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.


  1. Lovely post, Rebecca and so true! Measured predictions don't make headlines, but tend to be a lot closer to what ends up happening.

    See you soon!