Property

French Connections

Just outside Paris is a 259-hectare site that is home to Pierre & Vacances’ ambitious and forthcoming vacation project: Villages Nature. Located in Val d’Europe – five minutes from Disneyland Paris, 10 to Charles de Gaulle airport, 30 to Paris, 90 to Brussels and just 120 minutes from London – Villages Nature sees itself as the future of sustainable travel.

Scheduled for completion in 2022, Villages Nature’s eventual facilities, activities and comfortable cottages sit at the heart of an officially sanctioned tourism hub that could be one of the busiest in the world. All of which makes it a logical way to expand private investment portfolios and still have a place in France to escape to.

The Case for France
Unlike its neighbour in the UK, France has flown under the investment radar for the past few years. According to research released in January by Notaires de France, foreign ownership of French property had dropped to just 1.4% in 2014, down from 2.8% in 2007, with non-residents purchasing just 1% of all property available that year. Of those foreign buyers, British nationals remain the largest investors, owning nearly 33% of all overseas held property.

Nonetheless, France remains a smart purchase. Of Paris, in particular, Stephan von Barczy, director of JLL’s investment department, stated in the agency’s 2016 Why Invest in Paris report: “The Paris real estate market offers solid fundamentals to investors which allow them to plan long-term acquisitions: transparency, maturity, liquidity.

“It’s worth remembering that, with 53 million square metres, the Greater Paris Region has the largest real estate stock in Europe and the third largest in the world after Tokyo and New York.

“Rental activity is very strong with levels of take-up running at twice those seen in London. In terms of investment volumes, Paris is also highly active and has been up on the top step of the podium of continental European cities for several years posting €18 billion in investments in 2014 and 2015.”

Combined with continuing all-time low mortgage interest rates, the Paris region’s popularity with major corporations (automaker Peugeot, BNP Paribas, retailer Carrefour), government policy that encourages investment as well as commitment to long-term growth (with its Grand Paris plan, former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s sweeping programme of infrastructure, heritage, housing and sustainability development) and France is making a solid argument for itself.

Back to Nature

When Villages Nature first launched, softly, in Hong Kong a few years back, the US dollar was relatively weak and the Euro was high. What a difference a few months make. Now with conditions reversed, Hong Kong investors find themselves coming at the project from a currency advantage.

Combine that with strong rental yields in a growing tourism hub in the heart of Europe (France and Paris remain the first and fifth most visited destinations in the world according to the WTO), owning one of the 916 cottages or apartments is a low-risk way to diversify private portfolios.

Low-risk also because of the primary developer behind Villages Nature: Pierre & Vacances Center Parcs Group. With nearly a half-century in property management and development, P&V currently manages 50,000 properties for 24,000 owners and welcomed 7.5 million visitors last year.

It’s a recognisable and reputable brand for the French and Villages Nature’s partner – Disneyland – the most popular tourist destination in Europe. Both go a long way to ensuring the project’s 10 years of guaranteed rental returns as high as 4%.

But it’s the actual design and mandate that make Villages Nature notable. Broken into three distinct interiors styles – the English-style Nature, the sophisticated Bulle and the bright, family friendly Clan – the fully furnished residences of Phase 1 integrate the surrounding nature as lakefront properties or those set amid the forest.

Only 10% of Villages Nature’s total area is developed. In the developer’s own words, “Villages Nature is a major innovation in family friendly sustainable tourism, designed entirely around the quest for harmony between man and nature.

“A stay at Villages Nature is a chance to discover – or rediscover – the joys and wonder of living at one with nature. This concept expresses itself through new and unforgettable experiences in interaction with the natural world in all its diversity.”

The entire development will operate according to strict sustainable tourism guidelines, including a zero carbon footprint with a focus on geothermal energy, a zero waste policy involving waste recovery and recycling, creation of a car-free destination, sustainable and locally sourced water, materials and food, managing and conserving the area’s wildlife, environment and culture, and a dedication to improved standards of living for both guests and staff.

Among the facilities and activities for all ages are the Hanging Gardens, the Lakeside Promenade, the Playhouse, and the Aqualagoon, Villages Nature’s flagship attraction. Housed in a striking pyramid and designed by Jacques Ferrier, Aqualagoon is one of Europe’s largest indoor water parks – 97,000 square feet of waterfalls, pools and an active river.

Owners have the option of purchasing cottages and forfeiting vacation time to maximise rental income (4%) or five other rental agreements that earn between 2.9% and 3.7% and include short stays.

Units also come with resale protection guarantees. Prices range between €230,000 and €450,000 (HK$2.2 to $4 million).