Tuesday, December 27, 2011

French Riviera property market 
Predictions 2012

You have to be a little mad or arrogant to predict property markets - crisis or no crisis. However, as we leave 2011 and enter 2012 I thought I would have a stab at what next year may hold for the Côte d'Azur. 

Against the economic odds, 2011 was hugely busy and successful for Côte Abode. We had a stream of serious clients throughout the year and found (and importantly secured) the right property for each one first visit. It is not surprising, however, as more people hear of our reputation and can see the advantage in professional assistance when property buying. We act for the buyer, so our expertise and work is different from estate agents.

Many of the estate agents on the Riviera, especially those dealing in the luxury property market, have also done well in 2011. Prices on the Côte d'Azur were up by 5 percent for apartments this year and 8 percent for houses (figures from l'immoblier des Notaires de France). The Riviera is seen as a safe haven in shaky times. But for some in the property business it has been a tough year on the Riviera. Too few good properties, too many cautious wait-and-see buyers, and just too many agents competing in an already competitive market.   

So what will 2012 bring? Here are some predictions, but I can't promise they will hold true. We shall just have to wait and see!

- Asking prices will hold up but the price is still negotiable. 
This year we have negotiated between 4 and 8 percent off the asking price for apartments and villas. We believe this will continue into 2012

- It will remain a serious buyers' market
Less available credit around means that cash buyers will continue to dominate the Riviera property market. One of the biggest complaints from agents in 2011 were about buyers who were not able to fulfill a deal due to financing falling through at the last moment. People in a position to buy immediately always have the advantage, as our clients prove.

- More US and Asian interest 
As the Euro wobbles and the US dollar gains, we should see interest from American buyers once again. The South of France is not yet a favourite choice for Asian buyers, but this is set to change as a younger affluent generation discovers the chic status of the region.

- Investment properties in Nice will stay strong
A city that is on the move, Nice is a hot-spot for rental apartment investment. The City government is on a mission to make Nice the jewel of the South. Public spending on new developments and infrastructure continues apace. Owning an apartment in Nice makes sense with its almost year-round tourist industry and high seasonal rental returns.   

- Two-bedroom apartments are the best investment choice for rentals
There is a good quantity of studios and 1 bedrooms available on the Riviera property market. The next stage up is harder to find but far more desirable as more people eschew hotels for short-term apartments and want more space.  

- The quartier to invest in Nice is Lafayette
The Carré d'Or - traditionally Nice's most expensive central neighbourhood - will hand the crown over to Lafayette/Place Massena and streets in close proxmity - Alberti, Pastorelli, Hotel des Postes - Gubernatis, Place Wilson.... Smart investors know that the new park that is being built on Felix Fauvres and bordering the Old Town will dramatically change the area. It is also simply a quartier that has the branché (trendy) factor - great restaurants and shops are springing up daily here.

For villas on the Riviera, look to Beaulieu and Eze bord de mer
- Villefranche is beautiful but crowded and touristy. The real afficionado will buy in expensive but chic and discreet Beaulieu and Eze.

- The personal, smaller agent will continue to have the good properties
A lot of properties that come to our attention are by word of mouth or 'silent' listings (a seller who wants to sell discretely). Smaller agents often pick up the best and more interesting properties. Bigger, flashier agencies tend to share the same properties between them, take more commission and over-price them to a non-local market. Local and small is always best and 2012 will continue to confirm this! 

Bonne Année!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A few of my favourite things
Christmas in Nice
Christmas shopping with the sun shining in a deep blue sky is one of the pleasures of Nice. It might not feel particularly 'winter wonder-land' but there is still something very pleasing about the season. The city returns to the locals after the summer wave of tourists. Nice's Vieille Ville (Old Town) is a pleasure in winter. One can actually navigate the narrow, windy streets in peace and really enjoy the architecture and sense of history. A stroll along the Cours Saleya market picking up seasonal vegetables, followed by a lunch at Le Cambuse is a regular out of season Saturday morning for our family.
With Christmas only a week away, it seems a good time to share some of my favourite Christmas shopping spots in Old Nice. 
Joyeux Noël!

Maison AUER patisserie and chocolatier
7 rue François de Paule

A little chocolate delight of a shop that has been in existence since 1820. A Florentine-Rococo style interior is lined with every sweet chocolate treat imaginable plus their famous 'fruits confits' (honeyed fruit), a speciality that originated in Provence but is now adopted by the Southerners on the coast.  There are perhaps smarter, more modern chocolatiers like Lac, but there is something lovely and old fashioned about Auer. 
A selection of fruits confits at Auer in traditional earthenware bowls
The enticing Rococo interior of Auer

Cours Saleya

Nice has many wonderful markets but the Cours Saleya on the edge of Vieux Nice is the best known. Seasonal vegetables, bunches of flowers and sellers with local produce - honey, olives, olive oil and lavender soaps - nestle side by side. Watch out for the small, more local stall-holders selling 'Bio' (organic) harvested from their gardens. For the Christmas feast, this is where I will be buying my side of salmon to marinate (in dill and orange), fresh beetroot to roast with lemon thyme, and celeriac to make a traditional remoulade.

The small stalls are often the best as the produce is grown locally and organic
Compagnie de Provence
rue François de Paule

We love this soaps and lotions shop for the fact that everything smells good, is lovely to use and is beautifully packaged. They will even gift wrap the tiniest bar of soap to make it look like a million-dollars. The lavender based range is divine - from organic hand cream to crisp linen spray. And there is nothing old lady about it.

rue de la Préfecture

A concept store that feels more Paris than Nice in its cool style. Eschewing the Provencal look for something more earthy and funky, the shop is an eclectic mix of household  ware, clothing, decorative objects and linen. 

Maison Baral
rue Sainte-Reparate

The proliferation of fresh pasta shops in Nice is a reminder  of its Italian past. Maison Baral is one of the best. The display of fresh ravioli changes everyday and is constantly inventive - from the more traditional daube to newer flavours such as roquette, ricotta and pistachio. They also have a good selection of oils, pasta sauces in jars and truffle paste that make great presents. 

rue Droit
Caprice is our favourite vintage shop in the Old Town. Two floors of clothes, bags, accessories and small pieces of furniture. For something original, this is the place to pick up a snakeskin clutch or a pair of Chanel shoes from the 70s. Nostalgia with a modern twist.

Saturday, November 19, 2011



To renovate or not to renovate, that is the question I am often asked. Buying a place that needs work is the less-expensive option and usually allows you to gain more from your investment. It also lets you put your personal stamp on an apartment. However,  for many the thought of working on a renovation project in a foreign country is neither practical nor fun. 

In the past couple of years on the Côte d'Azur - in Nice and Cannes in particular - there has been a glut of renovated apartments on the market. Suddenly everyone thinks they can be a property developer. Most of these apartments, I have to say, are poor, and I tend to avoid them for my clients. Typically, they are small, done on the cheap and then priced far too high.  Eventually they sell - but usually considerably under the asking price (or if not, then to a foolish buyer). 

However, recently I have had to stifle my sniffy tendencies towards new fit-outs as I have seen some rather good examples. One in particular impressed me in Nice. The location was perfect on an upmarket shopping street close to the beach. Although the space was small - 30 sq metres - the developer had thought about the design (he works in the fashion world) and had used quality fittings. I have a real aversion to mezzanines, but this time even I had to admit it had been done exceptionally well. 

Price-wise, the difference between a renovated and an unrenovated apartment can be as much as double. Thus in Nice in a good neighbourhood, you will be looking at paying around €4,000 to €5,000 per square metre for place that needs work. This then shoots up to anywhere between €7,000 and €9,000 per sqm for a renovated apartment. What they ask for and what they get, of course, are often not the same. But a smart developer will know the market, know the clientele he is aiming for and make a handsome profit.

I usually still come down on the side of renovation when looking for clients on a tight budget - even if it means having to cost in the extra for hiring someone to supervise the work. But if your heart is set on a ready-to-rock rental investment apartment, then I am beginning to waver slightly after seeing my latest batch of viewings.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We're having a heatwave...


Le Corbusier's 'Cabanon' at Roquebrune 

I know I should be writing about the recent Notaires' figures on the property market (not that they hold much relevance here on the French Riviera where we have a specific micro-market). Or the  extraordinary - and welcome- announcement by some of France's wealthiest citizens, such as Mme Bettencourt, that they will voluntarily pay more tax (you can read it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/24/wealthiest-french-citizens-ask-to-pay-more-tax ). Or Sarkozy's new proposals for taxation. However, it has been too hot on the Côte d'Azur. Almost too hot to work, sleep, think, eat, and certainly to write about serious matters .... So I think it is appropriate to write instead about the beach. It is summer holidays, after all. This beach has an architectural twist, however.

With temperatures in the 30s, mornings are the best time to get anything done as after that the sun is even more unforgiving and everyone is either short-tempered (road rage seems to be the norm) or closed. Trying to property search in this heat is difficult. Fortunately, all my clients have been looked after for the summer now and new ones are not due until September. I have a few interior design projects on the go for clients who have bought, but this can be handled under air-conditioned conditions with scheduled ice-cream breaks.

Mad-dogs and Englishmen won't agree but the best time to head for the beach is either a very early morning swim to start the day or an early evening trip that turns into a beach-dinner. I am currently giving my beloved Villefranche a swerve in the height of tourist season (too many cruise ship people en masse stumbling around with cameras and loud clothing). Instead, we head for St Jean and, recently, Roquebrune Cap-Martin - my latest obsession.

Roquebrune is not a beach for people wanting sand, shops selling plastic-rings in the shape of dinosaurs, and cafés selling yet another poor excuse for a salade niçoise. It is discreet, it is stony and it is not easy to find. It is also for people who love 20th century architecture. It combines my passion for architecture and bord de la mer location.

A glimpse of Villa E.1027 from Roquebrune beach
In fact there are two beaches at Roquebrune, but the one that is of most interest (to me at least) is a tiny stretch of stones which has perched above it three very special places. On one side of the bay is Villa E.1027 (http://e1027.org/),  a beautiful modernist house designed by Eileen Gray (a painter, designer and architect) and Jean Badovici between 1926-1929. It is currently undergoing renovation and restoration and is due to be open to the public in 2012.

On the other side is Le Corbusier's 'Cabane'. A mere 16 sq metres in size, the great modern architect Le Corbusier described it as his 'Château sur la Côte d'Azur'. Built in the 1950s as a retreat for himself and his wife, he famously claimed that he drew the plans in three-quarters of an hour and didn't change a thing (although as my mother tartly commented, given the tiny dimensions, that couldn't have been that difficult!). You can book to visit the Cabane through the Roquebrune tourist office.

The third delight on this beach is really not something you can see from the beach, and certainly not a property you will be able to visit. It is best to view it from a boat on the water. Casa del Mare is a magnificent villa hidden behind an enormous white-washed wall that spans almost the entire beach. You can catch glimpses of its lush tropical garden and mosiac pool as you descend to the beach. Once owned by the movie mogul Dino de Laurentiis and his wife the Italian actress Silvana Mangano, this house is my dream property. Although I would happily settle for either E.1027 or Le Corbusier's 'château' as well.

The sympathetic and adventurous architecture of these three buildings combined with the untamed, untrammeled, setting takes me away from talk of property investment, prices and taxes. And I don't make any apologies for that. Instead, for a moment  one can relax on a tucked away Côte d'Azur beach and relish the beauty, both architectural and natural.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I am always delighted -  OK, a bit smug  - when I come across great properties thanks to my detective work. The weeks leading up to a client arriving are intense, but it always pays off and it is a wonderful feeling when I do find that special property.

However, this year  I have been experiencing a whole new level of service from agents and developers. They have started to call me when they have a new property on their books and ... 'would I like to see it before anyone else does?' Private sellers, too, are contacting me on a regular basis. (Although I have to say this market tends not to turn up that many interesting finds in my experience - but I always keep an eye on it.) Even a contact at a Syndic (apartment management company who are able to act as estate agents) called me recently to suggest some apartments they wanted to sell. This week-end my popularity hit a new high, however. Chasing up Notaires for clients is a game those of us in the business are use to playing. This weekend, however, a Notaire phoned me about  a couple of million-euro properties available for sale.

The word is that my clients are serious and always buy. Now although I am flattered by this attention, and being the first through the doors is obviously a huge advantage for my clients, I am in no doubt about the motives of the agents and sellers. They are entirely self-interested. If they can sell a property quickly and directly, they stand to make a bigger profit. Once a property goes 'public', competing agents will fall over themselves to make the sale even if it is not directly on their books. This means that the original agent (who holds the 'exclusive mandate') is obliged to split his or her commission with a second agent, and sometimes even a third is involved. On the buyer's side, this means the margin for negotiation is less as the pie gets cut thinner and thinner.

Many agencies on the Côte d'Azur are part of the SIA group. SIA is like a club which agencies pay to join. It allows them to access and share each other's properties via a computer listing system. The 'exclusive mandate' agent lists his or her property, throwing it open to all the other agents in the SIA club, but the original agent still retains a cut of the commission (usually 50 %) if sold by one of these secondary agents.

Agents and property finders who are signed up to SIA are very keen to tell buyers that this gives them access to a much wider number of properties. In one sense it does and I can see it has its uses as a search tool. But in reality, agents are often not that happy to share and will certainly do what they can to keep a good property to themselves. Although those in the SIA club are obliged to list apartments and villas, they can make it difficult for other agents to see them. If it is a particularly interesting property, they will often try and sell it before it goes on the site. Hence why I get so many calls from agents wanting me to bring them clients first as I don't share the commission with them.

SIA is the reason if you go to a Riviera-based estate agent or property finder's website these days you will often see a huge number of properties. However, when you call the agent you are more than likely to be told: 'Oh that one is sold...' (usually months ago). It was never their direct property to start with so they have no idea it is sold until they check the listing. They have probably never even been to visit it. But having so many in the shop window is a good tactic to get you to call them and start talking.  The next question is usually, 'what are you looking for? We can do a property search for you....'

In fact what they actually do is called 'being an estate agent'. Many agencies on the Côte d'Azur - particularly the Anglo-focused ones - have cottoned on to the fact that 'property finder' or 'property finding' sounds as if they are working for you. However, there has to be a conflict of interest in there, no matter how you dress it up. If I hire an estate agent to sell my property, I don't want him or her to be working for the other side as well. As a seller, I want the best price I can get. And no matter how nice and charming an agent is to your face, the agent wants the best commission he or she can get. It's not complicated.

One concern I have is that the SIA listing has actually created a competitive first-to-the-post situation. While this works in favour of my clients since I am getting first pick through direct tip-offs from the original mandated agent, I am seeing consequences for some buyers. In an aggressive and competitive market like Nice, for example, some agents are pushing properties on to clients that they have little or no knowledge of in the hope they make the sale before someone else does. Under SIA agency sharing, the pressure is on for an agent to get a seller to commit quickly to an offer before another agency comes along. The agent accepts an offer and then 'blocks' the apartment from being shown by other agents.

A seller I know whose apartment is up for sale in Nice has serious legal issues in her building (an illegal restaurant that is in long-term litigation with the Syndic). But you would probably only know this if you have some connection to the owner and the original agent. And if you are one of literally hundreds of agents chasing this apartment, chances are many will not know or think to ask the right questions (and some unscrupulous ones will try and cover it up - and I have this as a fact). The hope is, then, that the Notaire picks up on any problems at the Compromis stage. But not all Notaires are perfect, plus by this point the buyer has wasted considerable time and money on a deal that should by rights fall down.  

Many agents in Nice and the Côte d'Azur are good, professional and careful. I am happy to have a very good relationship with these agents. They claim that they have always shared properties, it is just easier now with a one-stop site.  But I see how it works daily with the less meticulous agents and 'free' property finders and there are serious issues for the buyers. With big money at stake, this is not a market where one wants to be taking risks nor to make decisions about property without being fully informed. I want an agent to know the owner and I want to find out the history of the property before I go any further with a serious offer. It just makes sense.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Villefranche, espadrilles and summer

Strolling through Nice's Old Town the other week, I spied a shop piled high with espadrilles - all colours and patterns, some flat and some with heels. Ahhh... it is finally summer, I thought! So of course, I had to  buy a pair (this season's nautical blue and white stripe, small wedge heel, for those who are interested in such things).

The point is that I have been so busy with clients flying in and flying out that I haven't really even noticed the perfect golden days of these early summer months. Head down, I have been flitting between searches for villas and apartments. All successful, I am pleased to say. I jokingly tell people that I have a track-record of success to maintain - but it is only half joking.

With my latest clients returning home this week after a whirlwind visit of one day of viewings (and settling the following day on a fabulous apartment in a glamourous and rather well-kept secret neighbourhood of Nice) I now have a quiet-ish moment to contemplate a long Riviera summer.

Lunch at Villefranche  on the Port
I am asked all the time does it feel like I am on permanent holiday living on the Côte d'Azur? Well yes and no. Yes I have the beach on my doorstep and the sun overhead. But when working, there is not much time to enjoy the Riviera life.

But I have decided that the time has officially come to launch summer. I shall be putting on my espadrilles and stepping out. First stop Villefranche sur mer for a swim and lunch at one of the port-side restaurants.

Villefranche is one of those picture perfect seaside villages on the Côte that never changes. Tourists come and go, the season gets busy with cruise ships, yet  this fishing village's beauty and smallness doesn't seem drowned by the waves of outside attention. Property prices are especially high in Villefranche. A combination of exquisite charm, its desirable position close to a sandy beach and proximity to both Nice and Monaco.

A four-bedroom villa with sea views will be advertised for around 5 to 6 million euros. A recent search for clients in this area turned up some great properties, however, that were certainly negotiable (250,000 - 500,000 euros off was the standard whisper from the estate agents who know my clients always buy and don't play me for a naive incomer).  In the end, my clients and I settled for a villa in Eze bord de mer - just round the corner from Villefranche. Another beautiful spot but, like Beaulieu, slightly more exclusive.

Million euro views from the hills above Villefranche
Whether its Villefranche, Beaulieu or Eze, my new pair of espadrilles sums up the spirit of these villages perfectly. Relaxed, beachy and definitely summer in the South of France.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Côte d'Azur through a Russian lens

In September last year, Russia launched a luxury train service between Moscow and Nice. Tickets for the 53-hour journey start at around €300 and climb steeply to €1,500 for first class. We already have the 'slow food' movement and now 'slow travel' is seemingly the next big thing. The train meanders through the Eastern countries, passing through Austria and Italy, before arriving in what many Russians consider to be their Southern 'home', Nice on the French Riviera.

A very busy week spent with lovely Russian clients recently made me think about this wonderful train trip — a romantic return to another era. It also made me ponder on the relationship between the Côte d'Azur and Russia and how it never seems to fade. Today's Russians who come to visit are part of a new world, far removed from the imperial milieu of their ancestors. But the attraction is still the same.

The Russian love affair for Nice and the Côte d'Azur dates back to the late 1800s, when Russian royalty and nobility began to vacation here during the winters (joined by their British 'relations'). The advent of the new railway system in the mid-19th century confirmed the Côte d'Azur's status as the playground of the rich and made travel to the region easier. By the time of the Russian revolution, the numbers of Russians arriving in Nice had swelled considerably as noble families took refuge on the Riviera.

The Russian Orthodox church in Nice

Today there are still clear signs of this Russian history in the city. Nice has one of the largest and most beautiful Russian Orthodox churches outside of Russia. There is also a Russian cemetery. The landmark Negresco Hotel is home to a spectacular  crystal chandelier in its foyer, commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II. The identical twin of the Negresco chandelier hangs in the Kremlin.

After a roller-coaster of a week speed-shopping (and happily succeeding in finding the perfect villa  for my busy clients), I am looking forward to taking the very slow train to Moscow one day soon.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Villas, spring garlic and the Côte d'Azur

I have spent  a considerable part of this week looking for a special family villa for my Russian clients. My clients are new to the French Riviera and its different towns and villages. This makes things a little hard in terms of settling on an area and they are relying on me to lead them. Thus, most of my time has been spent going from one end of the Côte  to the other in order to give them a decent selection - from Villefranche to Cannes.  I'm hoping this 'best of' will help them to make a decision on location and then we can narrow down the search once they are here.

As with all my searches, it is hard work in terms of the amount of preliminary research and then considerable hours of viewing.  But it is also a pleasure to rediscover parts of the Riviera I have not visited for a while. Over the winter, I realise how much I have tended to remain Nice-bound. But now the sun is out and Spring is here, I am enjoying the journeys over to the Cap d'Antibes to glimpse around the beautiful houses that normally one only admires from the road and then back again to do the same on the Monaco side. 

After a particularly productive morning spent looking at some of the best villas on the Cap d'Antibes and Cannes with my favourite agent, we decided to take a quick lunch at Juan les Pins. There is a wonderful beach restaurant in Juan where the tables tumble down to the sea and your feet rests in the sand as you sip rosé and dine on simple sea-food. Sitting there, with the sun shining down, the waves rolling in, we both had to agree that life doesn't get much better than this.

It is a busy time, however, with clients arriving one after the other and more arriving in less than a week. All of my clients quite rightly expect the highest level of service and attention. In this job you need to be available at all times. Sometimes it can feel like you are on stage in a particularly intense play. You are expected to perform at your best day after day with no 'off' moments.

By way of relaxing, cooking is always my escape. Going to the market, picking out the seasonal ingredients and being inspired to come home and cook is a pleasure that lets me escape from the pressure of house-hunting. This Saturday the market in Nice seemed to have come over all 'Spring'. Every stall was over-flowing with new season vegetables and fruit, from fresh green peas ready to slip out of their pods to the first vanilla-flavoured ruby strawberries from Carpentras. Each stall was also decorated with bunches of lavender lilacs, scenting the market with their elegant perfume.

But what really caught my eye was the first new season garlic. Plump, pungent and delicious. Nothing can compare to the rich green flavour of fresh garlic. The dried up stuff that we use for most of the year is a pale inferior.  The man at the stall asked if I wanted the garlic trimmed and I said 'No thanks' immediately. The green tops being as wonderful as the rose and cream bulbs.

My favourite fresh pasta shop in the Old Town (Barale, in rue Ste Reparte) yet again inspired me with their fabulous choice of pastas. In the end I settled for their ricotta, roquette and pistachio ravioli and I headed home with a basket of Spring.

The ravioli was dressed with the simplest of sauces - a glug of the best olive oil, a few torn basil leaves and a grind of black pepper. To accompany it was a green salad, with a small amount of the fresh garlic leaves chopped up and tossed in - just enough to give a garlic bite, but not to much that it over-powered the delicate meal.

Bonjour printemps!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Room with a view

What the latest 2011 property prices for the French Riviera tell us about the market

'What are property prices doing on the Côte d'Azur and what will they do?' This must be one of the most frequent questions I am asked by clients on a day to day basis.

Well, the latest property prices for the Côte d'Azur have just come out and as usual it sends out mixed messages to both buyers and sellers. The agents in Nice all want to hype the market up but the reality is that the prices in their shop windows are often far from realistic given the quality of the properties. One can calculate an average square metre price as a starting point, and for the statistic fans, this is currently between €3,500-5,889 per square metre. But check the agents' pricing for central Nice and 'average' doesn't seem to figure in their world. This is partly optimism on their part, but it is also combined with a busy market.  However, there are many more variables that must come into the equation, and these can't be calculated as an 'average' price. 

This makes the square metre average in Nice - and the Côte d'Azur generally - a difficult figure to pin down. It will depend on the neighbourhood, the street in the neighbourhood even. Besides location, most important is the state of the building and the position of the apartment - what floor it is on, if it has a balcony or terrace, etc. Then there is the charm factor and view. The top-end average of nearly €6,000 per square metre suddenly becomes redundant if you have a nice-looking building in a prime location with caché (high or top floor, good size terrace, not over-looked). 

I have been busy with several searches in Nice and along the coast recently. I feel slightly schizophrenic as I have searches on the go both for large prime location villas as well as small pied-à-terres. As I swing between the two, what I notice is that in the smaller budget range there is a lack of understanding by both agents and sellers about what makes a great property. It is not so much that the properties are over-priced (which often they are - but usually at the behest of the unrealistic owner rather than the agent), but that at any price I would not want my clients to buy them. Simply, they do not stand out. They may be in a good location, but they miss something - that something that is so hard to describe as often it is just a feeling. An apartment can be 'right' or 'wrong' and it is hard to say exactly why. Needless to say, I drive the agents crazy with this undefinable criteria. 

Agents generally want to tick lists. Two bedrooms, check. Balcony, check. Central location, check. Lift, check ... But you can't tick a box that says 'this just makes me feel good but I have no idea how to put that into words'. This is what I am looking for in my searches as much as all the important factors such as location and investment potential.


I love a view and I love finding properties for my clients that have a view, or if not the perfect view, then at least something that will make their apartment or villa special. Obviously in the smaller budget (under €400,000) this is a tough task. Drop below €250,000, it becomes even harder. But get the ingredients right and you will have a great apartment rather than an ordinary one.

That is why I am particularly proud of my last search. A budget of around  €200,000 is always a challenge on the Riviera if you want more than a shoebox, but I found a perfect pied-a-terre. It has a fabulous full-sized terrace in Nice's old town - which is very rare. Nicely renovated with all new electrics etc, it's also on the peaceful side of Vieux Nice away from the hustle of the market Cours Saleya and Palais de Justice. The building is in great condition, which is also a find in this area. And it has a very romantic view over the old terracotta roof-tops and looks over to the tower of an ancient church of the quartier.

Price per square metre: at the higher-end of the Nice average, but nonetheless an excellent buy. Happiness factor for my clients: hopefully priceless.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


The sun came out for the first day of Nice carnival yesterday. The annual event is one of the best known festivals in France and signals the start of Spring on the Côte d'Azur. The traditional bataille des fleurs (battle of the flowers) kicks things off with enormous flower-decorated floats. Perched decoratively on the floats, Niçoise girls throw flowers at the crowds - mainly the first saffron coloured mimosa - and are followed by noisy Southern French brass bands,  dancers and enormous floating ballons in mad shapes and vibrant colours. It is worth coming to Nice for the two-week Carnival to experience  the flavour of Southern life and festive fever.

The carnival is also a prime-time to rent out apartments as I keep telling clients who maybe don't want to visit or can't at this time. Good quality, well located apartments rent and rent throughout the year in Nice. However, the market is competitive and I find so many people are led astray by agents who are naturally anxious to make a sale rather than thinking in the best interests of the buyer. I'm currently looking for investment apartments for two clients and I can see straight away what has potential and what doesn't. This is often at odds with what the agents and 'free property finders' will be trying to say (and please people, understand that a free property finder is an estate agent as well - they are merely acting as  intermeditate agent, so their eye is on making a sale regardless and gaining the maximum price).

In Nice a street can make all the difference between a really good investment and one that is not. When looking for rental investment it's important not to be hasty or encouraged by pushy agents into a bad decision. My clients' interests are my priority and they know I will never compromise on this point.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2011 Happy New Year


The sun is shining on the Riviera (finally, after an exceptional rainy season) and it brings the feeling that Spring is really not so far off now. Before that, however, there is the Carnival to look forward to in Nice and the lemon festival in Menton (a very unique affair).

This is always a busy time for me with the France Show in London (13-15 Januray) and a wave of early new year clients. All have quite different briefs, but quite rightly all my clients are looking for the best property in their budget as well as the best deal. They trust me and I do my best to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit and uncover the special apartments and villas. But some days  I think I should change my job description to 'detective'.

My villa search for one client is going strong but the number of disappointing properties that I have to keep crossing off my list grows by the day. The sellers' and agents' expectations of price and quality often seem at such odds to what is being shown. The area I'm covering is quite wide, from Valbonne, Mougins, to Antibes and Nice. But the majority of houses have a familiarity about them. Badly designed (if an architect was involved, they should be ashamed), badly constructed (ditto the builder) and dated interiors (a speciality of the Southern French, I'm afraid). One of my favourite clients from last year describes them as 'gin palaces': Showy, poor interior design but strangely, lots of space for parking and a pool. 

I was thinking about this on my last visit - yet another neo-Provencal villa, all pink stucco, Spanish arches and 70s bathrooms but asking over a cool million - and wondering how my aesthetics (and those of my clients) could be so out of step with the Southern French. The agents' job is to sell a property, so I don't blame them in the slightest for doing what they are paid to do. But it does amaze me how often I have to explain why I don't find the chipped brown and green tiles attractive and why a lay-out that involves going through two bedrooms to get to a bathroom just doesn't seem...well... practical. They almost take umbrage when I tell them it is not worth showing it to my clients. The next step of the game is the half-whispered, 'You know you can make an offer' (i.e. this property has been on the books for far too long and the price was too high). Just because something is 'cheaper' (i.e. 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 euros less than the original asking price), however, doesn't make it a good buy at any price.

But it is all part of the hunt and makes tracking down the good villas become not only a challenge but a pleasure when I finally find the few that make my list.  And of course there are the agents who do 'get it', who organise good viewings and turn up on time -  and they are a breath of fresh air (and always on my speed dial).

So the search continues and I know it will be a success in the end.

A Happy New Year to all!