The mere mention of a home in Provence—thank you very much, Peter Mayle and your best-selling book about spending a year there—conjures notions of impossibly blue skies, dreamy fields of lavender, sun-splashed landscapes that inspire great artists (think Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso) and a rustic countryside home just oozing with charm.
Along with Italy’s Tuscany region, this broad swath of southeastern France ranks as one of Europe’s most desirable locations for a second home. Bounded by the Rhone River on the west, the Mediterranean to the south, and the Maritime Alps and Italy to the east, Provence dispenses its bounty upon those seeking everything from ancient hilltop villages, fine wines, and esteemable culinary delights to a glittery coastline studded with celebrity havens.
That timeless allure explains why the market for second homes here has not suffered from the hiccups plaguing the European economy as a whole.
"We’ve kept waiting for the market to turn bad, but it just hasn’t happened," says Tess Sheeran, associate director of Sheeran Serre, an affiliate of international realtor Savills. "Indeed, we’re coming off one of our strongest summers ever."
As a result, homes in Provence have enjoyed a steady appreciation in recent years, especially compared to other parts of Europe, says Sheeran, who recalls a home she sold for about $522,000 five years ago that is now on the market for about $845,000.
For those seeking a home that ticks off the major items on a Provence checklist—view, charm, proximity to a village, maybe a bit of land to go with it—the entry level is about $800,000, although smaller homes in villages can be found in the $400,000 range. The price increases considerably when the home has a pedigree that dates back a couple of centuries.
"Homes that fetch the most and that hold an enduring appeal, are those that look 17th century on the outside but are fully 21st century on the inside," says Sheeran.
Of the foreign buyers drawn to Provence, many hail from Great Britain and Scandinavia and come seeking a place in the sun. North Americans make up a sizeable portion of the foreign market, says Sheeran, with increasing numbers of buyers from Hong Kong. One trend that Sheeran has noticed is that more and more foreign buyers are shying away from overbuilt and overhyped places like Cannes or Nice, choosing instead to go west toward St. Tropez or looking inland for a mas, one of the traditional farmhouses of the Provençal countryside.
"Most people who come here to invest pay cash and have done their research in advance," she says. "They can afford to take their time to fully survey the market and choose exactly what they want."
There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in France, although when it comes to selling that’s a different matter since capital gains taxes vary depending on what country the seller lives in, whether it’s a primary or second home, and, to discourage purely speculative buying, how long the seller has owned the home. Taxes are the biggest part of the transaction cost, about six or seven percent, with a standard real estate commission of about five percent included in the sales price.