Britons' growing love affair with French property: Institute of British Geographers' Conference

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS and businessmen have led the great British buy- up of country homes in France, with up to a half of the buyers moving there on a permanent basis.

Many have taken lower-status and lower-income jobs across the Channel, becoming farm labourers, shopworkers and camp site attendants. Many take seasonal or part- time jobs; some work for French estate agents trying to find further British buyers.

These findings emerge from a survey of 407 British families and couples, living full or part- time, in five rural departments - Calvados, Charente-Maritime, Dordogne, Lot and Vaucluse - carried out by Dr Keith Hoggart, a geography lecturer at King's College, London, and reported to the the Institute of British Geographers' Conference in Nottingham yesterday.

It shows Britons are gaining a strong foothold in agricultural regions. Between 1980 and 1991, permanent British residents rose by 520 per cent in Limousin, 342 per cent in Basse-Normandie, 330 per cent in Brittany, 315 per cent in Midi Pyrenees and 307 per cent in Poitou-Charentes. Almost half (47 per cent) gave their French home as their main residence. Just over half (53.2 per cent) who had crossed the Channel for good, had not reached retirement age.

The purchasers were mostly from the South-east (53.1 per cent), the South-west (12.8) and West Midlands (4.4). One- third cited much lower property prices as the main reason for buying in France. They chose country homes, often derelict or delapidated buildings in remote areas.

One-fifth (19.8 per cent) had built on land they purchased, or converted a derelict or purely agricultural building into a home, while 15.1 per cent restored or built a second building on their property, with 4.2 per cent doing this for more than one building. More than half carried out major restoration or improvements.

Dr Hoggart said that the number of Britons living in the west of France was at least 100,000. They are generally welcomed because the British are seen as helping to reverse the feared process of rural decline and depopulation. 'British buyers appear to be using rural France to achieve their desires to obtain a 'genuine' rural home at an affordable price, whether as a second or a permanent home.'

Purchases reached a peak in 1989 when, according to the Banque de France, the British spent 1,524 million francs (about pounds 150m), which coincided with the peak of the United Kingdom house price boom. Since then British buying has dwindled, but Dr Hoggart believes that Britons are still buying more French homes than anyone, apart from the French.