Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Life is better in Brittany & Normandy



We bought a house in central Brittany in 1999 for just £12,000GBP. And it's the best move we haven't yet made! I should explain. For family reasons we still yo-yo between Sussex and Brittany. Initially the house was nothing more than a project to which we would probably retire at an undetermined point in the future ••• I don't think we realised quite what we were getting into. Not just from the amount of work that we had taken on... but how enjoyable it could be as a bolthole before it might become our permanent home. Obviously we liked the house sufficiently to buy it (who wouldn't for 12 grand?) and we knew broadly that Brittany was a very pleasant region of France - having been on a couple of scoots around. What we didn't know was how well placed we would be for all that the area has to offer...proximity to the coast, lakes, rivers, the Nantes/Brest Canal and the historic cities, towns and villages; their architecture, earthworks, culture and entertainment ...we've even (now) seen Bruce Springsteen at a festival - just a half hour's drive from the house).
Finding the house back in 1999 wasn't easy. Estate agency (as we know it in the UK) was still taking shape over in northwest France and evolving from the traditional role in property transfer historically undertaken by the notarial system. The same goes for the web-marketing of international property. Some of the fledgling sites in those days were good on-screen but didn't necessarily match up in reality. We were messed around by one or two agencies who probably thought they were doing a good job. Without some extremely good luck we would have missed out on seeing the house we eventually bought. No thanks to the agents whose organisational skills were full of holes. We probably wasted about £1,500 before we got to see the house we eventually bought due to the ineptitude of the stringbag beginnings of people who are now our competitors...
Two years after buying in France we (once again accidentally) became involved in establishing a business based around introducing those interested in buying property in Brittany to the right calibre of agents who had on their books to the right kind of property to 'hit the spot' for prospective clients. We began with just a handful of properties in just one small area through one fledgling agent. But we did come up with a great name for marketing purposes (nice to know that a career in advertising didn't go to waste)... www.ahouseinbrittany.com - Interestingly the market is now peppered with so many names that are inspired by ours (bleeding annoying actually - but what is it they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery). The only problem we had back in 2001 was that as soon as we began advertising and getting our name around we had calls and e-mails from people wanting houses in Brittany - yes - but houses all over Brittany! To cut a long story short we have now been at it for 8 years and have around 2,000 properties on our sites and have working relationships with around 30 agencies. We have expanded the operation to include www.ahouseinnormandy.com and www.ahouseinthe loire.com (the Loire site is still in development, having been first uploaded during the beginning of the recession - but we're working to recruit new agents in greater numbers).
How is life better in Brittany and Normandy?
Well, for a start, property prices are much lower than in the UK...and the French don't pay road tax (can you imagine 'Teflon' Tony or 'Flash' Gordon coming up with that for the UK?). And, remember, France has the same population and yet two and half times the road network of the UK... so it costs their government far more to dispense with any extra charge on motorists. The roads in France are better and emptier too than any you'll find in Britain... In Brittany if there are more than 3 cars between you and the horizon it's known locally as a 'traffic jam'!
Our local rates in Brittany are just £400pa as opposed to £2,200ish in Sussex. The pace and quality of life is better suited and there is an unhurried and definitely less crowded feel to the place (111 people per square kilometre as opposed to 390 in England...the most crowded country in the EU).

Brittany has more than 1,000 miles of stunning coastline and it mirrors Devon and Cornwall across the channel with creeks, beaches, marinas, moorings and lakes, rivers and canals aplenty. So much of the topography is very similar and nowhere is more than around an hour's drive from the coast. The locals are friendly... especially if you make the effort to integrate and speak with them in French. And there is a warmth amongst new neighbours with plenty of opportunities and activities to help newcomers to fit into their new community. Friendships are easily made with the many Bretons and Normans who remember D-Day too and, if it wasn't that giving us a bond, it is the fact that Britain was under Norman rule for a good few years after 1066...so, our up and down relationship with the French is still definitely 'up' with those whose ancestors have historically lived close to the coast in the north... those who were touched by foreign occupation and tyrrany. Watch this space - I'm going to be adding posts with tips and hints and other related subjects I may get to cover as I get time... I still have a couple of websites to keep up to date - Bon Chance!