‘Qui n’avance pas, recule’ is a life truth that is hard to argue against: ‘Who does not move forward, moves backwards’. There can be no stagnation in life, only evolution or devolution. Either one evolves or remains stagnant.
Why now is the perfect time to consider buying property in France
Time to buy
We believe that now is the time for buyers to take advantage to buy and fulfil their lifestyle choices in France. With Brexit on the agenda, it is impossible to ignore what impact it might have in the future. Uncertainty has caused potential buyers to ‘stagnate’ and we regularly hear the words, ‘We’d like to buy but worry it is not the right time’. In our opinion, the current market conditions across France mean it is a time of opportunity rather than risk for those considering buying property in France.
We have guided many of our retained clients to find and buy properties since the financial crisis hit the French property market. It is essential to listen to experienced advice and focus on the carefully selected property options. In the last six months, we have received more serious enquiries from potential clients than in the past six years.
Realism from sellers and a confident country
Once again, France has begun to find its ‘mojo’ and confidence is returning. President Macron is setting a business friendly agenda creating a genuinely positive mood in France. Serious vendors have become increasingly realistic about pricing.
Demand from French buyers
The French are pushing up demand – something not seen for many years. We have witnessed the Paris market experiencing a resurgence of domestic demand. In Val d’Isere for example, 70% of the sales this year were to the French; an unheard of statistic in recent years. This trend is being replicated across the key international markets within France.
Upward buying trend
According to the Banque de France, the overall amount of property lending in France has risen from €89 billion in 2009 to €258 billion in the last 12 months up until November 2016. This reflects the increased number of transactions in 2016; a trend that has continued in 2017 as historically, the cost of borrowing is cheap and long term fixed rates are available.
International buying destination
Irrespective of the question of Brexit and the UK’s relationship with France, or what the economic and political landscape looks like, for decades France has attracted overseas buyers from across the globe. The French property market is rich and extensive, all these asset classes attract a truly international buying audience who recognize the quality and strength of its market place.
Regional markets and what lies ahead in 2018
France’s capital sets the economic tone for the nation. What happens here is important for the rest of the country and currently that is a ‘good news’ story.
Macron triggered positivity and a perceived sense of improving economic liberalism allied with a historically attractive credit environment that has increased transactional volumes and demand.
Interestingly, a younger generation of French buyers is proving to be increasingly dynamic in the market with an almost Anglo-Saxon appetite for real estate. This manifests itself in areas such as the 9th, once overlooked, but now extremely popular and bodes well for the future.
The supply side of the equation remains challenging, particularly for the ‘best in class’ apartments at any given price point. The classic arrondissements of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 16th continue to perform well both with the domestic market and international buyers, who represent approximately 9% of the market on properties above €1million.
Evidence indicates that some French ‘economic migrants’ are returning from London and this initial trickle may well increase, depending on Brexit talks. Consequently, prices are rising although not at rates some selling agents would have you believe. The reality is a gently improving market that should continue to improve in the medium term.
The only outstanding question is whether some UK buyers will trade the ‘Brexit hedge’ at the expense of London. There is no hard evidence of it yet but that could easily change; after all, the Eurotunnel is not one way.
The South of France
Provence along with St Tropez will be the key markets of 2018
The South of France is, by any measure, incredibly diverse in the different types, characters and prices of property available, from Provencal farmhouses to lavish apartments and pretty much everything in between. From €1 million to €100million and beyond, literally anything is possible.
This market continues to be highly international and very established. Properties have been traded here internationally since the late 1800’s with the market growing exponentially as the housing stock has increased. This means that the infrastructure supporting the area is efficient and robust. Road, rail and air links to and from the region are first class both within France and globally. The market falls broadly into the following segments:
St Tropez and environs: 2017 has seen reasonable transactional activity, consolidating on 2016. Demand has been primarily driven by assorted European buyers and we predict that this will continue during 2018. Buyers remain price sensitive but constructive engagement between buyers and sellers is seeing deals being done.
Alpes Maritimes (Cannes, arrière pays cannois): Although there are deals being done there is absolutely no upward pressure on prices. It is still very much a buyers’ market. Scandinavians are active along with some other northern Europeans. The majority of transactions have been in the €1-2m range with a handful of notable ‘high end’ exceptions in and around Cannes.
Alpes Maritimes (Cap d’Antibes, Cap Ferrat, Nice to Monaco): The classic Riviera is how many perceive the South of France. The fact is that the mansions of Cap Ferrat and Cap d’Antibes are very thinly traded. High prices paid a decade ago, largely with Russian money, mean sensibly priced supply is extremely limited; below €5m the market is more active.
Provence: Luberon and the Alpilles remain desirable. Good transport links and a protected environment are key. French domestic demand is also strong in this area.
Most price points are in good shape
The top resorts retain a strong international profile of ownership and buyers. Improving French domestic demand will also have a beneficial impact on improving market conditions.
At most price points the market in the French Alps is healthy; values are stable and have firmed up slightly in some locations. Exceptions are at the very top end of the market, where values in excess of €10m in resorts such as Courchevel 1850, have slowed markedly. Buyers are resistant to asking prices, which need to adjust to a decrease in wealthy buyers from Russia and Eastern Europe. Ski properties in less ‘snow-sure’ locations are also proving harder to sell.
Activity in the mid-range price points is solid. The make-up of buyers has altered with fewer UK nationals but an increase in French and other European buyers. For example in Val d’Isère, French nationals own around half the stock of property and during 2017 account for circa 70% of buyers. Chamonix benefits from the stronger Swiss Franc and proximity to Geneva, however prices there are still well below average among the major ski areas. Megève remains a firm French favourite, although suffered somewhat from less favourable snow conditions.
There is something for everyone in the Trois Vallées being the largest ski area in the world, with a sustained international following; we are not surprised that demand trends in Courchevel Village/Moriond, Méribel, and St. Martin are healthy.
Swiss Alps – blue chip resorts buck the trend
Over in Switzerland, it’s a more nuanced picture – a drop off of interest (and prices) in some locations can be a combination of the strength of the Swiss Franc, a sub-optimal stock of foreign permits and less favourable infrastructure and/or reliable snow. Only the most blue-chip Swiss resorts – Verbier & St Moritz are bucking this trend. Gstaad continues its existence in a parallel universe to the rest of the Alps, as a lifestyle destination, and underpinned by an acute lack of supply.
Property market predictions for 2018
Our clarion call has always been and will continue to be that buyers should take a medium to long term view when making any acquisition; short term tactics simply do not pay off. In our forecast for 2017 we stated ‘looking at our markets with a shorter term focus it seems unlikely that there will be much movement in values in the next 12 months. Clearly this will vary slightly from sector to sector but there is underlying stability that should reassure buyers’ and this has proved to be the case.
Paris is much improved enjoying price growth, St Tropez and Provence lead the way in the south of France with growing transactional levels and ‘steady’ values. Tougher conditions in the Alpes-Maritimes are improving albeit at a slower rate and the French Alps are broadly static. However, French domestic demand is increasing, providing a significant boost that looks set to continue in 2018.
The key fundamentals for a purchase in the Alps: snow-sure credentials, a large and well joined-up ski area and proximity to the slopes; criteria that are equally important for the rental market. Ski properties with these attributes remain resilient for the right reasons. Buyers are not chasing yield or taking a ‘punt’ on the market; they are making a lifestyle decision. Our conclusion is that these dynamics will continue into 2018 and beyond, and an excellent start to the 2017-18 season will only help the market.
Overall, we believe that 2018 will reflect 2017’s market conditions and price stability with gently improving demand will underpin the market. Our key message going into the New Year is ‘take advice and more advice; negotiate hard – you might just surprise yourself.’