Peter Elias knows south-west France very well having lived there for more than a decade. He gives the inside track on the area
It is now more than 10 years since our French adventure commenced. But we still remember the early days of internet research, accompanied by a copy of French Property News, as we searched for our house in France.
We started our research in Poitou-Charentes, as this area had an acclaimed sunshine record, (second only to the C�te d’Azur), and was easily within driving distance of several ferry ports. We used a mixture of French and English estate agencies, and some were very good and some were, well… not so good.
Like most Brits, we underestimated the vast distances you can travel in search of a property in France, but we were realistic about the number to visit in a day, so were pretty well always on time for viewing visits, and called agents when we were in danger of running late.
Some agencies covered vast areas, and we found ourselves looking a bit further south into the Lot, Corr�ze and Dordogne on our travels. In fact, we came within a whisker of buying in the south Corr�ze in a pretty village called Perpezac-le-Blanc. We would have purchased, but the vendor (British), kept moving the goalposts and we were not for being messed around, so we pulled out of the deal. Finally, we purchased in Deux-S�vres, in Paizay-le-Tort, finding the house in December 2000.
La Moinerie was a beautiful home for us for more than nine years until we decided to up sticks and move again. By this time we had already acquired a second home, back in our favoured Corr�ze department. So we moved on in late summer 2010, and are well entrenched into the area now.
We set up our own property agency at the end of 2001, so we are now approaching our 10th anniversary. Like our own journey searching for a house, our business started off in Poitou-Charentes, where we have over 100 properties listed, but now has migrated to the Dordogne valley where we are also approaching 100 properties. This new area that we are covering is made up of the southern part of the Corr�ze department, the northern part of the Lot and the eastern side of the Dordogne, which encompasses what many describe as the prettiest section of this famous river. Virtually the whole place is attractive hillside country, full of old villages, castles, small country towns, with plenty of scope for relaxing and enjoyable holidays. Much of the area, particularly further into the hills, is very much off the beaten track, and just waiting to be discovered. Our patch is roughly centred around Brive, going 45 minutes in each direction.
It is interesting managing the business and seeing the transition of clients and the sources of enquiries. Is there a difference in clientele between the two areas? The answer is yes and no!
Certainly for a permanent residence, there is not much to choose between the two. Both have similar climates, both enjoy long summers and short winters. The main difference probably lies with the clients buying a holiday home here; the British favour Poitou-Charentes and the Dordogne valley is preferred by the Dutch and Belgians. This is because Poitou-Charentes is very accessible by car from several ferry ports and an easy drive, while the Dordogne/Lot valleys are that bit further to go in a single day. In comparison, the Dordogne valley is easily accessed by the Benelux visitors using the A20 autoroute, and is without question their destination of choice.
Concerning price, there is also not too much to choose between the two areas. Parts of the Limousin are cheap, notably in the north of the region, but in the south the prices are more aligned with the Dordogne and Lot. At the bargain-basement price level, we currently have a lovely 16th-century house in the village of La For�t-de-Tess� (Charente) with a superb monumental fireplace worthy of a ch�teau in the lounge and three comfortable bedrooms, priced at a very competitive €109,500. Further south, just north of Argentat (Corr�ze) we have a great village house with two good-sized bedrooms, nice gardens and a view for only €129,000. From here you can stroll into the village where there is a good bar/restaurant – what more could you ask for!
From what I can see, Poitou-Charentes probably had the greatest influx of expats and they probably arrived in the area earlier due to the excellent communications by air, rail and road. As a consequence, this area is probably suffering a bit, as some Brits decide to return to the UK for health or financial reasons. So for this reason, there are some bargains to be had, as vendors are often in the good position of having purchased when the pound/euro rate was 1.50 and are now looking to sell with a rate near to 1.12, giving them a 25% gain in currency terms.
In terms of the style of houses, there are always regional variations. In Poitou-Charentes the canal-style Mediterranean tiles are used on roofs. Further south, the roof pitch tends to be steeper and ardoise (slate) roofs are more common. There are also lauzes’ a beautiful thick stone tile, similar to slate, but much heavier. The typical house of Poitou-Charentes is the long�re, a long farmhouse style, and their downside can be low beams at first-floor level. In comparison, the Corr�ze and Dordogne often have mansarded rooms for bedrooms, resulting in height restrictions.
Riverside properties are always in demand, and for Poitou-Charentes, the main rivers are the S�vre-Niortaise, the Vienne, the Charente and the Gartempe. Further south, we have the V�z�re, the Corr�ze, Lot and, of course, the Dordogne.There are probably a lot more activity-based holidays centred in the south of this area. Our stretch of the Dordogne is used by canoes and kayaks both for pleasure and also competitions.
To the east of Poitiers we have an entire riverside estate made up of a principal residence, water mill, maison de gardien, maison d’amis, summerhouse and an office, plus other outbuildings in a magnificent setting of approximately four hectares. Priced at €1.3 million, this property really has the wow’ factor and is extra special.
There is also always strong demand for property with income potential. If you are buying a g�te complex, make sure that you do your homework. For a start, most banks won’t lend against rental income, so you need to be a cash buyer.
Check the accounts of a business if you are serious about buying. Many owners deal with two sets of accounts, some in euros and some in sterling. Getting to the bottom of the declared income is pretty easy, but don’t be surprised if the business is doing more business on the quiet! Our advice to clients is to search for a special property, something having a unique selling point, that will set you aside from the competition.
This could be down to your setting, for example a stunning water mill, or a ch�teau/manoir-style house, or based on a specific activity. Language or art courses are popular, but we currently have an activity-based holiday complex on our books. Located in the Lot department near Cahors, this special business has a combined tennis and basketball court, unique in Europe, having been imported from the USA. Principally sports-based activities are offered, which also include archery, paintball and, for the less active, wine-tasting vacations. The owners have a business plan that works and generates a superb income in excess of €200,000 per annum. Corporate clients using these facilities include BMW. The price for this property is €1,050,000 but what a return on your capital.
Not everyone has such a large budget, of course, and a popular price range is around €350,000-€400,000. A good example of what this buys in Poitou-Charentes is a lovely five-bed house in Paizay-le-Tort (Deux-S�vres) with a heated swimming pool and large gardens for €375,000. The house is very flexible and works as either a large five-bed family home, or can divide into a three-bed house with a two-bed maison d’amis/g�te. Further south, we have a recently renovated house near Meyssac (Corr�ze), constructed in the red stone famous in this region, with four bedrooms and superb views for €378,000.
Flights of fancy
The development of regional airports has been a massive factor in making some areas popular with UK buyers. The cheap flights (which started back in 2001) to Poitiers and La Rochelle, and later to Limoges helped drive prices up during the boom years for Poitou-Charentes. In the Dordogne valley, Bergerac, Bordeaux and Rodez have been the principal airports but now clients are frequently using Limoges and the new airport at Brive, with flights from London City and Manchester currently available, typically priced at €59 but with a proper baggage allowance included.
What else is different between the two areas? For me, the countryside is more spectacular in the Dordogne valley, and there is a high concentration of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. We have six such villages within 30 minutes, at Turenne, Collonges-la-Rouge, Curemonte, Autoire, Carrennac and Loubressac, with another six within an hour’s drive. Great for days out as there is always something to see. There are always farmer’s markets, f�tes, concerts and other local events on during the summer.
Peter Elias, agent commercial, Allez Francais
Tel: 0033 (0)5 55 28 46 40 / 0844 284 2569 (UK)