Rural French property prices to rise post-lockdown?

Ever keen to spot a bargain, buyers were keeping a close eye on the property market during confinement. Many are expecting a post-lockdown dip in prices and are prepared to wait to get a better deal.

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A survey by an online estate agency found many people expect prices to fall once day-to-day life starts to pick up. The survey, of 1,219 people aged between 24 and 65 who had previously said they were looking at either buying or selling, found that 43% felt prices were set to fall.

Mickaël Carton, of Consortium Immobilier which organised the survey, said: “It is not surprising because of all the predictions we are hearing of an economic crisis after the health crisis. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen. For me, as a professional, the most encouraging part of the survey was the fact only 13% would abandon their plans.”

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In the poll, 14% thought prices would rise while 17% saw no change and the rest did not know what would happen. Although 45% said the lockdown had stopped them looking for property or selling, 43% were still looking, using online agencies and private sale sites.

Forty per cent hoped that when restrictions were lifted, their transactions, including buying, selling and renting, would be completed in the next three to six months. Consortium is an online platform for estate agents to advertise properties. Mr Carton said activity fell by almost half in the first week of the lockdown, although it had since risen by 5%-10% each day. “Not surprisingly, the most popular views were for houses on the outskirts of large cities. There have been lots of anecdotal stories of people confined in city flats wanting to make the move to a place with a garden, and it appears some have started looking.”

First impressions still count when selling your rural house

Rural property prices were rising before the shutdown and – even though it was only 2% – some saw it as the end of the depression when prices fell 20%-25% from 2006-8. By contrast, city prices rocketed, boosted by low interest rates, a French love of centralisation, and people buying to make money out of Airbnb and other platforms which are only now being regulated. It is now common to see ordinary flats in Haussmann blocks in Paris priced at €1million.

Back in the rural market, there have been big changes since 2006, including the spread of solar panels, garden watering systems and the adoption of smartphones. But will investing in new technology make a quick sale more likely and, if not, what makes the difference? Trevor Leggett, who founded Leggett estate agency in 1994, said: “What people need to spend time on, for a quick sale, is to improve the outside of the property. It is what makes the first impression and I have seen many times it is the first impression which is important when selling. Have the inside painted white, so buyers can project their own version of the interior but when they go outside, half an hour later is when they start to look for possible negatives, and having it looking shabby is a big negative.”

“People are often reluctant to spend €3,000 to €4,000 to get their property looking nice, because by the time they have decided to sell, they have emotionally detached themselves from the house. But by spending some money, they can save losing €30,000 or €40,000 and also sell quickly.”

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Fundamentals such as a good view or nice situation are important, but Mr Leggett said keeping the garden looking good and paintwork bright makes a big impact. “It does not cost a lot to get new gravel for the driveway and paths, yet it makes a big difference.”

In 2006, having ADSL was important but not now, Mr Leggett said. “With 4G, you get faster download speeds in many places than with ADSL, and you see buyers pull out their phones to see what networks they can capture.”

Similarly, solar panels are no longer a strong selling point. “People know that, if they are interested, they can put them in themselves, with prices having fallen in the last couple of years. Panels can even be a hindrance if they are on the front of a house and spoil its looks.”

By contrast, the growth of watering systems, including grey water for the garden, boreholes, or having pumps in old wells, is a strong plus. “The price of clean water has gone up a lot, and will only continue to rise. To be able to use your own water for garden, pool, or to water animals is important and buyers know that. Drought restrictions had a big impact and if they see there is an independent system in place, it is a big plus.”

Before lockdown, his agencies were having “the busiest time ever” and he said: “It has been very hard for many to see the value of their homes stagnating but the positive is there are some real bargains if people want to move.”

Keys to a quick sale

  • Spend a little money on decorating – to make the interior simpler and to make the exterior more appealing
  • Never mind solar panels, having an independent water supply – even waste water from house – gives peace of mind
  • Go online to calculate property values

    People need accurate property valuations for many reasons – and not only for high value homes and wealth tax liabilities – so the government has set up online tools to make the job easier. Some owners, especially those preparing to sell a property, simply ask an estate agent but even then it helps to have a fair idea of what your home is worth.

    Accurate values are needed by those with property portfolios of more than €1.3million (30% reduction on main homes) as they are required for the annual IFI wealth tax declaration. However they can also be needed for other reasons such as inheritance, gifts, tax controls, expropriation procedures or for working out housing aid.

    The government sites show what properties in any area have sold for in recent years, with the idea that a comparison will let you accurately estimate each property’s market value. There are two main free online property price tools which can be used for legal and tax documents. The simplest and easiest to use is Patrim but it requires you to give your tax number to sign in to the online tax system, and to give a reason for looking for valuations.

    Patrim is available from the tax website site. Under the Données Publiques tab, users should then see a heading Rechercher des transactions immobilières. Clicking on this opens a page to agree to the conditions of use and give your reason for checking.

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    Once done, there is a map with a form to give the address/locality of your search and then you get a list of all property transactions in the timeframe and area you chose. In a city, you may be asked to refine your search if there are too many results. The results come complete with a map, showing you where the properties are situated, the date of the sale, the estimated year of building, number of rooms, size of the grounds, declared usable surface price, and price/m2, along with the option of downloading more details. An anonymous search is available on the website. Write Demandes de Valeurs Foncières in the search box to reach a page with details of properties and prices sent by notaires and the cadastral map of each commune.

    It includes all France (and overseas territories), except for Alsace-Moselle, with its different legal system, and Mayotte. Formatted as a text file and downloadable by year, it is an extremely large file and takes a long time to download.

    It is not user-friendly, giving a screen of numbers and letters. With patience, the exact address of sold properties, amounts paid and details such as building size, rooms, and garden size can be discovered. Prices listed are only for the property part of transactions and do not include furniture, vehicles or other equipment which might be included in the overall sale price. Files for the last five years are available. There is access to current-year data, updated weekly, but this is not necessarily complete so for legal or tax purposes the last full year’s data should be used.

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