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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

French property prices - again!

Endless discussion once again on one of the property forums dedicated to living, working and buying/selling property in France, where I have tried once again to explain the possibilities of making a profit - or not. No two cases are ever the same.

Anyone who bought a French property before 2002 probably enjoyed the benefits of ridiculously low prices - two room apartments on the Mediterranean could be bought for the French equialent of £20 000.......This was before the changeover to the Euro which resulted in price inflation, in much the same way as decimalisation did many years earlier in Britain.

I bought a beachside property just before 2002 and some four years later was approached by my next door neighbour who wanted to create two extra bedrooms and buy my apartment. By this time, apartments such as mine were costing three to four times what I had paid, and as I explained to my neighbour - who knew what I had paid for it - I would have to sell it at a price that would enable me to buy a 'replacement' at the new, higher prices. He accepted this argument, as he wanted to stay in the building, and extending his existing apartment was a cheaper option than moving, as he too had bought his present apartment even earlier than me at the then extremely low prices.

The 'profit' I made enabled me to move to a similar but more modern apartment along the beach, in a complex facing a yacht marina. I stayed there for some six years but as the crisis hit the European economy I gradually got fed up with the long winter months (and short noisy high season) and put the property on the market - where it stayed for two years! Eventually my agent found a buyer, a yacht owner who had managed to capture one of the extremely rare berths available (there is a waiting list). I eventually sold for a modest profit and by opting to move to the nearest town - with cheaper average prices - found an atypical property which I like.

Analysing my sale, one has to bear in mind that I sold a property in a 'sought after' area which attracts relativeley wealthy buyers (boat owners) and moved to an 'atypical' apartment (sometimes not easy to sell) - city centre, no parking, third floor, no lift. The owner had had to move for work to another town and the property had been on the market for some 18 months - but he too made a ' profit' by selling to me at 30% more than he paid for it (as I discovered going through the documents provided before I signed the purchase contract).

What I hope these two examples show is that 'normally' you can expecte to at least recover your purchase costs (including transaction fees and taxes) and even in a slow market earn enough 'profit' to enable you to buy a similar type of property - or theoretically, trade down by leaving a smart area for one less popular. I was also fortunate in that both my buyers and my seller wanted to move, and their choices were motivate by special needs - to extend their existing apartment, to live close to their boat, as a result of a change of job. I was in a sense lucky that my own circumstances coincided with theirs - which perhaps confirms the much used adage that your property is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Coping with French utilities

One of the more more daunting tasks facing new arrivals in France whose French may be less than perfect, is learning how to cope with the French utilities - electricity, gas, water, telephone etc. Although they all have websites and hot-lines (sometimes including English speaking) - many of them thankfully have maintained walk-in offices and showrooms in larger town and cities.

Only yesterday, I was able to sort out a complicated problem in 20 minutes face-to-face with a charming and helpful lady assistant in my nearest EDF boutique ( to find your nearest). The problem concerned identifying the owner of a meter inside a block of flats and arranging re-connexion. The identification number of an EDF meter is shown on the unit itself, and the assistant was able immediately to trace it. A new contract was signed and all that remains is for an electrician to make the final connexion - for around 100 (one hundred) euros.

France Telecom/Orange and all the other main suppliers also maintain local offices/showrooms, and armed with proof of identity and details of your (new) address you can order a fixed line, internet connexion etc and a mobile phone contract - all done over the counter within a few minutes. If you have just bought a property and are moving in it helps the telephone company to identiy the precise location if you know the number of the previous occupier. You also need to produce a copy of the 'attestation' provided by your Notaire to establish that you are the new owner of the property, or a letting contract if you are renting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thinking small!

Having just moved from a Mediterranean beach studio measuring 20m² (215 ft²) plus balcony to a slightly larger a mini-loft (29m²/312 ft²) in the nearby town I am always fascinated by how other people live, particularly when it involves 'downsizing' and occupying a small space. I believe in occuping the smallest area convenient for my needs and have a horror of paying any more than necessary in charges, taxes or heating bills.

If you too are a minimalist and prefer living in a small space, there are a number of sources I would recommend that have given me a great deal of inspiration over the years and a wealth of practical ideas on how to best use a small space. My two favourite websites are: - in English and Spanish and specialising in up to date case studies of small apartments, conversions, urban and rural living and all illustrated through short videos from 5 to 20 minutes in length.   Two recent examples include an apartment conversion in Barcelona, designed for sharing by two friends or couples (or a single family) and measuring just 65m² (700 ft²). The apartment shares a common living/kitchen area plus two separate sleeping/living areas each with its own bath, which can be closed off for privacy or left open.

Another case video study shows a former American shopping mall (arcade), with fashion boutiques and a coffee shop on the ground floor level, and above a series of min-studios (from 21 m² / 225 ft²) which are let mainly to singles at economic rents for this highly desirable city centre location. All the furnishing are built-in and include a kitchenette, double bed, a living/work area and storage. All the apartments were quickly let within a matter of days and all the occupants emphasised that they were exactly the sort of space they were actively seeking. On the ground floor, a number of the boutiques are shared by more than one occupier, with an average of six fashion designers coming to together to jointly promote their clothes.  The owner/developer hit on this idea of concentrating on fashion in order to attract more customers to the mall which had been left decaying for years. - As its name implies this website concentrates on all types of small living spaces, including apartments and houses from all over the world, both new and converted from older buildings. Another source of inspiration, with coloured photographs and floor plans.

Friday, February 6, 2015

French short-term furnished lets

I have just completed a piece for French Property News to appear in the April issue about the very special market for short-term furnished lets, normally up to 12 months. They are an interesting and lucrative way to make money by buying, converting and letting small properties - suitable for a single person or a couple - normally located in city centres, close to where people work or are attending university.

The secrets of success include choosing the right location - these are not holiday lettings - and the right kind of property, which can be in an area you might not choose to live yourself. Being close to public transport and basic amenities  - shops, bars, cafés, sports or open space - are basic requirements, as well as being in a city where people are likely to need a short-term place to live.

The space needs to be fully furnished and equipped, but need not be luxurious provided it is modern and efficient. Wood floors, natural materials, an efficient kitchenette, washing machine, sufficient but not too much storage, and a comfortable bed are among the basic requirements.

To market your space and find potential occupiers, you can contact university accommodation officers, human ressource managers of local firms in the process of recrutinng or transfering personnel from outside the area, as well as local authorities who have an office devoted to promoting the city and attracting new businesses to the area.

Experienced investors in this sector report an above-average rate of return (around 8%) which can be achieved and fewer problems, such as damage or non-payers, that are sometimes associated with some longer term rentals.