House Hunting in France: A Self-Sufficient Home for $350,000

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An Eco-Friendly Retreat in Northeastern France

$352,000 (316,000 EUROS)

This in Hultehouse, a commune in the Grand Est region of northeastern France, is built entirely from natural materials to blend into its environment near the edge of the Northern Vosges Regional Nature Park.

“The way the house was conceived, you feel like you are completely alone with nature,” said Sébastien Gazso, of Espaces Atypiques, the listing agent for the property.

Designed by the architect-owner in 2006, the three-bedroom house borrows from the Alsatian tradition of half-timbered houses, using local materials and an internal timber structure without steel or other manufactured supports.

“Even if it looks contemporary, the interior is an ancient technique,” Mr. Gazso said, adding that it was the owner’s intention to create a prototype that could be easily and sustainably reproduced.

An Eco-Friendly Retreat in Northeastern France

$352,000 (316,000 EUROS)

This in Hultehouse, a commune in the Grand Est region of northeastern France, is built entirely from natural materials to blend into its environment near the edge of the Northern Vosges Regional Nature Park.

“The way the house was conceived, you feel like you are completely alone with nature,” said Sébastien Gazso, of Espaces Atypiques, the listing agent for the property.

Designed by the architect-owner in 2006, the three-bedroom house borrows from the Alsatian tradition of half-timbered houses, using local materials and an internal timber structure without steel or other manufactured supports.

“Even if it looks contemporary, the interior is an ancient technique,” Mr. Gazso said, adding that it was the owner’s intention to create a prototype that could be easily and sustainably reproduced.

Still, he added, “It’s not about the materials themselves, but about the spirit of the place.”

Still, he added, “It’s not about the materials themselves, but about the spirit of the place.”

ImageThe three-bedroom house was built from natural materials to blend into its environment, with two stacked modules connected by a spiral staircase.
Credit…François Vézien
ImageThe three-bedroom house was built from natural materials to blend into its environment, with two stacked modules connected by a spiral staircase.
Credit…François Vézien
ImageThe three-bedroom house was built from natural materials to blend into its environment, with two stacked modules connected by a spiral staircase.

Situated among trees and grass planted on about a quarter of an acre, the 1,292-square-foot house includes two stacked modules connected by a spiral staircase. The bottom unit contains the living areas and the top contains three bedrooms, two with built-in sleeping platforms, and a half bathroom. There is a 43-square-foot root cellar under the house.

The ground floor has an open layout, with a kitchen and dining area, a full bathroom and a 430-square-foot, two-level living room that opens to a wooden deck through sliding-glass doors. Floor-to-ceiling windows on a raised platform provide views into the yard; a curtain can be drawn to create a sleeping area for a guest. The galley-style kitchen has custom wood cabinetry, a dishwasher and a gas stove and oven.

Designed to be energy efficient, the house has a geothermal system for passive heating and cooling. In the living room, a wood-burning fireplace heats the first floor, and rooftop solar panels and grass plantings provide heat and insulation for the sleeping module above. All the windows are double-glazed, and the two largest were custom fabricated with recycled glass from a local factory.

The owner, Michaël Osswald, said described his design as a “low-tech concept” for a building that could “operate without external energy,” in the event of the collapse of industrial civilization; he was influenced by “the theory of collapsologie,” he said, which explores that scenario.

Situated among trees and grass planted on about a quarter of an acre, the 1,292-square-foot house includes two stacked modules connected by a spiral staircase. The bottom unit contains the living areas and the top contains three bedrooms, two with built-in sleeping platforms, and a half bathroom. There is a 43-square-foot root cellar under the house.

The ground floor has an open layout, with a kitchen and dining area, a full bathroom and a 430-square-foot, two-level living room that opens to a wooden deck through sliding-glass doors. Floor-to-ceiling windows on a raised platform provide views into the yard; a curtain can be drawn to create a sleeping area for a guest. The galley-style kitchen has custom wood cabinetry, a dishwasher and a gas stove and oven.

Designed to be energy efficient, the house has a geothermal system for passive heating and cooling. In the living room, a wood-burning fireplace heats the first floor, and rooftop solar panels and grass plantings provide heat and insulation for the sleeping module above. All the windows are double-glazed, and the two largest were custom fabricated with recycled glass from a local factory.

The owner, Michaël Osswald, said described his design as a “low-tech concept” for a building that could “operate without external energy,” in the event of the collapse of industrial civilization; he was influenced by “the theory of collapsologie,” he said, which explores that scenario.

A 377-square-foot annex with a skylight, fireplace and radiant-heated flooring was built four years after the original construction. Outfitted with plumbing connections for a full bathroom, it is used as a studio, but could be converted into a guesthouse.

A 377-square-foot annex with a skylight, fireplace and radiant-heated flooring was built four years after the original construction. Outfitted with plumbing connections for a full bathroom, it is used as a studio, but could be converted into a guesthouse.

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Credit…François Vézien
Image

Credit…François Vézien
Image

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Hultehouse is 15 minutes west of Saverne, a commune of about 12,000; it is 45 minutes from the capital of the administrative region of Grand Est, Strasbourg, whose metropolitan area has a population of nearly 786,000. Strasbourg abuts the German border, across Alsace’s Bas-Rhin department, and has the nearest international airport. The border city of Basel, Switzerland, is about 75 miles south.

Market Overview

Squabbled over by Germany and France from 1871, when Germany annexed it, to World War II, when it was returned to France, the industrial border region of Alsace displays its cross-cultural history in its population: Many of its French citizens bear German surnames, and commuting across borders for work is common. (Alsace was a French administrative region from 1982 to 2016, when it merged with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne to form the larger administrative region of Grand Est; it is now considered a subregion without its own administration.)

Olivier Eck, the director of investment at Access Alsace, an economic-development agency, said the Franco-German border has long been a magnet for foreign business investment, thanks to its history in manufacturing, textiles and medical technology. “This is the most internationalized economy in France,” he said. “We have a density of industry and manufacturing that is much higher than the national or European average.”

Jean Risser, a manager with wealth-management firm Kara Patrimoine, who advises on real estate strategy for high-net-worth clients, said Alsace is “considered a wealthy region because of its dynamic economic activity,” and that the strong buying power of its residents creates a vibrant market for prestigious or atypical properties.

Hultehouse is 15 minutes west of Saverne, a commune of about 12,000; it is 45 minutes from the capital of the administrative region of Grand Est, Strasbourg, whose metropolitan area has a population of nearly 786,000. Strasbourg abuts the German border, across Alsace’s Bas-Rhin department, and has the nearest international airport. The border city of Basel, Switzerland, is about 75 miles south.

Market Overview

Squabbled over by Germany and France from 1871, when Germany annexed it, to World War II, when it was returned to France, the industrial border region of Alsace displays its cross-cultural history in its population: Many of its French citizens bear German surnames, and commuting across borders for work is common. (Alsace was a French administrative region from 1982 to 2016, when it merged with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne to form the larger administrative region of Grand Est; it is now considered a subregion without its own administration.)

Olivier Eck, the director of investment at Access Alsace, an economic-development agency, said the Franco-German border has long been a magnet for foreign business investment, thanks to its history in manufacturing, textiles and medical technology. “This is the most internationalized economy in France,” he said. “We have a density of industry and manufacturing that is much higher than the national or European average.”

Jean Risser, a manager with wealth-management firm Kara Patrimoine, who advises on real estate strategy for high-net-worth clients, said Alsace is “considered a wealthy region because of its dynamic economic activity,” and that the strong buying power of its residents creates a vibrant market for prestigious or atypical properties.

“The goods quickly find buyers,” Mr. Risser said, noting that the offerings might include an architect’s custom-designed house, a castle, a historic Alsatian villa or an apartment with high ceilings, moldings and a fireplace. High-end properties sell for 500,000 to more than 2 million euros ($558,000 to $2.2 million), he said, or about 3,500 to 4,000 euros ($3,900 to $4,400) a square meter.

“The goods quickly find buyers,” Mr. Risser said, noting that the offerings might include an architect’s custom-designed house, a castle, a historic Alsatian villa or an apartment with high ceilings, moldings and a fireplace. High-end properties sell for 500,000 to more than 2 million euros ($558,000 to $2.2 million), he said, or about 3,500 to 4,000 euros ($3,900 to $4,400) a square meter.

Strasbourg — which serves as the official seat of the European Parliament, with a city center that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — “has the highest prices in the northeast of France,” said Cécile Franck-Weyhaubt, the director of Espaces Atypiques’s two offices in the region.

Current listings in and around Strasbourg include a 1,377-square-foot, three-bedroom house for 546,000 euros ($610,000), a 2,690-square-foot, four-bedroom apartment in a historic building for 1.16 million euros ($1.3 million) and an 11-room, 3,445-square-foot, contemporary house in Truchtersheim, about 12 miles from the capital, for 1.25 million euros ($1.4 million).

Prices for existing (five years or older) apartments in the city averaged $283 a square foot in 2019, the highest in Grand Est and a 2.2 percent increase from 2018, according to data compiled by the , which tracks transactions. In nearby Nancy, the capital of an adjacent region 100 miles to the west, similar housing averaged $198 a square foot in 2019, a 1.7 percent increase from 2018. (By comparison, existing apartments in Paris averaged $1,050 a square foot in 2019, up 6.1 percent during the same period.)

“You have lots of ways to live in Alsace, and we have a lot of demand from people who want to live in the town center and in the northern neighborhoods of Strasbourg that are very Parisian in style and spirit,” Ms. Franck-Weyhaubt said, citing the popular Contades and Orangerie neighborhoods.

Although the French Notaries information does not include numbers for the Grand Est region, the January 2020 report predicted price increases in the French provinces (outside Greater Paris) at annual rates of 5 to 6 percent for existing apartments and 3.5 to 4.5 percent for existing houses. The organization also reported a spike in transactions as of the third quarter of 2019, with 1.063 million completed sales, a 10.6 percent increase over the previous year. In the provinces, existing apartments saw a 3.5 percent gain in price and existing houses a 2.8 percent gain, according to the Notaries of France and the .

Strasbourg — which serves as the official seat of the European Parliament, with a city center that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — “has the highest prices in the northeast of France,” said Cécile Franck-Weyhaubt, the director of Espaces Atypiques’s two offices in the region.

Current listings in and around Strasbourg include a 1,377-square-foot, three-bedroom house for 546,000 euros ($610,000), a 2,690-square-foot, four-bedroom apartment in a historic building for 1.16 million euros ($1.3 million) and an 11-room, 3,445-square-foot, contemporary house in Truchtersheim, about 12 miles from the capital, for 1.25 million euros ($1.4 million).

Prices for existing (five years or older) apartments in the city averaged $283 a square foot in 2019, the highest in Grand Est and a 2.2 percent increase from 2018, according to data compiled by the , which tracks transactions. In nearby Nancy, the capital of an adjacent region 100 miles to the west, similar housing averaged $198 a square foot in 2019, a 1.7 percent increase from 2018. (By comparison, existing apartments in Paris averaged $1,050 a square foot in 2019, up 6.1 percent during the same period.)

“You have lots of ways to live in Alsace, and we have a lot of demand from people who want to live in the town center and in the northern neighborhoods of Strasbourg that are very Parisian in style and spirit,” Ms. Franck-Weyhaubt said, citing the popular Contades and Orangerie neighborhoods.

Although the French Notaries information does not include numbers for the Grand Est region, the January 2020 report predicted price increases in the French provinces (outside Greater Paris) at annual rates of 5 to 6 percent for existing apartments and 3.5 to 4.5 percent for existing houses. The organization also reported a spike in transactions as of the third quarter of 2019, with 1.063 million completed sales, a 10.6 percent increase over the previous year. In the provinces, existing apartments saw a 3.5 percent gain in price and existing houses a 2.8 percent gain, according to the Notaries of France and the .

In the southern part of the region, near Switzerland, “there is more demand than supply, because the mortgage interest has been very low the past couple of years,” said Michel Roos, an agent with Staub Immobilier, in Saint-Louis, three miles from Basel.

He noted a trend toward building new housing, particularly apartments, spurred by the Pinel Law investment initiative of 2014, which aims to encourage the development of housing in France.

Who Buys in Alsace

Werner Lohr, of Werner Lohr Immobilier, outside Basel, said he sells about 50 houses a year, mostly to corporate expatriates relocating from America, Britain and Japan.

“France is a good opportunity for expats who have lived abroad already and are not afraid of strikes and government restrictions,” he said, referring to those staples of life in France. “Having this international background is our pigeonhole: We are for people who want to buy and sell in a discreet way.”

Nearly all of his listings are in France, along the Rhine River border, he said, but he caters to a large clientele who work in Germany and Switzerland.

“In our triangle of Germany-France-Switzerland, people don’t come here for the beauty but for the less-expensive cost of living and the schools that offer three languages,” he said, explaining why cross-border workers choose Alsace for housing.

Mr. Roos said about 65 percent of his clients are foreign, not just from across the border, but from Britain, the Middle East and Asia. “Most of them are working for big companies in Switzerland on a two- to three-year contract, and some stay longer and then buy their place,” he said.

In the southern part of the region, near Switzerland, “there is more demand than supply, because the mortgage interest has been very low the past couple of years,” said Michel Roos, an agent with Staub Immobilier, in Saint-Louis, three miles from Basel.

He noted a trend toward building new housing, particularly apartments, spurred by the Pinel Law investment initiative of 2014, which aims to encourage the development of housing in France.

Who Buys in Alsace

Werner Lohr, of Werner Lohr Immobilier, outside Basel, said he sells about 50 houses a year, mostly to corporate expatriates relocating from America, Britain and Japan.

“France is a good opportunity for expats who have lived abroad already and are not afraid of strikes and government restrictions,” he said, referring to those staples of life in France. “Having this international background is our pigeonhole: We are for people who want to buy and sell in a discreet way.”

Nearly all of his listings are in France, along the Rhine River border, he said, but he caters to a large clientele who work in Germany and Switzerland.

“In our triangle of Germany-France-Switzerland, people don’t come here for the beauty but for the less-expensive cost of living and the schools that offer three languages,” he said, explaining why cross-border workers choose Alsace for housing.

Mr. Roos said about 65 percent of his clients are foreign, not just from across the border, but from Britain, the Middle East and Asia. “Most of them are working for big companies in Switzerland on a two- to three-year contract, and some stay longer and then buy their place,” he said.

Buying Basics

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying real estate in France. “Any French or foreign person can buy one property or several properties,” said Olivier Schneider, a notary in Strasbourg, who handles real estate transactions.

“The notary has the role of adviser, protector of the consent of the parties,” Mr. Schneider said, noting that notaries handle a transaction — which may be completed in fewer than 60 days — from drawing up the contract and deed to writing and registering the bill of sale.

The buyer and seller may each hire a notary, but it is common to share a single notary and the associated costs. Real estate agents’ commissions are 4 to 6 percent, usually paid by the seller.

Most fees are fixed by the Chamber of Notaries and are subject to a 20 percent value-added tax. Existing homes more than five years old are assessed a 5.81 percent sales tax; new buildings are taxed 0.715 percent, Mr. Schneider said.

Websites

  • Notaries of France:

  • Strasbourg tourism:

  • Alsace tourism:

Languages and Currency

French, Alsatian and German; euro (1 euro = $1.12)

Taxes and Fees

The annual property tax on this home is 254 euros ($283).

Contact

Sébastien Gazso, Espaces Atypiques, 011-33-06-58-52-33-85;

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, . Follow us on Twitter: .

Buying Basics

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying real estate in France. “Any French or foreign person can buy one property or several properties,” said Olivier Schneider, a notary in Strasbourg, who handles real estate transactions.

“The notary has the role of adviser, protector of the consent of the parties,” Mr. Schneider said, noting that notaries handle a transaction — which may be completed in fewer than 60 days — from drawing up the contract and deed to writing and registering the bill of sale.

The buyer and seller may each hire a notary, but it is common to share a single notary and the associated costs. Real estate agents’ commissions are 4 to 6 percent, usually paid by the seller.

Most fees are fixed by the Chamber of Notaries and are subject to a 20 percent value-added tax. Existing homes more than five years old are assessed a 5.81 percent sales tax; new buildings are taxed 0.715 percent, Mr. Schneider said.

Websites

  • Notaries of France:

  • Strasbourg tourism:

  • Alsace tourism:

Languages and Currency

French, Alsatian and German; euro (1 euro = $1.12)

Taxes and Fees

The annual property tax on this home is 254 euros ($283).

Contact

Sébastien Gazso, Espaces Atypiques, 011-33-06-58-52-33-85;

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, . Follow us on Twitter: .

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