Living la bonne vie
Buying a home in the French countryside is a dream worth exploring. See 7 homes on the market now.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Thomas Jefferson said, "Every American has a second home in France."
Many 21st century Americans are taking that literally. More than 100,000 currently live in France, according to State Department figures, and there's evidence indicating that number is increasing.
Foreign ownership of French properties has ballooned during the past few years with Brits leading the charge. But Americans have picked up the slack after a stagnant period following Sept. 11. The areas most popular with Americans include Paris, of course, as well as Provence and Bordeaux.
It's not hard to understand why -- there's the lifestyle centered around enjoyment of leisure time, fine food and wines, and gorgeous countryside pleasantly punctuated by thousands of charming villages and fabulous cities. Plus there are no restrictions on foreigners owning property in France and few on residency.
And French real estate can be viewed as a bargain compared with many regions around the United States.
For less than the price of a tear down in Santa Monica, you could buy a mansion in Aquitaine or Languedoc. A condo in New York costs about 50 percent more than a similar one in Paris, according to a new condominium price survey from Coldwell Banker.
There's a wealth of beautiful châteaux, manor houses, and mills many costing no more than an average four-bedroom house back home. (see gallery)
Better exchange rate
Helping Americans to afford these properties is an exchange rate that has grown more favorable this year. The euro was trading in January of 2005 for about $1.35, now it goes for less than $1.18. That means a property costing 200,000 euros last year translated to $270,000. This year that would cost less than $235,000, about 15 percent less.
And prices in France have stabilized. Howard Farmer, of 1st-for-french-property.co.uk, an online broker, reports that house prices had been going up about 10 to 15 percent a year until this year, when the rate slowed.
According to Farmer, the advent of budget airlines has increased interest in the areas around some of France's regional airports such as Bergerac, Perpignan, Carcassonne, Nice, Toulouse, and La Rochelle. They have become hotspots for foreign buyers.