In France, affordable properties bring creative class to villages
Alice Verberne, a long-time expat from Louisiana in the United States, bought a house in the hilltop village of Bourmont in rural France years ago for a few thousand euros, a large house she’s restored as her weekend getaway and as a vacation rental.
While she wants her investment to appreciate, Alice is also a community advocate who, along with other expats, is working to revive Bourmont as a colony for creative types and craftspeople.
In the years since she bought her house, Alice has become a great resource for other expats looking for that dream house in a bucolic location. She has the trust of locals including the real estate agents, city officials and property owners who can get shoppers into homes that aren’t open to everyone, including properties owned by the municipality.
Just in the past two years, we’ve chatted with her repeatedly, and the overall impression we get is of a burgeoning trend – artists, successful entrepreneurs, expats and a few speculators from The Valley snapping up undervalued homes in her regions.
The majority of those buying in her village of Bourmont are Dutch professionals. They’re acquiring houses and fixing them up mostly as vacation homes in a scenic area two hours from Luxembourg and Basel and three hours from Paris, Geneva and Lyon.
Because there are no hotels for 50 miles, many of the homes are being repurposed into Airbnb properties, Alice said.
While there are no 1 euro deals as in Italy, houses in the Bourmont area range from “spectacular” chateaus for 100,000 euros to 5,000 euro dirt-floor shacks. Alice’s role is as a consultant who can bring in the local craftsmen to do the work. The French-speaking American can also introduce you to her local French friends, who all have the same goal – transforming the town.
“We want to get the houses in the hands of people who want them.”
That runs counter to some of the neighbors, who prefer to see other French people come down from Paris to buy. But Alice sees outsiders and their dreams of owning a piece of paradise as vital to the revival of this authentic corner of France Profonde.
And that’s what’s powering the revival of forgotten villages.
See more posts here about Bourmont from Dispatches’ archives.
In remote Spain, there are an estimated 3,000 abandoned villages, with an average of one village per week joining their ranks, according the BBC and other media.
British expat Mark Adkinson founded Galacian Country Homes, which lists affordable properties (which is sort of a relative concept) across northern Spain starting at about 30,000 euros and going to well above 1 million euros.
In Spain, the approach is different than in Italy, with the trend toward selling entire villages. A group of friends bought a village, which they’re restoring with plans to resell some of the properties.
The New York Times has the best post – “Looking for a Place in the Sun? How About an Abandoned Spanish Village” – about the Spanish approach. And the options are unlimited.
From the NYTimes post:
The going rate for a ruined hamlet is now close to €100,000. If you’re feeling flush, an entire village of 75 homes, all abandoned during the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939, will set you back €425,000. For a couple of million, you could even purchase a medieval hilltop settlement with its own fortress.
Even the Swiss are getting in on this. Monti Sciaga, near the Italian border, is offering nine properties for 1 Swiss franc each. The good news … the buildings are all hooked to the town water supply, which isn’t always the case. And this mountain town has a lake view. The bad news? This is one of the most remote parts of Switzerland, which could also be the good news if you’re seeking peace and quiet.