I didn’t make it to MIPIM, the annual gathering of the international property industry in Cannes, last year having been floored by a nasty bout of norovirus just a few days before. From friends and colleagues who did attend, I gathered it was a considerably tame affair compared with 2008 – in one person’s words, there was a ‘total Champagne drain’. That’s really no surprise. This time last year we were at the point in the downturn when most had tacitly agreed to drop the euphemistic ‘credit crunch’ in favour of ‘recession’. Twelve months on and with entrance tickets for individuals starting at €1,200, the last time I looked, and everyone’s entertainment budgets remaining under a magnifying glass, it’s no revelation that reports are already in on day one showing that attendance numbers are again down on the peak.
In a good year, MIPIM attracts an extensive range of estate agents, developers, bankers, architects and designers from all over the world. My brother-in-law, vice president of a privaty equity firm will be there stoking up some future deals, as well as more peripheral professionals such as an old school friend, a graphic designer, who produces high-spec brochures using CGI. It’s about networking and deal making, usually fuelled with extravagant acts of Champagne ordering. There are exhibits from countries you’ve never heard of, some stylish and others of more dubious taste. And there marketing initiatives that run the gamut from the clever to the gratuitous such as the parade of three long-limbed blondes striding down the promenade with prams carrying cardboard cut-out designs of some future high-rise scheme in a place I forget.
The fact that Country Life visit every year surprises many: there are just a handful of residential property exhibitors on the stands and we aren’t interested in covering the multi-million pound deals that, it is hoped, are sealed over the 4-day event. But I will be interested to take a look at the London stand (the largest in the event) where Boris will be holding court in preparation for us hosting the Olympic Games and I have a couple of meetings to find out about new high end residential developments in Montenegro and elsewhere: potential food for thought for articles in Country Life International.
Sadly, none of the team (to my knowledge) has ever partaken of one of the infamous all-night parties which take place on a string of yachts moored along the Croisette. We are normally safely tucked up in bed some distance away (hotel rooms in Cannes during MIPIM break the CL budget). But we do take the opportunity to say hello and thank you to clients based in the south of France who have supported us in the past year.
MIPIM LATEST 2.15pm UPDATE:
The sun is shining here in Cannes and, on first impressions, the motto of the delegates seems to be ‘tread softly’. On the walk down to the Croisette from the train station earlier, there were empty tables in cafés lining the streets despite the fact that it was lunchtime. Two years ago, finding a place to sit and eat in this, the middle day of the show, was nigh on impossible. Judging from the chatter on the 7.15am flight from Gatwick to Nice (where the ratio of male to female was approximately 20:1 – even the lady at French immigration seemed delighted to see me: ‘Ah, une madame!’, she cried) delegates are on the defensive. There was the inevitable jostling and name-calling between people whose annual calendar has included this March trip to the Riviera for years but it was mixed in with plenty of justifications of their presence and ambitious promises to stay out of the bars and clubs and within the perimetres of the Palais du Festival this year.
On my way through Nice, I stopped for a coffee with Stuart Baldock, who heads up the French buying arm of Property Vision. High end property sales here in the south of France have fallen off by 75% in the past year to 18 months, he told me. Whereas once, in the heyday, British buyers would descend en masse to pick up houses in what Stuart, with a glint in his eye, describes as ‘the Guildford-esque belt behind Cannes’, today that’s no longer the case: ‘Those who chose to move here with their families while continuing to work in London are finding it hard with the sterling so weak against the Euro and having to pay school fees, local taxes and other living costs in Euros.’ And reports in the nationals of many British buyers selling up in the Dordogne haven’t been exaggerated, from what he can tell.
The fact that Property Vision is owned by HSBC ensures a steady flow of international clients looking for boltholes from €2 million upwards so business goes on. ‘It has to be said, 2009 was by no means a catastrophe and 2010 isn’t a bad time to be looking. Today, vendors know that buyers are no longer willing to pay silly prices.’
As we walked to the (immaculate) tram stop near the Place Massena, Stuart explained how Nice is celebrating 150 years of being part of France this year by tackling 150 public projects, including the burying of an ugly 1970s car park underground to extend the garden promenades. I can think of a few buildings from that era in London that could do with similar treatment.