View from the Foothills of France

Some personal views on living, working,
bringing up family and making the dream happen in the most beautiful region of France. View from the Foothills of France also includes some personal and professional thoughts and tips on finding and buying the perfect property in the Ariège and Haute Garonne regions.

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Quality of life and cost of living in France

I have written about this before but we currently have lots of demonstrations happening all over France in protest against the rise in fuel taxes and the cost of living which has made me consider whether life really has got more expensive in the last 15 years that we have been here. The French definitely work to live, not the other way around and they are worried that this balance is tipping in the wrong direction right now. One demonstrator interviewed on the French news complained that he fears he won’t be able to afford his usual skiing trip this winter; I’m not sure that would elicit much sympathy in many other countries in the world!

According to a survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the French spend more time eating, sleeping and shopping than any other country. Apparently, the French sleep an average of 8.5 hours. It makes France the longest sleepers out of all 34 of the OECD’s members. Does this mean that the French have less to fit into their days or are they just more relaxed about what does and doesn’t get done? Do they have less to worry about – or maybe they expect the state to do their worrying for them – and thus sleep easy at night!

The French also spend the most time eating and drinking at more than two hours per day on average which is nearly twice as long as the Americans and Canadians. Looking at obesity rates though, clearly time spent consuming doesn’t necessarily mean more consumed. Of course, it is this emphasis on long, lazy lunches that brought many of us here in the first place but it is very noticeable that the French do not eat or drink excessively – a meal is probably less dense than in the UK but each element makes up a separate course to be lingered over, enjoyed and never rushed. Nor do the French tend to snack in my experience. So, more food and wine isn’t crossing the lips of the French – it just feels as if it is.

It turns out that the French are big shoppers too – or perhaps just slow shoppers.  According to the report, the French spend 32 minutes each day shopping. However, I would guess that we are primarily talking about shopping for food here. Most of the French people I know shop for fresh ingredients every day and have no problem taking their time about it – this all part of that pleasure of appreciating their food.

Unsurprisingly therefore, the report also shows that French people have the second-highest life expectancy in the OECD, presumably thanks to the high amount of time spent enjoying themselves. Add that to the 28% of GDP that the French state spends on healthcare and social welfare, the highest spending of any OECD country and it all starts to make perfect sense.

It seems to me that, although the French might feel that they are hard done by, the rest of us can only look on enviously at their work/life balance – or make that move to France and hope that some of the magic dust rubs off; that’s if we can get through the demonstrations of course.

Buying a house privately in France

Buying a house privately and avoiding steep estate agent’s fees of 5-10% might seem like a good idea and and an appealing route to take but, if you are house hunting in France, it pays to understand the French property market first and to know the region. In France, 30% of people buy property privately (know as entre particuliers). The figure is even higher when you take just French buyers and sellers into account. There are, however, various pitfalls to be aware of if you are thinking of taking this route.

One of the problems with private sales can be that often the owner has decided to sell privately because they think their house is worth more than the local agents have estimated. They might be right but it is unlikely; most sellers will ask at least three agents to value their property before putting it on the market and these agents will usually know their area and the market very well and have a very good idea of the value of the house. Of course they might not take into account the very expensive finishes and special details of which the seller is hugely proud but it is a competitive market and they will have an idea of how much anyone will pay for a certain type of property in a particular area. Hence, with a private sale, you can in fact end up paying more than a house is actually worth.

In addition, the seller may well advertise the house privately at a higher price than it is being marketed with an agent; something that happens surprisingly frequently and often catches out foreign buyers. Even more importantly, however, there are sometimes other reasons why an owner doesn’t want to sell through an agent. Usually this is because there are either problems with the property or the location, something that an agent will be obliged to point out to the buyer but will not necessarily be discovered by a private buyer or picked up by the Notaire.

Don’t let this put you off private sales, most are fine but it is important to know the area and the prices or at least have a professional by your side who can advise you. If you need help with your property search, please get in touch:

Is now a good time to buy a house in France?

This is a question I am being asked more than usual right now thanks to various factors that include Brexit, Trump, Macron, unaffordable house prices in many countries, economic austerity, climate change and people generally living longer and wanting a better life-work balance.

The short answer to the question is, of course; ‘yes, it is always a good time to buy in France’. The longer answer is more complicated but fundamentally comes down to the reasons behind why you are thinking of buying a house here.

I can only answer for this region of France and I am biased of course but I would say that if you are looking for a better quality of life, for more house and land for your money, for beautiful countryside, stunning mountain views, lots of opportunities for walking, cycling, skiing and fabulous local produce, then the answer is yes. If you are looking for a property that is going to make you money over a short time as purely an economic investment, then the answer is probably no.

Having said that, as a safe place to secure your money, I can’t think of many better options right now. The country’s cautious banks have helped France’s economy to stay stable amid wider uncertainty and France remains a ‘safe-haven’ for property buyers with exceptionally low mortgage rates. In addition, French stone property still looks like very good value – prices have stayed relatively steady, the government and the economy of France are also more stable than most and, in the very worst case scenario, if everything else collapses around you, you still have a very nice, comfortable, well-built and usually rather lovely house to live in and escape the troubles of the world.

In this region, the continuing expansion of Toulouse international airport along with a huge increase in available routes all over the world, is certainly bringing new buyers into the area and keeping the economy strong. This is also a region with strong employment and a younger population with good universities and high tech industries such as Airbus attracting incomers from all over the world. Hence, while property is still very good value, foreign buyers thinking that they will be able to pick up property for almost nothing are likely to be disappointed and, if it looks too good to be true on a website, more often than not, it will be. Property prices are increasing gradually and I can’t see any reason for this not to continue right now so while there is no great rush, don’t take it for granted that property prices will remain low in France forever.

Who knows what is going to happen in the world in the coming decades but, when it comes to deciding where to buy a house, I have every confidence that, for anyone who wants a beautiful French home in a stunning location combined with a fantastic quality of life, great community, easy access and a lovely climate, this is one of the better places in the world to spend money on property and now is as good a time as any.

If you have a question about buying property in this region of France, please get in touch:

Are you a globalist or a nationalist?

If you are reading this, I would guess that you are the probably the former, maybe dreaming of living abroad at some point or at least having a bolthole somewhere other than the country in which you were born. There are plenty of us; in France alone there are approximately 7.8 million people who live here but were born elsewhere; that is 12% of the population. The UK has 8.5 million people living in the country who were born abroad (13% of the population), Spain 5.9 million (13% of the population) and Italy 5.8 million (9% of the population.) The UK also has 4.9 million citizens living abroad, more than any other country in the EU.

That is not to say that I believe being a globalist or a nationalist are mutually exclusive but, in the current climate, there is definitely an attitude of mind that leans one way or the other. I love Europe because of the diversity of each of the member countries and this individuality is something that I strongly believe should be safeguarded; a united Europe need not mean a Federal Europe. It is the idiosyncrasies, culture and traditions of each country which makes it special and interesting and surely the greater the diversity of thought and ways of living, the better.

Emmanuel Macron summed it up on his campaign trail when he said (slightly controversially of course) ‘There is no such thing as French culture. There is culture in France and it is diverse.’ And this is the fantastic thing about living in France; it is so large and so diverse that there is a place and a community for everyone to feel at home and accepted and to carve out a life that is both good for the individual but also for society as a whole.

For help with your property search in France, get in touch: