Ripe for the picking
Sylvie Fayet opened up her Lafor�t agency in Vienne in the Is�re four years ago. The town, which lies just 25 minutes south of Lyon, has two railway stations, one in the centre and Estressin in Vienne nord. Whereas the northern sector of the city appeals to a Lyonnais clientele who can’t or don’t want to pay Lyon prices, the southern sector attracts the local Viennois market because, being slightly away from the centre, prices are cheaper but the quality of life is effectively the same. “The closer you get to Lyon, the more expensive it is,” she says.
And prices? Prices had risen very quickly and a purchaser buying in 2005 or 2006 could sell six months later at a profit. This anticipated increase in value tended to be reflected in the initial asking price. When the market eventually stabilised, properties that had been overestimated in this way fell back to their initial prices hence the fall in values. “We opened in April 2008, a month before they announced the beginning of la crise and we’re still here,” says Fayet.
Fayet’s clients include, particularly this year, people who’ve been transferred to the Lyonnais area. The quartier Pyramide is popular because it’s only a 10-minute walk from the town centre and the station.
Vienne’s historical centre-ville reminds Lyonnais buyers of the ancient Croix-Rousse quarter in Lyon 1er arrondissement. The stock is mainly apartments although there are some old townhouses. “There are very few new buildings in Vienne,” says Fayet, “On est dans l’ancien – rather stylised, spiral staircases, lots of stone, rather lovely things.”
While there are some lovely apartments on the market, the parc immobilier is old so others may well require renovation.
In villages to the south of Vienne, east of the Rh�ne, like Chonas-l’Amballan and St-Prim, Fayet tends to sell three- or four-bedroom houses in a price range of €280,000 to €350,000. In Les C�tes-d’Arey you’ll find large four-bedroom houses in grounds of 1,500-2,000m� selling for €350,000 to €380,000.
Les Roches-de-Condrieu, on the right bank, also appeals because there’s the station of St-Clair-Les-Roches. Here, village houses tend to be smaller, taller, more hemmed in, with perhaps just 200m� of land. There may be less light in these narrow lanes but properties here will be lighter on your pocket, around €180,000 to €200,000.
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There are virtually no building plots and fewer and fewer rundown properties to do up, but Vienne rents are quite pricey, which makes property here popular with investors. “All the Lyonnais who perhaps haven’t the wherewithal to buy to rent in Lyon fall back on Vienne. We’ve sold a lot of property to investors,” says Fayet.
On the other hand, the housing stock is old; the tax-effective buy-to-rent Loi Scellier doesn’t apply to Vienne so there is little new construction suitable for this investment purpose. What would the rent be for, say, a one-bedroom apartment in Vienne? Depending on size, taxes etc, the tenant would pay between €380 and €500 a month for an F2 of 40-50m�, says Fayet. T stands for type, and F for function, virtually the same thing although historically F came first. The number indicates the number of rooms excluding kitchen and bathroom/WC.
The Ard�che is nearby, the ski slopes are just a couple of hours away, the sea is not far either, we’re very well placed, says Fayet. “We’re in the countryside in no time, and Vienne is really a lively place, une ville qui bouge,” she says. “And then there’s the Jazz � Vienne. Do come and see us this June…”
We move gently south, past the steep terraced vineyards planted with the Viognier grape, which produces the white wine of Condrieu, on the eastern edge of the Parc Naturel R�gional du Pilat, and into the Ard�che.
Here at Annonay, Guillaume de Montgolfier is director of Agence Immobili�re Reynaud, founded in 1992. The agency covers the Annonay basin, a plateau of around 40km� with a population of circa 50,000, extending from Serri�res in the Rh�ne valley west to Bourg-Argental on the border with the department of the Loire, and south to the level of Tournon-sur-Rh�ne. The bassin annon�en employs 10,000 to 12,000 people in a variety of industries including a major supplier of bus manufacturer Irisbus and pharmaceuticals.
Again, de Montgolfier sells mainly to local purchasers. The market for second homes, never large, has disappeared. “We sold perhaps three or four a year to buyers from other regions of France,” says de Montgolfier, “but over the past 10 years or so our local economy has slowed down. There are fewer job transfers, less economic movement so essentially our market is 90% main residences.”
Following a drop of 10-15% for certain products – more for large bourgeois villas and second homes – the market has remained stable for the past couple of years for traditional properties with between 120-130m� of living space. However, the number of sales has decreased. We’ve lost around one deal a month, says de Montgolfier – 10% of the market.
The Annonay property market divides into three sectors: an upmarket residential area, another residential area popular with more working class and foreign residents and then there’s the rest of standard middle class. Buildings are old but usually renovated in the historical centre of Annonay; new building programmes tend to be on the outskirts of the town; then there are the lotissements pavillionnaires, private housing estates.
Apartments in new-builds come in at around €1,800/m� decreasing to circa €1,100/m� for standard apartments in older properties. For example, what de Montgolfier calls an appartement standard – 80m� with lift and garage – will cost around €95,000 to €110,000. Expect to pay around €1,450-1,800 per square metre for a pavillon on a private estate.
Sought-after villages within a five-kilometre radius of Annonay include Dav�zieux, Boulieu-l�s-Annonay, St-Clair and Felines to the north, and Quintenas and Ardoix to the south. The average price for a village house – 1,000m� of land, 120m� living space – will be around €200,000-€210,000.
The population of the Annonay basin hasn’t increased but over the last 10 years it has migrated, explains de Montgolfier. Annonay’s population has decreased from around 28,000 to 18,000 as more people move out to these outlying villages where the population has risen from around 1,200 to 1,800-2,000 today.
This reallocation of the same number of residents means that property prices have not been much affected by the economic crisis, which has, however, slowed up the number of transactions. “People who want to move are taking longer to make up their minds so instead of concluding transactions in six months, it’s taking two years.”
The area’s rich industrial past means there are some very fine properties indeed scattered throughout the region: impressive 18th and 19th-century country houses in grounds of four to five hectares. “We must have around 30 such properties priced between €550,000 and €850,000.” But there’s been a vrai coup de frein in this sector of the market.
And sales of fine townhouses have also slowed up. “I’ve got h�tels particuliers, town centre, 450m� with grounds of 1,200m�; lovely townhouses priced between €480,000 and €550,000. I’m marketing four of them and I can’t sell them at the moment.”
Unlike Vienne, there is plenty of building land available which, like the villages, is in high demand. The price is €45-55 per square metre. And you can still find some good deals, too, on the buy-to-renovate front. There are attractive farms and houses around Annonay with potential and appealing prices. On the other hand: “la jeune g�n�ration qui arrive n’est pas tr�s bricoleur.” Why pay €130,000-140,000 for a property requiring renovation when you can buy a plot of land for €50,000, build a house for €130,000 and thus have a brand new home for under €200,000?
Only properties with real character and potential – barns with outbuildings, for example – make financial sense, where after renovation you have a property you can sell and get a return on your investment. Otherwise “il faut les brader � €80,000 pour faire une affaire financi�re.” I like the word brader: sell off cheap, slash prices. It reminds me of the annual end of October grande braderie in St-Tropez.
Anyway, if you are a do-it-yourself fan (or happy to pay somebody else to do it) there’s no shortage of properties around Annonay. “For €180,000 to €300,000 you can pick up a farm for renovation, four hectares of land, a bit off-the-beaten track, we’ve got plenty of those,” says de Montgolfier.
let it be
Annonay centre-ville is 60% long-let accommodation. Rents are relatively high compared with purchase price so there is an investment market with rental returns of between 7.5 and 10%. De Montgolfier sells a lot of small apartment buildings. “We sold one last week, for €155,000, and there’s €15,500 of rental income: six apartments, three T1, two T2, one T3.”
On the other hand, for new programmes, and there aren’t that many, where the price per square metre increases to between €1,800 and €2,200, the rate of return decreases to 4.5%.
The Ard�che has great countryside for walking, mountain biking and horse-riding, plus there are two cross-country skiing resorts in the hills above the town at an altitude of circa 1,400m. As soon as you move east towards the Rh�ne valley, water sports come into their own. Annonay is only a couple of hours from Marseille and an hour and a half from the Alpine ski slopes. For work you can easily commute to Lyon (45 minutes) while Valence and St-Etienne are only half an hour away.
Our journey follows the Rh�ne as it wends and bends its way south into the Dr�me department and the vineyards of Tain-l’Hermitage. Here, the Syrah grape reigns supreme, producing the deep-coloured perfumed reds of Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage. If someone you really, really don’t like wants to go grape picking in France, send him/her here. Vines grow on terraces on steep, steep slopes inaccessible to machinery so picking is done by hand under scorching sun.
Bruno Allemand, based in Tain, has been selling property in a 20km radius for the past 35 years. His clients are 75% local purchasers, 20% from other French regions and a smattering of foreigners, most buying main homes.
What attracts them? It’s a dynamic region, he says, with good transport links, including the TGV, and one that operates at different levels. “Very close to me, I’ve got areas that are rather Proven�al, a little Nordic, undulating, flat, mountainous…” People work within a 50km radius of his sector. The two largest towns are Valence and Romans-sur-Is�re. Tain itself is not very big, but with Tournon opposite, separated by the Rh�ne and linked by two bridges, the two towns have a total population of 15,000.
Popular surrounding villages include Mercurol, Chanos-Curson and La Roche-de-Glun in the Dr�me, east of the Rh�ne, and, to the west in the Ard�che, St-Barth�l�my-le-Plain and St-Victor.
You’d pay around €80,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in Tain-l’Hermitage. Prices for older properties come in at €1,500-2,000/m� rising to €2,500-3,500/m� for new-builds. A village house with garage, terrace or small garden would cost around €130,000.
It is difficult to find building land, says Allemand. Interest from developers can push the price up to €150 per square metre. Rundown properties for renovation are running out, too. However, there is a lucrative investment market for long-term lets. “We’re not in an area for seasonal rentals. We’re not by the sea, we’re not in the mountains. It’s main residences.” And there are three new residential developments currently under construction in the centre of Tain with apartments priced between €2,500-€3,000/m�.
We finish our Rh�ne ramble with a glass of sparkling St-P�ray made from the Marsanne and Roussane grapes. Michel Courbis at the Agence Guy Hoquet here covers an area in the Ard�che from St-Georges-les-Bains south of Valence to Ch�teaubourg, and west to Alboussi�re. Again, the property market is primarily made up of local buyers of main residences although Courbis does see the occasional Belgian now and again.
Village houses around the €200,000 mark usually built 15 or 20 years ago sell well in Saint-P�ray, a village of 7,000 inhabitants. Some old houses have been converted into apartments; studios are rare but you can find un petit appart’, a T2 for example, for €80,000/90,000. Apartments in two recent new developments sold very quickly, reports Courbis. “If the price is right, it sells.” And the right price is circa €180,000 for 80m�.
You’ll find apartments in Guilherand-Granges, which is larger and closer to Valence. Move west to Alboussi�re for more traditional stone houses. “We’ve got a five-bedroom house with pool and 1,000m� of land on the market at €400,000 and we can’t sell it,” says Courbis.
There’s not much building land available and what there is tends to be bought up by developers who then re-sell individual plots of 300-400m�. But there is a viable investment market for renting to young couples working in Valence. As an example, Courbis quotes a monthly rent of €500 for a small 50m� T2 or T3.
And so we reach the end of our journey. I haven’t told you about the wines of Ch�teau-Grillet and C�te-R�tie, or St-Joseph and Cornas… I hope you’ll head to the northern Rh�ne to discover them for yourself. n