Although the ‘Leave’ vote prompted some to put their French property plans on hold, plenty of buyers have refused to let the Referendum kill their dream. Nadia Jordan talks to the individuals, couples and families who are going ahead despite or even because of Brexit…
Wild rumours abounded following the ‘Brexit’ vote in the Referendum of 23 June: we’ll need visas to visit France, international driving licences to holiday there, British expats living there will lose their jobs, houses and be deported… Britons already living in France rushed to apply for permanent EU residence cards, although no-one, certainly not the French authorities, know if they’ll remain valid after Brexit actually takes place, or looked into obtaining French nationality.
Six months on, we still know next to nothing about what will happen post-Brexit. Happily, the immediate panic has cooled off. Britain may be exiting the European Union but we aren’t leaving Europe. The French will still be our neighbours and France, once described as “the whole of Europe in one country”, will remain a dream destination for British buyers.
And, in truly British ‘making the best of it’ spirit, it’d seem that UK buyers are voting with their feet and refusing to let the Leave vote shatter their hopes of owning a home in France. Indeed, since the Referendum, many estate agents are reporting an increase in the number of British buyers who are looking to relocate to France.
This upsurge is partly fuelled by a so-far-unfounded concern that British citizens’ legal right to buy a property in France may change once Brexit takes place. It also appears that the result of the Referendum has left many Brits feeling betrayed and disenchanted, and hence has spurred them into thinking about leaving a divided and apparently intolerant country. This seems to be particularly the case for the younger generation and their families, who are now looking to move to France, in search of a more European lifestyle.
Brexit may mean some additional paperwork and a few more forms to fill in, but moving to France is a lifestyle choice and the British electorate’s decision to leave the EU doesn’t change that. Indeed, Brexit could turn out to be one of those events that initially seemed to be a disaster but which will, ultimately, prove to be the clincher that causes people to actually follow their dream and make the move to France. Long-term, British buyers of French property may even credit Brexit with having been the best thing that ever happened to them.
ABOUT TO RELOCATE…
Martin and Claire Beer are currently in the process of buying a house in Provence and, having signed the Compromis de Vente, their French property purchase will be completed during December 2016.
“We have been toying with the idea of moving to France for about five years, since a redundancy payment made the dream possible. We spent four years narrowing down which region we wanted to be in. Then, with the help of a wonderful property search agent, Sophia Mose, we found our house very quickly.
“We both speak a bit of French, so if we ever bought overseas it was always going to be in France. We also love the diverse countryside, the hills and mountains, the rolling countryside and the climate further south.
“We knew the Brexit vote was going to be close but thought that ‘Remain’ would narrowly win. We found our house in the week of the vote. It was mostly about location – the cycling, walking, landscape – and the local amenities, such as Golf de Saumane and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, right on our doorstep. We knew straightaway that this was the house for us – it just felt right.
“On the day of the Referendum, we sat down to lunch in our local village in France and decided that we would take the plunge, on the proviso that Remain won. We awoke the next morning to hear the very depressing news that ‘Leave’ had won.
“We waited a couple of weeks to see how markets were reacting. Although the Pound/Euro rate plummeted, the UK stock exchange went up considerably, relatively quickly after the vote, partially mitigating the exchange rate fall. We took the ‘you only live once’ approach, our property agent negotiated a good price and we went ahead!”
“On the day of the Referendum, we sat down to lunch in our local village in France and decided that we would take the plunge”
A PERMANENT MOVE…
Louise Robinson was in the process of buying a house during the period in which the Referendum took place and she’s now living permanently in the spa town of Bagnèresde-Luchon in the French Pyrénées.
“I’d dreamt of living in France for about ten years. After spending four years overseas, mainly in Australia, I felt ready to put down roots. I spent time back in the UK and realised it was no longer where I wanted to call ‘home’. I thought about going back to Australia but had missed being in Europe and having easy access to all that’s on offer here.
“French agent Nadia Jordan lined up around 18 suitable properties for me to view. It took three weeks from the first point of contact to agreeing a price on the property of my dreams, whereas it would have taken me months to do it on my own.
“Then came the Referendum. I was shocked by the result. I hadn’t anticipated it at all so hadn’t considered any alternatives to my planned move. I’ve always considered myself to be European and, like many others, have enjoyed the freedom to travel and the right to work in Europe. With so many unknowns about Brexit, I felt that there was no concrete reason for not going ahead with my plans to move – there was no question of me staying in the UK. Apart from the weak Pound, nothing is going to change immediately and that was a factor in sticking to the decision of moving to France now, while I can still do it easily. Hopefully, by the time Brexit is actually implemented, I’ll have been paying French taxes for two years and the French will be reluctant to see me go! I believe the quality of the life I will lead in France will be worth the challenges that may lie ahead.
“Next year, I intend to open a business offering bicycle rental and supported rides to guests staying at a local guesthouse run by friends.”
“With so many unknowns about Brexit, I felt that there was no concrete reason for not going ahead with my plans to move”
QUALITY OF LIFE…
Jonathan and Liz Crane are in the process of buying a permanent home in Normandy, a move which will see their lives change greatly. Jonathan is taking early retirement and Liz will commute weekly to her job in the UK.
“The decision to move to France has been slowly developing over many years but it was during a holiday in Normandy when we really fell in love with the slower, more gentle pace of life. We have two horses and four dogs, and longed to have the space and fields around us to stable the horses but we could never afford such a property in the UK. The house we are buying in Normandy has five acres with stabling for four horses plus outbuildings. The move will mean that we aren’t just living to pay the mortgage and our overall quality of life will be much better.
“Initially, we went to The France Show and then did some viewings with several agents in Normandy, following our initial plan to purchase a renovation project. However, we then got in touch with the FrenchEntrée Property Team, who recommended our agent, Suzanne Pearce. She showed us that we could actually afford a habitable house, rather than the wrecks we’d seen. We wouldn’t have considered the house we’re buying as it was too expensive but she managed to secure it for us within our budget.
“The Brexit vote took us completely by surprise. We’d put our house in Hampshire on the market two weeks before. Initially, we did wonder what we’d done but decided that we were moving to France for the lifestyle and Brexit didn’t change anything. Even with the fall in the exchange rate, we’ll still have a better quality of life. This is what’s important for us and we’ll deal with any issues arising from Brexit as and when, but we aren’t going to put our lives on hold.”
“The move to Normandy will mean that we aren’t just living to pay the mortgage and our overall quality of life will be much better”
A EUROPEAN BASE…
Emma and Ben Parry are a UK couple based in Sydney. They have recently completed buying a small pied à terre in Antibes, to initially use as a European base, as they both have family in the UK. They then plan to live and work in France.
“We’ve been living in Sydney, Australia for the past decade and travel back regularly to the UK, to visit family and friends. We were drawn to the idea of buying a bolt hole in the South of France, to use as our base and as an investment property. We already loved everything French but it was on a short break on the Côte d’Azur in 2010 that we fell in love with beautiful Antibes. On our last day, drinking a fine rosé overlooking stunning Garoupe Beach on the Cap d’Antibes, we had the usual last day musings of ‘we could live here…’ and slowly started to put a plan in place.
“We engaged a property agent, Rebecca Russell of Côte Abode, and fell in love with a two-bed apartment in the centre of the old town and made an offer within 30 minutes of viewing. We picked up the keys in October.
“Like many, we were shocked and saddened by the Brexit result, especially as we plan to relocate to France, to live and work, in the future. We’re still concerned about the potential impact but hopeful that the changes will be minimal. We’re even optimistic that it may not go ahead at all! But rather than making us hesitate, the Referendum made us want to speed up our purchase, to complete before the vote! One word of advice if you’re considering purchasing in France, it isn’t a quick process compared to the UK or Australia!
“We weren’t going to let Brexit stop our dream. We’re optimists and believe there are too many Brits in France for there to be a major change to property purchasing/ownership rules.”
“We’re still concerned about the impact of Brexit but are hopeful that the changes will be minimal… we weren’t going to let it stop our dream”
A BRAND NEW START…
Jenna and Ben Catley-Richardson have been planning a move to France, with their children and Mother, since well before the Referendum. They’re now looking for a suitable family home and to set up a business in the Ariège, a département in the central Pyrénées.
“We’ve been thinking about this move for five or six years and started looking a year ago. It had to be Europe for us – we love the connectivity of the continent and all of the different neighbouring cultures. But we didn’t want to live just anywhere in France so we did our research carefully.
“The Ariège was the discovery of a lifetime for us. It has everything we’re looking for, in terms of quality of life in an authentically French region and unspoiled surroundings.
“The Brexit vote didn’t take us by surprise. We knew it would be close and, in the run up to the Referendum, it was obvious which way the public was swinging. The Remain campaign hadn’t done enough. Nevertheless, when it happened we still felt deeply betrayed and disappointed and even more desperate to escape a broken country that we can only see getting much worse.
“We didn’t hesitate for a second. The upset and betrayal we felt made us even more sure that we belonged in France. We became even more determined to overcome any obstacle that we may face as a result of the vote.
“The exchange rate fall means that we will have to be creative and flexible in selling our house and planning our French home and business set-up. But France offers us freedom from the constraints imposed in the UK by the ‘people to land and property ratio’, the failing healthcare system and the climate. Simply, we can afford to have more by wanting, earning and working less. Fundamentally, we feel that, in France, we will live longer, be healthier and our children will have so much more space, freedom and wonderful opportunities.”
“France offers us freedom from the constraints imposed in the UK by the ‘people to land and property ratio’, the failing healthcare system and climate”
Originally published in FrenchEntrée magazine issue 119