Water, water everywhere

And you don’t have to pay a premium for the pleasure of having it on your doorstep, writes Vicky Leigh

As I write this it is, once again, pouring down with rain outside. I don’t think huge puddles and overflowing gutters are quite what we had in mind when we came up with the idea for an article on waterside properties, but I suppose it’s quite apt, in an ironic sort of way. Anyway, the idea of owning an actual waterside home across the Channel (where according to a quick internet weather search the sun is currently shining brightly in a blue sky) seems particularly appealing at this point. And while the promise of sunshine is already enough to lift my spirits, the discovery that finding such a property isn’t going to cost the earth is even better news.

SPOILT FOR CHOICE

While properties that are within striking distance of water, be that in the form of a lake, a canal, a river or the sea, are likely to come at a premium they are not necessarily prohibitively expensive. A quick search on www.francepropertyshop.com, for example, reveals a long list of affordable properties that tick the location box in terms of being within easy reach of the water’s edge. A two-bedroom apartment only a stone’s throw from the beach in Finist�re, Brittany, is priced at just €75,000 and has already been renovated, so you won’t need to budget for improvement works either. Located on the first floor of an attractive 1930s building, it also benefits from a private courtyard and is a convenient 25 minutes from the nearest airport.

Just two minutes from a swimming lake with a beach in Haute-Vienne, Limousin, there’s a four-bedroom maison de ma�tre on the market for a very reasonable €192,000. The large attic space is suitable for conversion, providing potential to increase the amount of living space even further, and the property also comes with a large garden and an adjoining barn. Holding the title of France’s cheapest region with an average resale house price of just €112,800, Limousin is already known for offering value for money, and this seems to continue to be the case when it comes to waterside properties.

For those who prefer the sunnier climes of the south, the Languedoc-Roussillon region, where the sun shines just as brightly as it does in neighbouring Provence-Alpes-C�te d’Azur, is already a popular choice as it comes without the Riviera price tags. And once again you can find value for money if you’re looking for a waterside home. In Aude, for example, a charming two-bedroom house in a village on the banks of the Canal du Midi comes in considerably below the departmental average resale house price of €140,000 at €91,800, and almost €100,000 less than the regional re-sale average of €186,000.

VALUE FOR MONEY

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For those waterside properties that do come at a premium, commanding a significantly higher price than is the norm for the area in which they are situated, it is perhaps worth keeping in mind that this remains a relative concept. These properties can still offer value for money when you consider just what you’re getting for your euros. Although on the market for €499,260 and thus well above the re-sale average of €145,000 in Poitou-Charentes, this completely renovated townhouse in Jarnac (pictured below right) is rather extraordinary. It enjoys a postcard-perfect setting on the banks of the Charente river and also has its own mooring. A large garden, terrace and ample parking space complete the picture outside, while inside there are five bedrooms and plenty of period features.

“Riverside properties in a town, such as in Jarnac, are quite rare, seldom come onto the market and do command a significant premium, particularly if the house itself is not in a flood zone,” says Charles Miller of Charente Immobilier (www.charente-immobilier.com). “For Jarnac, €500,000 is quite expensive (you get a lot for your money in Charente!) and if this property was not on the river, the price would be a lot lower. In general, riverside properties are more expensive than others, and even more expensive in town, particularly if there is a mooring.”

In Tarn-et-Garonne, Midi-Pyr�n�es, this lakeside property (pictured above) is for sale with Agence l’Union (www.agencelunion.com) for €750,000, so again you’ll be paying considerably more than the regional average of €175,000. Yet this property, which dates back to 1767 and is set in over 10 acres of land, is anything but run of the mill. Built by the Comte de Monteils and given to his daughter as a wedding present, it was abandoned and taken over during the French Revolution. Hidden away in a picturesque valley, it has been extensively renovated to a very high standard.

“This is a natural lake and it hasn’t previously flooded,” remarks Charles Smallwood of Agence l’Union. “It is a rarity to have the lake and a house that has been so well restored. The owners have been careful to preserve the original features, and the property is extremely comfortable,” he continues. “It is unique in every aspect. It is difficult to achieve a combination of luxury, comfort and real character but this house definitely does. If this property was located further south it would cost three times the price, so will offer real value for money for those looking for property in this price bracket.”

THE LAW OF THE LAKE

If you’re planning to buy a property with a lake then there are of course certain practicalities worth considering before you sign on the dotted line. The rules in France relating to areas of water, including fishing lakes, can be complex, and it is important when buying any lake to ensure that you understand what the latest rules and regulations are, and whether the lake conforms to these.

“The lake owner will know and understand his lake better than anyone, and there is also the option of talking to the local mairie,” says Andy Simpson of Fenn Wright, an agency specialising in the sale of waterside properties (www.frenchwatersideproperties4sale.com). “If you were to buy a lake, a search would be carried out by the notaire to establish whether or not there were any further requirements. Often any updates required are minor but some can be more onerous, hence the need for a totally unambiguous understanding.”

Maintenance of the lake is another important factor to take into consideration, as it will require constant management. “Think of a lake as a living thriving eco-system that needs constant support, and something that responds to good environmental management techniques which have the benefits of aiding fish quality and growth,” advises Andy.

FLOOD RISK

Having water on your doorstep may well float your boat when it comes to your property wish-list, but you’ll probably want to know that it won’t become an unwelcome guest in your new home. The risk of flooding when buying a waterside property is likely to be an area of concern, but according to Charles Miller this is less of an issue in France: “Riverside properties that are in a flood zone suffer the same problems as in the UK – people are more reluctant to buy them – but here in France few properties are actually built in flood zones, as we have the space to build elsewhere and to let the rivers flood naturally!”

Andy Simpson advises: “Buyers should start at the government website http://cartorisque.prim.net/ but should also ask at the local mairie. In essence, there are two zones, which are red and blue. If a house is in the red zone then this is a big warning sign, and the mairie will know whether it is the house that floods or just the land. If it is in the blue zone this is more of a general warning, and although it is still worth asking at the mairie there is less of a risk for the purchaser. Buyers also need to ensure that their house insurance policies cover flooding from rivers rather than just something like a burst pipe. Don’t go for the cheapest policy, make sure it fully covers you.”