This story is part of an ongoing series on global property that examines the shifts and trends in the housing market on the international stage.
When Brent McTavish and his husband, Bryan Teixeira, decided to move from Vancouver to Europe, they contemplated settling permanently in London. The two had fallen in love with the vibrant city, and Mr. Teixeira had landed a senior level management position there. It didn't take long for them to become disenchanted by its staggering property prices, however.
With direct flights to Carcassonne, the pair began exploring the south of France. They now call the medieval town that boasts one of Europe's largest fortified cities home.
"The prices in London were just so high, we couldn't purchase anything," Mr. McTavish says. "If we had bought something there, we would have been married to our mortgage, so we decided we would rent and play it by ear.
"While living in London we always wanted to get back on the property ladder," he adds. "We looked at buying in Canada and places like Berlin, but my partner is fluent in French, so we then thought maybe we should look at France. It's easy to get to from London. Once we found this place, we jumped at it."
That was in 2008. The couple purchased an apartment with two bedrooms, spacious terraces and beautiful views of La Cité – the name for that historic citadel. Their home cost less than 100,000 euros, or about $145,000.
"For the cost of buying a garage in London, we purchased this apartment," says Mr. McTavish, who runs a company called Cocoa & Grapes, which offers chocolate – and wine-tasting tours. "We're living in the land where a glass of wine is cheaper than coffee. The food is great everywhere, and there is so much to explore."
About an hour from Toulouse by train or car, Carcassonne is in the heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon, the world's largest wine-growing region. Stretching from the Rhône Valley in the country's east to the Spanish border, it includes resplendent Mediterranean beaches, snowy Pyrénées peaks, and the Camargue, a vast delta that is known for its wild white horses and the annual Roma gathering in the city of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The area is rich in history, with prehistoric caves, Cathar castles, Roman ruins, and medieval cathedrals. And yet it's largely overlooked by tourists, who tend to flock to nearby Provence and Côte d'Azur.
For Canadians seeking a home in France but finding themselves priced out of Paris and the French Riviera, however, the Languedoc-Roussillon could be the place.
Property prices in France are measured per square metre. The median price of "older" apartments in Paris in the first quarter of 2015 was 7,910 euros per square metre, according to Notaires de France. That compares with 1,520 euros in Nimes and 2,480 euros in Montpellier, both in Languedoc-Roussillon.
While 200,000 euros barely buys a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Paris, the average price of a two-bedroom house in Carcassonne is 75,000 euros, according to Notaires. According to David Yeates, news editor of French-Property.com, a site that lists real-estate properties for rent and sale throughout France, market conditions are currently favourable for buyers across the board.
"Since the crash in 2008, French property prices have been falling, certainly in rural areas, and the Carcassone area is no exception to that," Mr. Yeates says. "Notaires statistics – which in my view understate the level of the fall – say that in the last four years property prices have fallen consecutively in that area and are probably now down by about 15 per cent."
As in Canada, mortgage rates in France are at all-time lows. According to l'Observatoire Crédit Logement/CSA, the average rate as of early August was 1.90 per cent for a fixed-rate 15-year loan and 2.54 per cent for 25 years. (Borrowers are also required to take out invalidity/death insurance to cover the mortgage, which costs about 0.5 per cent of the loan amount.)
"You've got very low interest rates and falling prices," Mr. Yeates says. "I don't think it's going to change in the next 12 months at least."
Further working in buyers' favour is a robust home-building program in France, which brings in at least 300,000 properties a year, Mr. Yeates says, as well as a large number of homes sitting empty.
"The number of empty homes in France has dramatically increased; there are about 2.5 million empty homes," he says. "So there is a large stock of empty housing in addition to the new stock of 300,000 coming onto the market, against a backdrop of economic stagnation and a growing aging population. Inevitably all of those factors are going to depress the market. I think the market over at least 12 months, and possibly beyond in rural areas of France, is going to be a great one for international buyers."
There's a downside to a down market, of course: hopes of reselling any time soon and turning a profit may not be realistic. "There may be no prospect of a revival of house prices in France for many years," Mr. Yeates says.
Annelise Bosshard, owner of AB Real Estate in St Geniès de Fontédit, says that current market conditions mean that there are deals to be had.
"Prices have dropped, and there's lots of bargaining to be done," she says. "Some sellers are very open to negotiation."
Adding to the area's appeal is its accessibility. If you're not taking the high-speed train de grand vitesse, the Languedoc has eight international airports.
"If you time it right, you can get a flight to London for 30 or 40 euros return," Ms. Bosshard says.
Then there's the weather: while chilly in winter, the Languedoc gets an average of 300 days of sunshine a year.
It's not all sunshine and escargots, however. There are pitfalls to purchasing in the region. Mr. Yeates cautions that buyers need to be wary of properties that require extensive renovations. Many are several hundreds of years old and may need the entire electrical system replaced, in addition to major structural work.
"People consistently underestimate the difficulties of renovating a property and the cost of renovating property," Mr. Yeates says. "Unless you have a good understanding of property renovations, and unless you're able to be a resident in France while the work is going on, I would strongly advise against buying a property for renovation.
"Don't try to do it from abroad or hand over wads of cash to avoid the VAT [value added tax]," he adds. "I know of hundreds of cases when people have handed over 20, 30, 50 thousand euros and the builders have done half the property and walked away. You have to be extremely cautious."