Chateau in France

To say that 2020 has been a rollercoaster for the our marketplace would be a serious understatement.

At the start of the year we witnessed the release of all that pent-up Brexit-related demand from British buyers, along with the usual high levels of demand from other nationalities. It was one of the busiest starts to the year we – and our partners – have had for a while. All in the market were super-buoyant. “France was back!” came the cries from the immobiliers.

Fast-forward three months – just 12 weeks – and France is in total lockdown, international travel has been decimated and our partner agencies are all closed to ‘real’ customers. Those visits which were planned are postponed indefinitely, the government has brought in legislation delaying cooling-off periods until the end of June and technophobe estate agents are on a steep learning curve with virtual tours and video conferencing. We live in very strange and unprecedented times.

All is not lost though!

For our part, we are keeping in touch with our clients and readying for viewings when the travel ban is lifted, pinging property suggestions and questions back-and-forth in the meantime via email and Whatsapp. New properties continue to arrive on our property database, which should send out property alerts to our members. We’ll be using the time wisely to continue to tidy-up the database, remove out-of-date properties and develop new partnerships.

Also, new enquiries continue to come in from would-be property buyers. All understand that it may be a while before they can physically get to France, but they want to use the time wisely. They want to research areas and properties, get their finances in order and look at maybe a mortgage in principle (to offset currency fluctuations) and just generally pick our brains about the pros and the cons of their plans. Given the volatility of the £/€, many want to understand how they can protect the exchange rate when they do come to buy, so we’re introducing them to our partners at moneycorp for an initial chat.

“As soon as the lockdown is lifted, we’re on a plane”, one client said to me this week, and this seems to be the sentiment of most of the clients we are speaking to at the moment.

In terms of what clients are currently enquiring about, areas such as Pays de la Loire, Languedoc and Provence appear to be popular. What we’re also seeing is exactly what happened after the 2008 property crash, i.e. the market polarises between relatively low/modest budgets (under €100k) and the upper end of the market for rural France (€500k+). The ‘squeezed-middle’, clients with budgets between €250k and €500k, are relatively quiet. We’ve also had several enquiries from HNW individuals looking for a ‘bargain’, with several million euros to splash out on a château or manoir, as long as the price is right.

Our estate agency partners remain ‘virtually’ open despite the lockdown and inability to do viewings, and are able to answer questions and share photos/videos of the properties and their area. Despite the frustration, the memory of a strong start to the year gives hope. As one of our partners put it to me last week:

“I think that the end of the year, once restriction on travel has been lifted, is going to be very busy so I am doing everything possible to ensure that I am well placed to carry out all the viewing and instruction appointments.”

Another of our partners relayed the following:

“We have not been out working since day one, personally I have no desire to pay a fine or bring the virus home. It is of course now not allowed anyway. I had an idiot on the phone demanding to know why I couldn’t just go and value his house… honestly, some people!

“I anticipate a really busy time as soon as the travel restrictions are lifted. So many people had viewing trips cancelled. I think there are still many who want to be here before the end of the Brexit transition period, at the end of 2021 (assuming it doesn’t get extended). There are of course those that have since changed their minds – I have been reading on some forums that people are now cancelling their plans for the new life in France as they now realise they do not want to be too far away from family, which is fair enough. I think the transition period will make those that are determined act quickly when they can. We remain positive!”

So, the message from the ground is to remain positive, use the downtime wisely and get your ‘canards’ in a row before the travel restrictions are lifted. There are a lot of ‘stuck’ vendors in France at the moment who were hoping to sell in 2020, so we expect to see a softening of asking prices in many areas, particularly in rural France, and there will be some incredible bargains to be had for those who are able to sign a compromis quickly.

As always, we remain available to you 24/7, wherever you are in the world and whatever your plans are.

If you haven’t already done so, register as a FrenchEntrée member to receive property alerts and updates, as well as building a shortlist of your favourites. If there are specific properties you like the look of, send us an enquiry and we can put you in touch with the listing agent.

Feel free to drop me a line personally – [email protected] – if you have any general questions or want to know how to get the ball rolling on your search.

Alistair Lockhart
Property Director, FrenchEntrée

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