Everyone wants a piece of the idyllic island of Ile de Re, with housing prices soaring

Oyster farmers are a shy breed, says Pierre, 33, in part to explain why he doesn’t want to use his real name. But his reservation is also due to his status as someone who was born, raised and now runs a successful business in Ile de Re, on the west coast of France – but he can’t buy a home there.

“Even finding a place to rent is difficult because most owners want to rent out their homes and get high rents from tourists in August, so if you find a rental property you often have to vacate in the summer,” he says. His oyster farm and restaurant are located in Ars-en-Ré, a picturesque village with a distinctive black-and-white Gothic church and narrow alleys of flower-clad houses. But on a small island with a limited number of residences – and very few for sale – even a tiny two-bedroom house there would cost over a million euros.

However, Pierre and his girlfriend found a solution. Since last September, the island’s urban plan (PLUi) has allowed homeowners to subdivide and sell portions of their land. “We made a deal with my dad and we bought 50 square meters of a five-bedroom holiday home in Le Bois Plage and converted it into a one-bedroom home,” he says. “We all agreed, of course, but usually it’s not that easy as people fight for a little bit of Ile de Re. Other people I know end up renting mobile homes for the long term.”

Ile de Re – a perfect outcrop of golden sandy beaches, vineyards and pine forests, which many locals and tourists traverse by bike – has long been a playground for wealthy Parisians. But during the pandemic, it gained a new level of popularity. In the days leading up to the first lockdown in March 2020, there was a chokehold on the two-kilometre land bridge that connects it to the mainland city of La Rochelle, as French families fled to their holiday homes.

The island’s permanent population of 17,000 has swelled by between 3,000 and 5,400, respectively, according to Charente Maritime Police and Orange Mobile. Real estate prices have been on the rise since then. Le Bois Plage, located in the center of the island, saw the highest rises of 32 percent in the year to May, according to figures from Christie’s International Real Estate based on average price per square meter.

The port city of San Martin de Rey | © Sergio Formoso / Getty

“A lot of sellers asked us to raise our prices. They added €100,000 or €200,000 to €1.5 million and were getting it,” says Angelique Sautil, commercial director of Maxwell Pines, Christie’s commercial agent in La Rochelle, in that early period of the pandemic. “They were basically Parisians who could make a lot of money selling their Paris home, but the British market was surprisingly strong too – people wanted to keep some of their money in Europe.”

Mélanie Lefevre of La Rochelle Île de Ré Sotheby also reported higher demand, with sales in 2021 up nearly 40 percent from pre-pandemic levels. Bank financing was easy to get and people were making impulse purchases. Some didn’t think about the fact of doing a renovation project and they’re already reselling them, but they didn’t lose because prices kept going up.”

Prices on the island are the highest in the Charente-Maritime region, with average prices in Le Bois-Plage and La Flotte averaging €8,385 per square meter and €8,223 per square metre this month, compared to the regional average of €2,323 per square metre. , according to real estate portal Figaro Immobilier. Homes start at about 1 million euros, and go up to 5 million euros for the more sought-after “hidden” homes, says Lefevre, referring to properties hidden in large rural plots in Les Ports-en-Rey, an enclave in the far northwest. A tip popular with owners of Parisian and Belgian vacation homes.

Islanders often mention the sense of security that comes from being a bridge away from the mainland, or “the continent,” as they call it. Sawtell says some buyers are swapping life on the Côte d’Azur for Île de Ré, as they feel it’s safer. “But the people who buy here are not citizens. There are no new fortunes here.”

There seems to be little sense of individual skill. Most dwellings on Ile de Re consist of immaculate, white-painted one-story houses with shutters and gates painted in a limited palette of greens allowed by the local council (a hangover when local fishermen used to paint their boats green, then used the leftover paint on the woodwork in their homes ). Even the controlled-rent residences scattered across the island follow the same architectural aesthetic and color code, so it’s hard to distinguish between millionaires and average wages. But many prominent French politicians and celebrities are among those who own homes here.

Map of Ile de Re, France

“It’s a little paradise. You feel it the moment you cross the bridge. There are no traffic lights here and no ads [billboards]“But the cost of housing is a big problem. There are just new people buying here now,” she adds, referring to buyers from Paris, Lyon, Switzerland, the UK and Belgium.

“We are losing that part of the heritage, the local community. Real estate prices have made it very difficult for people – especially young people – to live here. It feels like a vacation island now, not a place to live all year round.”

Christopher Vadot, a former French-British journalist who founded a concierge company, Holiday Services, in 2003 likens the island’s extreme seasonality to theater. “It has an off-the-stage feel. At the end of October, the lights went out — except for Christmas and New Years. In April, they turned them back on and the show started again,” he says.

He lives in Rivido, a seaside town near the bridge, with his wife and daughter, and takes care of 70 rental properties, managing everything from rentals and maintenance to furniture construction and bicycle repair.

The village of Les Portes-en-Ré

Les Portes-en-Ré Village | © Hemis / Alamy

He has identified three types of people who live in Ile-de-Ré. “There is an old Rétais [locals] who have been here for generations, the new Rétais, like me, who lived before, have moved here and worked either in La Rochelle or from home, and the retirees, who come for a few months at a time, often divide their time between here and houses in Paris or London” .

People over the age of 60 make up 39 percent of the population, compared to the French average of 24.4 percent, and the average age of second homeowners on the island is 67, according to PLUi for 2020. Vadot says, despite ambitions to reach To 20,000 permanent residents, the island’s population is declining. “Only in a small amount, but it goes in the wrong direction. The lack of housing often means that people have to leave the island. And while it is a great place for young children, there is nothing for teenagers. Once they turn 16, they have to go to school in La Rochelle. “.

He also talks about the difficulty of finding employees for those who run companies. “The general policy to limit new development is good, but it does mean that existing homes are so expensive that people who work in shops or schools can’t afford to live locally. It also means there aren’t a lot of options – if you don’t like a local electrician, you’ll find it difficult. In finding another electrician. This is the island way of life.”

The bridge to the mainland

The bridge to the mainland © Andia / Alamy

The characteristics of island life are exactly what some real estate hunters want to buy in. A London couple, a 56-year-old freelance journalist and her husband, a 60-year-old chartered accountant, who prefer to remain anonymous, purchased a three-bedroom bungalow with a pool in Loix in 2011, after surprising On the island on vacation.

Their home is now worth around €750,000, “much more than we paid,” she says. “We love the clean, salty air, big skies, and total calm – out of season anyway. We ride our bikes to wild Atlantic beaches, often without ever seeing a single car, and we love watching the colors change in the vineyards and salt marshes that surround our villages.”

Residents say the influx of vacationers each summer — when the island hits pressure of up to 10 times its usual population — presents a challenge. There are traffic jams and chaos on bikes as amateur cyclists compete for space on trails that weave through fields and forests. “Until Bastille Day [July 14] It’s okay, and then it gets crazy. “Nobody feels like they’re doing their jobs right in the summer,” Vadot says.

But there is a trade-off, of course. “Locals know the income this brings,” says Jeremy Capolone at La Rochelle Île de Ré Sotheby’s. “These people spend a lot of money in restaurants, they buy ice cream and oysters.”

Residents who can’t handle the crowds have the option to take advantage of higher summer rents and head the other way across the bridge. As Vadot says, there’s no better time to visit Paris than in August, as much of the city seems to end up in Ile de Re.

what you can buy. . .

La Flute, 2.13 million euros

Old building courtyard

A five-bedroom house in La Flotte, a seaside village on the eastern side of the island. Built in 1821, the former artist’s studio contains 270 square meters of living space, a patio, two annexes, a workshop and a garage. For sale with La Rochelle Ile de Re Sotheby’s International Realty.

Sainte-Marie-de-Rey 3.1 million euros

Large swimming pool in front of the villa

Six-bedroom beachfront villa with swimming pool in the village of Sainte-Marie-de-Ré, in the southeast of the island. The 274 sq m home is located on a plot of approximately 1,450 sq m and includes an office, games room, heated outdoor pool and landscaped gardens. On the market with Maxwell-Baynes.

Les Portes-en-Ré, 3.15 million euros

House yard with tree-lined garden

Six-bedroom house in the northern village of Les Portes-en-Ré, on a plot of 600 square metres. Four en-suite bedrooms and there is a total of 205 square meters of living space, including a basement. The garden includes a sheltered terrace for al fresco dining. Listed with Victoria Keys Île de Ré.

Buying Guide

  • Property renewal is strictly controlled in Ile de Re. Scaling up properties is tricky and residents can only use certain colors on the woodwork (green, and sometimes, gray).

  • Purchase costs in France are usually around 7 percent of the sale price and include stamp duties, real estate registration costs and notary fees. A 5 percent real estate agent fee is usually included in the price.

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