Peter Mayle focused the attention of the world on his home patch of the Lubéron in his best-selling memoirs A Year in Provence. Yet there is another, equally beautiful, but less well-known part of Provence, further to the south-west, between Avignon and Arles. It is Les Alpilles, or the “little Alps”, a dramatic landscape of olive groves and vineyards, scented with pine and rosemary.
At the centre of Les Alpilles is Saint-Rémy, a 14th-century town with medieval side streets full of art galleries, bars, restaurants and patisseries. Outside the town’s walls you will find sunflower fields and limestone hills looking much the same as when Van Gogh painted them in the late 19th century. From there, some of the most sought after towns and villages, such as Le Mas Blanc, Le Paradou, Eygalières and Maussane, are just a short drive away.
The fact that the best properties in Les Alpilles are clustered in a compact area partly accounts for the region’s extremely high property prices. Estate agents estimate that homes are 10 per cent more expensive here than even those in the Lubéron just 60km away.
The climate is another factor that makes the region desirable: winters in Les Alpilles are mild compared with the rest of France and restaurants, bars and shops stay open out of season.
Thierry Mantoux, a consultant in wines and spirits who was attracted to the area by its arts scene, is typical.
“The TGV gets to Paris in about two hours and 40 minutes, which means I can be there for lunch if I have an appointment,” he says. “Yet there is a real sense of living a separate existence here, with the opera festival at Aix-en-Provence and wonderful theatre at Avignon.”
Most buyers in Les Alpilles prefer a home to be “dans son jus” – as it was originally – and not altered by designers. A view of the Alpilles adds value to a property, as does having either olive groves or vineyards.
When you pass through Saint-Rémy or Eygalières, where the balconies of the cottages are covered with geraniums, town life looks good.
Mayle’s stories, with their cast of lazy, incompetent Provençal tradesmen, may fill prospective buyers with dread. However, artist Jenny Bleasdale disagrees with such depictions.
“If you simply talk to people and go by reputation, you’ll find a good architect and good workers easily enough,” says Bleasdale, who bought a battered two-up, two-down house with her husband, Martin, 11 years ago. “Ours put in a big kitchen with underfloor heating, built a new studio at the back and literally raised the roof to build a new dressing room, all for €300,000.” The property, which dates from 1783 and has a 3,500 sq m garden, is for sale for €1.67m.
Two factors suggest demand will continue to outstrip the supply of homes in Les Alpilles. Nobody will be able to overdevelop, as it is a Parc Regional – the equivalent of a national park. Yet the area is becoming increasingly accessible. Both Marseilles and Nîmes airports are nearby, as is the TGV station at Avignon, which in summer operates a Eurostar service to London.
However, Les Alpilles should carry a warning, according to search agent Stuart Baldock of Hindle and Baldock, who has known the area for 20 years. “Unlike the Lubéron, which is uniformly expensive, in Les Alpilles minor blemishes can reduce the value of a property,” he says. “Buyers should research house prices before making an offer. It is not uncommon here to find a property overvalued by as much as 50 per cent.”
Without being flourishing, the real estate market is maintained year by year in Aix and its outskirts. "Last year, the volume of transactions jumped by 18%, from 550 to 650 signatures," says Jean-Sébastien Duracher, communications delegate of the Bouches-du- Rhône area. Before judging "particularly mediocre" the total sales of 2013 ... The prices, they, continue to maintain a high level.
In Aix intramural, they even increased by 5% in the old to settle around 3800 € per square meter. "It is mainly the small areas that flow well: they will be easily rented to one of the 35,000 students that the city welcomes each year," warns Nathalie Henon, of the Rotonde-Mirabeau agency. Like this studio of 19m2 close to the faculties, bought in three weeks at a little less than 5000 € per square meter!
To curb mass tourism, the town hall of the city has frozen licensing of hotels. An unexpected consequence: the development of prestigious apartments for foreigners.
Since this can not be a hotel, let's make it a luxury apartment. Spacious, with neat finishes, oriented towards a very select clientele. It is almost a reflex in Barcelona, since the hotel moratorium introduced in July 2015 [which suspends the authorizations of new hotels]. Seeing hungry hotel projects, investors are looking for other leads, and prestige real estate is one of the most popular solutions.
The city is undergoing a transformation. Far from the cliché destination for retirees and tourists, it attracts more and more South American capital, New York hedge funds and luxury brands.
Those who have invested in the biggest Latin city of the United States rub their hands. Prices jumped 12.5% in one year. However, Florida was one of the states most affected by the real estate crisis. Today, the strength of the US economy (3.9% growth in the third quarter) boosts the market and construction.
In the good neighborhoods of Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Miami Beach or the bay islands, competition is hard to afford a beachfront home. Céline Dion, Enrique Iglesias (a star in Latin America) live there. "A 2.8-hectare property with its mangrove is for sale $ 65 million." And new neighborhoods are emerging. To each its budget: with 250.000 dollars, one can find a studio art deco of charm. With 500,000 dollars a 3 rooms. Prices did not recover their highest, they are at the level of 2004. But investing on the other side of the Atlantic is not improvised. In particular, it is necessary to evaluate the expenses and the taxation (the property tax weighs almost 2% of the price). Many sites tout properties with tempting returns, sometimes too. "Be careful not to get trapped by buying goods impossible to resell," warns a professional.
Moving to the USA, a bargain
Sylvain Bignon is the proud owner of the Green Street Café in Miami. "I arrived twenty years ago. I went bankrupt, I started from scratch working in a sandwich shop and I created this coffee, then a second. Today, that's $ 15 million in sales, "he says. While at home, the 35 hours are debated, affirms to him to fight so that its employees do not work too much. Too good to be true? The American dream does not always end well, but it does exist. London and Asia are not the only places on the planet that attract French people willing to undertake. "Here you have to work, but everything is possible. One third of our clientele consists of French people aged 40 to 50 who want to set up their business in Florida.
"Miami is no longer just a tourist destination, it also attracts healthcare and finance companies with a much softer tax system than New York. By moving, a manager of hedge funds based there saves income tax on what to afford a home. A neighborhood of old warehouses, the new Design District, where luxury and design blend, is a symbol of the new local tempo and a hymn to architecture. In this neighborhood, promoter Craig Robins relies on a European-style horizontal city, where one can walk, while in Miami, a vertical city, the car remains a queen.
Excluding Paris and the Paris region, only one city in France remains at the top of the property development market: Cannes. The offer is in essence exceptional, high-end in itself. There are now 9 programs, with opportunities from 3,663 e / m2. Prices are climbing fast. A maximum of 7,560 e / m2 is currently reached and an average of almost 6,000 e / m2. This incredible success builds on a history of two centuries that despite the peaks reached make it a sure property. Discovered by chance by a British lord driven back to the border of the Var due to cholera while traveling to Italy, Cannes welcomes beautiful "winter" houses from the 1830s. Hotels invest the waterfront under Second Empire. The palaces will arrive a little later (the Carlton in 1911, the Majestic in 1923, the Martinez in 1927 and the Miramar in 1928). Serviced by the railway in 1863, it receives Queen Victoria in 1887 and opens its first golf and casino in 1892. In 1930, Cannes becomes city stage of the great transatlantic. The International Film Festival, created in 1946, completes the drawing of its international aura. Inhabited and alive throughout the year, the city continues to evolve. In recent years, new real estate projects are polarizing on the west, where urbanization is continuing. The new local planning plan foresees "preserving and enhancing an exceptional living environment", notably at Pointe Croisette, "a general decrease in the height and the rights to build to preserve the historical and landscape heritage values of the site". Areas undergoing urbanization, such as the Croix-des-Gardes, are maintained "in a zone of low density". The programs on display benefit and maintain the art of living in Cannes, often with a swimming pool and sometimes very selective products.
The good performance of the property market in 2016 is mainly due to the exceptional financing conditions. The FNAIM takes stock of the past year.
In all segments of the market, the figures show a renewed dynamism. The strengthening of 2015 continued last year. With nearly 850,000 transactions, the volume of sales is up 5.2%. Prices continued to rise slightly, by 1.5%. Rents remained stable (+ 0.7%). In the new category, housing starts jumped by 11%, sales by ATVs by 17.4%, and sales of single-family homes by 18.3%.
This good performance is due in large part to the highly favorable financing conditions for households. The already low rates continued to fall, losing another 78 basis points over one year. They averaged 1.55%. The purchasing power of borrowers has improved to the point of allowing an average of an additional 5 square meters for the same budget. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that household morale has improved slightly.
Recovery or catching up? However, do we see a real restart or a catch-up? It is permissible to wonder, even if it means cooling down enthusiasm. We are indeed emerging from a long period of wait-and-see. Over the past two years, the stabilization of prices has allowed previously deferred projects to take place. But this catching-up phase seems to be coming to an end, as the slowdown in growth in the second half of 2016 shows.
Paris notaries anticipate a price per square meter of 8,470 euros in the capital in March, an increase of 5.7% over one year.
The Paris real estate market is tightening. The price per square meter of the old apartments in the capital was 8,340 euros in November 2016, an increase of 3.9% over a rolling year, according to a press release from the Paris notaries published on 25 January.
According to preliminary contracts, the price per square meter is expected to reach 8 470 euros in March, up 5.7% over one year. It thus surpassed by a hair the historic record of August 2012, at 8,460 euros. This strong price is explained by the dynamism of sales, which increased by 7% in Ile-de-France at an annual rate at the end of November.
While the Ile-de-France benefited from the exceptional dynamism of sales, the rise in prices fell as one moved away from the capital: from 3.9% in Paris to 2.5 % In small crown and 1.3% in large crown. Outside Paris, notaries say, prices for apartments are expected to increase less rapidly, from 1% to 4%, according to the departments.