Not the sort of place you would choose to live, but some people have to.

Ten years a go two enterprising journalists spent a fortnight there studying suburban life and the result was the creation of the Bondy Blog - a club for young locals, built around the idea of creating a blog in which they write about their daily life or any other subject they choose, following discussions at one of the regular editorial meetings. For most of the youngsters this was their first attempt at writing - and getting read - and today the group is linked the European School of Journalism in Lille, and has been 'adopted' by the French daily newspaper Libération. 

To celebrate their tenth anniversay the group had a 50 minute programme on French TV, in which the founders and members talk about their club, and what it has done for their lives. Several politicians have visited the club and faced fairly searching interviews by the young journalists - and even president Hollande paid a visit last week!

It is worth watching the video which may change your ideas about so-called 'problem estates' and the peole who live there. As one young writer says "Yes there is petty crime, vandalism, drug dealing. That is part of the story, but not all of it...."

See for info and to watch the recent video.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cost of the French health care system

The French healthcare system is second to none....but I sometimes ask myself at what cost. Occasionally discussions are raised about the issue of over-prescribing but the pharmaceutical industry and retail chemists appear to oppose any form of prescribing related to actual need. I will give you a small example.

After two recent cataract operations, my opthalmologist advised me that if my eyes felt tired after, say prolonged reading or time in front of my computer screen, I could use eye drops. She then wrote a precription for one month's supply, renewable 12 times.

When I took the prescription to the pharmacy even the people waiting behind me gasped as the chemist handed me 20 boxes, each containing a number of individual dosage phials, for use three times a day x both eyes. I asked 'Are these for the whole year?'. 'No' he replied, 'Just for January' ! I have used the drops occasionally just when necessary and by the end of February still have 19.99 packets left. This is a crazy waste of money, as the assumption is I would be using 6 x 365 = 2190 doses over one year!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Container based housing in Lyon

A French housing charity 'Habitat & Humanisme' has announced the construction of nine housing units, based on the use of former shipping containers, in the centre of Lyon. Three of them will be 'three room' units (a type 3 apartment) plus six smaller units (type 2). Estimated cost of each finished unit has been put at around €27 000 which will be funded by a public appeal using 'crowd-funding'.The project has been given the name "Le Passerelle" and is aimed at young people below the age of 30 who have particular problems finding somewhere to live at a price they can afford.

The association 'Habitat & Humanisme' is a nationwide French charity, with a number of sponsors including Crédit Agricole and Decathlon, with regional branches all over France. The association office based in Lyon estimate they have over the years created some 1 500 homes, two emergency accommodation centres and three hostels for young workers.

More information on-line, including the address of your nearest branch - volunteer helpers are always needed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Selling property? Signing an agency mandate

If you are selling a property in France you  can do this either privately or using the services of an estate agency - or indeed using a combination of both. Here briefly are the options available:

1. Estate agency - 'mandat simple' (simple mandate). Signing a simple mandate with an estate agency, either French and/or British, enables you to benefit from the marketing skills of the agency, and normally also allows you to market the property yourself - or indeed use two or more agencies at the same time. The 'simple mandate' sets out the address and description of the property and the commission - expressed as a percentage of the selling price and in figures - that the agency is entitled to receive if they manage to secure a buyer and a sale results. It is generally advisable to use no more than three agencies, particularly if they are all located close to the property, as this can create confusion among potential buyers. If using more than one agent, it is sensible to agree the same advertised price with each of them, based on one or more estimates of the property's value. Using several agencies can also allow you to choose, for example, one or more local ones, and perhapss an 'international' agency that advertises to non-French buyers.

2. Exclusive mandate - 'mandat exclusif'. This is much the same as the above except that you sign a mandate with a single agency and they alone have the right to market and try and sell the property. You do not have the right to appoint other agencies or market the property yourself.

3. How long does the mandante run? In the case of both simple and exclusive mandates, most generally run for a minimum of three months, after which you have the right to cancel. In today's slower property market, an agency may ask for a longer period. If you do not formally cancel the mandate after this initial period, the mandate is presumed to continue until you decide to cancel, or lapses after a fixed period, say 12 months.

4. What if I find a buyer myself? In the case of a simple mandate you can deal with the buyer directly and the agency does not earn any commission. In the case of an exclusive mandate, it is normally agreed that the agency will receive its commission even  where you  have found your own buyer. Disagreements can sometimes arise where it is argued that a 'private' buyer has traced your property through the agency's advertising and you might prefer to negotiate a compromise (part commission) with the agency rather than face possible litigation.

5. What happens if a buyer, introduced by the agency, approaches me direct and wants to negotiate a deal direct? This can and does arise, as such potential buyers invariably wish to offer you the 'net vendeur' price - the sum you would receive after paying the agency commission. This means you are in the same position finncially as if you had sold through the agency. You would also be in breach of contract, having broken the terms of your mandate with the agency and risk being taken to court. Note that French law is very strict on this issue and the courts invariably decide in the agency's favour.

6. What happens if a buyer, originally introduced by the agency, comes back to me after I have cancelled my mandate with the agency? Again, you will find a clause in your agency mandate (simple or exclusive) covering this possibility, normally entitling the agency to its commission for a stated period after cancellation. In practice this can be for six months to two years in my experience and I would advise negotiating  the shortest period possible before signing a mandate.

7. Keeping in contact with the agency - No news generally means 'no buyers' and if your agency is silent for long periods this is invariably why and you might start thinking of changing agencies or other options. For your part, particularly if you have signed a simple mandate, you should inform the agency as soon as you have a firm offer from a genuinely client, in order to avoid wasted visits etc. This enables the agency to mark your property as 'under offer' and you should again inform them if your potential private sale happens to collapse and you want the agency to continue marketing your property.

8. Finally, note that signing a sales mandate with an estate agency means that you, the property vendor, are entering into a binding legal contract, and you need to be fully aware of the implications of the various clauses outlined above. If in doubt, best to take advice before you sign anything.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Very short term furnished rentals

I wrote some time ago about the crackdown by the Paris town hall against very short term furnished rentals, popular with tourists seeking an alternative to hotel accommodation, but disliked by many owners/occupiers of apartment blocks. Complaints of noise and other nuisances generated by a succession of visitors are provoked these actions, as well as overall concerns about the shortage of (affordable) accommodation in Paris for those who want to live and work there and the high number of properties that are owned as second homes.

A similar situation has been occurring in New York according to the website for all the same reasons, with the first expulsion of a tenant found to be sub-letting his apartment on a short term basis.

The situation in France is quite clear. If you own a property such as an apartment within a multi-occupancey building, such as a block of flats, you own te freehold of your apartment together with a number of shares (sometimes known as tantièmes) in proportion to the size of of your apartment. As an owner/shareholder you have a right to attend and vote at the annual general meeting of the co-owners. Decisions are taken by counting the numbeer of tantièmes rather than 'one man, one vote'.

Day to day management of the building complex may be handled voluntarily by a smaller committee of tenants or 'professionally' by a management company who charge for their services, each occupier contributing to the management and running costs of the building through an annual charge, again based on the size of your apartment. The co-owners have considerable powers, including to dismiss the professional managers and even oppose planning consents granted by the Mairie - and importantly to deal with issues such as sub-letting.

When you buy an apartment in a complex you will be given a copy of the rules before you agree to sign a pre-contract to purchase (the compromis de vente) and can learn abut the rules related to sub-letting. You also need to be aware of French law on the subject.

There are basically three types of rental - 'long term' unfurnished, for a minimum of threee years, with considrable rights of security for the tenant, including renewal of his/her tenancy; 'short term' furnished rentals for a mimum of one year, renewable by negotiation; and various short and holiday let arrangements where the building is recognised as being within a tourist/holiday area.

Each type of rental can cause conflicts between 'renters' and 'owners' such as noise, overcrowding, pets etc, and invariably under the co-ownership rules owners are deemed responsible for the behaviour of their tenants. I lived for a time in a building that was designed primarily for holiday letting, where just six apartments out of fifty were occupied all year round by their owners. During the ever shortening high season of July and August the building was almost full but eerily quiet for the remaining ten months of the year.  The residents committee and professional managers swiftly dealt with any form of nuisance, and just before I left voted powers enabling them to take legal action in the name of the residents in the event of serious issues arising.