Overseas property - France and ItalyPosted on: 17 February 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring
Emerging second-home markets lost momentum, but France and Italy’s flagship regions are looking good. Laura Henderson reports.
Eastern Europe’s baby tiger economies made a serious killing in the past decade, and who can blame them? When the going was good, legions of fly-to-let devotees were piling in to make a fast buck from fledgling off-plan investments. Fast forward five years, however and for the time being at least the fizz has well and truly gone out of the market.
Compare that with steady-as-they-go old-school staples like France and Italy and you’ll find that while asking prices are down from their pre-recessionary highs, sales volumes continue to tick over and nowhere more so than in Provence and Tuscany, where first class infrastructure, healthy rental yields and solid capital growth prospects still offer that elusive attribute so cherished by Brits – sustainability.
Midi climes lured a healthy 18m to the French Riviera last year, while an increase in ‘no-frills’ rock hopper flights continue to fuel the Tuscan tourist train, with over 20 million visitors now hot footing it to the province every year. “Tuscany can be as quiet or hectic as you want to make it,” says Dennis Jones, “who bought a three-bed village house in Lucchio in the Lucca province last year, “but it’s perhaps best suited to those looking to immerse themselves in culture and integrate into the local community. Everything is based around the family here–those with children will find they are welcomed with open arms.”
Provence by contrast, epitomises rustic chic. “Cities such as Nice, Avignon and Aix became culturally autonomous early on,” says Stephen Hilton of La Residence, “and consequently have the social cohesion and established traditions that make provincial living so good.” “Community life goes on regardless of what time of year we visit,” adds Jo Perkins who has a three-bedroom farmhouse in the village of La Croix-Haute, “it’s a very social environment.”
Both regions score well on communications, weekend breaks are now common currency thanks to the proximity of motorway networks and major airports-location influencers, which also dictate rental patterns. A five month season is not uncommon in ‘Chiantishire’ hot spots like Siena, while the Cote d’Azur can stretch to six or more, attracting overseas and Parisian clientele for whom the Midi way of life is pure Elysium…..
Ever since Lord Brougham stumbled upon the deep blue waters and cassia plantations of Cannes in 1834, Brits have been flocking to France’s southern belle. The 1960’s firmly established the area as Europe’s ‘ultimate’ summer retreat, and house prices have been spiralling ever since, now comfortably competing with, and often outstripping London and Paris. “Provence is a micro-market,” says Hilton, “the added bonus being easy access with high speed Eurostar links from London and upwards of fifteen flights a day to the region. Well-located properties also command high rents from May through October.”
Running from Hyeres in the west to La Napoule in the east, the Cote d’Azur remains the region’s most desirable stretch, embracing a cluster of quaint fishing villages turned pleasure ports such as Le Lavandou and St-Raphael. Demand has fuelled growth in sales of apartments in stately Belle Epoque mansion blocks and new-build managed resorts, with locations ranging from the more traditional Corniche d’Esterel to the showy chic of St Tropez.
“Property values are sustained due to limited building land available,” confirms James Crain of Maison de Reve, “plus government predictions of a 5 million population increase by 2014, have led to an overhaul of key infrastructure which looks set to run for the next four years.”
Buyers looking to escape the Riviera glare will no doubt favour the gites, farmhouses and old villas of the arriere-pays. The aromatic garrigue-covered hills provide welcome respite from the coastal buzz and typically cost a third less, with detached period properties starting from £200,000.
Landlocked Vaucluse encompassing the Parc Naturel Regional du Luberon has a wealth of picturesque villages scattered across its rugged countryside, while the principal towns of Orange and the departmental capital Avignon offer a cultural fix with their lively café scenes. “Avignon has growth potential,” says local agent Ludovic Logerot, “there’s a high speed train direct from Waterloo plus plans are underway to upgrade the airport to absorb extra overseas traffic.”
Property dynamics are also shifting in the Alpes Maritimes department, with resorts to the west of Nice such as Tourrettes-sur-Loup, Cagnes-sur-Mer and St Laurent-du-Var rivalling the stellar price hotspots of Villefranche-sur-Mer and St-Jean Cap Ferrat. “St Laurent has all the attractions of a marina resort,” says Hilton, “plus it’s just minutes from Nice airport.” Hillside villages behind Cannes such as Mougins, Villenueve-Loubet and Biot boast access to several international schools and estates are increasingly popular with those looking to relocate; two-bedroom apartments with communal pool and tennis courts sell for £200,000.
Prices dip between Toulon and Marseille in the Bouches-du-Rhone, the hills overlooking Toulon town boasts a cluster of eye-catching villas from £250,000. Marseilles, an edgy city with lashings of history, has the region’s highest and fastest real estate capital growth and “it looks set to stay like that,” explains property consultant Sarah Kahn, “because of new business and the expansion of air and TGV train access with fast links from Paris in three hours. The coastal cornice and harbour is improving, plus it has all the cultural benefits of a big city.”
New developments like Pavillon Massalia located in La Belle de Mai in the heart of the city are a hit with off-plan investors. The complex offers one to three bedroomed luxury apartments with 80% finance available and prices starting from around £135,000. The region’s capital city Aix-en-Provence, has witnessed major change in the past decade, but still personifies urban chic. “Anything up to a twenty minute drive from the centre is popular,” says David Molho from BNP Paribas Immobilier. “Property has doubled in value in the last three years in districts such as Le Tholonet.”
Once an elite hideaway for wealthy eccentrics, Tuscany’s wholesome reputation, classic culture and high fashion have drawn wave upon annual wave of suburban escapees from northern Europe. Pre-recession was buoyant with a 15 per cent increase in property prices in the more popular areas of Siena, Arezzo and Florence, but the market has since flat-lined despite growth in lesser-known districts to the north.
“Prices remain quite high within a thirty mile radius of Florence, Pisa and Siena,” explains Karen Roos of Casa Tuscany, “but places like Val d’Orcia near Montepulciano are starting to pick up, northern Tuscany have seen investment values rise in the past two years. Authorities are also keen to maintain the integrity of the region, so their approach is to find properties suitable for restoration and renovate them according to buyers’ tastes.”
One of a cluster of affordable areas, prices north of Arezzo in the Casetino Valley are half those of ‘Chiantishire’. With more forest than vineyard, the area has numerous authentic towns such as Chiusi della Verna and Poppi, and the north of the province is zoned national parkland. Farmhouses requiring renovation start from around £170,000, with renovated properties from £250,000. The lively well-preserved hillside city of Arezzo has two-bedroom apartments on the outskirts fetching £205,000.
Close to the Liguria border, Lunigiana the ‘land of 100 castles’ is now a classified green-zone. It’s an hour’s drive from both Pisa and Genova, clusters of small villages straddle the valleys which link the mountains and the coast. “Property choice here is wide,” confirms Anna Curtis of Unicasa. “The area also has a flourishing rental market which is consistent with demand for character properties within striking distance of the coast and cultural places like Lucca, birthplace of Puccini.”
North of Lucca, the Garfagnana in the lush Serchio Valley has two-bedroom village homes selling for as little as £120,000. Pretty stone villages perched on hilltops especially around Bagni di Lucca and Barga have a good stock of renovation bargains, sporting rugged views of the Apuan Alps, but the area is by no means remote, just one hour’s drive from Pisa and forty minutes to the coast.
THE BUYING PROCESS
Buyers sign a compromis de vente after which they are legally committed and a 10 per cent deposit is payable.
The acte de vente is signed in front of the notary. All balance of payments, legal fees and taxes are paid by the signing date.
Buyers can sign an initial purchase proposal and pay a small deposit.
Buyers sign a compromesso after which they are legally committed and a deposit of up to 20 per cent is payable.
The rogito is signed in front of a notary who issues a copy of the deed and registers the original document with the land registry.
About the Author
Laura Henderson is a national property journalist and Features Editor of The Good Property Guide. A regular contributor to the Financial Times, Sunday Express and Scotsman newspapers, she is also the author of numerous on-line property guides for among other Channel 4 Homes. Her latest book Tricks and Mortar: The Little Book of Property Wisdom is out now.
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