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.