With its smart and family-friendly resorts, the Mediterranean coastline and hinterland are full of glorious opportunities.
While the property market in the South-East began to falter in 2012, it’s perked up again since last year. ‘From mid-2015 onwards, buyers have been taking advantage of a favourable context and making their presence felt again on the market,’ says Laurent Rose, a notary in Nice. There are several reasons for this revival of interest. First of all, the drop in credit rates. Even when money is not an issue, some buyers prefer to borrow than to break the piggy bank. Especially as rates have fallen below 2% over 20 years. And then there’s the drop in prices in recent years. Some properties have lost between 10 and 15% over the last three or four years. And even though the market is on the rise, the decline is not completely behind us.
In their last economic outlook report on the 4th quarter in 2015, France’s notaries describe ‘a fall in median prices in the last year in over 75% of the resorts analysed, with drops of under 10% in most cases.’ And if truth be told, this readjustment of prices has been a healthy thing for the market, hence the bounceback in activity, which not only the notaries but also the region’s estate agents have confirmed.
Alpes-Maritimes: a more sustained activity
In the Alpes-Maritimes, the Russians have gone AWOL. ‘They represented a very significant clientele before 2012 and then they simply disappeared, bursting the bubble they had created,’ says Michel Magrey, of Magrey & Sons, ‘and as there were suddenly fewer clients around, the prices finally dropped.’ Today, other clients who like the region just as much and who didn’t follow the fluctuating prices of the crazy years are now once again beating a path to the doors of their estate agents. Starting with the English, the Norwegians and the Danes, but also the Americans and Asians, while demand from French clients is also rising. In Cannes, areas like the Croisette and Californie are a big draw for foreigners, with sea views trumping all else of course.
But these privileges come with a hefty price tag. Depending on the views and prestige of the apartment, a property on the Croisette can go for anything between €10,000 and €25,000 per square metre. The same goes for the much sought-after Californie district with its balconies looking out over the Bay of Cannes and its breath-taking views from the Lérins Island to the Estérel mountains. Take 87 Soligny, a new high-end complex with an ultra-contemporary design. ‘We’ve sold four apartments from 150 to 245 m² with terrace at between 2.6 million and 4.4 million euros,’ says Magrey.
Set in beautiful green surroundings, the villas with swimming pools are priced between €2 million for the smallest (200 m²) and over €10 million for the most prestigious. Clients with smaller budgets can explore other districts of Cannes, which are certainly attractive but where sea views are unfortunately a rarity. A stone’s throw from the Croisette, an 88 m² three-room apartment is still on the market at €750,000. In the La Croix des Gardes district, properties can be picked up for between €6,000 and €8,000 a square metre. And what is true of Cannes applies just as much to resorts like Antibes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
A patchwork of prices in the Var
Here too the market is getting slowly back on its feet. At the high end ‘we have plenty of options and buyers who faded away during the crisis but are now stepping up again,’ says Frédéric Warton, of Canat & Warton. ‘Prices have dropped a little but those owners who are not in a hurry to sell are putting up some resistance.’ French buyers from the North, the Swiss and to a lesser extent, the Belgians and the English like the gentle pace of life in the region and the fact that prices are lower than in the Alpes-Maritimes. ‘In the main resorts like Le Lavandou, Hyères, Bormes-les-Mimosas, Bandol, Sanary-sur-Mer, prices are very reasonable compared to many other stretches of the Riviera’ says Frédéric Warton. ‘A perfect house goes for around €6 or €7 million, but a budget of €2.5 million will still get you a 250 m² waterfront villa, looking out over Porquerolles Island.’
In another example, in Saint-Raphaël, a contemporary villa near the port of Santa Lucia and the town centre is selling for €2.85 million. In Bormes-les-Mimosas, a large property just a hop from the beach is on the market for €2.6 million. Or take Hyères (Costebelle) where a magnificent bourgeois 340 m² property with sea view is on offer for just €1.29 million. But prices like this would be unimaginable in Saint-Tropez where, despite a rather pronounced fall in recent years, a quality buy will still set you back around €10,000 per m² (notaries have recorded the median price at €7,790 per m², up 4% in a year). Meanwhile, villa prices are spiking sharply. ‘However overblown the market is claimed to be, this is still a stunning area and it’s lost none of its magic,’ says an estate agent. Away from the high end, the market is once again picking up for more traditional properties priced under €1 million.
Between Aude and Pyrénées-Orientales
In this region one thing is certain – the prices are nothing like those in the Var or the Alpes-Maritimes. In Hérault, Aude or the Pyrénées-Orientales, there are rich pickings, particularly in resorts such as Fitou, Leucate, Saint-Cyprien, Argelès-sur-Mer, and Collioure.
The superb hinterland is also becoming increasingly popular. ‘We’re picking up ever more interest from showbiz types, who are discovering the countryside villages like Thuir, Villeneuve-de-la-Raho, Montescot, or Castelnou – a magical region where the vineyards, the sea and mountains come together, and where you can unearth some fantastic properties at incredible prices,’ says Catherine Jousselin, the manager at Terre d’Oc. Take this 900 m² property with 1,500 m² of outbuildings spread over 6 hectares, just 5 minutes from the sea, which recently went for €2.7 million. ‘That would have cost twice or three times as much on the Riviera’ says the expert. And the clients, always on the look-out for a rare gem, are beginning to get wise. In Banyuls-sur-Mer, a vast property of 330 m² (8 main rooms) consisting of two little farmhouses, one around 100 m² and the other of 230 m², spread over grounds of 4,400 m² with superb views of the sea, is on the market for just €1,26 million.
And in another example in Corbère, just a few kilometres from Perpignan, another convertible farmhouse of 280 m² and 140 m² suitable for conversion, coupled with a renovated detached house and a little guard’s house, all set amongst natural grounds of 1.6 hectare, is going for €1.28 million. Don’t say we didn’t tell you!
Buyers in search of a spot of greenery are sure to fall for the hinterland. ‘The clientele in the Aix-en-Provence region is very varied, from retirees to people who’ve moved for work to those merely looking for a pied-à-terre,’ says Jean-Pierre Bec, manager of the Bec-Capron agency. Priority still goes to houses, as long as they are near the local facilities. In Aix, at the top end, ‘a town house goes for between €1 and €1.5 million,’ says Jean-Pierre Bec. In the countryside, there are properties to be found between €500,000 and €1 million depending on the quality. The Gard, like the Alpilles and the Luberon is still highly sought-after. ‘But while there are certainly more buyers around, they only buy if they are absolutely sure that the property they have their eyes on is at the market price, because they don’t want to lose out in case of a resale,’ says Marie Miramant of the eponymous agency.