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Sharing France with you

Every week you'll find new stories, local and national events, comments, recipes and advice on this page. Click on the Archive button to see previous posts full of interesting information and links.

Compromise - a dirty word!

Don Quay // Monday, 26 May 2014

I was a property buyer before I was an agent. I remember clearly how irritated I was to be told by a 12 year old that I'd 'need to compromise' when I didn't make an offer to buy the first house he showed me.

The message seemed to be that I didn't understand the local market, what I wanted, or what I could afford.
Well, with the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight maybe those things were true. Maybe I was over sensitive to the delivery of the message.

From another angle, consider what does the agent mean by compromise?
The caveat in trying to tackle the question is to first say that I don't speak for all agents, and I don't personally use the word or its derivations.

For me it implies second best, hence my sensitivity. I hated being 'average' or 'second' at school!
It need not mean second best, or second choice.

Most people start with a wish list, possibly an extensive one. I know I do.
A decent agent who is trying to listen to your every desire may be overwhelmed by this long list. A poor agent will of course simply ignore it.

A buyer (in a buyers' market) may reasonably have expectations. Many of them. An agent, then, has a choice to risk your wrath in continuing with promoting a property that is 'less-than', or take you to the only property that 'ticks all the boxes' (but is attached to a cowshed, next to a motorway, under a pylon)

If it doesn't all stack up against your stated budget, an agent should tell you so.
'You are unlikely to get all that, at this time, in this area, for that amount of money'. (might be €25k, might be €25 million).
You might test this with a second agent to ensure the first isn't just lazy, or short of choice! If two agents tell you so, it's probably true.

And there are sometimes contradictions that are obvious to the 'local', but pass by the 'wisher'.
'I'd like to be within an easy stroll of a boulangerie and with absolutely no neighbours'.
Hmm. Is that bread I smell, or a compromise. It's either neighbours, or learn to bake bread!

Some people prioritise their wish-list.
And of course many of us have considerations that really are NOT negotiable. Understand your own motivation. To get a deal? To tick all the boxes? Both?

Ultimately, many people choose a property because it feels right.
The spreadsheet is a good start in ruling out the unsuitable, but it shouldn't rule the world.
We have a lot of ex-buyers/new friends who bought property with us that absolutely did not meet their specification. Happy compromise?

For these reasons a good agent will take a chance on viewing a property that might work, in your interests as well as theirs. Of course this is different to a bad agent who can't be bothered to drive more than a few kilometres, or who insists on showing blatantly unsuitable properties.

Incidentally (or not), when I type Compromis (a first contractual agreement to buy a property) on my iPad, the spell-check determines each time that what I 'really mean' is 'compromise'.
Nice try, iPad, and thank you for thinking of me, but I chose the property, not the agent. The agent helped me.

Latest exchange rate news

We are at an interesting juncture, technically.

You can see from the chart below that the current price (1.22) is in the middle of a clearly defined channel (black lines) that has been established since August last year.
The recent highs are at a price of just over 1.22 (the red line).
The price today (in the blue circle) is trying to break through this barrier. If it does, we could see a move to the upper line of the trend - around 1.25.
Technically, once the price establishes itself above the red line, then there is little resistance to moving higher.
A move to 1.25 would, I think, be a psychological boost to potential UK buyers (and would be widely publicised).
You never know with Forex, but watch out for this scenario unfolding.

Capital Gains Tax on the Sale of Properties in France

Capital Gains Tax is payable upon the sale of homes which are not classified as the primary residence. The classification as primary residence is usually applied if the seller can provide evidence of having paid "taxe d'habitation" (equivalent of rates) and has completed annual income tax returns in France.

The current rate of basic Capital Gains Tax is 19%. Since August 2012, an additional charge to cover Social Charges, of 15.5%, has been payable, making the total 34.5%. This rate applies for residents of France and the EEA. Residents outside the EEA pay a rate of 48.8%.

There are other considerations in the calculation of the ultimate charge, including allowances and deductions, related to the value of the sale, the age of the sellers or where divorce is involved

Relief is provided against each of the elements payable (the tax itself and the social charges) dependent on the length of time the property has been owned.

For the tax itself, relief is granted over 22 years, starting from the 6th year of ownership, as follows:
No allowance for the first 5 years of ownership.
Between 6 and 21 years of ownership: 6% allowance per year.
For the final 22nd year of ownership: 4% allowance.
This means that a property owned for 12 years would be granted a 42% discount on the tax, and one held for 20 years would be granted a 90% discount.

For the social charges, relief is granted over a period of 30 years, commencing from the 6th year of ownership, as follows:
No allowance for the first 5 years of ownership.
Between 6 and 21 years of ownership: 1.65% per year.
For the 22nd year of ownership: 1.60% in this single year.
Between the 23rd year to 30th year of ownership: 9% per year.
It is clear therefore, that the calculation of any amount due is complicated and is done by the Notaire overseeing the sale transaction.
However, the good news is that there is currently a 25% discount offered by the government on the total amount of CGT (the tax and the social charges) calculated on dossiers completing before August 31 2014.

This means that dossiers involving CGT for vendors which complete after this date will be subject to the full calculated amount (unless the government extends the exemption nearer the time).

This may be an important consideration for vendors currently selling their property in France.

In all matters of tax, you are advised to take professional advice, or to visit a Notaire.

Cricket in the Dordogne: May

Wynford Hicks // Monday, 12 May 2014

In spite of the weather May was a good month for St Aulaye Cricket. After victory over Eymet in the first Dordogne derby of the season we beat Mansle by 99 runs.

Eymet got off to a slow start on 11 May, then lost three of their top order to the hostile pace of Sukhdev Singh (3-28). David Horlock (44) and Sam Harrell (36) continued to bat steadily without dominating the bowling; in their 40 overs Eymet were restricted to 135-5. After the SAC openers were both bowled by Jaman (3-10), Jobrul Ahmed (28), David Bordes (29) and Zain Khalid (25) scored freely; Danial Mohammad hit the winning runs (a six) in the 33rd over.

Against Mansle on 25 May the openers failed again but "Billy" Mian (57), D Bordes (48) and Danial M (37) batted aggressively, hitting nine sixes between them, and helped SAC to 220 all out in 35.3 overs. For the visitors Alex Larter, who had removed the openers, returned to mop up the tail; he finished with the excellent figures of 5-43 – and the match ball signed by his team-mates.

Mansle, reacting to heavy defeats in their two previous league matches, batted cautiously but without much success against the SAC pace bowlers; after 17 overs the score was 31-4. Then a partnership between Ajmal Farooki (28) and captain Gary Clulee (26) – plus rather too many wides – helped Mansle towards a final total of 121 and a batting bonus point.

This month SAC are away to Eymet on 1 June and Mansle (just off the N10 north of Angoulême) on 29 June and home to Bordeaux on 15 June. And we'll also be at Brantôme for a "So British" weekend (21-22 June); on the Saturday afternoon we'll be demonstrating cricket and hoping to attract new members...

Wynford Hicks


Good neighbours

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours, especially if kind, knowledgeable and helpful. We were extremely fortunate; Francis fitted the rural home-buyers guide description, right down to the clogs and cap, though it frustratingly took us years before we could actually communicate, even on a basic level. He mooched about in his fruitful garden, handing out advice and regularly off-loading his glut of diversely shaped vegetables and never passing up an opportunity to prod at your own produce or get you beyond drunk on his delicious Pineau.

However, Francis had a small dog, Barry. As an animal lover, I could normally conjure up affection for even the most repellent of nature's creations, but for Barry it was impossible. His total disregard for personal hygiene prevented me from approaching his matted self. And he frequently made himself even more unpopular by shouting himself hoarse for nights on end at the slightest whiff of a saucy terrier. All in all, it was difficult to love him but I made a special effort as he was Francis' only child.

One morning our reliably unreliable van was back at its old tricks and broke down a considerable distance from home. However, I was lucky enough to find someone else's kind neighbours within walking distance.

I was energetically welcomed in to phone my husband, resisting all temptation to bend down and stroke their version of Barry. We had a lovely in-depth chat about 'something' and left to wait by the roadside, slightly squiffy, with armfuls of surplus, mutant vegetables.

I cursed my husband's choice of saviour as Francis pulled up, knowing we'd have an awkward journey home. But as luck would have it, he whipped open the door and announced, I've brought Barry for the ride, as I know how well you two get on.......oh formidable!

Obviously Barry is miffed at being stuffed by my feet so gets settled on my lap. I brace myself as he jams his nose against the windscreen and we start the journey home.

At this point we have to bear in mind Francis' age (over 80) and his clutch control, (non-existent), so we lurch, jerk and sway home-wards and my face is never going to feel clean again. Thanks Barry.

All good things must come to an end and Barry has gone to the big lamp post in the sky now. Sadly Francis followed shortly after but even now, when I hear a tractor starting up, I still think of our first French neighbours and wait for the demented barking - I honestly think I miss it...

The DIY Shed

French superstores have come on leaps and bounds during our time here. Ten or fifteen years ago there was less choice and, in my view, less quality.

Now, small towns are ably supported by nice shops, and larger towns have a range of excellent offerings. The scale of city DIY 'sheds', make some UK stores look like corner shops by comparison.
The advice is usually friendly and helpful.
For large projects there are worthwhile savings to be had by making your choice but asking registered professionals to make the actual purchase.
On an early family trip I was tasked to get a 'thingy' to drive other 'thingies' through roofing sheets into the frame of a new animal shelter. My husband meanwhile was admiring wood, or something.
'It'll fit this, and it's called an 'omboo'. Just ask', he added irritatingly
'Omboo, Omboo, Omboo', I repeated as I sought out an assistant. There were glances askance.
'Hello', I smiled, 'I need a....a....a...thingy. It fits.........bugger. I haven't got what it fits'.
Using schoolgirl French and aided by the medium of expressive dance I attempted to describe the project.
We were joined by a second, more senior looking assistant. And a third.
I remembered the word.
'I need an 'eeboo'!
I repeated my dance and added banging motions.
I was vaguely aware of a tannoy announcement.
Suddenly the aisle we were in was occupied by yet more assistants, counting things, and straightening other things.
The first assistant passed me a tiny plastic pouch with a small metal 'thingy' inside it.
'Did you get the embout (omboo!)'? he asked.
'Of course', I replied matter-of-factly, just as I realised what an 'eeboo' was.
It's spelled Hibbous. Nothing Like Embout. Eeboo. Omboo. Eeboo. Omboo.
I'd asked for an owl, and I'd told the assembled ranks of Leroy Merlin that I was going to use it to hammer 'things' into a roof.
So much for our reputation as a nation of animal lovers.......

Summer events in South West France

Shona Munro // Friday, 04 April 2014

With the sunshine finally making an appearance and the scent of spring in the air it's a good time to start making plans the coming months. There are so many fabulous events taking place in the South West this year why not combine house-hunting or holiday plans to coincide with one. Here are just a few examples of what is going on in the region.

Sporting Events
Get your flags out and cheer on your favourite team in the Tour de France 2014 (or just enjoy the lycra!)
24th July - Stage 18 from Pau to Hautacam – the second Pyrenean stage
25th July – Stage 19 from Maubourgnet Pays du Val d'Adour to Bergerac –
across the rolling landscape of Gascony
26th July – Individual Time Trails from Bergerac to Perigeux.
Take part or just enjoy the spectacle of the 30th Marathon du Medoc on 13th September. This event used to be a well-kept secret but in recent years has started to attract many overseas competitors. Lets face it, where else in the world can you run 42k, in fancy dress and partake of some of the worlds top wines?! This years theme is Carnivals of the World.

You don't need to go to Hawaii to enjoy some of the worlds best surfing – from 25th September to 6th October the Surfing Mens World Tour will be held on the beaches of the South West. Venue to be announced although likely to be Hossegor or Biarritz.

The last event of the international eventing season – Les Etoiles de Pau takes place from 22nd to 26th October featuring many of the world's top eventors – William Fox-Pitt, Bettina Hoy etc.

Music and Culture
Jazz at Marciac. in the beautiful Gers region. takes place between the 28th July and 15th August. Headline acts this year include Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter and Herbie Hancock.

The medieval city of Carcasonne plays host to some superb acts each year and it surely has to been one of the most beautiful settings. All tastes are catered for over the six week period including opera – Don Giovanni on 4th July; chill out with Lana del Rey on 16th July or James Blunt on 30th July, enjoy a taste of pop royalty with Sir Elton John on 15th July or just have a good old boogy with Madness on 29th July.

Swing Monsegur runs from 4th to 6th July. With a variety of music including big band, swing, blues and trad jazz this gorgeous village is transformed into party central for three days (and nights!). Don't forget to drop into Beaux Villages' head office – an oasis of calm right in the middle of the action!

Food and Wine
La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin (life is too short to drink bad wine) so head to the Bordeaux Wine Festival from 26th to 29th June and learn what's what (or at least have fun trying!). When you are tired of tasting...check out the pop up restaurants in the centre of town or grab a baguette and enjoy some free musical entertainment – the big act this year is Earth, Wind and Fire. Make sure to pace yourself and don't miss the spectacular fireworks and light show from 2330 every evening.
The Big Prune Show – what a great name! Agen celebrates its emblematic fruit from 29th to 31st August with tastings, gourmet markets, concerts and street performances. It's good, clean, regular fun!
Pauillac Lamb Festival – 8th June. Pauillac lamb is a great speciality of the area and this festival is all about the sheep – from reconstruction of old ceremonies, sheepdog trial demonstrations and of course an opportunity to taste this wonderful meat.

Finally, keep an eye on the notice board at your local Mairie. Most villages have summer night markets, vide greniers, festivals and parades galore.

Exchange rate news

You can see the trend in the direction of movement in the exchange rate since last summer where it bottomed at 1.14.

Since the start of 2014, the rate has been in a band between 1.20 and 1.22 and once again approaching the higher end of that band.
If it can regain 1.22 and go on to say 1.25, I'm sure it will light a fire beneath the already-strong traditional market of the spring and summer.
The reason for the recent strength of the Pound is the forecast that in 2014 the UK will be the fastest-growing economy of the G7.

Golf in France

Don Quay // Friday, 28 March 2014

Golf in France is growing up. It seems only a few years ago that world and European leaderboards were bereft of French names.

Odd, really. Pau is the oldest course on mainland Europe. There is no shortage of quality, though if one is used to the history of the R and A, it is undeniably amusing to hear French clubs boast of being 'established 25 years'. I guess even St Andrews started once upon a time.
Nowadays professional trophies regularly find their way back to our adopted home.

This higher international profile is reflected on local courses.
There is a new seriousness. A pride and belief, and now over 400,000 registered players in France, the fourth highest number in Europe. This is still only half the number playing in the UK, in an area 3 times the size, and means that it's easy to get a game. The purists may say too easy.

Ten years ago I might have walked onto a decent course without a tee reservation, and been allowed to play in jeans - anathema to club members the world over.

This slight over supply of courses brought challenges of maintenance to some. The plus side of these easy-to-access clubs is a friendly welcome to the world of golf for beginners and families, and time and space for sociable hackers. Clubs are great with youngsters and those who just want to have a go.

Of course for those who have certain expectations of course and companions, a championship course and stiffer green fees are never far away.

In France and elsewhere on mainland Europe, for competition golf, both player and course are handicapped. Devotees can read more here.
Competitive golf and club membership require a medical certificate and a licence from the French Golf Federation, usually arranged by the local club. For more information click here.

My medical consisted of watching the doctor smoke a cigar, whilst being asked repeatedly to pronounce grenouille (frog), which he obviously found hilarious.

UK handicap certificates are recognised for visitors, and considered for prospective club membership. They are not necessarily required on the many pay-and-play opportunities - just ask before arriving.
Lapsed handicappers start on a much higher number than the 28 for men and 36 for women maximums of the UK. I have a happy memory of watching a friend, previously a decent player, collect first prize in the Sunday Shotgun with nearly 60 Stableford points, having been given 3 strokes per hole. To say that the applause was polite, would be to understate it!

Typically club members are grouped in divisions. Inter-club mixed ability Stableford competiions are a great way of mixing and learning the language. At my club, without any special talent, I was regularly picked for away games that required attendance 2 hours away on the coast early of a Saturday morning. Home games were invariably French-affairs!

And, finally for now, when you inevitibly hook or slice towards unsuspecting players minding their own business elsewhere on the course, in lieu of 'Fore!', please remember to shout 'Balle !!!!'
Pronounced correctly, it should sound like 'shall', but in the circumstances volume will be better received than timid semantic precision.

NEXT WEEK/  Coasting along in Mortagne-sur-Gironde

Visitors. I had no idea I was so popular!

Don Quay // Friday, 21 March 2014

What gave it away was when my brother phoned out of the blue.

'We were thinking of going to Malaga, but we've realised it would be cheaper to visit you'.
Nice and honest, if somewhat brutal.
It was about then I stopped writing newsletters to vague acquaintances inviting them all to come and stay and share in our adventure.
Because too many of them actually did. I sort of meant it, but not really, if you follow.
I'd have been just as happy to have received a 'Gosh, aren't you brave, we'd love to visit sometime (but we won't, bye bye).
Seriously, all you potential visitors to vague acquaintances, please understand that when one is working, whether it is running gites, in paid employ, or 'simply' undertaking a renovation (that would have seen you sectioned by your neighbours had you attempted it in the UK), it is galling to break off from it all whilst your non-paying guests call from the poolside to ask what the next meal will be.
So this was my experience that hot, hot summer.
Of course after a year of gritting my teeth, and cooking and cleaning I over-compensated.
I wore out perfectly decent and genuine friends because I hadn't established ground rules.
'Welcome back. A return visit, how nice! The tools are over there, and the supermarket is still that way. I expect progress on the barn wall, and I'll be home for dinner at seven. Make your own bed'

NEXT WEEK: Golf in France

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