Thanks to the appeal of year-round Mediterranean sunshine, a relaxed pace of life, and stunning scenery, luxury real estate in Monaco and the South of France has long been sought after. And, say the experts we spoke to, the demand for a retreat in this region has not been dented by the pandemic—although, according to the French Notaries’ Congress Association, the buyer profile typically seen here is changing.
While the association reports a market that has impressively retained its resilience throughout a series of lockdowns in both 2020 and 2021, it notes that “foreigners are notably absent on the map.” In the Côte d’Azur and Provence, says Heathcliff Zingraf, C.E.O. of Michaël Zingraf Real Estate, “we have had fewer visitors from abroad.” But, he adds, “Parisians are still looking for the sun.”
On Corsica, Emmanuel Castellani, founder and C.E.O of Corse Prestige Immobilier, reports that while the market is seeing less inventory, locals from mainland France view the island as an escape from their cities. “A lot of properties are already rented for the tourist season,” he explains, “so for owners this is not the time to sell.”
However, real estate in Monaco is more dependent on foreign visitors, says Laurent Locchi, director of Miells & Partners. While the principality is prized for its status as a tax haven, “For much of the last year it has been impossible for people to come from anywhere except France, and French residents don’t get the same tax advantages as outsiders,” he explains. Instead, he says, the marketplace is now “dealing mainly with residents and mostly with resales.”
Whatever their challenges, none of these brokerages feel their annual figures have suffered. Fewer visitors have not equated to lower performance, although the restrictions of the pandemic have certainly impacted the market in different ways.
“Things have been challenging since the pandemic started, with restrictions in travel allowing only a short period in which to bring property to the marketplace,” admits Castellani. But he adds that while there have been “very few” new transactions in the past year, the area’s low supply has driven up prices. The resulting difference in year-on-year performance has therefore been “only a couple of percentage points.”
Zingraf has seen a similarly even result. “The first lockdown meant that for three months we couldn’t do any business, but the volume of transactions for the remaining nine months meant our overall performance was similar to last year,” he explains.
All three real estate professionals agree that the pandemic has given rise to a number of new trends in real estate for both Monaco and Southeastern France. According to Castellani, Corsica is seeing “an interest in more isolated properties with a lot of space around them.”
“We have had more requests for homes with gardens, and with more space inside, including somewhere to work,” agrees Zingraf. “These are still second homes, however, as Parisians are temporarily moving out of the city and are looking to buy within one or two hours of the capital.”
While an increased demand for space is not something the marketplace in Monaco, with its limited real estate stock, is experiencing, Locchi has embraced another new trend: marketing innovations.
“We’ve developed new ways of selling online and through video, and have increased our presence on social media,” he says. “We’re trying to reach customers directly in their pockets via their mobiles, by using Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest.”
Castellani has also turned to online platforms in a region previously not used to digital marketing: “In Corsica, we are traditionally focussed on face-to-face contact,” he explains, “but we have started using Instagram and other social media.”
“We are offering virtual visits, and are increasingly being asked to arrange video tours of our properties,” says Zingraf. He adds that, as well as attracting buyer interest, technology is now also helping the brokerage to close sales. “We now have online mandates in place for all the administrative parts of the transaction.”
Investment opportunities remain sound throughout the region, especially given the seclusion that both Provence and Corsica offer. For Zingraf, the best investments lie in “Family homes where it’s possible to both live and work surrounded by a garden and peace and quiet.”
In Corsica, Castellani points to rental income as a consistent drawcard. “Corsica has great investment potential for those who would like to run a guest house or small hotel, as well as holiday homes and other opportunities connected with tourism,” he says. “That is a slightly untapped market here, with not a lot of outside investment, and prices are more attractive than on the mainland of the South of France—you get more for your buck.”
With less foreign demand for real estate in Monaco, Locchi believes that now is the time to buy. “It’s currently possible to find properties for €36,000 ($42,400) per square meter vs the usual €45,000–50,000 ($53,000–$59,000),” he explains.
The Outlook for 2021 and Beyond
So, what’s the outlook on real estate for the remainder of this year?
Ongoing restrictions may be a fact of life on the Riviera, where Zingraf admits: “We are a victim of our own success; more people come here, so we have more Covid implications.” Regardless, he says, “The prospects for the year ahead are good. We’ve had a lot of demand since the beginning of 2021, as people continue to look for places where they can comfortably spend a lockdown, and this has ensured buyers are less hesitant.”
Castellani is cautiously optimistic. “People mainly visit Corsica between April and September. We’re hopeful that restrictions such as curfews will be lifted during that time, as the island has to be fully explored in person to appreciate what it has to offer.”
For Locchi, much relies on Monaco’s borders reopening, but he’s encouraged by the fact that the principality is “already building the track for the 2021 Formula 1 Grand Prix, which was cancelled in 2020. I am hopeful we can use that opportunity and the remaining months of this year to make new business,” he adds. “Things can only get better.”