“La France a peur” (France is afraid)
Famous catching phrase used by a sad-faced and shattered TV presenter in the late 70s, to evoke the terror of the most famous gangster of the time, Jacques Mesrine.
Today, one would almost regret the time when a criminal, since embodied in a romantic way on the big screen by the excellent actor Vincent Cassel, was considered public enemy number 1.
In 2020, the serial killer that makes the headlines caused more than 25,000 victims in France, and the reaction of our fellow citizens is, of course, no longer the same.
Before talking about the consequences, a reflection on the genesis of this horror, and its reading by the analysts: you only have to go through the web to see a number of comments, all supposedly well-intentioned, all dealing with the mantra: “we told you so, we got what we deserved.”
It is an old Judeo-Christian reflex to beat one’s chops and consider what happens to us as a divine punishment or a celestial warning about the coming end of the world!
Up to a point, this kind of comment reminds me of the nauseating era in the early 1980s when AIDS was considered the punitive and expeditious cancer of homosexuals, before a few enlightened minds and the exponential progression of the epidemic in all categories of the population silenced the neo-inquisitors.
Rather, let us admire the visionary spirit of Bill Gates, who had anticipated this terrible epidemic as early as 2015, or let us deplore the short-sightedness of our rulers, when reports pointing to the insecurity of the Wuhan laboratory (built with logistical and financial assistance from France, before France abandoned it) had been known to them for a long time.
On the consequences, as we have already said, when Man is afraid of dying, or of seeing his loved ones die, he curls up, he closes himself up, a reflex that is as age-old as it is natural. And therefore, it contradicts everything that, in a capitalist society, is the driving force behind any investment project: trust and confidence.
Let us add to this primal fear that commands us, the incomprehension that has followed all the contradictory announcements made over the last two months: it is useless to make an inventory here, the humorists have had a field day with it.
So, what solution, what future?
Bad news for my readers, I’ve broken my crystal ball, as it misleads and deceives me!
So, I will only explore pragmatic answers, through what we have been taught in previous crises.
First of all, as we have discarded the thesis of divine punishment, the best answer to this sanitary crisis will be…sanitary, therefore a curative treatment that would avoid death, then and above all a vaccine would change the situation, radically, but let’s not dream, there is very little chance that it will occur before 18 months.
So, if human beings live with fear (and it is this fear, through respect for confinement, that has spared us tens of thousands of additional deaths), they get used to it, and no doubt that our old habits of consumption, investment, and return to life, to sum it up, will inexorably come back in the long run.
As for our particular field of intervention, many of our clients, both sellers and buyers, have asked us in recent weeks about our prediction for this year.
So, let’s take a look at what has happened during previous crises (Gulf War in 1991, 9/11 attacks in 2001, subprime crisis in 2008/2009).
For the first two ones, the stop then the go were dictated by the confidence lost then regained, thanks to a military response (American in particular, in Iraq then in Afghanistan) to a specific situation (Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait then terrorist attack on the Twin Towers).
For the subprimes, it was more delicate, but it should be noted that the governments of the time have greatly taken the lead in these difficult times and have been able to hold strong positions and speeches to restore confidence: Mr. Obama although newly elected, Mr. Sarkozy, Ms. Merkel, in particular, were exemplary in these troubled times.
On the contrary, today, our elected representatives, by persistently confusing citizens with consumers, have taken advice from communication experts and other spin doctors, abandoning substance in favour of form, confusing the means (this sacrosanct media tam-tam) with the end (think, then act). The result was…cacophonous, and therefore cataclysmic, with the notable exception, once again, of the relentless Mrs MERKEL.
On the other hand, the unprecedented scale of this crisis, with whole and essential sectors of the economy at a standstill for a certain time (tourism, hotels, restaurants, aeronautics, culture, sport) generates an anxiety-provoking effect that could stop all discussion there.
And yet, on closer inspection, there are reasons to remain cool (except for everyone’s health, which is a vital and non-negotiable subject).
Firstly, we should not believe that this halt in confidence resembles a sudden storm in clear skies: all the indicators in our business showed us that the second half of 2019, particularly since the start of school year, marked a slowdown, like the end of a cycle of euphoria initiated in France since 2017 and the election of Mr Macron.
It was therefore, perhaps, for our southern market (unlike Paris, which has been steadily rising to reach new peaks in the first quarter of 2020), a necessary respite for sellers and buyers to find themselves on a point of equilibrium.
Our region, precisely, enjoys significant advantages: this demand for sunshine that existed before the confinement will be even more marked when our fellow citizens have regained their minds, as the impacted sectors mentioned above have some real nuggets both in terms of structures and entrepreneurs, particularly in our Aix-Marseille metropolis, to reinvent themselves, and above all to present new economic models adapted to this societal upheaval.
As for our region’s demographics, in addition to its numerous newcomers, it has a high rate of retirees and public agents, who, along with farmers, are more or less the only social categories not affected by this unprecedented crisis. Readers might smile when they discover that retirees and public agents are helping to revive the economy of a region, but they are, in fact, a kind of protective mattress to get the machine going again, in the heart of the market of the main residence, the latter representing a large share of the transactions.
Moreover, buyers who would calculate that they would have to wait for a price collapse to get the “good deal” would risk waiting in vain, and would only succeed in reducing the volume of transactions, without noticeably altering the average value of the properties. It is true that accidents in life sometimes force a sale to be rushed, whether it involves termination, divorce or death, but apart from these exceptional cases, nothing will force sellers to move forward in an anxiety-provoking sales process. In this case, they will certainly prefer to delay and wait for better days.
As for the average prices of a city or a district, it is also impossible to generalize, but the trends, according to the crises, often lead to the same result: exceptional properties will continue to be sought after and appreciated, and I can hardly imagine strong corrections; rather, it is the properties in the second or even third circle, i.e. sectors that have progressed mechanically because buyers excluded from the first circle would fall back on them, which would risk seeing certain prices fall by around 10 to 15%, as we saw in 2009 for example.
But in any case, barring the unlikely implosion of the pandemic, human nature is resilient, and Latin people in particular have this strength of character that encourages them to get up, again and again, and move forward.
I was recently consulting the archives of our Office for the purposes of an origin of ownership, looking for an act carried out during the Second World War, and I found that although the archive records were very little filled in the years 1941 and 1942 (in terms of crisis, it must be worse than a virus…), as early as 1943, people here started to go out again, to invest, to look for the end of the tunnel. One can never say enough, Balzac was the first to be convinced, of the extent to which notarial deeds reflect their era, in their form, their content, and their statistics.
This chaos is neither a parenthesis nor an umpteenth crisis, it is in fact an unprecedented human and economic catastrophe, but human beings are made up in such a way that they will not indulge forever in misfortune and affliction, and that one day soon their fears will give way to their desires once again: hearing the laughter of children, rediscovering the wonders of Rome and Florence, bathing again in our Mediterranean sea, admiring the dresses on café terraces.
Many of us have reread “La Peste” (The Plague) in these times of confinement, so I cannot resist the pleasure of quoting the stunning Albert, in “Retour à Tipasa” (Return to Tipasa) as a conclusion:
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
Jean-Pierre Lameta, notary