A house of sale in La-Faute-sur-Mer (Vendée). Photo: Frank Perry/AFP
There are already an estimated 300,000 Brits living in France, but now that Britain has voted to leave the EU, others may find it harder to follow the well-trodden path across La Manche.
While no one yet knows whether Brexit will make it legally more complicated Britons to buy a property in France – the French almost certainly won't want to scare away British buyers from the market – there was a more immediate, more drastic impact from the shock referendum result.
The result of Thursday's vote sent the value of the pound crashing, recording its biggest drop in over 30 years, with financial forecasters predicting that it will continue to tumble.
This means for anyone thinking about a new life in France, they will now have to readjust their calculations dramatically to see if they can afford it.
“Let's just say it's not good news,” one estate agent in France told The Local on Friday.
Victoria Lewis, a Paris-based financial advisor at Spectrum IFA Group, said that the plunging pound could have serious effects for potential buyers.
“The sterling has dropped dramatically and sharply, which means that Brits wanting to buy homes in France possibly now won't be able to get their dream home,” she told The Local, adding that many Brits had already exchanged their pounds for euros before the vote.
“Brits might still consider the move, but may have to choose a different region where the prices are cheaper.”
She said that she encountered many Brits who intend to retire or indeed starting afresh in France, but that these people may have to put their plans on hold. Who knows for how long.
Older Brits planning to live in France off their pensions may also suffer, not least because the pensions are index linked and could not potentially be frozen by the government, she said.
Tony Emery, who sells French homes to Brits through the Country Homes France agency, said that if the exchange rate drops further then it could mean real problems for home buyers.
“What has traditionally governed these moves is exchange rates, and I'm looking at the live Interbank rate now and it's at 1.25 euros to the pound. If it stays at around this rate, or between 1.25 and 1.3, it won't be a problem.”
“I'm not sure it's going to have a long-term affect on people wanting a holiday home or a second home in France,” he told The Local.
He said that when the rate is a concern to buyers is when it is closer to parity.
While he said he was personally disappointed by the news of Brexit, he said that those who voted to Remain may now “up sticks and move to the EU”, a silver lining for real estate agents specializing in French homes for Brits.
“One thing is for sure, we're going to be faced with a period of uncertainty over the next few months, and the dust needs to settle for people to get a better idea of where and how things will go.”
But it's not just the tumbling value of the pound that will cause headaches – life may also be tougher for those hoping to run a business from France.
Paul Hallett, who will move from the UK to France next month, said that despite seven years of planning the move, his family had never considered that a Leave vote would actually win.
“We're in a little bit of shock to be honest, as we never allowed for this possibility: we always thought people would pull back from the brink come voting day,” he told The Local on Friday.
He said the Leave vote will affect his family's plans to run their small UK GIS consultancy from France, and his plans to be a “frontier worker” commuting from Toulouse to the UK when needs be.
“Effectively, everything we've planned now has to be rethought. We're still moving (…) but our whole 'business plan' is now up in the air,” he said.
“We wanted an adventure. It seems that adventure just got bigger.”
The potential problems extend beyond running businesses and buying homes, says London-based lawyer George Peretz QC who already owns a house in France and plans to retire in France.
Peretz, who specialises in EU law told The Local previously what he foresaw in Brexit:
“UK citizens would lose their EU law rights to work, to set up a business, to buy property, to bring family to live with them, not to be deported for trivial offences and so on. France might let them do all those things. But that would be entirely up to France.
“Any protection under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties certainly doesn't mean that France would be prevented from (for example) starting to charge UK citizens the full cost of use of its health service, or to require them to get a “green card” in order to take a job or start a new business.
In March, estate agents Leggett Immobilier said, however, that even though potential buyers have raised concerns about the impact of a Brexit they hadn't noticed any slowdown in demand.
“Our personal view is that even if the vote was to leave the EU there would be little in the way of substantial change to UK citizens living in France,” said Trever Leggett.
“We're convinced that the government will take every step possible to protect benefits in any withdrawal discussions, it's a financial & political minefield…..imagine all these (generally elderly) citizens coming back to the UK and the burden this would place on the NHS.”