Friday, March 31, 2017

School uniforms - Britain versus France......

Reading the British press - mainly the Daily Mail I have to confess - British school teachers seem to spend a great deal of time checking on how their students dress, measuing the lenght of skirts and shorts, and the colour, lenght and style of haircuts. Being sent home or banished from the classroom appear to be the standard punishment for these apparent breaches of the rules.

Happily the French take a much more relaxed attitude. The majority of youngsters attend free public (state run) schools, from the maternité through to the lycée and dress code is not on the list of requirements for entry - apart from that imposed by current teenage fashions taken from television or the web.

In my home town the current fasion is for leggings (apparently now frowned upon by some airlines as 'inappropirate') worn by both girls and boys, with a draughty few inches of bare ankle displayed in both summer and winter. The top half is generally comprised of a T-shirt or other sports gear, with logos, trademarks or slogans of your choice. When it comes to hairstyle - anything goes, length, colour, shape, style, the boys generally following the trends set by footballers. And the minute the sun comes out, everyon is in shorts.

I was waiting for a friend to join me for lunch yesterday and watched several groups of youngsters passing by - including a greed haired lad with two friends - but his appearance did not attract a second glance from a single one of the (adult) passers-by. Joining groups of friends in a café or bistro is routinely accepted and thse pre-adults have a surprising self confidence, especially when surrounded by their peers. Any suggestion that they should be made to conform to a dress code would be considered laughable.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

French furnished lettings - security for both owner and tenant

French furnished lettings provide a measure of security both for the owner of the property and the tenant/occupier, following a tightening of the rules in the loi Alur of March 2014, promoted by the then housing minister Cecile Duflot.

Many are based on the regulations concerning unfurnished properties but offer a briefer period of tenure - 12 months renewable, reduced to 9 months in the case of a term-time student lettings - with the option to renew the tenancy and the right of the tenant to leave the property at any time at 4 weels notice.

On signing the tenancy agreement, the owner can ask for a security deposit of two months' rent (note that the maximum for unfurnished tenancies is just one month) and other provisions using a standard contract which will include an inventory of the contents. In order for a property to be classified as 'furnished' certain basic items must be provided by the owner, including means of eating, sleeping, heating etc and listed on a standard form which will become part of the lease and agreed between the parties.

If the owner wishes to give notice to the tenant, he can justify this only on restricted grounds,such as non-payment of rent or serious misuse, or his intention to occupy the property for his own use or in order to sell it.

How much to charge? It is possible for anyone with disposable capital to buy a property which has a tenant already in place (either furnished or unfurnished) so the rent will be known. The short-term furnished market is fairly competitive, offering a wide range of choice for a prospective tenant who will normally be well informed about going rates in the locality - from agency websites and informally from friends and colleagues. In some areas, including Paris, rents can be controlled by the local authority under new regulations (2016, 2017) designed to prevent price inflation where there is a known shortgage of available properties. Universities and other institutions may also have their own rules should a property owner wish to have his property added to their housing list.

Short term renters, according to the experts*, often have a different profile from long-termers and owner/occupiers, They may be younger, prepared to live in a small space (say, 20 square metres) on higher floors with no lift, and in cental/mixed areas that might not attract long stayers but which offer quick access to public transport, local shopping and other basic amenities, And if the property is well furnished and decorated and offers something a bit special renters may be prepared to pay an above-average rent.

Furnished lets by their nature mean a higher turnover of occupants than with unfurnished properties, and will need to be constantly refreshed and furniture  replaced. It may be possible to let them on a very short basis as holiday lets (such as through AirBnb) in popular tourist areas. In the case of 9-month student let, a two to three month summer rental might be possible - if the property is large enought for at least two people. If not, you could try attracting a seasonal worker. All these options require hands-on management in order to succeed.

* "Comment je suis devenue rentière" by Elise Franck describes in detail how she became the owner of several short-term rental properties, with numerous tips, illustrations and cost breakdowns. Essential reading, along with her website which cotains a lot of useful advice including before and after illustrations and examples of successful renovations.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nearly 3000 new enterprises in my small French home town.........

'2 792 new enterprises in ten years' says the headline in my local newspaper L'Indépendant - surely good news for any small town of just over 100 000 people (200 000 if you include the outlying suburbs and villages.

Analysing the accompanying report however, there are a number of anomales which make interesting reading. Anyone who visits the area cannot fail to miss the large number of 'wind farms' which generate electricity as huge windmills are driven by the prevailing Tramontane gales blowing in from the north-west. What few people know is that every one of these - together with solar panels taking advantage of the 300 days per year of sunshine -  has to be registered at the local chamber of commerce as a 'business', adding considerably to the list of new 'enterprises' created - comprising around 300 to 400 'éoliennes' (windmills) implanted in the reagion.

The other major contributors are those registering as 'auto-entrepreneurs' following the creation of this self-employment regime in 2008 designed to encourage small, individual business start-ups. Of these some 75% are listed as 'personal srvices' - from hairdressing to all types of care provision addressed largely at the region's growing elderly population. The area is one of the most popular in France for retirement - remarkably cheap housing, wide range of medical services from major hospitals and clincis to thermal spas.

Plus the sunshine already mentioned and the proximity of the Mediterranean coast and the border with Spain (Barcelona is only two hours drive away) which make Pyrénées-Orientales one of the most attractive areas of France.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Property sales rise 5% during 2016 in Pyrénées-Orientales

Sales of property during 2016 - excluding new-builds - rose by a healthy 5% in Pyrénées-Orientales over previous years - and surpassing the levels of the boom years 2000-2007following the switch to the euro and the price inflation that followed; together with a slowdown in sales - including by British and other non-French purchasers during the years prior to 2000  when prices were ridiculously low compared with Britain - a two room apartment on the beach for less than the equivalent of £20 000 was not uncommon.

The region is a now recognised first-choice for retirees from the post-war boom generation who benefited from full employment and increases in living standards during the 'thirty glorious' years up to 1980 and the shock of the first oil price rises. The typical French buyer from that period owns a house in or near Paris which can be sold for a high price that offers a comfortable budget with which to buy an apartment or house in the rural or coastal south, an area where the average price per square metre can be as low 1200 euros.......

An article in the current Logic-immo journal speaks of the attraction of the numerous small villages surrounding Perpignan, within easy reach of the Mediterranean coast (where prices are higher - for example around 4000 per square metre in Argelès-sur-mer) and the mountains inland, together with the proximity of the Spanish border for low-cost shopping; and Barcelona reached by car in two hours or fast TGV rail services (under 1 hour from Perpignan).

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Brexit uncertainties already affecting EU residents in Britain

According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) a high percentage of EU citizens resident and working in Britain are reviewing their situation in the event of a potential Brexit.

The sectors most likely to be affected are education and healthcare where up to 50% of  'foreign' staff have indicated that they 'might leave' due to the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, the CIPD reports. The situation is most serious for these sectors where wages are traditionally low and employers are obliged to 'fill the gaps' by recruiting teachers and nurses from outside Britain.

Other sectors that could be similarly affected, the CIPD notes, are hotels, catering and retail,  sectors where qualifications may be low and (foreign) workers comparatively cheap.

British prime minister Theresa May has stressed all along that she wishes to guarantee the position of EU citizens already living and working in Britain, in return for a similar deal covering British citizens living in other EU member states. And the British House of Lords are pressing for guarantees now, ahead of any formal agreement with the rest of the EU.

For their part, some EU member countries have already made encouraging noises about the position of British subjects already resident in France, Spain and Italy among others, but are awaiting the official start to negotiations which will last at least two years. However, any words of comfort pronounced now are subject to uncertainties, such as the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in France this spring.

Use of the word 'bargaining' in place of 'negotiating' is a worrying sign of uncertain times ahead for individuals who have decided to settle outside their country of origin and relied on the sovereign principles of the Europen Union of 'freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital'.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Unemployment benefits for the self-employed?

Among one of the more interesting proposals put forward by one of the French presidential contenders - Emmanuel Macron - is a scheme to protect the self-employed enabling them to access unemployment and sickness benefits in much the same way as an unempoyed person who has lost his/her job.

If you are employed in France on a fixed-term conract (CDD) or an open-ended 'permanent' job contract (CDI) both employer and employee pay a social contribution among many others, which covers the cost of unemployment benefits in the event of loss of the job. Benefits are calculated on how long you have worked/contributed and the maximum period of payments is normally 24 months, during which you can/must actively seek another job.

Being employed or unemployed is generally clear-cut - you either have a job or you don't. Being self-employed generally means you have to work harder and for longer hours (I can testify to that!) but there is no routine protection against loss of work or income brought about by economic circumstances or simply the loss of a valuable client or contract, and other factors beyond your control.

While I was self-employed in Britain for many years, I found it relatively easy to find a private insurance policy that would provide cover in the case of injury that prevented me from working; but insurers would not cover sickness - on the ground that I could feign illness during hard times and claim cover. Like other elf-employed I paid insurance contributions based on a percentage of my net earnings after costs claimed, which rose as my income increased and included state pension contributions.

What Macron is proposing for France  is a payment (out of earnings) by each self-employed individual that would be less than the current (high) 6.4% paid by the self-employed, against 2.4% by empyees. He is not suggesting that the self-employed should pay the equivalent of the cuombined contributions (emplyer/employee) but a reduced personal contribution of 4.6% - the remainder coming from 'general funds'.

It is an interesting idea and would require clear-cut guidelines as to when a self-employed person is out of work or not. One of the secrets of survival if you are self-employed, but not an estabished professonal such as a doctor or a lawyer,  is to have a mix of clients and several sources of income, so that the loss of a one client does not force the collapse of your enterprise. Half the fun is the uncertainty according to a book published in 2009 by Anne and Marine Rambacj entitled 'Les nouveaux intellos précaires'  which describes the precarious lives of many in the arts and intellectual professions (writers, artists etc) in France (Editions Stock, 2009).

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Supermarket shopping in France - food sales up, non-food down....

A survey by Nielsen research published today in LeFigaro* notes that French supermarkets and hypermarkets are holding their own and even increasing their sales in virtually all sectors, particularly food, but losing sales (by 6.5 per cent) of electric and electronic goods to online suppliers and specialist retailers.

The growth in food sales is due to increases in the sale of fresh produce, emphasis on local suppliers and extension of their range of organic (bio) products. Sales of packet goods such as cornflakes are also up, together with bakery items and wines. Household necessities such as cleaning materials, toilet rolls, soaps nd shampoos, are also popular supermarket buys.

Although facing competition from online sales in several sectors, further research reported in LeFigaro shows that in over 70% of cases - an analysis of 24,000 products in over 56 supermarket chains - prices online were the same as those in the supermarkets.

Electric and electronic goods - TV, phones, fridge/freezers etc - are most popularly bought via specialist supermarkets which offer pre-selection via their online catalogue - and 'discounts'.

In the case of online shopping, one of the major drawbacks cited is the process of delivery to your home, which means waiting-in for the delivery which often does not arrive on the day or at the time agreed. The sector also suffers from high levels of returns, disputes over payments and/or product discription, and the potential for online fraud (bogus suppliers through to stolen credit cards).

In the fresh food sector, competition includes direct selling of local (organic) produce from 'farm shops', local delivery and co-operative buying.

Shopping around offers numerous alternatives for the consumer.


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