Penny Zoldan, owner of Latitudes agency, which deals exclusively in French property, thinks the World Cup may cause a "blip" in sales: "Many people have said that they're too frightened to visit over that period and would rather wait until the end of July." Penny appears unworried about the temporary lack of sales as her office is the busiest it's been in the 10 years since opening. Why are people keen to buy now? "It's a combination. The pound is strong against the franc and people are feeling confident at last. Prices are still low as France hasn't fully emerged from its recession," says Penny.
The pound may be strong but why should this have negative effects on vendors? Luke Margrett has been trying to sell his Normandy farmhouse, bought nine years ago, since last April. "The strong pound brings out timewasters," says Luke. "With seven francs to the pound buyers were genuine but now I'm being pestered by all sorts of people who I can't believe are serious." Luke recounts incidences of people whose journey to Normandy would severely limit their opportunities to visit the farmhouse including a man from Dorset whose wife won't travel by boat.
Luke is selling his partly-renovated house because restoration funds have evaporated and, despite many happy holidays there, he cannot often visit which adds to the work when he does: "You have to spend a day hacking down the grass before you can relax." Luke finds French agents problematic: "The local agents are quite Mafia-like and won't even visit the house if the track is muddy." So far no-one has been prepared to value his house and Luke has received most interest from the Internet where he hopes to sell rather than pay pounds 1,5000-pounds 2,000 to agents.
France is inextricably linked with romance, conjuring up images of wine, leisurely gastronomic pursuits and rolling countryside. Peter Mayle has a lot to answer for. Flicking through properties on the Internet inspired a few idle daydreams. Perhaps I could scrape together the cash, buy a charming fermette, live on snails and earn une croute?
The fantasy was cruelly shattered by Liz Oliver, managing director of Francophiles. "You get the real dreamers at the lower end of the market. Don't expect to find a house for under pounds 20,000 that you can move straight into," warns Liz: "You might find somewhere in the middle of nowhere but it will be terribly, terribly, terribly rural and do you really want live in the middle of nowhere?"
Headmaster David Newton is not a dreamer. Together he and Swiss wife Ursi bought their house through Francophiles after firstly undertaking rigorous homework. "We thought about it for years and came to the conclusion that we either did it or never mentioned it again," says David. After eliminating various areas, the north because of its weather and the south because of its distance, they spent a week viewing sixteen properties which they narrowed down to three.
The Newtons finally bought a renovated, Charentaise farmhouse for pounds 57,000. The area is popular with tourists and they rent out the nineteenth century house producing a 20% return on their investment. This is not always the case. "For rental properties a pool is essential. Our phone rings non- stop but friends without a pool have struggled," says David who went on to buy the barn next door for pounds 7,500. Having spent pounds 40,000 on restoration, they are about to spend their first holiday there and are considering a third property in an area they love for its charmingly hospitable people. "I asked if they resent us British buying up their houses and they said they were pleased as otherwise they would lie in ruins. Apparently we're preferable to Germans and Parisians," laughs David.
All buyers I spoke to had complimentary stories about French builders with some going beyond the call of duty. Peter Haynes is 70 and feels it's time to sell his Normandy house but he has fond memories of French craftsmen. The local mayor of the next town organised builders for Peter who specified a traditional restoration: "I assumed they would use soft wood but was surprised to find oak doors and window frames."
Dick Schrader, publisher of French Property News, sees a stark difference between today's climate and the Eighties: "Money was burning holes in pockets and there was a lot of froth on the market." Many buyers undoubtedly came unstuck when they bought beautiful properties needing refurbishment but with a naive view of the potential cost.
Builder Bob Thompson bought a shell of a house in the Loire nine years ago but has never spent a night in his French home: "I was kidding myself that I'd do the work but now I realise I'm never going to have the time or the money," says Bob under the disapproving eye of wife Liz.
Today there's a proliferation of information in the form of books, exhibitions and websites. Many British agents have strong links and expertise in the French property market so there are no excuses. Dick Schrader says it comes down to one word: "realism". "You hope that people have taken advice, covered the area and concluded that it's right for them."
Do your research and narrow your chosen region to avoid driving huge distances each time you view.
Go through a British agent who is registered in France as it costs no more.
Check exactly what you are buying as there is no standard contract.
Don't pay money to anyone except the notaire, the French lawyer who acts on your transaction.