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The scam of the €10 villas in south of France

Pay €10 to enter a "miracle" lottery for the chance to win a dream French home. If you don’t win, you get your money back. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. Three people have been charged with fraud. The victims are in shock.

The scam of the €10 villas in south of France
File photo of a typical village in Provence where if you were unlucky you could win a villa for €10. Photo: Rob Campbell

“A house for €10, this is serious – it’s now!” read the enticing offer on the website of Leonardo Simpatico, a property agent from Aix-en-Provence. Sadly it was not serious but that did not stop several unlucky winners falling victim to a scam French investigator Dominique Moyal described as "well put together".

An investigation by authorities in France this week revealed how 51-year-old Simpatico organized an internet lottery offering people the chance to win their dream home in the south of France.

The catch? It seemed there was none. Participants had to pay €10 to enter and if they didn't win, they were promised their money back. This was done to avoid the lottery being illegal.

Thousands are believed to have taken part, with investigators believing Simpatico raked in around €400,000 from participants, French radio Europe1 reported on Friday.

A total of six houses or apartments were up for grabs, which Simpatico claimed he had bought from the real owners, media reports revealed.

One of the unsuspecting winners was a 23-year-old woman named only as Roxanne.

She believed her dream had come true when she was handed the keys to a 110 m² house, but that dream was soon shattered.

“Like everyone else, I trusted him” she told Europe1. “This was a new lottery in France. I was so happy. It was a dream," Roxanne added.

The problem was, Simpatico had not completed the deals for any of the properties, which remain in the hands of the original owners.

Now, Roxanne faces the prospect of losing her new home.

“I am afraid of losing the house. If they take this away from me, my dream goes up in smoke. I would have to find a new apartment and rebuild everything.

Simpatico, his daughter, as well as a notary in Aix-en-Provence were arrested this week and placed in custody in Marseille. They were later charged with fraud, operating an illegal lottery and illegal betting.

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MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.

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