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ENERGY

France to limit price hikes on gas and electricity

As energy prices soar across Europe, the French government has announced a raft of measures to protect consumers.

France to limit price hikes on gas and electricity
(Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, has promised a “price shield” for household gas and electricity consumers.

His announcement came during a television interview on TF1 on Thursday, with less than a year to go until the Presidential election. 

Gas prices are set to rise by 12.6 percent this month, following a 7.9 percent rise in September, but will then remain frozen until April 2022. Only 1 percent of gas consumed in France is produced in the country. Global demand for gas typically rises during winter periods – the French government is trying to ensure that consumers won’t suffer. 

To compensate the winter shortfall, gas companies are likely to charge consumers higher that normal rates once the freeze is lifted. 

“We have to manage a spike [in price],” said the Prime Minister. Experts predicted that the price of imported gas could rise by 30 percent by the end of the year without intervention. 

This strategy has been attacked on the French left, most succinctly by Fabien Roussel of the French Communist Party. 

“The prices will be blocked… after a hike of 12 percent on gas. What a scam!!!”, he tweeted. 

Those on the right have accused Castex and the government of fiscal irresponsibility in recent weeks, evoking an ‘open bar budget’ and ‘burning of the cash register’. Many, including the Senate leader of Les Republicains, Bruno Retailleau, described the energy plan as cynical electioneering.

READ ALSO Rising energy prices: How to save money on bills in France

“The government proposes a price shield on gas up until April. That’s to say just up until the presidentials. The price hikes will come later!” he wrote. 

The government is only able to freeze prices of gas for households subscribed to Engie – one of France’s oldest energy suppliers in which the state holds a majority stake. It is expected that other gas companies (which account for about ⅔ of French households) will fall in line, in order to stay competitive. 

The Prime Minister also announced that the next electricity price hike, planned for February 2022, would be limited to 4 percent after it had initially been forecast for three times as much. Since Emmanuel Macron was elected as President in 2017, electricity prices have doubled. 

The government had previously announced that six million of the poorest households in France would receive extra energy subsidies of €100 in December. The so-called chèques énergies (energy cheques) were initially put in place during the yellow vest protests as a way to quell discontent. 

A recent poll published by Opinionway predicts a second round victory for President Macron in next year’s election. But the first round could be tight, with the 43-year-old winning less than 30 percent of the vote. This being the case, the government has left room for maneuver on energy policy. 

“If the measures we take are not enough, we will strengthen them,” Castex promised.

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PROPERTY

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.

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