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Pools, prices, islands: Five updates for property owners in France

We also look at a costly planning permission error and how a shortage of houses is pushing up prices

244,000 new private pools were built in France in 2021, Breton island the Ile-aux-Moines is becoming a luxury market, while France is facing a housing shortage Pic: Hadrian, inxti, khunkorn, Remi Deleplanque / Shutterstock

1. Locals being priced out of Brittany’s islands

House prices on Brittany’s 11 inhabitable islands have increased so much due to wealthy buyers taking holiday homes there that the locals are unable to find affordable property.

The Ile-aux-Moines in Morbihan, for example, has a median property price of €470,000, making it the fourth most expensive town in Brittany between June 2020 - 2021.

Another five island communes also featured on an earlier list of the 50 most expensive towns in Brittany, data published in September 2017 shows

The Covid pandemic has not helped, with working from home becoming more widespread, and people living in big cities, especially Paris, looking to buy rural property to escape the series of lockdowns. 

“There was an incredible surge in property prices between the two lockdowns [in 2020],” said Josiane Maussion, a real estate agent who has been working with properties on the Île de Groix since 2012.  

“There is no real fixed price per square metre, but we are heading towards the €4,000 mark. It's crazy.”

Read more: ‘Paradise island' for sale for €1.5m in Côtes-d'Armor, Brittany

Catherine Jeglot, representative of the real estate agency Bénéat-Chauvel on the Île-aux-Moines, said the island has become a market for the rich. 

“Before, you could buy on the island without being rich. Today, it is not at all the same level of investment. To buy a house with three or four bedrooms without a view of the sea and only a little bit of land, you need a budget of between €600,000 and €700,000,” she said. 

She said that she was dealing “exclusively” with buyers looking for a second home, particularly those from Paris.

Roselyne Bothorel, head of the local real estate agency Demeures du Littoral, said the price hike has led to residents leaving the island. 

“They can’t even buy properties along the mainland coast as there is the same problem,” she said. 

“Property prices are going up and provincial salaries are not the same as salaries in Paris.”

Read more: Second-home protests in Brittany: 'But we buy homes French don't want'

Read more: Protests against second homes in Brittany as housing debate continues

2. Boom in private swimming pools in 2021

More than 244,000 private swimming pools were built in France last year as the sector continues to grow year-on-year

Of these new pools, 86,000 were in-ground and 158,000 were above ground, the Fédération des professionnels de la piscine (FPP) reports. 

It marks an increase on the number built in 2020, which was around 197,000. 

Overall, France is the leading builder of private swimming pools in Europe. There are a total of 3.2 million in the country, with 1.55 million in-ground pools and 1.64 million above-ground pools. 

In 2021, turnover in the private swimming pool sector increased by 32%. It is the sixth consecutive year of growth, with the 2021 figures reaching a record level, Jacques Braun, director of the FPP, stated. 

The share of blue-collar workers, farmers and employees with an in-ground pool is estimated to have increased by 10% in four years, from 14.1% of pool owners in 2017 to 24.7% in 2021. 

This is based on a study of 18,000 households carried out by FPP in February and March this year. 

The FPP estimates that 80,000 new pools will be completed in 2022 and up to 150,000 more will be built by 2024.

Read more: How French tax authorities are tracking undeclared swimming pools

3. Couple reimbursed €144,000 over planning permission mistake

A couple who bought land in Brittany in 2007 with the understanding they would be allowed to build on it have been reimbursed €144,019 by town authorities after it turned out a coastline law forbade construction there. 

The decision was handed down by the administrative court in Nantes on March 22, ordering the town of Guissény (Finistère) to compensate the couple. 

Town authorities had initially granted the couple a certificat d’urbanisme opérationnel, stipulating they could build on the land they were planning to purchase. 

They then obtained several more approvals to build on the land before, in 2017, their planning permission request was rejected due to the loi Littoral, which prohibits building along certain areas of coastline. 

The amount of compensation demanded by the court relates to the difference in price for how much the land the couple bought would cost if construction was allowed on it compared to the price of land where construction is not allowed. 

Other costs were also included, such as land acquisition costs, excess property tax, the costs of the study to build on the plot of land and finally €1,000 for “moral damages”. 

Pierre Jean-Meire, a public rights lawyer based in Nantes, wrote about the case in his blog, saying: "In the end, and as can be seen, administrative courts frequently condemn local authorities that misapply the loi Littoral.”

4. Housing shortage pushing prices up

In the space of two years the number of properties (houses and flats) being put up for sale in France has decreased by 22%, a study by property announcement group Se Loger shows. 

This decrease has been accelerated by the effects of the Covid pandemic. 

“Between February 2019 and February 2020, the decline was limited to 2.9%,” Se Loger states.

“But with an annual drop of 11.2% between December 2019 and December 2021, it is an understatement to say that the scarcity of properties for sale has accelerated in France.”

The shortage is particularly affecting houses, which are more in-demand since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The number of houses put up for sale has dropped an average of 13.8% each year between 2019 - 2021, compared to 4% per year for flats. 

It is causing property prices to rise. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, prices for houses have increased by 12.7% (6.4% in the past year), while apartment prices have increased by 7.2% (3.2% in the past year). 

House prices have increased almost everywhere in France in the past year. 

Notable rises in 2021 occurred in cities such as:

Tours (17,5%), Angers (17,4%), Brest (14%), Aix-en-Provence (12%), and Orléans (11%). 

You can also read our article on property prices around France based on the most recent notaires’ data for non-new build houses, dating from the third quarter of 2021. 

Read more: House prices soar in France: ‘Covid effect’ leads to property shortage

Read more: Property buyers in France lose six square metres in five years

5. Narrow public roads can be widened on request (in some cases)

It is possible for residents to demand that the road in front of their property be widened if its narrowness is causing access issues and an enlargement is deemed necessary based on how the property is being used, a recent court case shows. 

It comes after the owner of a property intended for commercial use, situated at the edge of a cul-de-sac, complained that the road around the building was too narrow, putting off potential buyers of the property. 

He asked for the road to be widened, which would encroach onto the other properties in the cul-de-sac. 

The other residents disputed this, saying that as the building in question was located at the edge of the cul-de-sac – meaning closer to a wider road – there was no need for the enlargement. 

They added that the problem was an issue for town planning, and they should not be made to face consequences for it and have to lose garden space.

But France’s top appeal court, the Cour de cassation, which has jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters, ruled in favour of the complainant and ordered the road in the cul-de-sac to be widened. 

The decision, handed down on March 23, was based on the right to access law (droit au désenclavement). 

The court ruled that as the owner intended to use the building for commercial reasons and the access to the property was limited, the road should be widened. 

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