This is why Brexit persuaded this young family to move to France
- Credit: Archant
While the vote in favour of Brexit has made some British property buyers in France put their plans on pause, for others, like the Lunsford family, it has persuaded them to go ahead with their move to France
Written by Clare Rolt, marketing manager at Compagnie Immobilière Charentaise
Katy and Dev Lunsford, a young couple who had lived in Manchester for 17 years, found the referendum result only reignited their desire to move across the Channel. “Every holiday we had in France was spent trying to work out ways we wouldn’t have to leave again,” says Katy. In February this year, they took the plunge, moving with their daughters, six-year-old Sophie and 15-month-old Maddie, to a beautiful five-bedroom stone farmhouse in the Charente area of south-west France.
Why did you decide you wanted to live in France?
In 2015, the family was living in a three-bedroom Victorian terrace with a small yard in north Manchester, but were desperate for more light, more space and a garden. As Katy points out, “we felt trapped in a system that we hated, a house we’d outgrown and a life that was convenient but that wasn’t bringing us ‘life’. We also wanted some sunshine.”
With the impending arrival of Maddie, they knew they needed to make a change, so their attentions turned back to France, a country they had always loved. “So much of French culture, values and the way of life resonates with us and how we want to live and bring up our children,” says Katy. “We love the relaxed way of life, the emphasis on family, the work-life balance, less stress, more freedom, the outdoor lifestyle and of course the food! The property prices were also a huge draw, as you can get so much more for your money.”
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Why did you choose Charente?
“We loved France and had been to most regions, but houses in the obvious places like Provence and the Côte d’Azur were over our budget. We also wanted somewhere less touristy and more accessible for family to visit,” she says. They came across Charente after a recommendation from a friend and, after a little research, soon recognised the value of properties available. “We were blown away by the properties we could afford,” Katy says.
Their perception of the great value that this region offers were right. House prices in Charente are an average of just €1,151/m² and just €951/m² around Ruffec (meilleursagents.com), compared to surrounding areas such as Charente-Maritime at €2,020/m² and Dordogne at €1,347/m². This means that renovation projects in the area start from around €20,000, small habitable homes from around €45,000 and three-bedroom renovated properties from around €80,000. Properties with lots of land generally start from around €150,000, while properties with a gîte or a pool usually start from about €180,000.
On Katy and Dev’s first recce trip to Charente in October 2015, they fell in love with the rolling hills, sunflower fields, vineyards, pretty villages and beautiful châteaux. “It was peaceful and quiet, but there were also bustling markets and festivals, and the bigger cities like Angoulême, Poitiers and Bordeaux had lots going on,” says Katy. This year’s opening of the new super-fast LGV train line from Paris to Bordeaux is also a plus, meaning a trip from Angoulême to Paris will be just one hour and 40 minutes.
“The weather is lovely – it’s the second sunniest area of France after the Côte dAzur,” adds Katy. “But it’s less busy and a lot less expensive. It is easily accessible by car, plane and train, so family and friends can visit easily.”
Tell us about your French property
The couple dreamed of a big old stone farmhouse with shutters, full of character and light but with little work needed, plus a big garden and outbuildings. As luck would have it, they found an historic stone farmhouse with five bedrooms, a large garden, a barn and a beautiful view situated close to the riverside market town of Ruffec with its shops, bars, restaurants and train station.
Katy, a photographer, particularly liked the light rooms. “We walked into the kitchen-diner and it was huge and light and airy, with doors on both sides, and light flooding in, even on a cloudy day in October. It was the kind of house I could only ever dream of owning in the UK.
Then we saw that there was the huge studio room upstairs. When do you find a 200-year-old French farmhouse with a natural light studio? It was meant to be! The garden was huge; it was beautiful and needed no work. The house ticked almost every box, and some we hadn’t even thought about.” However, with Katy seven months pregnant, and the trip intended to have been a fact-finding mission, they weren’t in a position to act. So they put their plans on hold, intending to visit in summer the following year.
How did Brexit affect your plans?
The following summer, of course, the UK voted to leave the EU. “It was a huge blow and I will never forget how I felt the day after the referendum,” says Katy. “But it made us realise how deeply we wanted to do this and how it could become impossible, or at least a lot harder and more expensive, after Brexit.”
Thankfully, when they returned to France a couple of months after 23 June, their dream home was still for sale. As a result of the drop in exchange rate, their estate agent helped them negotiate and secure it for €165,000. The property was theirs at the beginning of 2017 and they moved at the end of February. The house was already in good condition, but they do have a few plans. “There’s no family bathroom upstairs so we will probably put one in, update the kitchen, extend the patio so there’s plenty of space for those big meals outdoors and, of course, put in the requisite swimming pool!” says Katy.
What about employment?
Both Katy and Dev are lucky enough to be able to continue with jobs they had in England. Dev plans to continue working for the same company as an IT consultant, while offering IT support locally for small businesses or individuals. Katy, meanwhile, will continue to work as a wedding and portrait photographer, focusing on weddings around south-west France. “My style of photography is soft and luminous, using natural light, and a muted colour palette, which works so well with the pastel tones and gorgeous light in France,” she explains. “I will also be doing family shoots for people on holiday or living in the area, as well as some commercial work.”
How do you feel about the future?
The young family are full of excitement for their French future. “We are looking forward to more freedom, a simpler, more relaxed way of life, where children get to be children for longer with more outdoors time, more time together as a family, the kids being bilingual, great education, culture and food,” says Katy. “This is more how we want our children to grow up than the prevalent culture in the UK.” And when you think of all these positives, it’s easy to see why the UK’s vote to leave the EU last summer turned out to be just the catalyst the Lunsford family needed to make their long-held dream come true.
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