It seems an extraordinary thing to report but in only six weeks we will have been in France for five years and in this house for 4 ½ years. To answer two frequently repeated questions: a) No, we have no regrets whatsoever and b) no we have no intention of returning to the UK. But time creeps on and we have started to make plans for the future. Two factors here have been the deaths of Chris’ parents over the last year and the fact that Chris has come to that age where he gets his state pension: a fact which, given he was out on his mountain bike yesterday, seems a little incongruous but is nevertheless welcome.
We continually give thanks for the fact that we found our current house in Taradeau; not least because we have discovered all sorts of far from obvious problems with other houses and other areas. Nevertheless, we are looking for somewhere new for ‘the long-term’.
What’s wrong with our current house? Actually, at the moment not a lot. We are running a bit out of space (it’s all those books) but we can manage with that. We do however want to look ahead and one of the key factors is that we have some very odd stairs. They are narrow, steep and take two sharp turns. Someone who had some experience of British standards felt they would be illegal in the UK and that’s quite likely. At the moment they aren’t a problem but if you are going to consider life here in your eighties then they will be. And we would like better insulation, a bit more space for family and friends to stay and a few other things. Mind you, it’s a difficult equation. We have lots of friends in the area, some splendid woods a hundred metres away, good access to motorway and rail and, not to be dismissed, fibre-optic Internet access.
Yes, we have considered modifying the house but everything founders on the immutability of those stairs. So we have put our house on the market and are looking around for somewhere new. We would prefer to stay in Taradeau but there are only limited properties here and many of them on slopes which means they are multilevel; something that we would like to avoid. But we want to stay within a short drive away and don’t want to distance ourselves any further than we are already from our Cannes church.
Buying and selling property in France is very different to the UK. Let’s just list some of the things we have found which may be of interest to others.
- Down here in our part of Provence you can forget any notions of getting a small château with a forest for €200,000. This is one of the more expensive areas in France and even here, 40 minutes from the coast, fairly modest houses can be priced at the half million euro mark.
- Moving house is an expensive business in France. Estate agents charge between 4 and 6% when you sell and the state charges between 6 to 8% when you buy.
- These high costs discourage people from buying and selling in the way that is so frequent in the UK. As someone said to us “in France people buy a house for life”. This actually is posing real problems for the government because it restricts social mobility: there is a great reluctance for anyone to move to a new job in a new area because they will take such a big financial hit. In other words, if you are going to move, you need to get it right.
- The consistent (if problematic) rise in property prices in the UK has meant that houses there are an excellent investment: this is much less the case in France. Prices down here are only rising by 1 or 2% a year. Fortunately, we bought our current house at a very good price.
- The large amount estate agents charge mean that they only need to sell a couple of houses a year to make a living. The result is they tend – let’s be polite – to be more laid-back than they are in the UK.
- Many people try to sell their houses privately – a favoured website is Leboncoin – but some of the prices are utterly unrealistic. We looked at one recently where the owners had been asking €475,000, which they had now dropped to €390,000 and it was still overpriced at that.
- The cost of moving to a new house has encouraged many people to add on extensions to existing properties. We have visited a number of houses where this simply hasn’t worked and has created something of monstrosity.
- Rather than drop prices, in many cases people keep their houses on the market. We know some that have been around for three or four years. No, we don’t understand it either.
- Some of the depictions of houses in estate agents advertisements are guilty of spectacular sins of commission or omission. We have wasted quite a bit of time visiting houses where, within a minute it was obvious that there were fundamental problems. Yes, this happens in the UK but it seems to be a particular vice here.
So, the hunt is on! Watch this space and if anybody wants to buy a nice property in the south of France then contact us: we will do a deal for regular readers:-)