Points to consider before you buy

Provence BastideProperty Guide – Provence Alpes & Côte d’Azur

Départements: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04), Haute-Alpes (05), Alpes-Maritime (06), Bouches de Rhône (13), Var (83) and Vaucluse (84)

Say ‘Provence’ and immediately fields full of purple lavender spring to mind. But there are other attractions to the area, from the snow-peaked central part inland in the hills that connect the sea to the Alps to the marshlands of the Camargue, famous for white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos. The Luberon has sloping vineyards, cultivated lands rich with colourful fruits and breathtaking scenery that inspired Cezanne and Van Gogh.

Villa w poolPerhaps the most desirable stretch of the Mediterranean coast is along the Côte d’Azur, from Hyères in the west to La Napoule in the east, with attractive former fishing villages turned pleasure ports such as Le Lavendou, St-Tropez and St-Raphaël. Turquoise seas, sandy beaches, the scent of pine and eucalyptus, Mediterranean sunshine, all attractive to property purchasers here, but in peak holiday season it’s more traffic jams and crowded streets. Properties in this area range from villas with pools to apartments in a complex adjoining a golf course.

The population of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is around 4,500,000 – a figure which rises considerably in the holiday season. Average temperatures range from 12°C (54°F) in February to 28.2°C (83°F) in August, but this is across what is a very large region, and temperatures can and do reach freezing point in Provence. It has good access to road, rail and airline networks, some of the best restaurants in France and great healthcare services.

St Maxine golf courseMarseille is the second largest city in France; St Tropez is famous for the jet set crowd; Avignon, we all learnt the French song ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ at school, the university town of Aix-en-Provence and San Remy en Provence, one of Europe’s oldest archaeological sites, all bring to mind vibrant colour, bustling streets and the blue Mediterranean sea.

As a result of its popularity, properties often come with high price tags and, unlike other areas of France, properties are at present maintaining their prices; however in the current market there is often room for negotiation and some excellent opportunities to be found.

Ready to take the plunge?

If you feel ready to take the plunge and search for your dream home, remember, you are not just buying a house, you are buying a lifestyle – beautiful countryside with low population density, lack of pollution, a pleasant climate with summer temperatures above those in the UK, good food and wine, good health and education systems.

Know your property type.

Bastide – is a substantial stone-built house, possibly with land

Chateau ProvenceChateau – is a renaissance-style stately home

Maas – is a Provencal farmhouse or mill with rustic kitchen

Villa – is a more modern property usually with swimming pool

Maison de village – is a townhouse, often fronting a street, and with a courtyard rather than garden

Pavilion – is a modern bungalow-style property

Apartment – is a flat in a block of similar properties, often in a coastal town or a golf-course complex

Holiday home or permanent?

Village house
The first question is whether you want a holiday home or a permanent residence, as this will have considerable bearing on the area you choose. Do you want nature and wildlife or shops and nightlife? How are your French language skills – a small hamlet full of Patois speakers may not be a good idea if your French vocabulary is limited.

Baby boomers make up a large proportion of people moving across the Channel, which means that you should really seriously consider what your requirements might be in 15 or 20 years’ time. How far away are the shops, which villages have a general store, a post office, a bar/tabac, a hairdresser? Where’s the nearest doctor and dentist? Think about your mobility – it may be ok now but what about in 10 years?

If you are just popping over for a few weekends a year to chill out from the stresses of UK daily life and to recharge your batteries, then you’ll want to be near the airports. Details of airlines and airports can be found on Travelling to Provence. If you are thinking of letting out your holiday home, then you need to think about maintenance; maintenance companies don’t come cheap. Do you want to spend the first week of your holiday cleaning the house, weeding the garden, cutting the knee-high grass lawn?

I’m often surprised at the number of people who decide to move to France and have no French language skills; some don’t even have the intention of learning French. So if that’s you, don’t choose a property surrounded by French neighbours.

Provence MaasMost people overlook the 24/7 aspect of retiring to a place in France. So you need to ask yourself if you can actually stand each other’s company all the time, or do you need interaction with other people! Once you have answered that, then think about location. Buried at the end of a long farm track can be depressing, especially in the winter months, so don’t choose a house in a rural area.

Buy-to-let:

Holiday rentals are less lucrative than they were, the market is saturated with gites and second homes for rent, especially with the strong euro causing people to holiday outside the eurozone. So, unless your property has something special or is on the coast, don’t expect to let it other than during summer and school holidays. And certainly don’t buy a holiday home for yourself using a mortgage and expect holiday lets to cover the cost of the mortgage payments.

Bastide with land
Land – something else to consider:

Many Brits viewing properties in France make the mistake of buying somewhere with land – something they probably can’t afford to do in the UK. But land takes a lot of maintenance, as I know from personal experience, and if you haven’t the time to spend on it or intend to keep livestock, then don’t consider it. And land prices in Provence and Cote d’Azur can go for over 200,000 euros a hectare, so generally land purchase and new build is out of the pocket of most Brits looking to go down this road in Provence.

A Good Time to Buy?

The general feeling amongst estate agents in Provence is that now is as good a time as any to buy. Property prices are at a sensible level and, with a glut of properties for sale, vendors are willing to negotiate.

For more information on the market, see our Provence Property Trends article.

So, if you’ve got some spare cash and are fed up of the low interest rates with UK banks (or nervous about having your money in them!), buying a property in beautiful Provence looks like a very good investment, as its value can only increase in the long term. But remember that people are being cautious with good reason, so make sure you can’t get caught out financially later on.

An estate agent is a good place to start, and you’ll find several English-speaking ones on FrenchEntrée. You can also browse properties for sale through estate agents and private vendors on our Property Sales Database.

Beryl Brennan

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