House Hunting in France: A Diamond in the Rough Near the Basque Coast

This nine-bedroom, Neo-Basque-style villa sits on a grassy 1.85-acre lot in Winter Park, a quiet residential district outside of downtown Biarritz, the resort town on France’s Basque coast, near the border with Spain.

Built in 1920, the 6,458-square-foot house was last renovated in the late 1990s, and has been unoccupied for five years. “You have to do some renovation work,” said Philippe Thomine-Desmazures, associate director of Barnes International Realty, Côte Basque, which has the listing.

A gravel driveway leads to the covered front portico. The entry hall has a checkerboard tile floor and a powder room. Double wood doors open to a parlor with high ceilings, a terra-cotta tile floor and a broad fireplace. French doors with transoms lead to the garden.

Beyond a trio of arches is a library with a fireplace, a double living room with a bay window, and a banquet-style dining room with extensive moldings, each with parquet floors and doors opening to a terrace or garden.

The kitchen has a white-and-blue patterned ceramic tile floor, with a La Cornue range against one wall and a glass breakfront with wood trim against another. Through a parlor archway, a stone staircase with a decorative metal balustrade leads to a Juliet balcony overlooking the ground floor.

The primary bedroom suite, at the center of the second floor, has pink wallpaper, floor-to-ceiling drapes and transomed double doors opening to a terrace. To one side is a bathroom with a barrel-shaped coffered ceiling over a claw foot tub. To the other side, a tub with a wood surround from a second bathroom off the bedroom juts into a study with armoires, bookshelves and windows overlooking the property.

Flanking the primary suite are two more bedrooms with wood-plank floors, decorative moldings and double balcony doors. Each has a full bath with a claw foot tub.

The third floor has five bedrooms. The largest has a seating area beneath exposed wood beams and a skylit bathroom. Two more bedrooms have exposed beams above dormer windows. A smaller nursery and maid’s rooms share a bathroom and separate commode.

The basement has a gas boiler room, a wine cellar and storage rooms.

The overgrown garden has plenty of room for a swimming pool, Mr. Thomine-Desmazures said, and an annex building has space for two to three cars and caretaker’s quarters.

The house is a few minutes’ walk to local bakeries, while restaurants and boutiques in the center of Biarritz are about a mile away. Once a small fishing village, Biarritz, with just over 25,000 residents on the Bay of Biscay, became a favored British winter residence and a darling of royals (“the queen of resorts and the resort of kings”) after Napoleon III and his Spanish empress, Eugénie, visited in 1854. It has long been considered the surfing capital of France.

Biarritz Pays Basque Airport, with flights to eight European countries, is a three-minute drive from the house. San Sebastián, the closest city in Spain, is a 30-minute drive.

Before the pandemic, most sales in Biarritz were for second homes used during high season, from April to October, when the population often quadrupled. “Biarritz and the area have been very sought after for secondary residences since Imperial times,” said Bénédicte Marchal, director of Biarritz Sotheby’s International Realty. “A lot of people from the aristocracy like to be in Biarritz.”

But since 2020, as in resort towns worldwide, the market has skewed younger. “We have seen many, many people between 35 and 45 move here to work remotely, or to go to work two to three days a week in Paris, Madrid or London and come back,” said Mr. Thomine-Desmazures, the listing agent. “We saw many, many people who moved their family here. It was a booming market with Covid.”

Those newcomers found a cramped seller’s market with surging prices. In the past few years, only small buildings with 10 to 15 apartments have been built in Biarritz, and approvals are hard to come by. “It is difficult to knock down and build something new,” Mr. Thomine-Desmazures said.

The pandemic added another layer of complexity, as inventory dwindled further. “We have some property that we work off market, confidentially, and some people prefer that,” Ms. Marchal said. “People are afraid to sell because they don’t know if they can buy something else. They don’t want to get stuck.”

The tight conditions in Biarritz have led to an average 15 percent rise in home prices over the past year, with luxury homes up 30 percent “if the property is well renovated and if it’s on the first line to the sea,” Ms. Marchal said.

Mr. Thomine-Desmazures said the average sale price in his office last year was 1.45 million euros ($1.64 million), with 50 houses going between 1 million and 1.5 million euros ($1.13 million and $1.7 million), and 10 selling for over 3 million euros ($3.4 million).

Stanislas de Roumefort, a partner in Côte Ouest Immobilier, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, said local prices have doubled since 2016, including a 40 percent spike in the past two years. “The market in the area was the most dynamic area in real estate in the country last year, and it is not because of the Covid,” Mr. de Roumefort said. “The only reason — and it is only this reason — is the bank. You can go to the bank, get money and buy.”

At his company, he said, an investor client bought four properties at 2 million euros apiece ($2.26 million), with just 15 percent down, and sold the lot for about 16 million euros ($18.1 million), he said. Ms. Marchal also noted an influx of investors aiming to create full-service luxury rentals, with butlers and cooks.

Villas with sea views sell for between 3 million and 10 million euros ($3.4 million and $11.3 million, Mr. de Roumefort said.

High-ceilinged apartments carved out of divided palaces and villas from the early 20th century sell for more than homes with balconies in buildings from the 1960s or 1970s. “The older buildings go for more,” Ms. Marchal said.

Even with the uptick near the Basque coast, prices remain less expensive than on France’s Côte d’Azur, where properties can fetch up to $40 million, Ms. Marchal said. “It’s more authentic, confidential and discreet than the Côte d’Azur,” she said. “The coastline is still more untouched, wild.”

About 80 percent of buyers in Biarritz and the Basque Coast are French, coming mostly from Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse. Buyers also arrive from Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the United States, agents said.

Many French buyers are expatriates, while others come from Germany, Italy and Russia. “Mr. Putin has two houses in Biarritz,” Mr. de Roumefort said, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin. “His former wife has a house and his daughter has a house.”

An hour east, in the rolling hills of southwest France’s Occitanie region, prices are comparatively attractive and British buyers predominate, said Jack Harris, a partner in the International Residential Department at Knight Frank, based in London. American buyers also look for large chateau-style properties or authentic manor houses.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in France. Closing costs, paid by the buyer, run about 7.5 percent of the price, Ms. Marchal said. Most sales are handled by notaries working on behalf of the government, for both the seller and the buyer.

As of Jan. 1, French mortgages cannot exceed 25 years and the debt ratio cannot exceed 35 percent.

Because of the reluctance of major French banks to lend to U.S. citizens, most American buyers should consider a cash purchase, Mr. Harris said.

French; euro (1 euro = $1.13)

The annual property tax on this house is 5,000 euros ($5,663).

Philippe Thomine-Desmazures, Barnes International Realty Côte Basque, 011-33-6-62-68-81-91;

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.