Record numbers of rural property sales as French flee to the countryside

French estate agents brokered record numbers of country homes sales in 2020 as city dwellers chafing under Covid-19 restrictions fled cramped apartments in Paris and other cities for the countryside, statistics showed on Thursday.

Record numbers of rural property sales as French flee to the countryside
Photo: Patrick Herzog/AFP

The FNSafer association, which is in charge of managing the rural property market, recorded 111,930 house purchases by people from outside the farming community in 2020, up 6.6 percent in a year.

The transactions, which covered homes with at least five hectares of land attached, amounted to a total of €23.5 billion, a 12.1-percent increase over 2019.

FNSafer said the flight to the countryside was driven by a quest for more space during successive lockdowns as well as a mass shift to remote working, which has made it possible to keep down a Paris-based job while living a day’s train ride or less from the capital.

In a further sign that metropolitans are on the move, separate statistics published Thursday showed the Paris property market starting to cool, with the number of transactions for previously-owned homes falling 14 percent in the first quarter.

Average property prices in the capital, meanwhile, have stagnated, rising by only 1.7 percent to €10,600 per square metre between January and March, figures compiled by the association of Paris solicitors showed.

The real estate market in the rest of France was booming by contrast, with the number of previously-owned homes sold nationwide between March 2020 and March 2021 hitting a record of 1.08 million.

FNSafer president Emmanuel Hyest predicted that the “reverse exodus” of people to parts of rural France that had been hemorrhaging inhabitants in recent decades would be a “lasting” phenomenon.

“It’s less of a tsunami than a groundswell. The desire to move is likely to continue for several years,” Paris-based solicitor Thierry Delesalle said.

Not everyone is cheering the scramble for a home in the countryside or by the coast.

The facades of several estate agents and homes with “for sale” signs in the southwestern Basque region have been smeared with slogans denouncing spiralling property prices.

The slogans declare “Euskal Herria ez da salgai” — “the Basque Country is not for sale.”

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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.