Provence-Cote-d'Azur Property Blog: Insider's guide to property in the Provence Coté d'Azur region

Provence – not just for the rich

The hidden secret of the south of France

Joanna Leggett discovers a new property trend  in the Var and Vaucluse.

I was making a presentation to some international property owners and investors in the Var last month and took the opportunity to meet up with some of the Leggett Immobilier team from the Provence Alpes Cote D’Azur (PACA) region.

The Var (83) and the Vaucluse (84) are amongst my favourite departments in France and I’m used to sitting at my desk and marvelling at the details of the luxurious villas and apartments that are so popular with overseas buyers.  Of course, these come with appropriate price tags too, often well over the €1m mark.

When one thinks of the south of Franceit’s usually these prestigious properties that spring to mind.

It was therefore heartening, and a little surprising, to hear our local agents talk about increasing interest in Maisons de Villages which are proving remarkable value for money.

Helen Shackleton is a chartered surveyor and was practicing in central London before joining us to live and work in the Var.  She reminded me that the average house price in this beautiful department is €404,500 but that this varies greatly from €266,000 in the area around Brignoles and €371,000 around Toulon to €491,200 in the area in and around Draguignan.

As a broad rule of thumb you pay higher prices the closer you get to the coast with particular premiums in towns such asHyeres (for the west Var) and St Tropez.

Helen told me that local French buyers prefer living in new build villas, or so-called  lotissement properties, which means that the demand (and therefore the price) of a Maison de Village has fallen enormously.

This means that you can buy them for prices that you would normally think impossible.  Helen believes that they offer real value for money and said that international buyers should look to take advantage of this.

In the central Var, around 30 minutes from the beaches,  a budget of €150,000 would get you a two bed village house with sun terrace as opposed to a one-bed apartment on the coast.

In addition the village house could well come with buckets of character, a wine cellar, original fireplaces and exposed beams.

These old properties with charm and character strike a chord with many buyers from the UK.  They want to buy in PACA for obvious reasons but sometimes believe that they can’t afford to.

What Helen stresses  is that not only can they afford a house here, but that it will come with original features which is a tempting package.

Another attractive feature is that, if it is to be a holiday home, the ease and security of owning a house in the heart of an attractive village is a real bonus. Imagine life with little or no garden maintenance and neighbours to watch over the property and guard the keys while you are away.

Helen also told me about a charming, 200 year old, house that she is selling in La Roquebrussanne (ref 20325HS83) which is a pretty and well located village in the area between the mountains of the Ste Baume and the Loube,  north ofToulon.

The house is easily accessible from the A8 and A52 motorways, yet it is set in the tranquil Var countryside, with fantastic mountain views.

The accommodation is ranged over four floors and provides around 100m2 of beautiful space right in the centre of the village.  It has two huge bedrooms, two bathrooms and
plenty of authentic features including exposed beams throughout, a working fireplace and a vaulted cellar.  There is no terrace at present, but it would be easy to address this and the vendor even has a quote for the work. The asking price is just €180,000 – now how’s that for value!

When speaking with Helen I was joined by Elizabeth Johnstone her colleague in the Var who looks after the area in and around the gulf of St Tropez.  Elizabeth has lived in the region for six years now and knows all of the spectacular little villages and hamlets that lie just inland from the coast.

Elizabeth used to work in an investment bank in London and explained that the move to the Var enabled her to buy a beautiful big house in a spectacular hamlet outside St Tropez – something she simply wouldn’t have been able to upgrade to had she stayed in the UK.  She believes that many international buyers would be equally delighted by the value for money they could find in the department.

Emma Bowman is another of our agents covering the Var and has enjoyed the beauty of the Massif de L’Esterel and Canton de Fayence for the last 11 years. She has also been marketing property developments in international markets for ten years.

She too has noticed an opportunity with village houses and pointed out that during these difficult economic times if people do want to come south, and prefer PACA to the Languedoc, there are some truly interesting properties to be bought without breaking the bank.

The Canton de Fayence is only 30 minutes from the coast and Emma told me that you can buy some stunning village houses, some even with an outside seating area that would accommodate most families.

Indeed Emma is currently marketing a delightful 18th century townhouse (ref 20163EB83) in the popular village of Montauroux.  For those looking to be close to the lights,
glitz and glamour of Nice and Cannes this is the perfect, affordable, location. Perched on the top of a hill it’s only around 25 minutes to the sea.

As you walk from Le Place to the Chapel Christian Dior you pass the house which dates back to 1789. It currently has two bedrooms (with room for another) and a gorgeous living room with feature fixed stone fountain. With an asking price of only €256,800 it’s unlikely that this house will hang around.

I asked if there were other “undiscovered” villages like this that represent value for money and was told to take a look at La Garde Freinet which is another medieval village, close to St Tropez, with some beautiful houses that should prove sound investments as well as terrific places to live.

Claire Deedman has lived in Provencefor the past six years and has spent the whole time working in real estate. She told me that there are plenty of pretty villages in the Luberon with reasonable prices and they too have authentic Maisons de Villages.

She highlighted Ansouis which has tiny streets full of individual boutiques and artists workshops.  The 12th century castle which dominates the village is still privately owned and is open to the public.

Claire was also quick to point out that the Vaucluse has some of the best value property within PACA and has an average house price of just €247,100.

She told me of a charming village house (ref 20322CLD84) she is currently marketing in the heart of the Luberon, close to the popular villages of Lourmarin and Cucuron.

The owners are asking for €224,700 and have kept all of the original features with plenty of exposed stone and vaulted ceilings.  The house has been sympathetically restored
and modernised with three bedrooms and a pretty ground floor terrace area ideal for an early evening aperitif.

That just about wraps up the ideas and conversations I had with our team on the ground.

My whole experience on the trip south was a pleasure and certainly drove home to me the point that PACA isn’t just for the jet set and multi-millionaires (although we have plenty of houses for them too).

If you’d like to take a look at some more houses then simply go to our website where you will find plenty to whet your appetite.  Feel free to contact any of our agents too – you’ll find that their experience and local knowledge is unrivalled in the marketplace.

Joanna Leggett is Marketing Director of Leggett Immobilier, the leading international estate agency in France