Ask the agent: northern-France

Every month we ask an estate agent for the inside track on their patch. In this issue, we talk to northern-France specialist Christine Hilton of La R�sidence, a UK-based estate agency...

What’s the cheapest property you have on your books right now? We have a selection of detached stone cottages in Mayenne for renovation for about €45,000 (�39,740). Most are semi-derelict below this price.

What’s the most unusual property you have sold? With more than 20 years in the business you’d think we’d have had our fair share of unusual properties! Often it is the purchasers that are more memorable than the properties – however we do have a house in Domfront, actually built into the medieval ramparts.

How much would you expect to pay for: 1. a detached property with land in good condition? So much depends on location and the number of hectares. We have a fully restored farmhouse in Orne with 7 hectares at just over €300,000 (�264,930) and another in central Brittany, with 2,500m� at just €121,000 (�106,855).

2. a three-bedroom town house? We have some very stylish ones starting at €95,000 (�83,985).

3. a renovation opportunity? Plenty from €45,000 (�39,740), although to tackle a project at this price you need construction experience.

Is there a typical architecture or style in northern France? My area of expertise covers three regions in the north of France, all with distinctive architecture. In Pas-de-Calais the houses are typically single storey, rendered, with heavy, red, pantiled roofs. Normandy is the area for half-timbered houses, many of which are thatched with timber beaming like the Tudor houses that we see in the UK. Brittany is the region for property built in granite, commonly with slate roofing.

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Why do British people buy houses in northern France? The main attraction of northern France is that it is cheap and there is easy access from the UK. Perhaps there are also historic reasons; the British are particularly welcome here.

What advice would you give to somebody who is thinking of buying in your area? It is very likely that when you buy a property in France, whether as a holiday or permanent home, you will still return regularly to the UK. Hopefully friends and family will also want to come and visit, so do make sure that the journey is not too tedious. What appeared an acceptable haul for an annual holiday may not be so attractive when you make the same journey every 6 weeks or so.

What tips would you give to help people settle into life in the area? We always suggest that a newcomer calls at the local mairie and introduces themselves to the mayor. It is not only considered courteous but you will find the office a mine of local information and useful contacts.

What are your predictions for the property market in northern France? We have been amazed at the volume of enquiries since the start of 2009. There is no doubt that this established destination is still attracting a great deal of interest, but some buyers are biding their time in the hope that the euro will weaken significantly. In the short term we think this unlikely, but the good news is that as the euro has strengthened, prices have fallen. This is a buyer’s market and those in a position to proceed quickly can secure a very good deal indeed.

Is it easy to reach? Very easy. There are ferry ports all along the coast of northern France as well as the Eurotunnel, which brings you to Calais; we also have the Eurostar – if you hire a car once in France – but it’s a very easy option. What are the regional specialities? There is Flemish influence around Calais with many dishes cooked in beer. Winter vegetables such as endives are popular, as are the excellent mussels. Normandy is the land of soft cheeses, regularly washed down with cider or a tot of Calvados. And of course Brittany is famous for cr�pes.

What local attractions are there in northern France? The north of France has a very long coastline – there are links courses for golfers, swanky seaside resorts at Le Touquet and Deauville, the fishing harbour at Honfleur and the historical D-Day landing beaches. Mont St- Michel is a must as are the oyster beds at Cancale. Inland, there are trout rivers for fishermen, forests for ramblers and bridle paths for equestrians.

Describe your region in five words: So near, yet so far.

What’s your favourite corner of the region? Val-de-Sa�ne, close to Dieppe, where I used to own a house.