20 years of FPN - In the beginning...

A trip down memory lane from FPN’s founder and editors past to present.

FPN founder: Dick SchraderHouse prices in the UK had doubled within three years, sound familiar? This was 1989. Interest in property in France had grown exponentially; until 1988, Brits had been buying in France at the rate of under 2,000 houses a year, suddenly we were buying more than 10 times as many. Everyone you talked to knew someone who was thinking of buying in France.

Prices were low and there was a massive supply of attractive properties to renovate. Typical budgets were between �20,000 and �40,000. As much again, however, could be spent on renovation. It was some years before the market moved on and budgets rose to fund houses which were ready to live in.

I was involved in selling overseas property in Spain, Turkey, France and Florida. My wife Kerry, a journalist with a French degree, had tired of the daily journey across London. After various ideas for some sort of publication were rejected, I suggested something to do with property in France. It was April 1989 and the idea was accepted.

Tiny adverts were placed in the classified columns of The Times and The Telegraph, inviting requests for a free copy of French Property News. The response was amazing: 2,000 requests a month. Articles were written and potential advertisers contacted. An eight-page tabloid black-and-white newspaper was produced and 6,000 copies were printed for the first issue dated 20 June 1989.

In those days, typesetters sent us galleys of type which had to be cut up and stuck on to grid sheets. The rest of the production, such as scanning photos and preparing the pages for the printer, was carried out by external repro houses. Few of these are left today as most publications are produced on computers and sent to the printer electronically.

FPN grew rapidly and colour was added, but it remained as a newspaper until 1990 when it moved to the current magazine format. Circulation grew to 60,000 copies a month.

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Twenty years on and again house prices more than doubled in three years, and again the bubble has burst, so what can we learn from the past? Firstly, that recessions don’t last for ever and the market will recover. Secondly, that France is probably the most stable country to buy property in, with none of the risks of so-called emerging markets nor the problems that have dogged the Spanish market for years such as properties with no planning permission being bulldozed by the authorities. Thirdly, prices are coming down and there is a good range of property for sale, so now is as good a time as any to buy.

Editor No 1: Kerry SchraderTwenty years on! I can hardly believe it. I can still remember, with pride, the early days of the magazine, although in 1989 it resembled a newspaper more in format. Colour pages were a rarity; an expense that our fledgling publishing business could ill afford. The simple monochrome pages were produced initially in a three-bed semi in Surrey before we moved into a small office. We strived for a mix of informative articles, which earned us an appreciative and loyal readership.

Early issues carried headlines relating to two giant projects of the time – the Channel Tunnel and Euro Disney outside Paris. Now taken for granted, it is difficult to recapture the excitement created by the Channel Tunnel project. I remember taking photos of the massive earthworks in progress near Calais and marvelling at the scale of the engineering work involved. I travelled on Eurostar through the Tunnel on the day it was officially opened – 6 May 1994.

Suddenly, the property market in northern France was in the spotlight, opened up by the Tunnel to residents of southeast England and beyond. The accent was firmly on accessibility to seaports and the Tunnel. The dream of purchasing a rural French idyll seemed more feasible. In those early days the prices were very tempting with run-down fermettes changing hands for as little as �9,000. Over the years and with the advent of low-cost air travel and an improved road and railway system, the focus for property hunters has spread all over France from north to south and west to east.

Whatever change in focus the next decade or two brings, I cannot imagine that France, so near to us and yet so different, will ever lose its allure in the eyes of British property buyers. Even the rise in value of the euro cannot detract from the comparative value for money that France offers, the sense of space sadly lacking in our own overcrowded isle and the promise of a gentler, less hurried way of life.

Editor No 2: Emma MatavouI was a bit nervous when I applied for the job as FPN editor as my French was fairly rusty, but the team at the time, with Dick Schrader, Annelise Jacobs and Alison Crowe, was very welcoming and I remember two very happy years. Our offices were in a tiny warren of rooms that you had to approach via an outdoor fire escape. Having previously worked in the plusher environs of the National Galleries of Scotland, it took a bit of getting used to but the atmosphere was of a large family, with a feeling of being looked after by the paterfamilias, Dick Schrader. His son, Colin, ran the advertising side so it was a small family affair and Dick would wander from advertising to editorial departments with new ideas and schemes to make the magazine more interesting or profitable.

When I took over, Kerry helped ease me into the role as she spent more time looking after her son Laurence. At the time, the French property market was fairly buoyant and I enjoyed fantasising about all the lovely French properties for sale, hoping that one day I might be able to convert a rustic farmhouse in the Pyr�n�es or on the Mediterranean.

FPN offered constructive advice for readers who needed help with the French legal and property buying system, as well as nurturing the dream. It wasn’t showy or glossy, but hopefully informative and useful. I left when I started a family but I have many fond memories of my time at FPN.

Editor No 3: Penny KitchenJoining FPN as editor in 1996 was a fast learning curve. By the time I was able to start, the outgoing editor had left and I was faced with her old computer and dog-eared contacts book. I had talked myself into a job I was sure I could do, having edited other publications, but I knew nothing about French property. A frantic ring-round to contributors followed, while my colleagues offered encouraging comments such as “Editorial budget? There is no editorial budget!”.

Helped by the small team, I managed to produce my first issue – a tabloid size, black-andwhite newspaper in those days. I waited for the complaints to flood in, but mercifully they didn’t. As each issue and exhibition came and went, I became more knowledgeable. My family and I spent holidays in France so I could meet agents immobiliers and write about the regions and property with more authority. Along came an FPN website and general prosperity. The second-home market not only emerged from the doldrums but took off with the help of a strong pound and lowcost airlines. We celebrated FPN’s 10th birthday with a junket to – where else – Paris.

It was on one of our holidays that my husband and I succumbed to the French property bug. In those days there were 10 francs to the pound and when we did our sums, it seemed possible. We made an offer on a village house in the Aude and by February 2001 it was ours. Writing under my husband’s name, I gave FPN readers a blow-by-blow account of the purchasing process. Tragically, my husband died just as we achieved so much and now one income has to sustain our petit r�ve.

As one of FPN’s contributors told me sagely many years ago, British-owned French properties usually come on to the market as a result of the 4Ds – death, disease, divorce and debt. But so far I’m hanging in there. As I painted yet another shutter in the spring sunshine, I found myself telling the house, like the l’Or�al ads, “because you’re worth it!”

Editor No 4: Karen TaitIt’s testament to the strength of the FPN team that there have only been four editors over 20 years. Staff have come and gone, the team has grown much bigger, and the magazine now belongs to the large publishing group Archant, but the team spirit remains – and, therefore, so do I!

I joined the magazine in 2001, like Penny, knowing very little about French property – except how much I loved it, of course! Luckily, Penny was able to join me for a few days in my first month and talk me through the various idiosyncracies of the magazine (and there were plenty of those!). FPN had metamorphosised from a newspaper to a magazine in April of that year – my first issue was July, so the magazine format was still fresh and new.

Since then it’s been through various design updates, but the core content remains the same – a mix of informative and inspiring features, written by those who really know what they’re talking about: agents, lawyers and builders who are immersed in the French property world day in, day out, not to mention all the amazing readers’ stories we’ve published over the years.

In my time at FPN I’ve seen highs and lows – from people queuing for hours to get into our property exhibitions to the current challenging climate. I’ve seen new buying patterns emerge, including more people making the permanent move to France, often families who look to FPN for information on setting up a business in France and the French education system, for example. While many people still dream of ruins to renovate, many others now recognise the time and money commitment that represents and so there’s been increased interest in new properties, while the French government’s leaseback scheme has provided an interesting route for many buyers seeking an investment angle. But however many trends come and go, one thing always remains the same – the British love affair with France and its utterly charming properties.