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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The architecture of happiness – can a house make you happy?

Recently I was reading a book on how architecture can affect mood, feelings and mental health in general (and hence also physical health). It was both fascinating and also makes perfect sense.

I see a huge number of houses of different styles, structure and age and I know how each house has its own personality and it is noticeable how different houses can make you feel a certain way. I also see this all the time with my clients when they are on viewings with me – a house can tick every box but, if they don’t get that good gut reaction, that ‘je ne sais quoi’ feeling, then the house is not right for them. Likewise, a house that does not seem to meet all their criteria but makes them smile as soon as they cross the threshold, renders everything else irrelevant if it is the one. It turns out that choosing a house is just as illogical on the surface as choosing a partner! But actually, the subconscious is powerful and often knows better than our analytical brain what will make us happy.

According to Alain de Botton, philosopher and author, “Space and architecture are really a division of mental health” He is talking about architecture on a grand scale but it follows that our home and everyday surroundings can influence our mood and hence our happiness. And while we cannot do much to change the public architecture around us, we can have some control over our personal space, our home and how we live in it.

Of course, there is no one ‘architecture of happiness’ and it would be wrong to say that in the right house, our lives would be perfect but, as Mr de Botton points out; “ for most of our lives, “we’re balanced between hope and despair … and it’s in that state when the built environment can have an influence on our mood.”

So, when starting out on your property search, by all means draw up a check list and I will make sure that those criteria are met when you come out on your viewing trip. But also make sure that you leave some space for your subconscious to have a say when you actually arrive at the property.

If you would like me to find a property that will tick those important boxes as well as hopefully make you happy, please get in touch:

Positively optimistic for 2020

It has been another year of uncertainty and anxiety for many of us; the UK seems to be having a collective nervous breakdown; France, having voted for Macron and hence change, is now digging its collective heels into the ground to resist anything changing at all and, while the dire warnings of global warming is finally filtering through to many people at an individual level, countries and governments seem to be putting their heads in the sand for political reasons.

There has been almost a sense of hopelessness this year that world events are out of control with nothing that we can do individually (I think this is why that infamous ‘take back control’ slogan in the Brexit campaign was so successful and appealed to so many; the idea that it is possible to be in control). While control per se may not be possible, we do have the power to make positive changes, as the likes of Greta Thunberg has proved; change can and must come from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

In terms of politics and the environment, we need to tackle things, as the French would say, petit à petit. Brexit looks as if it is now unstoppable and I, along with most people I know, am heartbroken but we need to now accept and trouver le positif, to steal another French expression. We also need to start listening and understanding the viewpoints of others and step back from the argument and conflict which seems to have become the norm. For example, the Brexit campaign has, for many of us, increased our loyalty to Europe and to multi-cultural societies. In terms of the environment, our little corner of France is already way ahead in its commitment to living lightly on the planet; buying locally produced goods and services, using hydroelectric and solar power and turning away from consumerism and commercialism. All over France, I see a general change in attitude (still small but growing fast) to a move away from plastic, trying to waste less, to fly less and use public transport and car sharing wherever possible (the car sharing firm BlaBlaCar was the first billion Euro internet start-up in France.)

So I am going to end this year and start the next decade feeling optimistic and positive for the future; I may not be happy about Brexit but democracy at work is still preferable to the alternative and now is the time to understand why people voted against Europe and how to ensure that things get better not worse. And for the environment, I am putting my faith in the growing grass roots movement, the fact that the message is getting through and, most importantly, that the next generation is just so far ahead of us in understanding that we have to make huge changes in our lifestyles right now in order not to self-destruct. We need to support and encourage them and trust that they will put back on track a world which has already partly derailed and, in the meantime, we all need to make every effort we can on a daily basis; this is so important, these small, cumulative actions and for this we all need to feel optimistic that we can create positive change long-term.

So, to end on an optimistic note, there are plenty of places in the world that have got the balance right and are achieving great things at a community leveI; I just wish we heard more of all the positive. I must admit that I am very glad to be living in very old-fashioned (used to be seen as backward but I think the opposite is in fact true), rural France right now; that’s not to say that everything is perfect here but it is clear that this type of local economy is the future as well as the past. I see more and more people looking to move to this part of the world, to change their lifestyles, to pollute less and give back more and to find more meaning for themselves and their families. So for 2020, I am working at putting together a team of experts in every field to help advise people on how they can successfully make that move and how to live here afterwards with those goals in mind.

On that note, I wish you all a very bonnes fêtes and I look forward to helping you with your search in 2020.

To pay or not to pay tax in France

I have been asked a lot recently whether Brexit will change the tax situation of foreigners buying property in France. Tax laws are, however, regulated by independent laws and treaties negotiated between individual countries rather than the EU. This includes the double taxation treaty which was put in place between France and the UK in 2009 to prevent people paying tax twice on the same income.

Most of the regulation around tax is based on legal residency but it is important to note that there is a difference between legal residence and tax residence. It is easy to end up being a tax resident in two countries which is when it becomes important to check that a double taxation treaty exists between your home country and France to ensure that you are not taxed for the same income in two countries.

The distinction between legal residency (the legal right to reside in France) and residency for tax purposes (which determines whether you are taxed on your worldwide income and gains in France or just that arising in France) is, however, not always straightforward.

The most often quoted rule as to whether you are tax resident in France is that you spend more than 183 days in the country (in the calendar year). If so, then you are considered to be resident for tax purposes and will be taxed in France on your worldwide income. Whereas if you spend fewer than 183 days in France, you might be considered as a legal resident but not tax resident and hence you would pay tax only on income generated in France.

However, it can be more complicated than this because, under French rules, there are other criteria that can mean you will be deemed resident in France for tax purposes. So it is perfectly possible that, even if you spend fewer than 183 days in the country, you are still considered a tax resident and will be required to pay tax in France while also being liable to pay tax in your home country (hence the tax treaties to ensure you pay some in each rather than pay double). The main criteria for determining tax residence are:

  • If your main residence is in France (in other words where you base yourself, where your spouse/close family lives; your foyer)
  • If your principle activity is in France (even if you work for a foreign company this still applies if you do your work regularly from France)
  • France is where you have your most valuable assets

If it is decided that you are tax resident in France, you are liable to pay French tax on your worldwide income, gains and wealth. However, the UK/France double tax treaty provides that generally if you are classified as resident in France but work in the UK then you pay UK tax on this income and this is not taxed directly in France. This does, however, need to be declared on your French tax form and added to any other income to determine your overall tax rate. You then receive a credit equal to the French tax and social charges that would have been due meaning you do not pay tax in France on your UK income although it does increase the rate of tax you pay on your other taxable income.

It is worth remembering that, although France is generally considered to be a high-tax country, in fact,  if you have children or a large family, it can be beneficial to pay tax in France because French income tax is calculated based on the household income, not on individual income so the tax is based on the number of individuals in the household.

The French tax year is the same as the calendar year and the tax return is called a déclaration de revenus. It can be filled in online and the deadline for submission is May. As in the UK, you may also be liable for capital gains tax on gains made from the disposal or sale of assets. If you do become tax resident in France, it might also pay to review your savings and investment structures because often what is tax efficient in the UK is usually not in France.

Tax residency and tax liability are extremely complicated and your situation is unlikely to be the same as your neighbour’s. In addition, please note that I am not a financial expert and the regulations change regularly so this is just a rough guide and I would always recommend taking financial advice as part of your planning when looking to buy property in France. I can point you in the direction of experts in all fields and can advise and help with your property search so please get in touch:

To compromise or not to compromise…….

I have posted this before but it bears repeating, even for me who sees hundreds of houses a year. All of us set out to find our dream house when we start our property search in France; the perfect French home, ‘the one’. The problem is that the perfect house doesn’t really exist except in our heads; every house has its compromises. So what should you compromise on and what should you absolutely not?

1. The view. This is my number one client search request; nearly everyone wants a view whether it is of rolling hills, beautiful gardens, bucolic fields of flowers, a pretty market square or snow-capped mountains. And this is something that a house either has or not (unless it’s possible to cut down some trees to reveal a hither-unseen view). This is, therefore, one area where I suggest you should not compromise if it is important to you.
2. Walking distance to a café or boulangerie. Another favourite on the list of ‘must-haves’ but more difficult to find than you would probably imagine. I will find it if I can but it might involve many more compromises on other factors on your wish-list.
3. A large garden/lots of land. This is a common criterion for British buyers (less so for Australians, South Africans and Americans who perhaps are more realistic about the work involved!) I understand the attraction of this and, if it is a permanent home, go for it. If it is a holiday home and everything else about the house ticks your boxes but the garden is smaller than you would have ideally liked, it is worth compromising.
4. A swimming pool. Again, often top of the ‘wish-list’ but keep in mind that it is better to buy a house that fulfils most of your search brief but doesn’t have a pool than to buy a house with a pool that is not quite the right house. You can always put in a swimming pool but you cannot easily change the fundamentals of the house.
5. A large kitchen/dining room/open plan living space. This is an ever more popular request thanks to the way we live nowadays. However, most clients are looking for a traditional, old French house and these were not designed to be open plan. Smaller, individual rooms and often a very small galley kitchen are the norm. I would, however, tell a client not dismiss a house because it does not tick this box – usually you can open up rooms or take down walls to create exactly the space that suits you.
6. No renovation work. Horror stories abound about the trials and tribulations of undertaking a renovation in France but often this is thanks to the power of television; plenty of people renovate very happily and successfully in France. It is not a cheap process but, if you go into it with your eyes open, it is one of the best ways of creating your dream home so don’t rule out this option if the location, position, style, setting, size and price of the house are all right.
7. Easy access and within an hour of a major airport. This is another condition that starts at the top of the ‘wish-list’ but often gets dropped in favour of other ‘must haves’. I would, however, suggest that this is one area in which you should not compromise if you are going to be commuting or travelling regularly to your home in France – an hour to an hour and a half is do-able but anything more becomes a serious effort and you cannot change this longer term.

I could go on but, in summary, when deciding where and how to compromise to achieve your ‘perfect house’: If something can be changed such as décor, room layouts, finishes, heating or electric systems, then it is worth compromising. If it is an element which absolutely cannot be changed such as the view, the location, the proximity to services or accessibility, think long and hard about your priorities before compromising. You can’t pick up your perfect house and move it somewhere else but you can find the perfect location and gradually change a ‘compromise’ house into your perfect dream house.