Protests against second homes in the Basque country’s coastal towns reignited when property speculators tried to ‘flip’ a villa for a €500,000 profit after only a few months.
No renovation work had been done.
France’s Basque coastline, from Anglet to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, is a series of communes joined in a conurbation of different town and village centres and suburbs linked with each other.
All year, locals have held protests against the price of housing, driven by the market for second homes, which they say means communes are being emptied of residents and have life in them only during the summer holiday season.
The house that sparked new protests is a medium-sized, detached bungalow in the village of Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle in the hills above Saint-Jeande-Luz, with a view over the Pyrenees mountains.
It sold for €730,000 at the start of the year, and five months later was put back on the market for €1.3million, without any renovation being carried out. In the face of the outcry, it was withdrawn from the estate agent’s listing.
The mayor of nearby Guéthary, Marie-Pierre Burre-Cassou, told The Connexion her town faced similar challenges.
‘50% of our houses used as second homes’
“In Guéthary, we now have 50% of our houses used as second homes, and prices are far out of the reach of most people who want to live and work here year-round,” she said. “We have a very attractive village, both in its natural setting and because people have worked for years to make it a nice place to live, but it risks being turned into a cross between a holiday village used two months of the year and an old-age home because all the young working people cannot afford to live here.”
Guéthary has always had a number of second homes but in the last 10 years the proportion has increased significantly – along with prices.
“It is good news for property owners but not for their children and grandchildren,” said Ms Burre-Cassou.
“With the price of property so high, when it comes to questions of inheritance, the pressure to sell and divide the proceeds among family members is very strong, even if the children do not want to move away from where they grew up.”
Effects of the price and second-home boom extend beyond questions of village life, she added, with industries installed along the Basque coast having difficulties finding workers because of the cost of housing.
Adding to the pressure has been the practice of some landlords who have stopped long-term renting in favour of Airbnb-style short-term rentals.
“At the moment, they actually have the tax system working in their favour – not only do they get higher rents, but they pay less proportionally in taxes with seasonal rentals than with long-term rentals.”
Guéthary and other communes are working with lawmakers to find a way to discourage more houses being turned into second homes.
“It is a difficult question, but someone must find a solution,” Ms Burre-Cassou said. “It will probably be through taxation, maybe through a special second-home clause in capital gains tax, or an extra notaire fee when a house is bought as a second home.
“I am sure that once the number of second homes stabilises or falls, property prices will fall too.” She also pointed out that, although the problem was particularly acute along the Basque coast, it was also spreading to other areas all along the Atlantic coast and to some areas near Paris and other large cities.
Attempts by the commune to encourage low-rent houses and flats to be built have failed, because of the high cost of obtaining suitable sites.