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Yesterday I visited Eymet in the Dordogne where, apart from a fantastic brocante, there was a cricket match - SW France versus Lord's Taverners. Cricket is gaining popularity in France and the South West has several teams which fielded a 'super-team' to play the visitors at Eymet's cricket ground. Lord's Taverners tour the world raising money for young people, providing sporting opportunities for those who are disadvantaged.
The Taverners are made up of celebrities, ex professional cricketers and other volunteers who give up their time for the charity.
Yesterday we had Mike Gatting and Andy Caddick, from the cricketing community, plus celebrities Nicholas Parsons (commentating, not playing), Chris Tarrant and A Place in the Sun's Jonny Irwin.
I had the chance to tell Jonnie about French Properties Direct....so watch this space and lets hope A Place in the Sun casts an eye in our direction.
Incidentally, the home team won (rather convincingly) the Lord's Taverners raised lots of money for their good causes and a good day was had by all.
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Today is a public holiday in the UK, however, In France, although we also have our equivalent of May Day, we apply different rules as to how public holidays, or Jour Feries, are taken. We also have a lot of them in May, so if you are travelling to France to view property it pays to know what is what.
In France the day's holiday is taken on the day on which it falls. We have no 'lieu day'. So, yesterday was May 1st and that was when we took our equivalent of Labour Day (Fete du Travail) even though it was a Sunday. Today we are back to work as normal - or, as normal as Monday is in France - it is frequently taken as a day off by owners of small business who have worked on the Saturday.
To compensate for this, we make up for 'lost' days of holiday by 'making the bridge' (on va faire le pont) whenever a public holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday. Basically, if there is one day of the working week between the day's holiday and the weekend those who can do so tend to make a long weekend of it. This will happen next weekend when Ascension Day takes place on Thursday 5th May. Many people will treat the period from 5th to 8th May inclusive as a holiday - so expect a lot of shops and services to be closed - especially smaller ones, where the owners do not employ staff. This principle tends to be fairly rigorously enforced and even Christmas Day is taken on the day on which it falls with everyone back to work as normal the next day (unless of course it falls on a Thursday......).
Traditionally on May 1st children gave their mothers bunches of Lily of the Valley - a flower which is in bloom about now
French holiday dates for the rest of this year are as follows:
May 5th Ascension Day (Jeudi d'Ascension)
May 8th Commemorating 8th May 1945
May 16th Pentecost (Lundi de Pentecote)
July 14th Bastille Day or the Fete Nationale
August 15th Assumption Day (Assomption)
November 1st All Saints' Day (La Toussaint)
November 11th Armistice
December 25th Christmas Day (Noel)
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If there is one building which is an icon of rural French architecture it is the pigeonnier (pronounced pi-j'on-ee-ay). Sought after as a component of a grand country estate or even as a property in its own right a pigeonnier will always create extra interest when included as part of a property for sale, regardless of the condition it is in. But why were they built and why was so much importance attached to them in the first place?
Formal pigeonniers were built to house pigeons (unsurprisingly) from the early middle ages onwards. The birds nested and bred inside them in little compartments, or pigeon holes, which lined the walls and there were pigeon sized entrances to allow them to fly in and out of the building high up, away from predators. The birds themselves provided meat, but another bonus was the guano, or pigeon droppings which was highly valuable as ferlilizer. The right to construct a distinctive, detached pigeonnier, usually standing some distance from an important manoir or chateau, was granted as a mark of status and was usually the indication that the property was the home of a nobleman or influential land owner. Because of this role as a status symbol they tended to become more and more fanciful, reflecting the wealth and influence of the owner. The ordinary tenant farmer or paysan would not be allowed to construct a pigeonnier of this style but would make do with a few holes high in the walls of their barn, or in the side of a pig sty.
The well known polygon shaped pigeonnier at Chateau de Vigiers, in the Dordogne.
The 'standard' pigeonnier has a square footprint and rises two or three storeys with a door and windows to each of the four walls. The top floor has smaller windows and above or around them are the tiny entrances allowing the birds to fly in and out. The roof usually rose to a point from the four sides and was constructed from beautiful oak beams with clay tiles on top. This construction translates well into a small house or holiday cottage (gite) and from time to time you find lovely examples of them on the market or available to let for your holidays. They do present a challenge to the developer as there is normally only room for one room on each floor so you will get, say, a living room/kitchen on the ground floor and stairs to a bedroom/bathroom which has stairs from that to a second bedroom and maybe bathroom on the top floor. An alternative it to build one or two wings onto the original structure which gives you more space.
A beautiful conversion
But to get back to the original design - throughout France you will see wonderfully elaborate designs, indicating both the status of the owner and the range of local materials and building skills available. Sometimes they were built on stone legs, reminiscent of the British staddle stones and fulfilling the same function - deterring vermin.
An example of legs and columbage
In areas with plentiful limestone they would be built of that characteristic pale stone. In highly wooded areas you might get columbage, or timber framing with wattle and daub infill and where the property (or the landowner) was particularly grand you could get something very fanciful indeed....
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We have just received an update from our French mortgage partners letting us know that following a downward movement in rates on the financial markets they have reduced their mortgage interest rates by up to 0.45%.
For example - at an 85% loan to value rate they are currently offering as little as 2.6% . They have quoted an example of borrowing 100 000€ across 20 years at 85% LTV which would result in monthly payments of approximately 535€ per month, excluding life assurance. Our lenders can also offer interest only mortgages when there is a loan to value rate of 75% or less.
We are seeing buyers negotiate some excellent deals across France at the moment as vendors are tempted to sell for less because of the strengthening euro. This, coupled with the downward borrowing rate movement makes it a great time to make the move to France.
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We have recently put together a new white paper, or set of guidance notes, outlining French Properties Direct's five top tips when it comes to selling a property. Here is an except from top tip number 1 - Preparation.
Does the property need work to make it saleable?
I am often asked what a vendor should do before they put their house on the market and my general view is that they should do as little as possible. If you make expensive changes or undertake spur of the moment renovations you will probably be wasting your money – as you will not do what your potential buyers would have done themselves and probably will not recoup the money you have spent on the work. I have frequently encountered buyers who complain that they are not prepared to pay for work which has recently been done and which they will want to undo.
Unless you are selling a renovation project it is important that a property is well maintained and that what should work does work – so the roof should not leak and there should not be curtain rails hanging off the walls or peeling paint on the window frames. Your house should look loved and cared for. The best idea is to spend a little bit of money on a lick of paint –usually a neutral white which will not offend anyone – and, outside, a nicely gravelled drive or parking area. If there is a repair that you have been meaning to get around to for ages, then do it but what you must NEVER do is camouflage a defect. If, for example, you have a structural fault such as a crack which could indicate subsidence you must not hide it. If, after the sale, it comes to light that you have done so your buyer can come back to you for reparations or even nullify the sale. This particular sin is known as a ‘vice cache ‘ and your buyer is protected by law from your actions – for many years after the sale has taken place.
If there were two key points to remember for outside they are:
- Cut the grass regularly and throughout the growing season – if you do no other gardening at all.
- A load of gravel (in a local stone) carefully spread out can lift a property immensely.
And for inside:
- A neutral paint throughout will lift a tired property at once.
- Attend to routine maintenance.
Here are two examples - the first has a beautifully presented approach to the property. First impressions count. You can see the difference a weed free, gravel driveway and parking area makes:
This second property was 'dressed' to sell - and it did: