We often get asked this question, in particular, from residents in the UK, America and Australia. Properties here in Normandy, France are also significantly less for our Dutch buyers as well.
Sometimes people believe there must be a catch. How on earth can you buy a property that has land, is detached, no neighbours, ample living accommodation, outbuildings etc and all for the price of a lock up in the South East of England? It is inconceivable to our British clients that you can buy ‘so much property for your money!’.
The average price of a property in the UK is £290,000 (office of national statistics January 2023) and lots struggle to get on the property ladder. For many, home ownership is the holy grail and the saying ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ encompasses this sentiment. Whilst many do rent in the UK, it is often referred to as ‘dead money’ insofar as you are paying for something that ultimately will never be yours. Home ownership is the aspiration for many, however, it is not so in France.
This is one of the reasons, along with the others we are about to explain, why property is so cheap here compared to other countries.
Before we start let us look at the size of Normandy – a region which is broken down into Five departments (Calvados, Eure, Manche, Orne and Seine-Maritime). It has a surface area of 30,627 square kilometres (11,825 sq mi) with a population of 3.5 million people. It is 10,000 square kilometres bigger than Wales and has roughly the same population. To make a further comparison the South East of England is roughly the size of Wales but with a population of over 9 million people – nearly three times the amount of people in an area less than the size of Normandy.
Supply V Demand
In Normandy there are enough houses to meet demand (unlike the South East of England) for the amount of people and surface area. We cannot say the same for the larger French cities eg Paris, Bordeaux, Rennes etc and these will come at a premium, much as you would expect in any major city the world. So this is a very big reason why property here is available and cheaper.
We touched on the renting culture above and how this is not as popular in the UK. Here in France it is totally normal to rent a property long term, for many years. People do not feel under pressure to own their own home in quite the same way. The amount that is spent on accommodation is significantly less than, eg, the UK – often a quarter of someone’s salary. This will be the biggest outgoing for someone, be it a mortgage, or their rent. Again, this isn’t the case here, rentals are affordable as are mortgages, where the criteria is fairly strict to avoid people over stretching themselves. Something the UK banks did not put into place until fairly recent times – people were encouraged to take out large mortgages. In any case, this was the only way people could afford to buy a home.
So not only is there enough supply to meet demand – it is also affordable to either rent or buy.
France is a socialist republic. Its foundation is built on socialist values and whilst many see President Macron as more right of centre politically, ultimately the fabric of the country and its roots are based in socialist values. The USA and UK are built on capitalist values and whilst this not a political post and we make no comments as to which system is better – it needs to be mentioned in order for people to better understand the housing structure.
In the 1980’s under Margaret Thatcher’s government, social housing in the UK was sold off at a significantly reduced rate to council tenants. They were encouraged to own their own home and many took the opportunity to do so. However, the promise of rebuilding these homes that were sold did not materialise so, in effect, there has been a shortfall of affordable social housing in the UK for decades.
The houses that those tenants purchased (now in there 70s) are worth far more due to the property market rising since that time. There was only one noticeable period in the 1990s whereby people found themselves in negative equity (having a mortgage that was higher than what their property was worth) together with exceptionally high interest rates (eg Black Friday). House prices have continued to rise in the UK, irrespective of work carried out, and many people have been unable to get onto the property ladder.
Normandy has sufficient social housing to meet demand for those that need it. So, if you were to find yourself in this position, both as a native or foreign national, you would be able to go to your local mairie and they would be able to house you. It might not be instant eg a few months depending on the area but it certainly would not be years and years. This is our experience in this area of Normandy. You would also be able to claim for help with the housing costs and support would be available via the many social security safety nets.
There are also new builds that appear all the time here in Normandy. These are very much favoured by the French, in particular, whereby you can buy a parcel of land fairly cheaply and construct your own home. You will often see communes (councils) advertising their plots of land for sale – this is common practice. There are also grants for renovation projects (providing it will be your primary residence), energy efficiency grants for solar panels, insulation and so on. France leads the way when it comes to affordable energy and its eco friendly initiatives.
Buying land to build your own home in the UK is very costly and primarily for the wealthy. Not only that, many plots of land cannot be built upon and are either owned by local government or private companies.
Normandy has many old stone houses that need extensive renovation. They normally come with a lot of land and have sizable accommodation. These properties do not need planning permission to make habitable (only if you want to add to the existing build). There is work involved eg septic tank, electric, water connection etc but this does not deter many of our international buyers. This is because at the end of the process they have an exceptional property just as they would like. A blank canvas so to speak but without the added complication of a new build, especially if their French language skills are not at a level they would like it to be.
The locals welcome the investment into the local economy eg building supplies, tradesmen etc. They also appreciate the preservation of these old properties by foreign investors. Because of the work required, these types of properties are very popular as they represent exceptional value.
In the early 2000’s, there were many programmes on British television about renovation properties and this was one way in which many were able to get onto the property ladder. At the same time, there were many programmes about buying a ‘place in the sun’ on the continent. This was a boom time and whereby British nationals could travel freely and set up home without the need of a visa.
Unfortunately, properties that require renovation in the UK are still priced outside the reach of many but here in Normandy you can still buy renovation properties at a much reduced rate.
When you buy a property in the UK, renovate and then sell for a profit this is not taxable. The person is able to keep 100% of the profit to, more often than not, utilise on the next property investment. This is not the case here in France, there is a sliding scale of tax.
To give you another example, in a local commune near to our office, they offered plots of land for just 1 euro per square metre. This was to encourage more people to move into a dwindling populated village. However, after constructing the property you would not be able to sell for a minimum of 5 years. This plays a significant factor in ensuring that properties are seen as homes rather than quick turn around investments and again makes buying affordable for everybody.
Keeping with the theme of properties being homes not investments (as is seen in many other countries) many properties are keep within the family for generations here in France. The family home cannot be sold without agreement of all parties eg the surviving children. Many choose to keep it in the family whilst others, of course, do decide to sell. This also keeps the cost of property affordable.
We hope this goes some way to explain why properties in this part of France are so much cheaper than other countries. There is no catch! The price you see, plus the agency and notaires fees are real and you are getting exceptional value for your money. You also get to live in France! Another added bonus.
Vive la République !