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.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 671 other subscribers

Archives

Categories

How to create an energy efficient home in France

With the price of gas and electricity going through the roof, most people are looking at ways to make their home more energy efficient. Tempting as it is to replace everything with alternative energy sources, if you live in an old, stone house like many of us here in France, then generally the most ecological and cost-effective thing to do initially is to gradually improve and hence lessen the costs of each aspect of your energy consumption.

Heating

Heating is one of the major energy costs we have in France so firstly it is worth assessing your current heating system; for example, if you have an old boiler, it can be worth looking into energy efficiency grants to replace it for a new one which are significantly more efficient that they were even five years ago.

Then, look at the form of energy you are using to heat. Here in rural France, it makes most sense to heat with a clean-burning, wood-burning stove. Wood is plentiful, much cheaper than other energy sources and is a renewable energy that can be easily regulated. The most efficient of all the wood burners are ceramic stoves. These work slightly differently to a conventional wood burner as normally only two hours of burning is required and the energy produced in the combustion chamber is stored in the mass of the stove, then released over a 24-hour period. The stove is never shut down on a ‘slow burn’ and is therefore always working at a maximum efficiency of up to 90% hence, in a standard home, a ceramic stove can replace a central heating system on all but the coldest of days.  For comparison, an open fireplace,  achieves an efficiency of around 10%.

Solar panels

Solar panels and photovoltaic panels have improved and developed hugely in the last 10 years and have become a very cost-effective way to provide electricity and hot water for free once the payback time of installation has been covered (between 10-20 years depending on the number of panels and size of property.) It is also possible to organize a contract with an energy company to sell back any excess electricity to the grid; the amount you earn varies according to the power of your installation and is calculated per kWc, a measure of the amount of electricity produced by photovoltaic panels.

Insulation 

Of course, it is a waste of time to heat your house if all the heat is going to disappear straight through the walls and windows to heat the garden. Hence sufficiently insulating your home, especially the roof and the walls, is one of the best ways to reduce energy costs. Wood is one of the best insulators of all, hence the enduring appeal in winter of a cosy, wooden, mountain chalet. Draft proofing old windows or adding double glazing is also an obvious way to prevent heat leaking out but replacing wooden windows with pvc is certainly not ecological. In France, most houses have shutters so closing these overnight provides the original form of insulation. You can also look at secondary glazing and made-to-measure, wooden framed, double-glazed windows.

Recycled Rainwater

Collecting rainwater in water butts is common practice, but sophisticated versions are now available to supply rainwater directly into the house. Rainwater can be used to water gardens and wash cars, and in washing machines and toilets. Used in this way it can save up to 50% of household water use.

Siting and Orientation

Most old houses in rural France were built with the heat and cold in mind. The majority are south facing with thick walls and few windows or openings on the north side, and many are also sheltered from the west to protect from the prevailing wind direction. If you are planning to build from scratch in France, it pays to site the house so that it faces south in order to maximise passive solar gain and hence energy savings. The south side should be up to 60% window, while the north facing side should be more enclosed with minimal glazed openings. Heat loss can be further reduced by setting the house back into a slope so that the earth acts as a ‘thermal store’; slowly absorbing heat during the summer and releasing it to the building as the weather turns cooler.

Luckily, in this part of France, winters are short and we have plenty of sunshine so, while mornings and evenings can be chilly, the temperature often gets up to 20 degrees by the middle of the day even in January and February. And old stone houses with thick walls were designed to keep in the heat in winter and keep out the heat in summer so, already, your French house is halfway to being more energy efficient than most new builds.

If you need help finding your French house, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

Prices of property in rural France rising faster than Paris

Prices rise in the Pyrenees

Something strange is happening to property prices in France. For the first time in decades, it looks as if house prices in rural France are increasing and at a rapid rate, faster even than those of all France’s major cities including Paris. According to the annual review of the housing market by SAFER (the French rural land agency), the average price of a rural French property has risen by 6.5% so far this year.

This also mirrors the survey by the Notaires de France who showed a price increase in all older housing in France last month, noting also that, since 2020, buyers are significantly more geographically mobile.

Areas of France classed as rural include coastal regions which have seen the biggest rise in house price rises with an increase of over 12% during 2021 while mountain areas such as the Alps and the Pyrenees have seen an 8.8% house price rise. Some of this has been fuelled by people looking to buy second homes and rural boltholes because of the pandemic but there is also growing evidence that many companies (French and foreign) as well as public sectors bodies have moved to more flexible working arrangements between home and office allowing employees a much greater choice in where they live.

Whether this is a long-term trend for the French property market is, as always, difficult to predict but looking at the prices in this region combined with the huge demand from buyers and lack of houses for sale, it certainly seems to be continuing apace for the moment.

If you need help with your property search, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

Further education in France

We have just had La Rentrée here in France, a very important time of year, possibly more so than the new calendar year. La Rentrée is the return of students to school and university as well as the return of the general population to work after the summer holidays. It thus heralds lots of new beginnings for all generations and is taken very seriously.

The school system in France is similar to many countries with primary schools, secondary schools (college) and sixth form education (lycée). For more information on these, take a look at:https://foothillsoffrance.com/2016/10/26/ten-things-to-know-about-school-in-france/

Further Education after school

Students staying on in education after Lycée have the choice to pursue either a vocational diploma or an academic diploma depending on their school leaving qualification. According to Insee, 72% of French students get the high school diploma (Bacalauréat) at around the age of 18. From these, around 80% go onto further education but only 52% go to university (and only 20% will graduate) while 30% go into work (or not.)

Academic diplomas:

There are three types of higher education institutions in France: universities, grandes écoles, and specialised schools.

Universities are public institutions that offer academic, technical, and professional degrees to any student who has obtained a baccalauréat or its foreign equivalent.  However, while some types of degree course are open to all comers (notably courses in arts faculties and social sciences), scientific and medical courses are usually only open to students who have passed a scientific bac.

Grandes Ecoles are the pinnacle of the education system in France. These are relatively small and highly selective “schools” which provide a cosseted higher education to the nation’s future elites. In France, that mainly means tomorrow’s “haut fonctionnaires” (senior civil servants), leaders of industry, top military brass, top politicians and scientists. Despite the national preoccupation with equality and equal opportunities, the top end of the French higher education systems remains elitist.

The baccalauréat is the gold standard, when it comes to getting into university; but getting into a grande école is a whole different ball game. Entry into many grandes écoles is at “bac+2” level (equivalent of the third year of university studies) and to get into a grande école, many students actually stay on in Lycée for two extra years after the baccalauréat. These years are called classes préparatoires (or prépas) and are a highly selective alternative to the first two years of (generally unselective) university. Students in prépa are in small classes, and have an intense programme of studies, often over 30 hours of classes a week, plus plenty of homework. The course is very typical of the traditional French approach to education, which involves a lot of book-learning, long hours in the classroom, amassing of facts and information, and less in the way of questioning, discovery and creativity than is customary in the English-speaking countries and many others. This is because the lycée system was invented by Napoléon as a means to train the educated but subservient elites who would run the nation, and this is (arguably) still the case today. The grandes écoles offer a more specialized three-year course of study than university, in subjects such as business, public administration, or politics. Students are admitted to the Grandes écoles based on their scores in a competitive exam. Students graduate from a Grande école with a master’s degree.

Specialised schools and vocational diplomas:

The DUT (diplôme universitaire de technologie) and BTS (brevet de technicien supérieur) are two-year technology-oriented degrees. BTS courses are offered by high schools, whereas DUT are awarded by universities. A DUT or BTS may be followed by one additional qualifying year of study, leading to a licence professionnelle.

These courses are selective entry, and students have a heavy load of coursework to get through. The approach tends to be “scolaire”, as in a school, rather than “universitaire”, and classes are small (up to 30 or so whereas universities can be will over a 100).

This is a very simplified explanation of the school and higher education system in France but for further information take a look at:https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/content/france_en

And if you need help finding your French property, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

Top ten tips for your French property search

This is my 200th blog post so I thought it would be a good time to recap on some things I have learned while helping clients find property here. Buying a home in France is probably one of the best things you will ever do as long as you bear a few things in mind during your search:

 

  1. Make sure that you know what you really want from your home in France

In my experience, the most successful French house searches are by people who are running towards something rather than away: A better quality of life, more time en-famille, a simpler way of living, a place to recharge and reboot, a new adventure, a project or a lifestyle. These all provide a firm basis and reason to buy, whereas buying as a solution to relationship problems, family problems, or financial problems will likely not be the best foundation.

 

  1. Plan for the future

It is very hard to imagine where you will be in say 10 years’ time but whether you are looking for a permanent home or holiday house, it is worth thinking about your longer-term future. While I think that ‘future-proofing’ is an over-used term, you can certainly make sure that you consider various scenarios and how you new home would fit into those; a worldwide pandemic for example…

 

  1. Check your budget

Calculate your budget, your finances and mortgage availability if you need one, before you start your search. Remember that buying a property in France is expensive so calculate all the costs before setting your budget. And do your research before viewing properties to get a good idea of what you can afford so as to avoid heartbreak later.

 

  1. Make a list of criteria for your ideal property 

A wish list is always helpful and will keep you on track once you start looking online only to become inundated with the sheer number and variety of properties. Narrow down to a region, whether you want a rural, village or town property, how large you would like the house to be and also garden, old or new and the state of repair etc. Have a list of negotiable criteria and non-negotiable…..

 

  1. But equally, do not have too many non-negotiables

While it is a good idea to know where you are not willing to compromise, it is also important to be flexible. Stick to your convictions by all means but keep your list of priorities small as you will never get everything on your wish list. Be careful not to dismiss a property when a few simple alterations could make it work. There is no ‘perfect’ house.

 

  1. Be open to suggestion, to potential – and be flexible

In fact, flexibility is vital; remember that one in three people end up buying something completely different than they thought they wanted so try to keep your options open while you are looking.  The perfect property for you might not be what you think you want at the start of your search, so being open to alternative suggestions is essential.

 

  1. Be prepared to be disappointed

Although the internet is a fantastic source of information, it is also a brilliant source of misinformation, and it is rare that a property in real life lives up to its online billing. Be prepared for disappointment when viewing a house you have seen advertised online and make sure you arrange to view plenty of houses on your trip to France, not just the dream house that is definitely the ‘one’ because, in reality, it probably is not.

 

  1. Don’t assume that a potential house will wait for you

It is well known that houses in France (and particularly rural France) can take years to sell which means that buyers feel that they have plenty of time to make up their minds and that they can simply come back and make an offer if they don’t see anything better. But the market has changed, and houses have been selling quickly so waiting too long to make that offer is one of the easiest ways for someone else to buy the house of your dreams. If you have a good feeling about a house and it ticks many of the boxes on your wish list, then making an offer is probably the sensible choice.

 

  1. Get professional help

Buying a house in a foreign country is hugely exciting but it is also complicated and can prove very challenging, especially if you don’t speak the language. It is easy to make a very expensive mistake. So, make sure you choose qualified and experienced professionals to help you through the process. Having someone on your side throughout will make the whole experience far more enjoyable, safer, and more likely that you will end up with the right house for you.

 

  1. Think positive and enjoy your search

If you start your search determined to find the house that works for you, in my experience you will find it. And if you would like some help, please do get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com