What follows is an 'end of year' look back over the French housing market of the past 12 months which has thrown up several reflections about house buyers, sellers and their agents who have survived the property crisis. Partly tongue in cheek, partly some home truths for us all …
With most businesses reporting better sales figures in 2013 than in the preceding 3 years, the sense of optimism has still to be tempered by the continued hard lessons to be faced about the reality of real estate.
Nowhere is this truer than in the Poitou-Charentes region. Papillon Properties has been attracting UK buyers to this region of France for the past 20 years. The secret of such long term success has been recognising the region for what it is, both for the positive and not so positive points.
This quiet, unspoilt area, seen as a rural backwater for many French, has always been less exploited and less discovered by the waves of property investors drawn by the familiarity of the Peter Mayle’s south of France and the aspirations of those settling down in the comfort of “Dordogneshire “. Away from larger cities such as Poitiers, Niort or Angouleme, prices were always lower than many other rural areas of France. The famous local micro climate found in the South Vienne and Deux-Sèvres area ensured that those emigrating for health reasons or the reassurance of better weather did not have to compromise that factor in living in the Poitou.
The halcyon days of 2002-2005, when a house viewed in the morning would be subject to an offer at asking price by the afternoon, guaranteed a steady rise in property values, plenty of quick makeovers, re-sales and French agents falling over themselves to work with the English speaking incomers.
With the average Brit moving every 8 years the clock is now ticking away in many a French farmhouse for the same buyers from those days as they wait for a viewing on their optimistically over priced property. Forgetting the original reason they came to the Poitou-Charentes was for a cheap country pad, they now ignore the market valuation by the agents. They plump for some fictitious figure which equates to what they hope to buy back in the UK so long as the euro sterling exchange rate works in their favour.
Market forces of supply and demand are unsympathetic to the many family and health reasons some Brits cite for needing to return. Most agents despair of sellers fixing asking prices for their half finished renovation on the price of a 3 bed semi they’ve seen on Right Move which happens to be just round the corner from the grandchildren.
To counter balance the rose tinted glasses of many sellers, meet their diametrical opposite; today’s buyer. Or more precisely the cash buyer who is so sure of his/ her omnipotence in the property market that they are willing to view every house within a 300 kms radius of their favourite village bar and when, after three years and 5 grand sterling spent on trips, find exactly what they have been looking for… and put in an offer for 50 % of the asking price. They also know the exchange rate down to the third decimal point.
This buyer also knows everything there is to know about buying a house in France, having watched every out of date TV property programme from a Place in the Sun to No Going Back and spent a year of wet Sundays googling “ bargain properties for sale in France”.
Whereas Papillon Properties used to spend at least a day or two with our clients to fine tune their requirements and search criteria until we matched home with buyer, today the buyer dictates the relationship. Potential buyers used to seek out an agent’s wealth of experience of the buying process and local knowledge of the style of buildings and the lifestyle they could expect. Generally today the phone rings and as an agent you are summoned to meet a buyer in car park at some unearthly hour (usually between 12 and 2 pm) to view one specific house picked from your website. Any suggestion to meet at an office is met with a cursive, “we’ve got three other agents to meet this afternoon in three different departments so not sure we’ll be able to do that”.
For all the wonders of the world wide web, today’s buyer is happy to approach buying property in a foreign country in the same way as he might bid for a household item on e-bay.
The irony is that French estate agents historically charge some of the highest commission rates for selling houses in the world yet neither sellers nor buyers actually make their agents work for their fees. I’m sure some of you will have opinions about this.
In the meantime, if you are either trying to sell your house, or just starting out on your search for a house in France, please do not hesitate to contact us and pick our brains. We have always prided ourselves on the fact that we do not primarily go out to sell houses. We show people houses and the house will either sell itself or not. However, if you don’t like the one you picked yourself then we are more than happy to spend some time redefining what you want and eventually match you up with that seller who has been patiently waiting for you to walk through his front door.
Kate Ryle and Susan Dixon, December 2013
You may like to check out the variety of Papillon articles
In order to expand our portfolio and meet the needs of clients ouside our area who contact us, we have opened a private sales section. Do take a look to see the latest properties we have added.
We constantly update our site with properties removed when we sell them, or are informed by the owners they have been sold; new properties added as we visit and take them on; price changes as we are notified of them.
It is therefore difficult to explain when clients are convinced that they have seen a property on our site that we know we removed weeks or months previously, that it is down to their browser settings and whether or not the web site is refreshed automatically each time it is opened. It does mean they are a returning visitor to our site which is great for us, but of course, they miss out on all the new property that has come on, or changes that have been made, since their first visit. So for those visitors who are not technophones we suggest you hit the Refresh button ( two green arrows, on your toolbar) each time you visit, just to be sure.
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