Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cycling and the French

In this month of July when French television is dominated for three weeks by daily live coverage of Le Tour, it is interesting to note how France fares in the league table of cyclists compare with other European countries.

Surprisingly, the answer is not too well. Latest estimates suggest that as few as 2% of the overall population are regular cycle users - either for pleasure or normal daily use (riding to work for example), compared with Britain (4%), and the three northern countries dominated by Holland (an asronishing 43%), Denmark (30%) and Finland (28%).

On closer examination however, the numbers rise dramatically when individual cities make a special effort to encourage more people to use bicycles. The undoubted leader in France is the  city of Strasbourg which has created nearly 600 kms of cycle ways, together with Bordeaux and Grenoble where the mileage is consierably less but well above the average.

In Britain also certain cities dominate - including Cambridge (39%) and Oxford (19%), due to their high level of students and tourist cities such as York with an estimated 14%.

As well as building safe routes, pioneer cycle cities in France and elsewhere also provide 'cycle training' and encourage cycling events to help popularise cycling as a healthy sport, as well as planning out-of-town cycle routes for leisure/family use and offering bikes for hire.

Analysts trying to find out what puts people off cycling compared to other means of transport (particularly when travelling to work) found that they include fear of bad weather, accident risks, distances too long, route 'too difficult', worry about stolen bicycles, having to wear 'special clothing', arriving 'hot and sweaty' at work, difficuly storing/parking a bike either at home or at work.

Even in the exemplary case of Strasbourg, its dedicated cycle network fails to reach some of the poorer outer suburbs compare with other more attractive areas.

Finally it is surprising to note that despite all the efforts to encourange cycling, bicycles still account for no more than 1% of all road traffic!

* Some figures taken from an article by Antoine de Ravignan, Alternatives Economiques,
July/August 2017.

Posted by

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Buying French property? Beware of false images...

Like all product advertising, vendors and agents can use a number of visual tricks to enhance the look of a property for sale, including clever photography and hiding or masking defects.

Despite the procedures shown on French TV programmes such as "Cherche appartement ou maison' (Channel 6) in which would-be buyers join the agent on site for a series of visits, in real life more time is - or should be - spent in the agent's office discussing the clients' needs in detail, and as a preminary going through the agent's catalogue of available properties to have a general idea of what appeals to the client - or not.

French agents tend to cover a wider area, in my own experience it was quite a large chunk of Pyrénées Orietales and as a result often difficult to visit more than three or four properties during a morning or afteroon. Not just because of the distances to be covered but the admin required to contact owners, pick up keys from a branch office or keyholder, and arrange appointments.

As a result the preliminary meeting in the agent's office is important, to discuss the client's aspirations, budget, likes and dislikes, and view selected properties in the agent's catalogue. Many agency photographs are notoriously bad and frequently the subject of criticism. They rarely show an exterior due to the fact that several agencies may be handling the property for vendors who have signed an a non-exclusive multiple agreement. Very few are the work of professionals.

Using a professional photographer however has its good and bad sides. Photographs can be used to enhance the look of an average property - using more or softer lighting,  or taking shots from high up or low down to enhance the size of a room,  and at worse hiding or disguising defects.

Typical of these are proximity to a main road or railway line, surrounding buildings such as a factory, school or supermarket, or undesirable objects such as overhead electric cables and high voltage pylons. Frequently clients will arrive on site and are already rejecting the property before going through the front door.

Also anoying for potential buyers is the lack of a floor plan, which the vendor should be able to supply as it would normally have been included as part of his/her sales contract. This helps to visualise the proerty as a whole, see how alterations might enhance its potential, and offers an accurate scale plan showing actuall dimensions.

Curiously these small practical details are neglected by some vendors and agents, and sales are lost despite the property being within the buyer's budget. The programme noted above includes some interesting examples. not forgetting it is primarily designed for popular  viewing and includes much pratical advice from the presenter Stéphane Plaza.

Poster by

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Selling your French home? Targeting your potential buyer.........

Marketing is very much about tailoing your product or service to a specific group of potential buyers which you have identified from research. And depending on whether you own a one-room apartment or a three-bed house there is someone out there looking for exactly what you are trying to sell.

Recent research from America - and it can easily be applied to France - has identified five specific groups of buyers and what it is they are looking for and why. According to the figures:

- 30% of buyers are looking for a larger home as a result of an increase in family size (arrival of a second or third child for example)

- 27% are looking for their first 'real home' as a result of marriage or deciding to live together

- 24% as a result of a change in family circumstances, such as children leaving home or a change of job

- 39% of 55-65 year olds are looking ahead to retirement

- 28% of over 65s have reached retirement and are looking to downsize or move to a more relaxed area (such as the huge north/south shift in France as the post-war generation comes up to retirement and have a property to sell whose value has risen due to house price inflation.

Whether you are trying to sell your apartment or house to a buyer from virtually any of these groups, the most important criteria have been identified as:

- most typical purchase is a three-bedroom, two bathroom property

- 86% rate the kitchen as the most important deciding factor

- 50% are looking for a master bedroom or parental suite with its own bathroom etc.

- the principal living space tends to include an open-plan kitchen, dining area and lounge area

- quality of outside space, such as a terrace, garden, pool etc

With acknowledgements to USA.

Posted by

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Brexit: EU working paper on "Citizens Rights"

The Europen Commission Task Force, which will conduct the Brexit negotians with Britain under Article 50, have issued a Working Paper outlining the "essential principles" that will guide their decisions when dealing with the human aspects - and consequences - of Brexit.

Importantly, the paper emphasises that EU nationals living in another state at the time of the announcement of withdrawal will retain the rights that they had at that moment and will include family members, students and others, anyone who works or has worked in another Member State.

These 'acquired rights' under EU law will be applicable 'for life' and the paper insists that any disputes will (continue to) be handled by the Euopean Court of justice.

The four-page document is highly specific and is accompanied by a longer (10pp) discussion on economic issues.

The documents have received virtually no coverage, other than in the British Guardain newspaper and were not discussed during the recent TV confornation between May and Corbin, despite the British elections being just a few days away.

They are the first sign of comfort for the five million or so EU nationals currently living in another Member State.

Posted by

Monday, May 22, 2017

Do I need a translator when signing French property documents?

Buying a home in France is relatively complicated and involves reading and signing several important documents (in French). They include the following:

- Offer to buy. This is your first important document that you will normally sign after visiting a property and making a formal offer to buy at or below the asking price. If the vendor agrees, he or she will countersign his/her acceptance.

- The initial contract (compromis de vente) which may include a number of conditions that must be fulfilled before it become binding - such as 'subject to survey' , 'subject to securing planning permission' etc. If these conditions are not fulfilled, the buyer may pull out and the transaction lapses, leaving the vendor with the task of securing another buyer.

- The final act which is the final sale document, based on the initial pre-contract and becomes the equivalent of the title deeds to the property (titre de propriété) and lodged with the French land registry. Copies are normally also held by the owners and Notaire who handled the transaction.

- The preliminary and final contracts will invariably include a number of supporting documents, from technical surveys to information about possible flooding etc.

- If you are buying an apartment in a shared building, recent legislation requires full reports of any works done or anticipated, details of the co-ownership management, and the scale of charges payable monthly to cover the cost of shared extras such as central heating or a lift.

The above documents may run to over a hundred pages and at first sight appear quite daunting, particularly if you have little or no knowledge of French and you are buying in France for the first time. However it should be borne in mind that most are totally standard and have been tried and tested over the years,  While many 'extras' such as a report on the risk - or not - of flooding are based on publicly available at the local mairie (town hall).

The Notaire handling the transaction will want to ensure that you understand what you are signing and in some case insist on an interpreter/translator being present for the signing, depending also on the Notaire's own proficiency or not in English.

In my view a complete translation is not necessary (and is costly) as legal language in either English or French is frequently unintelligible if you have no kowledge of law. A legally trained interpreter is often the best solution, as he or she can explain the document as the meeting proceeds - bearing in mind that the final act is very similar to the compromis de vente that you sign many weeks ago when you committed to buying the property (subject to any suspensive clauses that you may have insisted on at the time).

Another possible solution, which I normally propose,  is ask a bilingual (English/French) legal expert to review the contract(s) in draft and advise whether to sign them or not, or advise on changes. If they are based close to where you are buying they can also be present at the final signature.

And finally do not forget that the estate agent through whom you are buying the property has also overseen many similar transactions perhaps over many years 'on the job' as a negotiator and guide. His/her experience can be invaluable.

Posted by 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Furnished properties sell faster....

As any estate agent will tell you, when home hunting  potential buyers are more likely to be attracted by houses or apartments that are presented furnished rather those which have been stripped of their contents as the previous owners/sellers have already moved out. This is of course the reason why speculative housing developers invariably feature a 'show house' to give buyers an idea of what the property could like for potential purchasers.

Totally empty properties are difficult to visualise and viewers are often unable to imagine what their furniture would look like occupying the huge empty spaces around - though in fact some rooms may look smaller when empty than they actually are. Empty spaces tend to show off any minor defects - tired decor, worn or damaged floors, loose electrical fittings - that should have been put right by the previous owners before putting the property on the market.

There are a number of possible solutions if you find yourself having to sell your property in its empty state, among them the tried and tested 'home staging'. Proponents of this alternative include France's best known estate agent Stephen Plaza who in addition to owning a network of estate agencies is the star of several TV programmes such as 'Chasseurs de'appartement' (apartment hunters) and 'Maison à vendre' (house for sale) both on Channel 6. Plaza works with a number of designers and contractors who, in the worst cases, transform typical over-crowded, over-furnished pre- and post-war houses owned by our parents and grand-parents, and turns them into their light and airy modern equivalent. Typical budgets for a major transformation are often around 2 to 3 per cent of the asking price, and almost invariably result in a number of offers and a sale - including many which have languished on the market for weeks or months.  

If your home is empty but otherwise in good repair, you could employ a designer specialising in home staging who can furnish all or some of the rooms with furniture and acccessories for the occasion - say, the living room and one of the bedrooms if you are on a tight budget.  A lower cost solution is to present a computerised version on a laptop or similar showing what a room could look life when furnished. And floor plans which over the years seem to have disappeared from the details supplied by estate agents invariably help potential buyers to visualise where their furniture might fit.

When you decide to put your property on the market is the time to take photographs showing it furnished, as picture of empty rooms are almost worthless when trying to sell.

Finally, it does without saying that your pre-sale preparations should include fixing all those nagging little defects you may have been putting off for years, such as loose tiles, unfinished paintwork, dripping taps, cracked windows, and being ruthless in your de-cluttering.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Booking rental property online.....a cautionary tale

A recent entry on one of the popular forums dealing with life in France tells a worrying story of a British couple who booked a French short-stay property online only to turn up and find the property already occupied by 'friends of the owner' - who is now unwilling to compensate them or return their 3000 euros paid. The booking was made via a well known holiday booking agency - also operating online - which has apparently so far refused to intervene in the case, on the grounds that the final booking details were made directly between the parties and they are not responsible.

In commenting on the incident, I reminded forum members of a case which occurred in Argels-sur-mer last year, when a non-existent property advertised online was booked by over 50 potential renters who had all paid in advance, and who all turned up on the same day to start their holiday, only to find that the property did not exist and that the street number advertised was entirely fictitious.

Not suprisingly the police and local tourist offices take this sort of incident very seriously, as it reflects badly on the reputation of the resort - and the holiday rental business in general.

The only safeguard I can suggest if you are booking a holiday rental in France is to use a local, reliable estate agency which has its office in the resort or nearby, and has the necessary credentials, such as membership of FNAIM, the estate agents' professional body. Being on-site they receive renters personally, accompany them to the property, check that everything is in order and remain on hand during your stay, just in case of any problems. They also have links to reliable tradesmen in case of emergencies such as a burst pipe or electrical failure.

Local tourist offices are very keen to protect the repuation of the area and may have lists of 'approved' rental properties that have been visited and approved, and if you experience problems during your stay, you should inform the tourist office.

Like all online purchases, holiday bookings via an online rental agency are subject to risks and the potential for fraud and property owners and potential renters should made all the checks they can before entrusting them with their money - and their annual holiday.

Posted by