A pied-à-terre in Paris or bolt-hole in Béarn: France is our second home

With cheap flights and cheaper prices, house buyers are crossing the Channel.
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The Independent Online

More and more Brits are buying a second home in France, attracted by cheaper prices and improved accessibility. And next weekend's Vive La France property and lifestyle exhibition at London Olympia is likely to attract plenty of would-be purchasers looking for advice before taking the plunge.

More and more Brits are buying a second home in France, attracted by cheaper prices and improved accessibility. And next weekend's Vive La France property and lifestyle exhibition at London Olympia is likely to attract plenty of would-be purchasers looking for advice before taking the plunge.

French property is an increasingly attractive investment for those who want to avoid the disappointing stock market or build up funds for retirement outside a pension. Not only is property cheaper in France than in the UK – and you get a holiday as well – it's becoming easier to get there as budget airlines add new routes.

Buzz now flies to Bergerac from London Stansted, as well as to Limoges and La Rochelle, and Ryanair flies to Nîmes, Carcassonne and Perpignan. This makes a long weekend break very affordable, with return flights from Stansted to Perpignan or Carcassonne with Ryanair costing from £25 including airport taxes, depending on when you fly.

As new areas become accessible, a wealth of potential property is now available for less money than you'd pay in better-known regions. But Live France, a company providing property search services to English-speaking buyers in France, says that with Brits now buying in areas often overlooked in the past, property prices are rising fast.

"Daily flights from the UK into Biarritz have certainly resulted in higher levels of interest and, correspondingly, higher property prices, particularly in coastal locations," says Julia Troccaz, sales manager at Live Aquitaine, one of the company's regional offices in France. "There are rumours of a new flight connection between Stansted and Pau due to start in April, which should be confirmed at the end of January, and we predict this will result in a surge of interest in the Béarn area."

While the countryside retains its appeal, an increasing number of investors are attracted by the idea of a low-maintenance pied- à-terre in a city centre. Paris is an obvious choice because it is easily accessible from London by Eurostar or plane. Montpellier, Perpignan and Carcassonne are all popular alternatives.

City apartments tend to cost more than remote country houses but the potential for year-round rental opportunities is huge. Montpellier, in particular, has a severe shortage of properties to let, according to Live France, which means rents are high and potential tenants plentiful. However, buying a property in the first place might be difficult.

There are bargains to be had, though, if you do your research carefully. For £25,000 you can buy a one-bedroom apartment in Port Leucate, a short drive from Perpignan on the Mediterranean coast. Those looking for something bigger can get a two-bed luxury flat in St Cyprien, a coastal town near Perpignan, for £65,000.

Given that legal charges in France are around 8 per cent of the purchase price, and that you may need an agent to help find a property, the cheapest French property will cost about £30,000 allowing for fees and expenses. There are plenty of UK-based agents registered with the Federation of Overseas Property Developers (Fopdac). The advantage of using a vetted agent is that you have some comeback if things go wrong.

When it comes to paying for a property, there are several options. Ideally, you should use your savings, which means you won't have the hassle of taking out a mortgage in a foreign currency. If you don't have the cash to hand but your own home has risen significantly in value, it might be possible to release some of the equity. You should ask a mortgage broker if this is your best course of action.

If you can't do this, you will need a mortgage. A few UK banks, including Abbey National, have a French office staffed by people who speak both English and French and who can arrange a loan – a far easier process than dealing direct with a French bank.

Vive La France is at London Olympia from 17 to 19 January. Call 0870 902 0444 or go to www.vivelafrance.co.uk. Abbey National France, 0800 449090; Fopdac, 020 8941 5588 or www.fopdac.com; Live France, www.livefrancegroup.com

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