A second home on the coast of France? It may sound out of reach for most of us, but, believe it or not, it’s actually not that much of stretch in certain areas not as well known as say, Nice, Cannes, or Saint-Tropez. Kelly Nyfeler, the director of sales for the Uptown Dallas office of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty recently purchased a vacation home in the French coastal city of Narbonne for under $600,000. The stylishly decorated three-bedroom townhouse with a saltwater pool and modern kitchen and bathrooms is located in Narbonne, a bit of a foodie mecca near beautiful beaches, vineyards, and ancient historic structures. You can experience it firsthand, too, as the house may be privately rented via Airbnb. Here are details:
How the House Purchase Came About
Two years ago, Kelly, a fifth-generation Texan, and her husband, James, had been talking for awhile about buying a vacation home in Europe. Both loved to travel, and Europe was a base convenient to countries James often visited through his work in global sales for IBM. Kelly came across a random newspaper article touting the Languedoc-Roussillon region on the southwestern coast of France as an affordable spot for retirement housing and mentioned it to James. Within a few days, he came home and announced, “Guess where I have an upcoming conference?”
A trip for 2 to Montpellier, a major city in the Languedoc region, was soon scheduled.While James attended conference meetings, Kelly looked into real estate in local villages, most of which had little to offer in the way of restaurants, among other things important to them. Almost the last day of their stay, a local contact said to her, “there is one up-and-coming place, Narbonne, you might want to check out. It’s 4 hours by train from Paris now, but that will be shorter soon when a train line that makes the trip in 3 hours opens.”
It was quickly evident that Narbonne, with a population of 55,000, was a township with amenities worth noting. Located about 10 minutes from the Mediterranean on the sea coast near France’s Spanish border, Narbonne was a trading post as early as 118 B.C., and is set on an ancient Roman road which connects Spain to Italy. The area is a popular holiday destination for French citizens who flock there to enjoy the beautiful beaches, natural areas, vineyards, and ancient historical sites including a famed cathedral, canal, Carcasonne, (a medieval citadel that is a UNESCO World Heritage site), and access to cultural and sports activities close at hand. Narbonne is a big rugby town with an avid local following. Average yearly temperatures range from 47°F in January to 75°F in July.
As to food: fleur de sel — gourmet sea salt — is harvested in salt marshes in the area. The local cuisine features classic Mediterranean ingredients, but also borrows from the rich fare of neighboring Gascony, Provence, and Catalan Spain (think cassoulet, seafood dishes such as bouillabaisse, and vegetables and meats grilled over vine cuttings) paired with wines such as Minervois, La Clape, Piquepoul, and Limoux, a sparkling wine dating to 1531 which some say inspired Dom Perignon’s “invention” of Champagne.
When they walked through the property for sale, the Nyfelers made an almost immediate decision. “I was trying hard to keep a (real estate-savvy professional) poker face,” said Kelly, smiling, “but when we walked through it and looked at each other, both of us knew right away we would buy it.”
They contracted to buy the house in October of last year and closed in January. Kelly, her husband, and two children, Henry (16) and Georgia (14) spent the summer there, to the whole family’s delight. “I wanted my kids to see a culture outside of the United States. They love the U.S., but they loved Europe, too,” Kelly noted.
Language is not a problem. Most of the French locals speak some English, and once an American attempts even a little French, they are more than willing to meet them halfway.
And now to the subject, a three-level townhouse located in the center of Narbonne — two blocks from the canal, an 8 minute walk to Les Halles (the local food market), and a 10 minute walk to the cathedral. Kelly estimates the house to be 150 to 200 years old. It was remodeled in 2007. A former interior designer, Kelly has outfitted the house with chic, eclectic furnishings and sophisticated touches.
On the ground floor are a study, living room, dining room, kitchen, sunroom, bathroom, and outdoor saltwater pool:
There’s a modern kitchen, which is stocked with a French press for coffee, blender, tea kettle, toaster, dishes, pans, flatware, etc.
And a sunroom which opens to a saltwater pool:
In the cavelike basement are a laundry room with washer and dryer and a second living area with dining table:
On the “first floor”(which in French lingo is the level above the “ground floor,” in other words, what we would call the second floor in the U.S.) are three bedrooms fitted with French linen sheets, and one full bath that is shared:
The living area has a king size sofa bed, bringing the total number the townhouse sleeps comfortably to 7. The house has heating and air-conditioning, television, wireless internet, a one-car garage and two bicycles with helmets for guests’ use.
The Nyfelers recommend taking a train from Paris, then renting a car in Narbonne to best enjoy the beach (a 15-minute drive), vineyards, and historic sites in the area. Barcelona, Spain is 2 hours away by train.
As of this writing, the Airbnb rate for the house is $174 per night, with a 5-night minimum and cleaning fee of $145. See the listing webpage for deposit, weekly and monthly discounts, availability, and more details.
Interested in a French Home of Your Home?
If this has whetted your appetite to look into purchasing a home of your own, Kelly has some helpful information to share:
- The sale of real estate is done quite differently in France from how it is handled in the U.S. There is no central MLS in France. Properties are listed with agents representing the seller. Buyers may or may not have an agent representing them. (Jon Anderson sheds more light on this in this informative interview of HGTV’s expert on international house hunting, Adrian Leeds.)
- Closings are typically handled by a “notaire,” with the expenses of 5-7 percent being paid by the buyer.
- Financing through French banks is feasible, often at better rates than in the U.S.
- Utility rates are about the same as for her home in Dallas, but she’s found property tax rates to be significantly lower in France.
- The time frame for closing real estate transactions is longer in France, often as much as 3 months.
- A place to start in sorting through the process is with Sotheby’s International Realty, which has listings in many areas of France.