© Ville de Toulouse - Boigontier
La Vie en Rose
August 10, 2011
After two years of studying French at university in Manchester, the red-brick city that was once Britain’s industrial heartland, I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I found myself in Toulouse for a school year abroad.
Wandering around the beautiful southwestern city during my first weeks there, I relished the cobbled squares packed with cafés and bars, the wide banks of the Garonne River, and the streets lined with wonderfully glamorous boutiques—the sort that students like me could only dream about. I had traveled only a little over 700 miles to my temporary new home, but I felt a million miles from Manchester.
Toulouse, the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées region, is France’s fourth largest city and home to some 400,000 people. Like Manchester, it’s a thriving university town, with some 100,000 student residents, and like Manchester it’s primarily built of brick. But Toulouse is renowned for its pretty pink hue, and is commonly called La Ville Rose, in marked contrast to the industrial red brick of Manchester.
Today Toulouse is one of France’s fastest growing cities, and it’s the European capital of the aviation and space industries. The links with aeronautics began just after World War I, when France’s first international air mail service, Aéropostale, was established in the Toulouse area, and famed early pilots including Jean Mermoz and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of Le Petit Prince, were based in the city. It’s now the headquarters of EADS (European Aeronautics Defense and Space), an international French-German-Spanish company incorporating the former Aérospatiale, which—among other things—builds Airbus planes and Eurocopter helicopters.
The pink-brick city is also a popular tourist destination, with a well-preserved historic center, spectacular medieval and Renaissance churches, important art and history museums, a state-of-the-art space museum and—not least—a sunny, temperate climate and a superb site along the banks of the Garonne River. It’s also traversed by the 17th-century Canal du Midi, part of the man-made navigable waterway that connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
Landing in Toulouse as a newcomer student, my first job was to search for a place to rent. More than 65% of residents in Toulouse are renters rather than owners, so there was a lot of choice, and quite a few helpful real estate agents. I was extremely lucky to find a spacious two-bedroom apartment on a street leading off from the city’s main square, the Place du Capitole, where I spent a memorable year learning what many others have since come to realize about La Ville Rose.
Last year, the international real estate agency Knight Frank named Toulouse one of the best places in the world to live. The agency looked at a number of destinations for those considering a relocation, based on considerations such as economic and political stability, climate, accessibility, tax structure, health, education and the state of the property market. Their top accolade for the best all-round lifestyle destination went to southwest France.
The region’s popularity, and the pace at which it is growing, can be measured by the number of new air routes being introduced at Blagnac Airport, a first-class facility only six miles from the city center. This year, new destinations available to and from Toulouse include Newcastle, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Milan and Rome. The airport is also well served by flights to the United States.
Given all this, it’s not surprising that the Notaires de France, the national association of notaries (notary services are an essential aspect of all French property sales) recently cited Toulouse as one of the star performers in terms of housing prices in the first quarter of 2011. Sales in the region have increased by 3.7%, and the expectation is that they will continue to rise throughout the year.
“Paris, Marseille and other large urban centers like Toulouse have seen a sharp rise in prices over recent months,” says property expert Anne Mizrachi, of the real estate agency Latitudes. “I think Toulouse is doing so well because it’s a large city, with lots of large companies such as Airbus, Météo France [the national weather service] and others—they attract some 20,000 people a year, who need to buy or rent. So it’s a good market for both investors and end users. There is a limited supply of property in the center of town, so prices go up. And there is also good infrastructure.” The advantages of buying in a city like Toulouse are many, says Mizrachi, but most importantly, there is high demand and properties are easy to resell—meaning sound investment.
Most of the properties in the city are apartments, making up around 80% of all residential space, with prices now standing at an average of €2,350 (about $3,405) per square meter (nearly 11 square feet). One-bedroom apartments in older character buildings go for around €2,100 to €3,000 a square meter, depending on location, while new two-bedroom apartments sell for between €2,930 and €3,700.
Prices decrease the farther away from the city center you go, of course. Apartments in historic buildings near Le Capitole, for example, or in the Busca and Les Carmes areas, come with much higher price tags than those in Saint Cyprien, Saint Michel or Patte d’Oie—all areas popular with students.
The difference in property prices from one quarter to another is significant. There is a two-bedroom apartment in an old building a little over 200 yards from Place du Capitole currently on the market for €314,000. A similar apartment in Saint Michel is being sold for €104,000. Studio apartments are few and far between, and therefore command disproportionately higher prices.
There are a number of areas in the city where you can still find family houses, such as La Côte Pavée, east of the center; Chalets, just north of the center, near the Canal du Midi; and Saint Cyprien, opposite the center on the Left Bank of the Garonne, where the city’s former slaughterhouses now house a municipal contemporary art collection.
Several towns on the outskirts of Toulouse have also become popular with families, such as Pibrac and Colomiers, west of Blagnac Airport. They attract many of the employees who have relocated to the region to work in the aeronautic industry. Prices are more reasonable, schools are excellent and the journey to and from work is less hectic. A modern four-bedroom family house in Pibrac, for example, is currently on the market for €260,000.
Originally published in the July/August 2011 issue of France Today
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