The French may have abandoned the second home market since 2008, but both French and foreign buyers are flocking back to this sector, drawn by prices which have tumbled in most regions. Let’s take a look…
Although numbers of buyers have dwindled in recent years, France remains the champion of the second home market. It boasted 3 million such properties in 2005 and now numbers 3.3 million, according to the national office of statistics. Some of these were inherited, but more often they were bought as holiday homes or with a view to moving when the buyer retires – a dream still cherished by most city-dwellers. True, with increased taxation and high maintenance costs, their appeal has diminished in recent years, with most French preferring holiday rentals, or travel. But the political instability in a number of foreign countries traditionally seen as tourist destinations has breathed new life into the second home market. And the momentum has also benefited from a sharp drop in prices.
Not all sectors are subject to the same rules, however. Properties on the coastline have withstood the pressure well, while the hinterland and countryside have suffered more. As a result, there is now a wide range of opportunities to be seized for those who dream of a pied-à-terre at the seaside, in the countryside or in the mountains. As long as they don’t wait too long… because along with demand from French buyers, that of foreigners has also increased. 2016 could therefore be the year in which prices bounce back.
Opportunities on the Riviera
With its sun, sea and fashionable resorts, the Riviera has an unrivalled ability to draw second-home seekers. But it too has suffered from a dwindling of buyer interest. ‘2013 and 2014 were difficult years for the second home market, as foreigners kept their distance,’ explains Sylvain Boichut, the manager of John Taylor, ‘but 2015 saw a revival and a readjustment of prices.,’ Sellers have agreed to lower their prices by 10 to 20%, which has boosted demand. The Russians have disappeared, but have been replaced by other clients. Buoyed by favourable exchange rates, the Brits are back, along with the Norwegians, Danish, Austrians, Belgians and even Asians. ‘French clients are also more confident and have understood that there are some real bargains to be had,’ suggests Antoine Garcin, head of the Émile Garcin agency on the Riviera. ‘The wealthiest have their eyes on waterfront villas or apartments with sea view. In Cannes, upmarket districts such as Californie, Palm Beach and the Croisette are going for between €11,000 and €25,000 per square metre,’ says Laurence Chaleil, director of Sotheby’s in the region.
However, prices in other districts are more affordable, such as this 3-room property in the district of Croix-des-Gardes, which was advertised at €630,000 and finally went for €565,000. The same disparities are in evidence in Villefranche-sur-Mer, Beaulieu, Cap d’Antibes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Menton… A little further down the pecking order, ‘Mougins is less expensive because of the nearby motorway and the relative scarcity of sea views,’ says Dominique Naudes, Barnes’ manager in the region. In the Var, Saint-Tropez is still much sought-after, as is Ramatuelle., However, prices are down 10 to 30% according to sector, and the negotiating price per square metre is now between €7,000 and €10,000. In Gassin and La Croix-Valmer, prices are just a notch lower. ‘Near Lavandou or Sanary, you can even find 130-140 m² houses for €600,000,’ points out Thierry Chomel, Barnes’ manager in the area – an opinion shared by Henri David, who manages the Immoliaison agency in Sanary.
Provence and Gard: plentiful supply and lower prices
Whether you’re in Drôme, Vaucluse, Ardèche or Gard, the lure of old stones still holds sway. ‘Our buyers are looking for fine old stone properties in calm and pleasant areas,’ says David Boschi, of the eponymous agency. They come from Paris and Lyon, but also from Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. The Brits have also made a remarkable comeback. ‘While there are fewer buyers than a few years ago, they’re all the more motivated,’ adds Françoise Dessoy, who heads the Campagnes du Soleil agency.
The range on offer between €400,000 and €1 million is plentiful, with prices down 10% in the last two years, according to the professionals – with the exception of properties needing extensive renovation, where the drop has been even sharper. Near Vaison-la-Romaine, a 200 m² stone country house with a swimming pool, and set among 5 ha grounds, found a buyer at €500,000. Meanwhile, the Alpilles, Saint-Rémy, Eygalières, Maussane and Baux-de-Provence all remain solid investments. ‘The French budgets tend to range from €700,000 to €1.2 million, while foreign buyers have between €1.5 million and €2.5 million to spend. Beyond that, the market is still rather lifeless,’ says Rudi Janssens.
Just a stone’s throw from the centre of the bustling and much sought-after Saint-Rémy, a restored 135 m² house is advertised at €840,000 at Valancogne & Partners. Another, at Maussane, is on offer at €655,000. In the Luberon, all buyers’ eyes are on the Golden Triangle (Gordes, Bonnieux, Lacoste), although there too, ‘some properties have lost up to 35% of their value,’ says Emmanuel Garcin, Emile Garcin’s manager in the area. In Bonnieux, a 300 m² house with 2 ha grounds, has just sold for €900,000, although its owner wanted €995,000. The market is almost no different around Uzès.
Properties along the English Channel coastline… falling prices
‘The proximity of Paris makes Normandy very attractive, particularly as prices there have also clearly dropped,’ says Cyril Maupas, Emile Garcin’s representative in the region. They have tumbled 25 to 30% in just a few years. Even Deauville has had to readjust its prices. ‘You can pick up an apartment with a terrace and sea view for €6,000-€7,000 per square metre, as against €8,000-€9,000 two to three years ago,’ says the expert. For more traditional properties, the starting price remains around €4,500-€5,500 per square metre, while houses are going for between €1 million and €2.5 million. ‘We’re beginning to see the return of big-budget buyers,’ says Charlotte, Alaurent, of Barnes in Normandy. But there are also plenty of opportunities which regular buyers should not miss, such as this Anglo-Norman property advertised by the Mercure group at €920,000 (162 m²). Cabourg, where prices have dropped 10 to 15%, is far less expensive. A three-room 60 m² property with balcony and sea view has just been snapped up for €200,000.
With an excellent TGV service, Brittany and Pays de la Loire have plenty going for them. In Dinard, for example, ‘prices are still down because the market remains complex,’ says Nicolas Rebuffe, who heads the Emeraude agency. Traditional properties are going for between €200,000 and €300,000. But a fine apartment with terrace and sea view, offered by the Martin Agency (Sotheby’s International Realty) in the heart of the resort, is being advertised for €682,000.
Meanwhile, Perros-Guirec is barely keeping its head above water. ‘Property values have sunk by 20% in recent years and buyers are still lowering their offers, particularly as the budget is often under €250,000,’ says Jean-Pierre Carré, who heads an Orpi agency. In Carnac, there was a severe drop last year (-12.5% for apartments). ‘The market is slowly picking up again,’ says Christophe Vinet of the Agence des Druides. Near the beach, a 180 m² house in 1,000 m² grounds was just negotiated down to €435,000, while it would have fetched €500,000, three or four years ago.
In La Baule (10-15% down), a top floor 44 m² apartment with a 14 m² terrace and a sea view has just sold for €273,000. Facing the sea, a small 130 m² house set in 750 m² grounds is being advertised by Les Demeures de la Côte at €580,000. In the Vendée, resorts such as Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie and Talmont-Saint-Hilaire are well worth exploring. In the latter, Mercure Poitou-Charentes is advertising a fine traditional 370 m² farmhouse for €695,000. Further south, La Rochelle and the île de Ré remain excellent buys. ‘Our clients come from the Angoulême, Saintes, Rochefort and Bordeaux regions,’ says Richard Asselin from the Laforêt agency. In La Flotte, Le Bois-Plage, Les Portes, and Saint-Martin, despite a slight readjustment in prices, property values remain high. No surprise, perhaps as ‘there’s plenty of demand and few offers,’ says Germain Tournoys, who represents Barnes in the area. As a result, houses are going for over €1 million.