Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 12:02 UK

Expats give up on Provence dream

By Sam Goss
Assistant producer, Propertywatch

Ian's house in France
Ian intended to let and then later sell his luxury house in Provence

France's traditionally sedate property market is suffering some turbulence as concentrations of expats in some areas have exported not only cash but also a very British boom and bust.

The view from Ian Anderson's house stretches for 50km (30 miles) across the cherry orchards, vineyards and rolling hills of Provence.

It's hard to feel too much sympathy for a man with six bedrooms, five bathrooms and a swimming pool, but the plans he and his wife had for their "place in the sun" are cooling pretty quickly.

"It was a project to let and eventually to sell," he says.

"We've had 20 to 30 visits, and it's not finding a buyer. The place is far too big for Thea and me."

He has lowered the price by 20%, from 1.5m to 1.2m euros in the past year, but still no one is biting.

Profit hunting

Ian is one of the estimated five-and-a-half million Brits who have upped sticks and gone to live the good life abroad in France, Spain and further afield.

But for Ian, it was more than just the opportunity to start a new life among the vibrant markets and colourful bars of Provence.

Cafe in Provence
Where the British have settled, they have changed the property market

His plan was that peculiarly British one, highlighted in a hundred television renovation shows: buy a wreck, do it up and pocket the profits.

"It took three-and-a-half years, six days a week," he recalls. 'We spent something like half-a-million sterling in buying the property and doing it up."

Ever since Peter Mayle's book, A Year in Provence, was published in 1989, as many as 25,000 Brits a year have been flocking to France, many with the same idea of home renovation.

There are now 260,000 in total scattered across the country, mostly in the southern 'shires' of Dordogne, Limousin and Provence.

Ian's neighbour, Gilberte Gregoire, is nonplussed by the attitudes to property the British brought with them.

"The British are prepared to go leapfrogging around - buying houses and selling them," she says.

Family homes

Lavender field, Provence
Historically France has avoided the inflation that has plagued the UK

She was born in her home and has lived there for 90 years, and says attitudes to home ownership are very different among the French: "It is for them, for their family, not for the money."

Homes in France are often passed down through the generations and modern, ready-to-live-in homes have traditionally been far more popular than old houses.

Unlike the easy credit that funded the housing bubble in the UK, tough lending practices also helped keep prices in France more in check.

Anything more than an 80% mortgage has been a rarity even in the good times. Home loans are often for 25 years on a fixed interest rate.

"If you can get a mortgage in the UK, the arrangement is £500," says author Jamie Ivy, who relocated to Provence three years ago to write a book on the local rose wine. "It costs you £5,000 to get a mortgage here," he adds.

Our clients who came here with the dream of selling up and ending their days here are actually moving back to the UK

Andrew Corpe

Weak euro

In 2008, the price of British homes plunged at least 13% - a pretty dramatic fall by any standards. In France as a whole, the falls last year were a far more modest 2.5%.

But where the British have settled, they have changed the local property market.

In the part of Provence area where Ian lives - the Luberon - only about half of all houses sold are to locals. Prices have fallen about 10%. And British buyers have all but disappeared.

Many of the problems of the frozen market are exacerbated by a historically strong euro.

Andrew Corpe is a local architect who has lived in Provence for 18 years.

"Our clients who came here with the dream of selling up and ending their days here are actually moving back to the UK. Because they're getting their pension from the UK, they can't afford to live here any more," he says.

Mood map

British people buying in pounds have seen their spending power cut by at least 20% since the summer of 2007.

Back in the property he has renovated, Ian is philosophical as he sips his glass of rose. "It's like hanging on until the ship reaches port, isn't it? You can't just go away and leave it. We have to wait until a buyer comes along."

"There's nothing wrong with the house, it's just we haven't got any buyers."

Propertywatch, a new series on property prices and the downturn, is broadcast from 11-14 May at 2000 BST on BBC Two.

Print Sponsor


Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific