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One of the Hottest Property Booms Is Being Driven by Rising Temperatures

In the popular imagination, the picture-perfect French country home is nestled among lavender fields on the slopes of Provence or perched near the crystal-blue waters of the Mediterranean.

But as residents of Paris — much like their peers in New York, London or San Francisco during the pandemic — gravitate toward a more bucolic and affordable lifestyle, they’re looking beyond the glamorous Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in the south. They’re increasingly hunting for homes in France’s north-west, boosting the housing market in previously staid Brittany, Normandy and the Loire Valley.

These northern regions are experiencing some of the fastest house-price growth in the country. Prices in Brittany, for example, grew 13.5% over the past two years, according to data from real estate aggregator Meilleurs Agents. Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur’s growth was just 6% during that same period.

“It’s a mix of climate change driving people to cooler climates and urban folks tired of city life,” said Solenne Guezenec, a communications manager at real estate firm Barnes Nantes-La Baule.  She has seen a jump in the number of Parisians leaving the capital for La Baule, a now much sought-after seaside town in the Loire region.

The English have long flocked to Brittany, especially to the northern Cotes-d’Armor region, according to a 2017 study from France’s national statistics agency. About 12,000 British nationals resided in Brittany in 2016, up from 5,000 people in 1999. Yet that number could decrease as people fear for their status under Brexit rules, said Maggie Fee from the Association Intégration Kreiz Breizh, a local non-profit that helps new residents settle in Brittany.

“Some people are afraid they won’t qualify for residency, others don’t want to cope with the added stress,” she said. She has noticed fewer arrivals this year from the U.K. and some British people moving back home.

Parisians Seek Escape

In France, the north-west was previously looked down on for its wet and volatile weather — it evoked English artist J.M.W. Turner’s paintings of cold, stormy coasts rather than the sun-dappled beauty of the Route Cézanne. But as rising temperatures roasted large swathes of the country the past few summers, the region has boasted more moderate temperatures and clear sunny days.

Other reasons are also driving the move. Some city dwellers felt unsafe after a spate of terrorist attacks in France over 2015 and 2016. Besides, Paris was only getting ever more expensive while apartments seemed to get smaller. Like almost everywhere else in the world, lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic brought on a craving for more outdoor space and fresh air, and presented the possibility of remote work. Provence and the French Riviera are for tourists, celebrities and the ultra-rich.

“People just really want to breathe,” said Guezenec.

Take Marie Bedhet, a 38-year-old dress designer who was living in La Courneuve, a Paris suburb. After becoming disillusioned with city life, she and her partner Antoine sold their house and traveled around the country in a trailer with their two kids for a year.

When they wanted to settle down, she found her dream spot: the Cap Sizun, in the western tip of Brittany.

“One day we stopped our truck in front of a beach and Antoine turned to me and asked ‘How do you feel about settling down here?.’ So we did,” she said. “It’s paradise here.”

Demand from buyers like Bedhet have boosted home prices. In Brittany, they’ve risen 7.2% to to 2,996 euros ($3,545) per square meter in just the past year, according to data from Meilleurs Agents. Manche in Normandy, home to the port town made famous by the Catherine Deneuve-starrer “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” has seen a 5.9% increase to 3,110 euros. Prices in the Atlantic Coast region, home to Ile de Ré, La Rochelle and the Arcachon Bay, grew 5.6% to 4,372 euros.

Demand from buyers like Bedhet have boosted home prices. In Brittany, they’ve risen 7.2% to to 2,996 euros ($3,545) per square meter in just the past year, according to data from Meilleurs Agents. Manche in Normandy, home to the port town made famous by the Catherine Deneuve-starrer “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” has seen a 5.9% increase to 3,110 euros. Prices in the Atlantic Coast region, home to Ile de Ré, La Rochelle and the Arcachon Bay, grew 5.6% to 4,372 euros.

Those who called Brittany home before it came into vogue aren’t all ecstatic about the influx of new residents. Marie Jolivet, a 28-year-old resident of Audierne, a quaint port town in Brittany’s far west, said it was difficult to find a place she and her partner could afford this past year.

“Prices went up like crazy, people from the cities were buying without even visiting the place,” she said, “It was something we had never seen before.”

Jolivet says people are coming up north partly because it’s too hot in the south. “Here we have cool summers,” she said.

She finally found a place she could afford, in Cléden-Cap-Sizun, a borough by the land’s end, for 160,000 euros, with an estimated 100,000 euros worth of construction needed to make the place livable.

“Locals have had a hard time digesting the news,” said real estate agent Becker. “It’s taking them longer to find their dream house.”

That’s not stopping the inflow. Sylvie Lesgourgues, a painter, lived in Paris for 40 years before she decided to relocate to Brittany. The 62-year-old said she felt opportunities to sell her art in the city were waning, and she couldn’t afford to pay 1,000 euros a month for her one-bed apartment in the hip 19th arrondissement.

With 60,000 euros from her late parents’ home in Normandy, Lesgourgues bought a 220 square meter house in Audierne, and moved there with her husband. She’s planning to spend another 22,000 euros on renovation.

Since her move to Audierne, she says “I sell my art really well. I also give classes. As a young retiree, I found work again. I really feel like I’m living again.”

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