A south of France home without a celeb price tag

Languedoc-Roussillon has vineyards, a good climate and is affordable, writes Roz Sanderson
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The Independent Online

When people talk about the South of France they are more often than not referring to the stretch of land between St Tropez and Nice in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, a favoured location of the rich and famous, including Elton John and Johnny Depp.

However, houses here come with a hefty price tag, often into the millions, so for those looking to buy French property on a budget, a house just across the provincial border in Languedoc-Roussillon can be just as attractive at less than half the price.

This region of France has much to commend it. Its exceptionally warm, Mediterranean climate makes for an excellent wine region, and its central cities of Montpellier and Carcassonne are steeped in fascinating history. Its annual average of 300 days of sunshine makes it a popular with tourists and international investors alike.

The Garrigae Group, a French real estate development company, already has a number of property developments in Languedoc, and has just unveiled plans for two new property developments to be built in two years time. "Languedoc is the next step for people looking for holidays in the South of France," says Daniel Martin, Garrigae Investments' senior adviser.

Located in the medieval village of Lézignan-la-Cèbe, Garrigae has plans to complete a new estate development, Le Chateau des Roches Fleuries, in spring 2013. With 14 properties in a gated property, the estate boasts a communal outdoor area and a shared swimming pool, as well as private gardens for family houses. The two-bedroom houses start from€€255,000, a three-bed from €287,000, including taxes.

Prospective buyers will be able to add to their property for an extra cost. Extras include a swimming pool with prices from €29,900 including VAT, and furniture packs for the kitchen, living room, bedrooms and garden in a choice of two styles. Prices start at€€30,000. The extras are for buyers who want to add rental value to their buy- to-let properties, or who don't want the hassle of doing up and furnishing the house themselves.

For properties on a similar budget, local French estate agents Crème de Languedoc have houses ranging from one to five bedrooms, with varying degrees of luxury. The outside space for each house ranges from non-existent to large, spacious gardens fully equipped with a pool and view. If your budget can stretch to €500,000, then you can find some lovely, large properties with acres of land, and gain a real sense of privacy and individuality that a gated community might lack.

As the costs of buying in this region are comparatively low, and given the fact that it's a popular tourist destination, it's no wonder that it has become such a popular area for the British to buy second homes and rent out the property in the months that they aren't using it.

Some of their properties are even run on a French leaseback scheme.

"People buy the property 100 per cent freehold," explains Mr Martin. "They then enter into a lease agreement with the developer for a minimum term of nine years. They decide what type of usage they want out of the property each year, whether it's two weeks, five weeks or more. They then have a guaranteed financial return, but obviously the less usage they have, the higher the financial return."

By leasing your house back to the developer, it does the legwork to secure your rent throughout the time that you're not there, thereby ensuring you have a steady income.

One estate development under the leaseback scheme is La Domaine de la Mondoune, due for completion in spring 2013. It has 28 apartments over 45 hectares, and the development is set in stunning surroundings with vineyards, olive groves and vegetable gardens. The estate is on the shores of the Étang de Thau with 300 metres of private beach, and minutes from the Marseillan harbour.

The development comes with a guarantee that each apartment is unique to avoid standardisation. Apartment prices start from just €170,000.

Buying into the overseas market can be a daunting process, especially if you're taking out a mortgage to cover the cost.

"Take out a mortgage in the currency of the country you're buying in" advises Mark Sharp, the chief executive of the Association of International Property Professionals. "For example, if you buy property in France, borrow in euros, and if you're renting out your property then make sure you get paid in euros as well."

As always when buying property you will need to get professional legal advice on the sale, preferably from somebody that you've sourced yourself, rather than going on the recommendation of the seller or developer. Mr Sharp said that those buying property overseas "must seek an independent lawyer". This is particularly true for buying property in France where the lawyer acting for the estate agent will often suggest that he can represent both parties.

Mr Martin, on the other hand, says: "The legal system in France is pernickety. The notaires [lawyers] are a government body there to regulate the proceedings. They're there to make sure that everything is legally correct."

There are, inevitably, tax implications when buying a property abroad. If you're buying to let you will pay income tax on the rent that you receive, although you'll only pay this in France. If you're buying the house as a holiday home you'll have to pay council tax, or taxe foncière, used to cover the costs of bin collection, lighting and maintenance of communal areas. This usually equates to around €10 per square metre a year.

There is also an annual residence tax, or taxe d'habitation. If your French home is your second home, and you don't use it that often, you will still have to pay this tax provided that the property is capable of being occupied. However, if you only use the property for a few weeks of the year and otherwise rent it out, then you'll be exempt from this tax. Second homes are also subject to inheritance tax, typically around 20 per cent of the value.

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