Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Blue skies over the Côte d'Azur

What is in store for the French Côte d'Azur property market this Autumn-Winter 2012?

Returning home to Nice from a trip to the UK this week I had one of those moments. (In fact, I have these 'moments' quite frequently.) The plane flew low over the sparkling Mediterranean sea. As I glimpsed the Promenade des Anglais and the terracotta roof-tops below, I felt overwhelmingly happy.

As artists from Matisse to Picasso and many many more appreciated, the light of the South of France has a quality that seems especially magical after the grey skies of Paris, London, or other Northern cities. It lifts the soul. You actually feel spiritually (and physically) lighter as the coat is discarded and the dark glasses take up their familiar place over the eyes.

But what has light and sunglasses got to do with the property market? Well, in these rather grey and grim global times a touch of blue sky optimism can't be a bad thing. 

A market divided
There is no doubt, even the protected Côte d'Azur has been knocked back this year. Less buyers, less sellers, a change of government, a schizophrenic Euro situation, less credit available and less properties of quality have all combined to make life hugely difficult. Ask an agent and they will typically tell you that all is just fine. Ask a Notaire and they will give you a more honest opinion based on transactions (down and continuing to fall now we hit winter). Some are doing better than others, but some are struggling. (One notaire told me that if it weren't for sales of private garages she would be really worried about her income.)

The reality is, however, that the French Riviera property market contracts and wobbles but doesn't collapse. The majority of sellers and buyers in these current circumstances will bunker down and wait, and wait and.... 

But how long should one wait? I have clients holding off until next year, while others are leaping in now wanting to grab 'a bargain'.  But quality and stock being limited, bargains are not easy to come by. My biggest fear is that  we are in  a prolonged period of unrealistic expectations on both sides - the buyers who want  too much of a drop and the sellers who won't move on silly prices for average abodes. This always ends in a predictable stale-mate.

From bijou to luxury 
An unscientific poll of the notaires and agents that I know reveals that the slowest sector of the market at the moment without a doubt is the €500,000 to €1 million range (which is effectively a large apartment on the French Riviera). Traditionally this budget attracted both French and overseas' buyers. With an absence of both, this tier has flat-lined.

So what is moving? Smaller investment apartments - studios and one bedrooms - in cities like Nice and Cannes continue to attract cash buyers with an eye on rental return plus the desire to own a bolt-hole in the sun. It is perhaps not moving as quickly as in the past but this sector continues to be within the reach of more buyers.

The other level  - perhaps surprising, perhaps not -  is the high-end luxury property market. As one nationality falls away (British, Americans, Italians...) another is waiting to step in - Australians, South Africans, ex-pats from the Middle East and Asia, and of course the Russians (who never go away). Many rich have remained rich, or got richer. Prices have become negotiable and this makes the Côte d'Azur more appealing than ever. 

Where once an apartment in St Jean Cap Ferrat seemed unattainable, it now looks possible if you have a million or two. Slightly higher up the luxe pecking order, the historic waterfront property Palais Maeterlink on Cap de Nice sold this year for 48 million euros to a billionaire Czech property developer. Who knows what he would have paid if times had been better. The point is the big spenders are still spending. The plans for Maeterlink are to turn it into luxury apartments. Seizing the moment will, the hope is, beget future returns a hundred-fold (or a million-fold).

And next year?   
Hollande's latest backtrack (and we knew these were coming - indeed, had to come) is to reduce capital gains tax on second homes and rental properties by 20 percent for next year. It's a one-off concession for 2013, but if it is passed as law it will offer a little hope to kick-start a sluggish market.

Whatever people's fears are for the future, the Côte d'Azur at the moment seems to offer a chance to buy in to an area that might not be so affordable in a few more years once the property cycle has come full circle again. 

Would I buy now? Yes I would, but carefully and at the right price. Light can be blinding and play tricks, hence the need for dark glasses and common sense in this market.

For information and assistance on buying on the Côte d'Azur, please contact us or visit our website

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Slow shopping in Nice

Nothing is more tantalizing than a local French market on the Côte d’Azur

One of the first things I do when I visit a new place is to check out the local market. I have to say a recent trip to Barcelona left me disappointed. Rather a lot of salt cod and tired fruit and vegetables. Maybe it was a bad day, but it didn’t bring out the usual cook in me.

By contrast, coming home to Nice on the French Riviera was an inspiration. Sometimes you need to leave home to appreciate home.

Saturday morning I grabbed my shopping bags (I know that I should paint a scene of Provençal wicker baskets here, but as locals we use plastic reusable Carrefour supermarket bags) and headed for our very local, local market.

Every day, except Mondays, stalls set up outside the church square in our neighbourhood, St Roch in Nice. It’s a small city market but it has everything you could want in the way of fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables. It’s a pleasure taking the time to shop like this. The stall owners all want to know what you are cooking, offer their opinion and recipes and always throw in for free fresh bunches of basil, parsley and some lemons.

Glorious food 
There are bigger markets in Nice such as the Cours Saleya in the Old Town (we leave it to the tourists for most of the year, especially the summer) and at Liberation (a fabulous huge Niçoise market). But we are spoilt having this little one our doorstep. This Saturday I headed home with baby aubergines, sweet tomatoes, glorious peppers (perfect for making the traditional Provencal dish of legumes farci), rose-tinged garlic, fresh salad, roquette, melons, nectarines, flat white peaches (to be eaten immediately with great greedy slurping noises), local olive oil … with, of course, armfuls of the ubiquitous heaven scented basil for a pesto feast.

The local butcher is another stopping off point. Seats are placed around the counter as you need to wait and chat, and wait and chat. That’s how it is done here. Slow food at it’s best. The outdoor farm chicken I picked out, although thankfully dead, still needed its head and feet cut off, and insides removed (and given to me separately for pâté or to enrich a sauce). The remnants of feathers were then blow-torched. Seasoned inside and out with Provençal herbs and trussed, I finally had my prize.

Then there is the boulangerie … but you get the picture. By 12ish you are home having spent 2 hours or so doing the food shopping (3 if you stop for an espresso) and are ready to cook lunch.

The phenomenon in the UK, US and other Anglo countries of farmers’ markets doesn’t happen here. Every market in Nice is a farmers’ market of sorts. It is a way of life in the South of France, even in the cities. It’s a manner of shopping that takes time and couldn’t be more enjoyable. If you are visiting the Côte d’Azur, there will be a market near you, so please do get up early, grab your plastic carrier bag and check it out.

For information and help buying property on the Côte d'Azur, contact us on

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Hollande's new taxes

Following on from my last post, it has been pointed out that the tax increase on rent revenue for second homes will apply to unfurnished properties only. This means very few non-French residents will see any change in their status as most second-home owners who rent out do so as furnished lets.

So, even less for people to get worried about.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Hollande's proposed new taxes for second homeowners in France

I have been mulling over several ideas for posts recently (I tend to have too many in my head at any one time, causing perpetual writer's block). However, the latest announcement from President Hollande's camp about how they are to raise revenue by taxation has finally managed to galvanise me.

By now most second home-owners in France will be in panic mode thanks in part to hurried newspaper reports in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail. We have been here before. Most recently with Sarkozy's defunct second-home tax (thrown out by Parliament last year, but I still have people ask about it as though it exists). Most newspapers seem hardwired to splash sensational headlines and can not be bothered to investigate or explain details further. I guess this is instant journalism - the McDo media (as McDonalds is known here in France).

The latest tax announcements come as little surprise. Hollande is making his mark across the business and banking sector, and we all knew that was coming. What worries the foreign second-home owner market is his proposed rise in capital gains tax and rental income tax. Nothing has become law yet, but it is looking likely to do so as the Socialists hold the majority. That said, there is a good chance the proposed law will be challenged under EU law (as Sarkozy's second home tax would have been if the French Parliament had not rejected it in advance).

It is important to pause and look at what is proposed and offer a counterpoint to the headings that scream 'French Tax Grab on Holiday Homes'.

Capital Gains Tax increase
For second homes owned by EU foreigners, Hollande is looking to increase the rate from 19% to 34.5%. This will effect EU second homeowners only.  Currently French residents pay the full rate of 34.5%. Non-EU second homeowners (e.g. US, Australians, South Africans, Canadians etc) already pay 33.3%.  This means everyone, be they French, British, Russian, American, Chinese, will pay almost the same rate across the board.

The controversy in part lies in the fact that the increase is labelled as 'social charges', which will ultimately prove to be the legal challenge. If it does pass to become law, however, British and other EU residents will simply pay the same rate as French and non-EU residents. The sliding scale (deduction by percentage points after year 6) will still apply, as will tax relief for renovation and improvements.

Thus the longer you hold on to a property, the less you will pay in capital gains tax (assuming and hoping there is a profit when you sell). As well, if you own a property under the SCI scheme (limited company for property purchases), then different laws apply to you.

It may be irksome as a British second homeowner suddenly to have this hike, but the logic is that it brings you in line with your French and non-EU colleagues.

Rental tax
Raising rental income taxes from 20% for non-residents to 35.5% again is based on 'social charges', so no doubt this will be challenged as well if it is passed by Parliament (the legal argument being that non-French residents should not have to pay social charges in a country they do not reside in).

I think this rise is a foolish move by Hollande. Not only will it scare away less experienced overseas investors but it will probably encourage more second homeowners who are renting out not to declare or to be creative with their accountancy. Obviously those who are not renting out (and they tend to be the wealthy) won't be concerned at all. Those that do, as I say, will find ways and means to either not pay or reduce the shown profit.

However, I also have to say that I am perplexed when I talk to many second homeowners here. They often feel aggrieved to be paying any tax at all on their rental incomes. For some strange reason, in their world, buying a property in another country exempts them from the normal laws that would apply in their own countries if they were landlords. It is a bit like they are living life on a Monopoly board with fun money. These same people grumble about paying the standard (for all owners) Taxe Foncière (land tax) and Taxe d'habitation (council tax). When I suggest we stop having their rubbish removed, ban firemen turning up to put out a fire in their home, refuse to send police when they have a break-in, leave the street outside their house unpathed etc, they look blank.

The point is if you are earning an income, you pay tax. Whether that money is earned in another country makes no difference. The amount you pay will depend on a number of factors and a good accountant should be able to offset most expenses against the income you make from the rental.

Good news for buyers

More tax is never fun. Hollande's new approach will upset many. However, the Côte d'Azur property market will continue to flourish and the smart investors are already swooping as they prey on sellers' nerves. The last time I saw this happen was end of 2011 when the Capital Gains time limit was raised from 15 years to 30 years (by right-wing Sarkozy, please don't forget). At the end of last year, I managed to save tens of thousands off the asking price for several of my clients as we hit the right moment to negotiate.

I also think it is worth remembering for the nervous buyers and sellers out there that governments come and go. Five years from now who knows what will be. It's not the time to make a quick buck, that's for sure. But as we have seen from the financial mess we are in, stability and long-term growth are far better bets for the future.

If you would like professional assistance buying on the Côte d'Azur, please contact us at or telephone 0033 (0)623630779

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I'll step away here from the property market  on the French Riviera for once.

The lemons have been falling from the trees in my parents' garden in Nice. Although they live only 5 minutes walk from the beach and the Promenade des Anglais, they are one of the lucky few to have a private garden in the centre of town. The apartment with a garden (in a chateau no less, and yes really it is in the city) was chosen entirely on the basis of the dog needing outside space. But that's my family.

Anyway, thanks to Rosie the dog we have a reliable source of lemons, bitter oranges (best for marmalade making) fresh herbs, lettuces, tomatoes, stunning roses and so forth depending on the season and my mother's planting whims. The lemons are luckily an annual constant, however.

I live across town in a martini-modern penthouse. Granted it is chic and has fabulous views of Nice and the sea, but my parents' garden is a refuge now that summer is here. A little paradise in the city.

And the lemons? In the past we have thrown a limoncello party in January with friends and made bottles of the divine Southern Italian drink. This means trips to the pharmacy to get our quota of pure alcohol. (As my mother and her friends limp in with mystery ailments, the chemist always says 'ahhh, limoncello season is it'?) and to Italy, half an hour away, where sale of the 90% proof is less regulated. The magical potion of alcohol, lemon rinds and bay then sit on the dining room table for several weeks marinating before sugar syrup is added to make the yellow nectar of limoncello (nothing like that horrible sweet stuff you get in Italian restaurants, by the way).

This year, however, we have been a bit preoccupied and let the January party slip away (some lemons did go to Sweden with friends who rather wonderfully created a Northern version of the Nice limoncello party this year).  The lemons are now destined to be preserved. I'll serve them late Summer with a Moroccan tagine on a sultry Côte d'Azur evening.

By the way, there are a couple of apartments for sale in the Nice chateau where my parents live. Well, I couldn't resist adding that, could I?

For help buying a property on the Côte d'Azur, please contact us or email

Sunday, May 13, 2012


A Côte d'Azur property is all about the right view 

When doing a search for a client it quickly becomes obvious that there is always one ingredient that is more important to them above all else. It can be location, it can be space, it can be architectural charm. However, more often than not it is the view. This seemingly simple request for a 'view' has led me to some of the most magnificent villas and apartments on the French Riviera. However, equally over the years I have been shown some shocking examples. Ones near Nice airport are usually the most irritating. Sea views and ... industrial landscape and planes!

The rationale here on the Côte d'Azur with sellers and agents is that a view of the sea is a view of the sea. This means your property must be worth far more than one without a view of the sea and is far more desirable. Well, no actually. You see, not all sea views are the same. There is a magnificent sea view in a desirable location - and this is without a doubt a property price hike to the super-league. Next is a great view but wrong location (Nice West and the far-end of Promenade des Anglais, for instance, are more affordable areas agents are fond of touting for 'views', but frankly not a place to invest). Then there is a so-so view (usually a glimpse of the sea between buildings or if you crane your head out of a window). This sort of view is second best and quite honestly it doesn't deserve the extra 'sea view' price tag. Finally, there is the sea view that should work but just doesn't.

I have seen a few of the latter category recently while on a 'view' hunt for a client (it started with thinking the style of building was important but it quickly became clear the sea view was the thing). We narrowed the area to Villefranche sur mer or close to it. The budget was good enough for a two or three bedroom apartment in this expensive location (prices round Villefranche can reach €12,000 to €15,000 per square metre). You would think it would be an easy search. It wasn't.

It usually goes like this with agents (not all but generally). First they want to show the properties that have been on their books for years (yes, often years!) or ones where they are friends with the owners. This is in part due to a delusional hope I will suspend all my aesthetic and business judgement and allow my client to visit (I don't), and in part to appease owners who want to see that a certain number of visits have been clocked up. Once that formality is over (and actually I don't mind this as it means I can see the market and give feedback to clients), I get down to business of seeing the interesting and new properties.

This search I saw some fabulous views, but not so fabulous apartments. Or fabulous apartments but the so-so view rule came into play (usually squeezed between buildings). But the most depressing category has to be the view that should work but simply does not. Usually this means if you keep your eye on the horizon all will be fine, but don't look down, left or right.

The runner-up in this category in my latest search was an apartment that gazed out over the beautiful Villefranche Bay. However, look down and there was a particularly grim car parking lot, look left there was some kind of ravaged cliff with houses about to fall off - held up there by chicken wire. However, the overall winner went to the apartment that had the sea view but when you looked down from the terrace you enjoyed the cemetery. And we are not talking a quaint cemetery with overgrown ivy here. This was modern grey tombstones in rows a-go-go. The agent slightly ironically (but only slightly I fear) piped up that 'there would be no noise from the neignbours'. Quite.

Anyway, the point is that not all sea views are the same and what you see on the internet is in reality far more complicated and nuanced (price should be a give-away, by the way, but sometimes it is not).

As for my client. Well she surprised me. After initially going for a fabulous on the waterfront apartment (view charming and pied dans l'eau but needing work), she changed overnight and decided on a higher up view that also took in a bit of Nice city. I share the same view and love it (it has a slightly Hollywood feel at night). In the end the apartment and view had to work in tandem - and this one does perfectly.

So next time you see a place advertised with 'magnificent sea views', remember it is not always that simple on the Côte d'Azur. For property assistance on the Côte d'Azur, contact us at

Friday, May 4, 2012

A French Presidential election this Sunday makes for interesting times


It has been a while. Between zipping round the Côte d'Azur for clients on a villa hunt and helping other clients who have bought to decorate their apartment, somehow the time for writing seemed to slip away. I also think it has to do with the fact that I have succumbed to Twitter fever. I resisted for a long time, but I now find myself uploading photos, dashing off haiku-like bons mots and links to interesting articles, plus spearheading with a few other likeminded souls a fan-club for the Côte. I have gone from thinking Twitter was the instant pot noodle soup of social media (addictive but leaves you feeling dissatisfied) to becoming a disciple of the Twitter Church. It's a little worrying to be so enthralled by it, but follow me anyway at @coteabode. You will get all the happening news on the French Riviera that way quickly.

I have had several general enquiries recently along the lines of 'What will happen in the election? Isn't it risky to buy now' What they really mean to say is 'if Hollande gets elected will France become a Socialist state?' Some people seem to think we are in for another Revolution, with the storming of the Bastille round the corner and some good guillotine shows coming up. It is amazing how a little bit of information can quickly become misinformation, or alarmist information. A recent Telegraph article  (3 May 2012) announced 'France faces 40% house price slump.' This headline was taken from a quote by M. Sabatier from the economic consultancy company Primeview. According to him: 

'Starting this year, the demographic structure (of France) will have a profound deflationary impact on property, reversing the last 40 years. We could see a vicious circle of falling prices. Ageing means the end of property's golden age. It may be less rapid than in the US because French households have less solvency problems, but we think 40 percent fall may be inevitable over five or ten years.'

Well that is some news to digest and there is certainly some intelligent economists out there who are predicting, if not extremely hard times, then certainly a bumpy road ahead. But I like the use of the conditional in this article  'we could see a vicious circle of falling prices', 'we think 40% fall may be inevitable.' 

The fact is these are pretty general pronouncements at a time when we all know how hard things are economically across the world. Further, what it doesn't do is take in to account the micro-markets within France. Yes, Paris has probably over-heated (according to the same article 'the world's third costliest city' but according to the Global Property Guide it is ranked fourth after Monaco, London and Hong Kong). But Paris is and always will be a major city with willing investors. The Côte d'Azur is in exactly the same position. Prices have been rising and demand is constant. It is a place people dream about and in the end the harsh truth is that only some can afford the dream. 

According to M. Sabatier there will be an aging population of sellers and a stagnant population of buyers. This may fit the general French population model, but it doesn't include the international buying market that bolsters the Côte d'Azur property market - and fundamentally (whether one likes it or not) sustains it. 

What do we wish from this election, then? Personally, I am not concerned. I don't think we shall see much change between Hollande or Sarkozy as President. This is a global crisis, with a messy Euro twist. Neither side wants to make things worse. I think anyone who is hesitant about buying before the election will remain so subsequently. 'Tant pis' or 'too bad', as they say in France. The reality is serious cash buyers are not in short supply and continue to flock to the Côte d'Azur (the British less so, but the Russians more and more). A Financial Times article (also 3 May) by Tony Barber on the Hollande situation was very measured and intelligent. He comments that, 'All told, leftist change will not be the hallmark of a Hollande presidency'. 

What I wish for is a little less headline shock and speculation and a little more reasonable thinking about how we can adjust to this new world and at the same time make it a little fairer. If this means prices come down slightly on the Côte d'Azur, then that is good news both for my international clients and for local people. I have been finding the negotiation stage on behalf of clients rewarding. As for my clients that have bought, well they were never interested in selling on quickly. Plus they are all sitting on great properties - I made sure of that. 
In the spirit of my Twitter haiku style, the Swedish writer and doctor Axel Munthe had this to say in 1929 about what he wished for:

All I needed was a whitewashed room with a hard bed, a deal table, a couple of chairs and a piano. The twitter of birds outside my open window and the sound of the sea from afar.

That sounds good to me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A tale of two cities

City life. Nice at night from our apartment

Two cities I really feel at home: Nice my real home and NY my 'wish I lived there at some time in my life' home. Completely different places, I know, but there is also some cross-over I think. Stick with me on this one, people. Both cities have a street-life culture of eating out and simply hanging out. Both cities can be frenetic and pushy at times until you get to really know the different areas away from the tourist throng. Niçoise pretend to be laid back, but they are actually as highly strung and volatile as any New Yorker. Just try driving here. Each neighbourhood has its own distinct feel. Architecturally they couldn't be more apart, but at the same time both are visually pleasing. And last, at night our view from our penthouse apartment is a little like the big Apple (...well if I squint).
In order to get to know a city, you really need to live in it, be part of the everyday-ness of it. Cities take some time to grow on you. However, for me Nice and New York were never like that. It was love at first sight with both.
Someone recently asked me about Nice's reputation as an unsafe town. I really have no idea where this one comes from except a past image of a Southern city that has long been discarded. I have to smile. It's not the Bronx (with apologies to people in the Bronx).  But then I remember people saying things to me about New York before I visited. Sure, you need to watch yourself whenever you are in a city, but no more than I would expect than if I were in London or Paris.
What's great about Nice is that it is a living, vibrant place. People rub up against one another (and it pays to be careful where you choose to buy here because of this), but this is what also makes it interesting as a place to live or visit. Other places on the Côte d'Azur may offer a more sedate, softer image, but a visit in winter gives you the real picture. Whereas many places out of season feel about as fun as drinking rosé in the rain, Nice keeps you interested.
The other thing I like about Nice? There are regular flights between us and New York now. What's not to like?
For help buying on the Côte d'Azur, see 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Villa Kérylos and Beaulieu-sur-mer
Ancient Greece in a French Riviera setting

Beaulieu-sur-mer is a discreet Côte d'Azur seaside town that has a reputation for being charming but rather aloof and perhaps a little too well-heeled. It's true that its neighbour Villefranche is the more gregarious sister. With its bijou old town and tourist-friendly restaurants that cater for the large cruise ships that constantly pile into its deep-water harbour, Villefranche draws the crowds.
In contrast, Beaulieu is never really that busy and has a much smaller coterie of followers who rather like it that way. There is always room for one more on the beach in summer. People picnic under the shade of the palm trees, a pan bagnat (basically a salad niçoise in a roll) and bottle of rosé to hand.
Villefranche may have its Old Town and the delightfully quirky small chapel decorated by Jean Cocteau, but Beaulieu oozes old-style Riviera chic and has the beautiful, if rather eccentric, Villa Kérylos.
Perched on the rocky Beaulieu coastline, Kérylos is an angular white-washed villa built in the style of an ancient Greek noble house. Constructed between 1902 and 1908, the Belle Epoque era, the house was the creation of two men, Théodore Reinach, who commissioned the villa, and Emmanuel Pontremelli, an architect. Both men were passionate about ancient Greece.
The villa is now a museum and is well worth a visit for anyone interested in architecture, history, or just as a place to feel peaceful and admire the beauty of the building and setting. I managed to miss visiting it for quite some time. It seems many people do as it is tucked away and anything but flashy. However, this means you can almost have the place to yourself in the winter months, which is a rather delicious feeling.

The house is based on ancient Greek principles of architecture. The beautiful tiled, open-to-the-sky peristyle is the focal point round which the rooms are grouped. Spread over two floors, the house is a folly. It is not an authentic representation (check out the stunning early 20th century jet shower) but an interpretation and spirt of 2nd century BC Greece. It adheres to basic rules of good architecture. Natural light, a feeling of open space and flow between rooms, clean lines. The walls are decorated in muted frescoes, beautiful mosiac tiles pattern the floors.  From the windows you glimpse the sea, but the view is always discreet and tantalising. It always leaves you feeling like you want to see more.
The ground-floor gallery houses bizarre life-size casts of Greco-Roman statues. Jean Cocteau would surely have used it as a setting for his film Orphée if he were making it today.
Beaulieu is a perfect home for Villa Kérylos. Discreet, bathed in good taste and not too bothered if you pass by as it happily goes about life. But try not to pass it by.

The villa is centred around the internal courtyard

A giant marble bath is the focal point of the bathroom

The intricately tiled peristyle (internal courtyard) is flanked by columns

Life-sized replicas of Greco-Roman statues line the gallery