Carol Bowhill says that for
renters, "a house has to be photogenic"
Hugh Atkins, based in a village near Beziers,
looks after one-third of Bowhills’ properties in
southern France, as well as managing 100 other
British-owned homes. According to Hugh, such is
the competition that a house has to be “one of
200” to make it stand out from the crowd.
“There is much more supply than demand, so
people have to accept the market level for
renting, or have an exceptional home,” he said.
Priced out of Provence and Brittany,
holidaymakers are looking to buy in lesser-known
areas, and nowhere is that more evident than in
Languedoc-Roussillon and the Rhône Valley. The
region has the sun, the TGV to Avignon — and a
high frequency of low-cost flights. Ryanair flies
to Nîmes, Carcassonne, Montpellier and Perpignan,
while British Airways operates to Montpellier and
In a village near Beziers, Freddy Rueda, an
estate agent, began selling houses to the British
in 1995. Last year, he sold 120 properties. One
day, he showed four Irish holidaymakers around —
all four bought a house.
On average, he shows six British couples around
a day. “Most people now want an income from their
house,” he says. “It used to be all people aged
between 40-60 looking to retire but while they are
still in the majority, more and more are buying
now and planning to retire later.”
The average price is £100,000, double that of
five years ago. But he says: “It was too low
before and it will go higher in five years’ time.
There is less property to sell because there is
The population of Languedoc-Roussillon is
growing by 1,000 a month, says Rueda, the highest
growth rate in Europe. Most are cash buyers, who
have worked out what they can afford before
But across the River Rhône in the Drôme
department, John Varnham, another Bowhills
customer, isn’t so happy. The problem is with the
holidaymakers staying in his stone built, ivy-clad
home near the village of St-Lager-Bressac. It’s
not that the six adults and a baby are causing any
trouble, just that John isn’t used to people
living in his house.
A squeal of laughter is heard from the pool and
he winces. “I don’t like it, to be honest: I feel
almost violated when you let people into your
It is a difficult transition for some owners.
But nearby, businessman James Bird, from Deal,
Kent, got it absolutely right when he bought a
rambling, 150-year-old, five-bedroom stone house
with a pool and courtyard on the edge of the
village of Marsanne, near Montelimar, 15 years
He and his family keep the house for themselves
for five weeks in August and September — but still
manage to rent it out for 20 weeks of the year
“It should be lived in, otherwise it would
deteriorate,” he said. “We make a surplus which
goes towards upkeep and renovations — but people
should not go into this to make money.”
One couple renting out his house last week were
mulling the whole thing over. Peter Coleman and
Jean Ross, from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, sat
by the pool, looking across the foothills of the
Alps, and wondered out loud if they have missed
the property boat.
“We have been talking about buying for years
but prices have gone up so much in the past five
years,” says Jean.
They’ve looked in Provence and Brittany and are
now looking around the Rhône and Orange.
Says Peter: “It is quite a big decision because
even in France you can’t depend on the weather:
it’s why we have headed to southern France in the
past two years.
“We may not buy on this trip, but the idea is
still fermenting . . .”
Page 3: need to know
Page 4: ten
tips for your home-buying