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

Connexion reader Siobhán McCarthy argues that their owners contribute to the local economy and renovate homes that would otherwise go unsold

There have been protests against second-home ownership in Brittany in recent weeks. Pic: Pascale Gueret / Shutterstock

A Connexion reader has argued that second-home owners bring more value to French villages and towns than one might first suspect, following protests in Brittany over the supposed destabilisation of the local housing market by external buyers. 

On November 20, marches took place in Guingamp, Saint-Malo, Morlaix, Roscoff, Huelgoat, Locmiquélic and Belle-Ile-en-Mer, with protesters calling for purchasing restrictions on second-home buyers and short-term rentals.

They claim the demand is making it harder for Breton people to buy a house or flat.

The protests were organised by groups including the Union Démocratique Bretonne (UDB), which has previously called for property to be sold only to people who have already lived in the area for at least a year, especially as the pandemic has pushed city residents to seek new homes in the countryside or on the coast. 

The UDB also endorses a rise in the taxe d’habitation residence tax which is still imposed in full on second homes, with its leader Nil Caouissin saying that 13% of Brittany properties are second homes, a figure which rises to 20% and even 80% in some areas.

He claims that this demand pushes prices up, making it more difficult for local people to afford property.

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

‘Younger French buyers don’t want the hassle of buying older houses’

However, Connexion reader Siobhán McCarthy has argued that it is not second-homes which are affecting the buying power of local residents. 

Ms McCarthy said: “We have a second home in Brittany and spend as much time as we can there and hope to live there for six months of the year when we retire. 

Ms McCarthy’s house is situated near the historic commune of Josselin in Morbihan, which is known for its medieval castle and doll museum. 

“We chose Brittany as we always went on holiday there, and near Josselin because my husband particularly liked the area. 

Ms McCarthy, who is from Cork in Ireland and teaches at a further education college, bought her second-home in 2015 with her husband. 

‘We bought our second-home in 2015. It had been on the market for three or four years and to the best of our knowledge, no French people had looked at it,’ Siobhán McCarthy said Pic: Siobhán McCarthy / Photo supplied by interviewee

“It had been on the market for three or four years and to the best of our knowledge, no French people had looked at it,” she said. 

“We looked at nine houses and bought the last one we saw! It is a village house with a side garden which is more than 200 years old and was previously run as a chambre d’hôtes by an English couple. 

“It didn’t need a lot of work; just plumbing, electrical work, painting and minor building works.”

“[However], I think that younger French buyers don’t want the hassle of buying older houses. There are several vacant ones in our village that could be renovated but no one locally seems to want them.”

A study carried out in October by OpinionWay for Selexium found that, out of 1,004 French participants, 55% would prefer to buy a newbuild, a figure which rises to 61% among over-65s. 

Advice website Dé suggests that the preference for freshly built properties is in part down to the fact that new houses and flats come with lower notaire costs at the time of buying, as well as a two-year taxe foncière exemption. 

New properties also combine several of the qualities that buyers prioritise in today’s market: natural light, energy efficiency, sound-proofing and good-sized rooms. 

Property magazine ImmoNeuf adds that French buyers are attracted by not “having work to carry out before moving in.”

In response to the UDB’s idea of requiring a year’s residency for the purchase of a Brittany property, Ms McCarthy said: “I doubt people can be stopped buying houses unless they have lived in Brittany a year as this would be unlawful nationally and from the point of view of the EU.”

Brittany region president Loïg Chesnais-Girard has also rejected the idea, saying that "Beyond the feasibility [of a second-home law], which is largely doubtful in the current state of national and European law, this statute would be dangerous, ineffective and contrary to Brittany, its interests and its values.”

Ms McCarthy continued: “I can understand the frustration of locals in coastal areas where demand is high not being able to afford properties but throughout Brittany there are many vacant homes. 

“Those same problems of high prices in holiday spots exist in most countries. Many UK and Irish buyers like ourselves buy, do up and save old houses from becoming derelict. 

“A lot of second home owners eventually stay in France longer term on their retirement. Even in the shorter term, it brings money into the area and contributes to the coffers of the local commune.”

‘Covid effect’ causes increases in Brittany house prices

The average price of property in Brittany has risen by 29% over the past five years according to a report from nationwide estate agent Meilleurs Agents and l’Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques. 

House prices have risen across France over the past year to a record €5,195 per m² in towns with more than 45,000 people.

This has been put down to a ‘Covid effect’, which has resulted in a  “structural lack of supply” causing the cost of raw materials to soar. 

The highest average rise was in Rennes, Brittany, where the prices have risen by 9.7% in one year, reaching €5,055 per m² . 

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